"Balkan" and "Balkan Peninsula" redirect here. For other uses, see Balkan (disambiguation).
"Balkan states" redirects here. It is not to be confused with Baltic states.

The Balkan region according to Prof R. J. Crampton

The Balkan states according to Encyclopædia Britannica
     The Balkan Peninsula by the DanubeSavaSoča border.
     Political communities that are usually included in the Balkans.
     Political communities that are usually not included in the Balkans.
Location Southeast Europe
Area 666,700 km2 (257,400 sq mi)
Highest elevation 2,925 m (9,596 ft)
Highest point Musala (Bulgaria)
Demonym Balkan

The Balkan Peninsula, or the Balkans, is a peninsula and a cultural area in Southeast Europe with different and disputed borders.[1] The region takes its name from the Balkan Mountains that stretch from the Serbia-Bulgaria border to the Black Sea.

The Balkans are bordered by the Adriatic Sea on the northwest, the Ionian Sea on the southwest, the Mediterranean and Aegean Sea on the south and southeast, and the Black Sea on the east and northeast. The highest point of the Balkans is Mount Musala 2,925 metres (9,596 ft) in the Rila mountain range.


Antiquity and early Middle Ages

From Antiquity through the Middle Ages, the Balkan Mountains had been called by the local Thracian[2] name Haemus.[3] According to Greek mythology, the Thracian king Haemus was turned into a mountain by Zeus as a punishment and the mountain has remained with his name. A reverse name scheme has also been suggested. D. Dechev considers that Haemus (Αἷμος) is derived from a Thracian word *saimon, 'mountain ridge'.[4] A third possibility is that "Haemus" (Αἵμος) derives from the Greek word "haema" (αἵμα) meaning 'blood'. The myth relates to a fight between Zeus and the monster/titan Typhon. Zeus injured Typhon with a thunder bolt and Typhon's blood fell on the mountains from which they got their name.[5]

Late Middle Ages and Ottoman period

The earliest mention of the name appears in an early 14th-century Arab map, in which the Haemus mountains are referred to as Balkan.[6] The first attested time the name "Balkan" was used in the West for the mountain range in Bulgaria was in a letter sent in 1490 to Pope Innocent VIII by Buonaccorsi Callimaco, an Italian humanist, writer and diplomat.[7] The Ottomans first mention it in a document dated from 1565.[8] There has been no other documented usage of the word to refer to the region before that, despite the fact that other Turkic tribes had already settled earlier or were passing through the Peninsula.[8] There exists also a claim about an earlier Bulgar Turkic origin of the word popular in Bulgaria, however it is only an unscholary assertion.[8] The word was used by the Ottomans in Rumelia in its general meaning of mountain, as in Kod̲j̲a-Balkan, Čatal-Balkan, and Ungurus-Balkani̊, but especially it was applied to the Haemus mountain.[9][10] In Turkish Balkan means "a chain of wooded mountains" (balkan),[11][12] while in Bulgarian language the word balkan (балкан) means "mountain".[13] Another possibility to its etymology is related to Persian bālk meaning "mud", and the Turkish suffix an, i.e. swampy forest.[14] The name is still preserved in Central Asia with the Balkan Daglary (Balkan Mountains)[15] and the Balkan Province of Turkmenistan. A less popular hypothesis regarding its etymology is that it derived from the Persian Balā-Khāna meaning big, high, house. English traveler John Morritt introduced this term into the English literature at the end of the 18th-century, and other authors started applying the name to the wider area between the Adriatic and the Black Sea. The concept of the "Balkans" was created by the German geographer August Zeune in 1808.[16] During the 1820s, "Balkan became the preferred although not yet exclusive term alongside Haemus among British travelers... Among Russian travelers not so burdened by classical toponymy, Balkan was the preferred term."[17]

Evolution of meaning

As time passed, the term gradually acquired political connotations far from its initial geographic meaning, arising from political changes from the late 19th-century to the creation of post–World War I Yugoslavia (initially the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes). Zeune's goal was to have a geographical parallel term to the Italic and Iberian Peninsula, and seemingly nothing more. The gradually acquired political connotations are newer and, to a large extent, due to oscillating political circumstances.

After the dissolution of Yugoslavia beginning in June 1991, the term "Balkans" again received a negative meaning, especially in Croatia and Slovenia, even in casual usage (see Balkanization).

Southeast Europe

Main article: Southeast Europe

In part due to the historical and political connotations of the term "Balkans",[18] especially since the military conflicts of the 1990s, the term "Southeast Europe" is becoming increasingly popular even though it literally refers to a much larger area and thus isn't as precise.[19] A European Union initiative of 1999 is called the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe, and the online newspaper Balkan Times renamed itself Southeast European Times in 2003.


In the languages of the region, the peninsula is known as:

Definitions and boundaries

The Balkan Peninsula

The Balkan Peninsula, as defined by the SočaVipavaKrkaSavaDanube border.
The Peninsula's most extensive definition, bordered by water on three sides and connected with a line on the fourth

The Balkan Peninsula is surrounded by the Adriatic Sea to the west, the Mediterranean Sea (including the Ionian and Aegean seas) and the Marmara Sea to the south and the Black Sea to the east. Its northern boundary is often given as the Danube, Sava and Kupa Rivers.[20][21] The Balkan Peninsula has a combined area of about 470,000 km2 (181,000 sq mi) (slightly smaller than Spain). It is more or less identical to the region known as Southeastern Europe.[22][23][24]

As of 1920 until World War II, Italy included Istria and some Dalmatian areas (like Zara, known as Zadar) that are within the general definition of the Balkan peninsula. The current territory of Italy includes only the small area around Trieste inside the Balkan Peninsula. However, the regions of Trieste and Istria are not usually considered part of the Balkans by Italian geographers, due to a definition of the Balkans that limits its western border to the Kupa River.[25]

Share of land area[26] within the Balkan Peninsula by country by the Danube-Sava definition:

Entirely within the Balkans:

Mostly or partially within the Balkans:

The Balkans

The abstract term "The Balkans", unlike the geographical borders of the Peninsula, is defined by the political borders of the states comprising it. The term is used to describe areas beyond the Balkan Peninsula, or inversely in the case of the part of Italy in the Peninsula, which is always excluded from the Balkans and as a totality is generally accepted as part of Western Europe and the Apennines.

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Balkans are usually said to comprise Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo,[a] the Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, while Greece and Turkey are often included (depending on the definition), and its total area is usually given as 666,700 square km (257,400 square miles) and the population as 59,297,000 (est. 2002).[28]

According to an earlier version of the Britannica, the Balkans comprise the territories of the states of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo,[a] the Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and the European part of Turkey; it notes Turkey as a non-Balkan state and the inclusion of Slovenia and the Transylvanian part of Romania in the region as dubious.[29]

Inclusion of Balkan states in other regions:

Western Balkans

Western Balkan countries – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. The partially recognized Kosovo is also demarcated.

The institutions of the European Union have defined the "Western Balkans" as the south-east European area that includes countries that are not members of the European Union, while others refer to the geographical aspects. [60][61][62][63][64][65][66][67][68][69] The Western Balkans is a neologism coined to describe the countries of "ex-Yugoslavia (minus Slovenia) and Albania".[70] Thus, the region would include: Croatia (now an EU member), Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania.[62][63][64][65][66][67][68][69] Each of these countries aims to be part of the future enlargement of the European Union and reach democracy and transmission scores but, until then, they will be strongly connected with the pre-EU waiting program CEFTA.[71]

Nature and natural resources

Panorama of Stara Planina. Its highest peak is Botev at a height of 2,376 m.
View toward Rila, the highest mountain in the Balkans which reaches 2925 m
Golubac Fortress in Serbia, guarding the Danubian frontier of the Balkans

Most of the area is covered by mountain ranges running from the northwest to southeast. The main ranges are the Balkan mountains, running from the Black Sea coast in Bulgaria to its border with Serbia, the Rhodope mountains in southern Bulgaria and northern Greece, the Dinaric Alps in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Montenegro, the Šar massif which spreads from Albania to Macedonia, and the Pindus range, spanning from southern Albania into central Greece and the Albanian Alps. The highest mountain of the region is Rila in Bulgaria, with Musala at 2925 m, Mount Olympus in Greece, the throne of Zeus, being second at 2917 m and Vihren in Bulgaria being the third at 2914 m. The karst field or polje is a common feature of the landscape.

On the Adriatic and Aegean coasts the climate is Mediterranean, on the Black Sea coast the climate is humid subtropical and oceanic, and inland it is humid continental. In the northern part of the peninsula and on the mountains, winters are frosty and snowy, while summers are hot and dry. In the southern part winters are milder. The humid continental climate is predominant in Bosnia and Herzegovina, northern Croatia, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Macedonia, northern Montenegro, the interior of Albania and Serbia, while the other, less common climates, the humid subtropical and oceanic climates, are seen on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria and Turkey; and the Mediterranean climate is seen on the coast of Albania, the coast of Croatia, Greece, southern Montenegro and the Aegean coast of Turkey.

Over the centuries many woods have been cut down and replaced with bush. In the southern part and on the coast there is evergreen vegetation. Inland there are woods typical of Central Europe (oak and beech, and in the mountains, spruce, fir and pine). The tree line in the mountains lies at the height of 1800–2300 m. The land provides habitats for numerous endemic species, including extraordinarily abundant insects and reptiles that serve as food for a variety of birds of prey and rare vultures.

The soils are generally poor, except on the plains, where areas with natural grass, fertile soils and warm summers provide an opportunity for tillage. Elsewhere, land cultivation is mostly unsuccessful because of the mountains, hot summers and poor soils, although certain cultures such as olive and grape flourish.

Resources of energy are scarce, except in the territory of Kosovo, where considerable coal, lead, zinc, chromium and silver deposits are located.[72] Other deposits of coal, especially in Bulgaria, Serbia and Bosnia, also exist. Lignite deposits are widespread in Greece. Petroleum scarce reserves exist in Greece, Serbia and Albania. Natural gas deposits are scarce. Hydropower is in wide use, from over 1,000 dams. The often relentless bora wind is also being harnessed for power generation.

Metal ores are more usual than other raw materials. Iron ore is rare, but in some countries there is a considerable amount of copper, zinc, tin, chromite, manganese, magnesite and bauxite. Some metals are exported.

The time zones are situated as follows:

History and geopolitical significance

Apollonia ruins near Fier, Albania.
Ruins of the Roman-era palace Felix Romuliana, UNESCO, Serbia.


The Balkan region was the first area in Europe to experience the arrival of farming cultures in the Neolithic era. The Balkans have been inhabited since the Paleolithic and are the route by which farming from the Middle East spread to Europe during the Neolithic (7th millennium BC).[73][74] The practices of growing grain and raising livestock arrived in the Balkans from the Fertile Crescent by way of Anatolia and spread west and north into Pannonia and Central Europe. Two early culture-complexes have developed in the region, Starčevo culture and Vinča culture. The Balkans are also the location of the first advanced civilizations. Vinča culture developed a form of proto-writing before the Sumerians and Minoans, known as the Old European script, while the bulk of the symbols had been created in the period between 4500 and 4000 BC, with the ones on the Tărtăria clay tablets even dating back to around 5300 BC.[75]

The identity of the Balkans is dominated by its geographical position; historically the area was known as a crossroads of cultures. It has been a juncture between the Latin and Greek bodies of the Roman Empire, the destination of a massive influx of pagan Bulgars and Slavs, an area where Orthodox and Catholic Christianity met,[76] as well as the meeting point between Islam and Christianity.

In pre-classical and classical antiquity, this region was home to Greeks, Illyrians, Paeonians, Thracians, Dacians, and other ancient groups. The Achaemenid Persian Empire incorporated parts of the Balkans comprising Macedonia, Thrace, Bulgaria, and the Black Sea coastal region of Romania between the late 6th and the first half of the 5th-century BC into its territories.[77] Later the Roman Empire conquered most of the region and spread Roman culture and the Latin language, but significant parts still remained under classical Greek influence. The Romans considered the Rhodope Mountains to be the northern limit of the Peninsula of Haemus and the same limit applied approximately to the border between Greek and Latin use in the region (later called the Jireček Line).[78] The Bulgars and Slavs arrived in the 6th-century and began assimilating and displacing already-assimilated (through Romanization and Hellenization) older inhabitants of the northern and central Balkans, forming the Bulgarian Empire.[79] During the Middle Ages, the Balkans became the stage for a series of wars between the Byzantine Roman and the Bulgarian Empires.

Early modern period

By the end of the 16th-century, the Ottoman Empire had become the controlling force in the region after expanding from Anatolia through Thrace to the Balkans. Many people in the Balkans place their greatest folk heroes in the era of either the onslaught or the retreat of the Ottoman Empire. As examples, for Greeks, Constantine XI Palaiologos and Kolokotronis; and for Serbs, Miloš Obilić and Tzar Lazar; for Montenegrins, Đurađ I Balšić and Ivan Crnojević; for Albanians, George Kastrioti Skanderbeg; for ethnic Macedonians, Nikola Karev[80] and Goce Delčev;[80] for Bulgarians, Vasil Levski, Georgi Sava Rakovski and Hristo Botev and for Croats, Nikola Šubić Zrinjski.

Modern political history of the Balkans from 1796 onwards.
Hagia Sophia, an Eastern Orthodox Christian cathedral built in the 6th-century in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul, Turkey), later an imperial mosque, and now a museum.

In the past several centuries, because of the frequent Ottoman wars in Europe fought in and around the Balkans and the comparative Ottoman isolation from the mainstream of economic advance (reflecting the shift of Europe's commercial and political centre of gravity towards the Atlantic), the Balkans has been the least developed part of Europe. According to Suraiya Faroqhi and Donald Quataert, "The population of the Balkans, according to one estimate, fell from a high of 8 million in the late 16th-century to only 3 million by the mid-eighteenth. This estimate is in harmony with the first findings based on Ottoman documentary evidence."[81]

Most of the Balkan nation-states emerged during the 19th and early 20th centuries as they gained independence from the Ottoman Empire or the Austro-Hungarian empire (Greece in 1821, Serbia, Montenegro in 1878, Bulgaria in 1908, Albania in 1912).

Recent history

Tsarevets, a medieval stronghold in the former capital of the Bulgarian EmpireVeliko Tarnovo.
The 13th-century church of St. John at Kaneo and the Ohrid Lake in Macedonia. The lake and town were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1980.

World wars

In 1912–1913 the First Balkan War broke out when the nation-states of Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro united in an alliance against the Ottoman Empire. As a result of the war, almost all remaining European territories of the Ottoman Empire were captured and partitioned among the allies. Ensuing events also led to the creation of an independent Albanian state. Bulgaria insisted on its status quo territorial integrity, divided and shared by the Great Powers next to the Russo-Turkish War (1877–78) in other boundaries and on the pre-war Bulgarian-Serbian agreement. Provoked by the backstage deals between its former allies Serbia and Greece on allocation the spoils at the end of the First Balkan War, while it fights at the main Thracian Front, Bulgaria marks the beginning of Second Balkan War when attacked them. The Serbs and the Greeks repulse single attacks, but when the Greek army invaded Bulgaria together with an unprovoked Romanian intervention in the back, regardless of the single won battles, Bulgaria collapsed. The Ottoman Empire also used the opportunity to recapture Eastern Thrace, establishing its new western borders that still stand today.

The First World War was sparked in the Balkans in 1914 when members of Mlada Bosna, a revolutionary organization with predominately Serbian and pro-Yugoslav members, assassinated the Austro-Hungarian heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Bosnia and Herzegovina's capital, Sarajevo. That caused a war between the two countries which—through the existing chains of alliances—led to the First World War. The Ottoman Empire soon joined the Central Powers becoming one of the three empires participating in that alliance. The next year Bulgaria joined the Central Powers attacking Serbia, which was successfully fighting Austro-Hungary to the north for a year. That led to Serbia's defeat and the intervention of the Entente in the Balkans which sent an expeditionary force to establish a new front, the third one of that war, which soon also became static. The participation of Greece in the war three years later, in 1918, on the part of the Entente finally altered the balance between the opponents leading to the collapse of the common German-Bulgarian front there, which caused the exit of Bulgaria from the war, and in turn the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, ending the First World War.[82]

With the start of the Second World War all Balkan countries, with the exception of Greece, were allies of Nazi Germany, having bilateral military agreements or being part of the Axis Pact. Fascist Italy expanded the war in the Balkans by using its protectorate Albania to invade Greece. After repelling the attack, the Greeks counterattacked, invading Italy-held Albania and causing Nazi Germany's intervention in the Balkans to help its ally.[83] Days before the German invasion a successful coup d'état in Belgrade by neutral military personnel seized power.[84]

Although the new government reaffirmed Serbia's intentions to fulfill its obligations as member of the Axis,[85] Germany, using its other two allied countries in the region, Bulgaria and Hungary, invaded both Greece and Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia immediately disintegrated when those loyal to the Serbian King and the Croatian units mutinied.[86] Greece resisted, but, after two months of fighting, collapsed and was occupied. The two countries were partitioned between the three Axis allies, Bulgaria, Germany and Italy, and the Independent State of Croatia, a puppet state of Italy and Germany.

During the occupation the population suffered considerable hardship due to repression and starvation, to which the population reacted by creating a mass resistance movement.[87] Together with the early and extremely heavy winter of that year (which caused hundreds of thousands deaths among the poorly fed population), the German invasion had disastrous effects in the timetable of the planned invasion in Russia causing a significant delay,[88] which had major consequences during the course of the war.[89]

Finally, at the end of 1944, the Soviets entered Romania and Bulgaria forcing the Germans out of the Balkans. They left behind a region largely ruined as a result of wartime exploitation.

Cold War

During the Cold War, most of the countries on the Balkans were governed by communist governments. Greece became the first battleground of the emerging Cold War. The Truman Doctrine was the US response to the civil war, which raged from 1944 to 1949. This civil war, unleashed by the Communist Party of Greece, backed by communist volunteers from neighboring countries (Albania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia), led to massive American assistance for the non-communist Greek government. With this backing, Greece managed to defeat the partisans and, ultimately, remained the only non-communist country in the region.

However, despite being under communist governments, Yugoslavia (1948) and Albania (1961) fell out with the Soviet Union. Yugoslavia, led by Marshal Josip Broz Tito (1892–1980), first propped up then rejected the idea of merging with Bulgaria and instead sought closer relations with the West, later even spearheaded, together with India and Egypt the Non-Aligned Movement. Albania on the other hand gravitated toward Communist China, later adopting an isolationist position.

As the only non-communist countries, Greece and Turkey were (and still are) part of NATO composing the southeastern wing of the alliance.

Post–Cold War

In the 1990s, the transition of the regions' ex-Soviet bloc countries towards democratic free-market societies went peacefully with the exception of Yugoslavia. Wars between the former Yugoslav republics broke out after Slovenia and Croatia held free elections and their people voted for independence on their respective countries' referenda. Serbia in turn declared the dissolution of the union as unconstitutional and the Yugoslavian army unsuccessfully tried to maintain status quo. Slovenia and Croatia declared independence on 25 June 1991, followed by the Ten-Day War in Slovenia. Till October 1991, the Army withdrew from Slovenia, and in Croatia, the Croatian War of Independence would continue until 1995. In the ensuing 10 years armed confrontation, gradually all the other Republics declared independence, with Bosnia being the most affected by the fighting. The long lasting wars resulted in a United Nations intervention and NATO ground and air forces took action against Serb forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia.

From the dissolution of Yugoslavia six republics achieved international recognition as sovereign republics, but these are traditionally included in Balkans: Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. In 2008, while under UN administration, Kosovo declared independence (according to the official Serbian policy, Kosovo is still an internal autonomous region). In July 2010, the International Court of Justice, ruled that the declaration of independence was legal.[90] Most UN member states recognise Kosovo. After the end of the wars a revolution broke in Serbia and Slobodan Milošević, the Serbian communist leader (elected president between 1989 and 2000), was overthrown and handed for trial to the International Criminal Tribunal for crimes against the International Humanitarian Law during the Yugoslav wars. Milošević died of a heart attack in 2006 before a verdict could have been released. Ιn 2001 an Albanian uprising in Macedonia forced the country to give local autonomy to the ethnic Albanians in the areas where they predominate.

With the dissolution of Yugoslavia an issue emerged over the name under which the former (federated) republic of Macedonia would internationally be recognized, between the new country and Greece. Being the Macedonian part of Yugoslavia (see Vardar Macedonia), the federated Republic under the Yugoslav identity had the name Republic of Macedonia on which it declared its sovereignty in 1991. Greece, having a large region (see Macedonia) also under the same name opposed to the usage of this name as an indication of a nationality. The issue is currently under negotiations after a UN initiation.

Balkan countries control the direct land routes between Western Europe and South West Asia (Asia Minor and the Middle East). Since 2000, all Balkan countries are friendly towards the EU and the USA.

Greece has been the member of the European Union since 1981 while Slovenia is a member since 2004, Bulgaria and Romania are members since 2007, and Croatia is a member since 2013. In 2005, the European Union decided to start accession negotiations with candidate countries; Turkey, and Macedonia were accepted as candidates for EU membership. In 2012, Montenegro started accession negotiations with the EU. In 2014, Albania is an official candidate for accession to the EU. In 2015, Serbia is expected to start accession negotiations with the EU.

Greece has been a member of the NATO since 1952. In March 2004, Bulgaria and Slovenia have become members of NATO. As of April 2009,[91] Albania and Croatia are members of NATO.

All other countries have expressed a desire to join the EU and NATO at some point in the future.

Politics and economy

View from Santorini in Greece. Tourism is an important part of the Greek economy.
Drvengrad (also known as Mećavnik or Küstendorf), an ethno village in Serbia and home to the annual Kusturica film festival

Currently all of the states are republics, but until World War II all except Turkey were monarchies. Most of the republics are parliamentary, excluding Romania and Bosnia which are semi-presidential. All the states have open market economies, most of which are in the upper-middle income range ($4,000 – $12,000 p.c.), however, Greece has high income economies (over $12,000 p.c.), and is also classified with very high HDI in contrast to the remaining states which are classified with high HDI. The states from the former Eastern Bloc that formerly had planned economy system and Turkey mark gradual economic growth each year, only the economy of Greece drops for 2012 and meanwhile it was expected to grow in 2013. The Gross domestic product (Purchasing power parity) per capita is highest in Slovenia and Greece (over $25,000), followed by Croatia (21,000) and then Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia ($10,000 – $15,000), Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo (below $10,000).[92] The Gini coefficient, which indicates the level of difference by monetary welfare of the layers, is on the second level at the highest monetary equality in Albania, Bulgaria and Serbia, on the third level in Greece, Montenegro and Romania, on the fourth level in Macedonia, on the fifth level in Turkey, and the most unequal by Gini coefficient is Bosnia at the eighth level which is the penultimate level and one of the highest in the world. The unemployment is lowest in Romania (below 10%), followed by Bulgaria, Turkey, Albania (10 – 15%), Greece (15 – 20%), Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia (20 – 30%), Macedonia (over 30%) and Kosovo (over 40%).

Regional organizations

Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe
  supporting partners
Southeast European Cooperative Initiative (SECI)
Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC)

See also the Black Sea Regional organizations


Albania Bosnia and Herzegovina Bulgaria Croatia Greece Kosovo Macedonia Montenegro Romania Serbia Slovenia Turkey
Flag Albania Bosnia and Herzegovina Bulgaria Croatia Greece Kosovo Republic of Macedonia Montenegro Romania Serbia Slovenia Turkey
Coat of arms
Capital Tirana Sarajevo Sofia Zagreb Athens Pristina Skopje Podgorica Bucharest Belgrade Ljubljana Ankara
Independence November 28,
March 3,
October 5,
March 3,
March 25,
February 17,
November 17,
October 22,
May 9,
June 8,
December 13,
October 29,
Current President Bujar Nishani Bakir Izetbegović Rosen Plevneliev Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović Prokopis Pavlopoulos Hashim Thaçi Gjorge Ivanov Filip Vujanović Klaus Iohannis Tomislav Nikolić Borut Pahor Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Population (2015) 2,886,026 3,791,622 7,153,784 4,225,316 10,955,000 1,836,978 2,069,172 620,000 19,861,400 7,114,393 2,064,188 79,463,663
Area 28,748 km² 51,209 km² 110,879 km² 56,594 km² 131,990 km² 10,887 km² 25,713 km² 13,812 km² 238,391 km² 77,474 km² 20,273 km² 783,356 km²
Density 98/km² 75/km² 64/km² 76/km² 84/km² 166/km² 80/km² 45/km² 84/km² 92/km² 102/km² 102/km²
Water area % 4.7% 0.02% 2.16% 1.1% 0.99% 1.0% 1.09% 2.61% 2.97% 0.13% 0.6% 1.3%
GDP (nominal) total (2016) $12.269 billion $16.324 billion $49.364 billion $49.928 billion $194.594 billion $6.471 billion $10.424 billion $4.182 billion $181.944 billion $37.381 billion $43.791 billion $751 billion
GDP (nominal) per capita (2015) $11,301 $10,492 $19,097 $21,581 $26,449 $9,540 $14,009 $16,123 $20,787 $13,671 $31,007 $18,035
Gini Index (2012[93]) 29.0 33.0 36.0 32.0 36.7 N/A 43.2 33.2 27.3 29.7 25.6 40.0
HDI (2015) 0.733 (High) 0.733 (High) 0.782 (High) 0.818 (Very High) 0.865 (Very High) 0.786 (High) 0.747 (High) 0.802 (Very High) 0.793 (High) 0.771 (High) 0.880 (Very High) 0.761 (High)
Internet TLD .al .ba .bg .hr .gr .ks .mk .me .ro .rs .si .tr
Calling code +355 +387 +359 +385 +30 +383 +389 +382 +40 +381 +386 +90


The region is inhabited by Albanians, Aromanians, Bulgarians, Bosniaks, Croats, Gorani, Greeks, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Serbs, Slovenes, Romanians, Turks, and other ethnic groups which present minorities in certain countries like the Romani and Ashkali.[28]

State Population (2015)[94] Density/km2 (2013)[95] Life expectancy[96] Notes
 Albania 2,893,005 101 78.1 years
 Bosnia and Herzegovina 3,825,334 75 76.6 years
 Bulgaria 7,202,198 67 74.4 years
 Croatia 4,225,316 76 76.6 years
 Greece 9,282,837 86 80.4 years The population only of Mainland Greece, that excludes the Ionian and Aegean Islands, which otherwise has a population of 10,815,197 and a density of 82.
 Kosovo[a] 1,804,944 166 71 years[97]
 Macedonia 2,069,172 85 76 years
 Montenegro 622,099 46 76.4 years
 Romania 19,861,408 87 74.9 years
 Serbia 7,111,973 82 75.2 years
 Slovenia 2,062,874 102 78 years
 Turkey 10,620,739[98] 97 78 years[99] The population only of European Turkey, that excludes the Anatolian peninsula, which otherwise has a population of 75,627,384 and a density of 97.


The region is a meeting point of Orthodox Christianity, Islam and Roman Catholic Christianity.[100] Eastern Orthodoxy is the majority religion in both the Balkan peninsula and the Balkan region. A variety of different traditions of each faith are practiced, with each of the Eastern Orthodox countries having its own national church. A part of the population in the Balkans defines itself as irreligious.

Approximate distribution of religions in Albania
Territories in which the principal religion is Eastern Orthodoxy (with national churches in parentheses)[101] Religious minorities of these territories[101]
Bulgaria: 59% (Bulgarian Orthodox Church) Islam (7%) and undeclared (31%)
Greece: 98% (Greek Orthodox Church) Islam (1%), Catholicism, other and undeclared
Macedonia: 64% (Macedonian Orthodox Church) Islam (33%), Catholicism
Montenegro: 72% (Serbian Orthodox Church, Montenegrin Orthodox Church) Islam (19%), Catholicism (3%), other and undeclared (5%)
Serbia: 84% (Serbian Orthodox Church) Catholicism (5%), Islam (3%), Protestantism (1%), other and undeclared (6%)
Territories in which the principal religion is Catholicism[101] Religious minorities of these territories[101]
Croatia (86%) Eastern Orthodoxy (4%), Islam (1%), other and undeclared (7%)
Slovenia (57%) Islam (2%), Orthodox (2%), other and undeclared (36%)
Territories in which the principal religion is Islam[101] Religious minorities of these territories[101]
Albania (58%) Catholicism (10%), Orthodoxy (7%), other and undeclared (24%)
Bosnia and Herzegovina (51%) Orthodoxy (31%), Catholicism (15%), other and undeclared (14%)
Kosovo (95%) Roman Catholicism (2%), Eastern Orthodoxy (1%)
Turkey (99%) Catholicism and Orthodoxy

The Jewish communities of the Balkans were some of the oldest in Europe and date back to ancient times. These communities were Sephardi Jews, except in Romania where the Jewish communities were Ashkenazi Jews. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the small and close-knit Jewish community is 90% Sephardic, and Ladino is still spoken among the elderly. The Sephardi Jewish cemetery in Sarajevo has tombstones of a unique shape and inscribed in ancient Ladino.[102] Sephardi Jews used to have a large presence in the city of Thessaloniki, and by 1900, some 80,000, or more than half of the population, were Jews.[103] The Jewish communities in the Balkans suffered immensely during World War II, and the vast majority were killed during the Holocaust. An exception were the Bulgarian Jews, most of whom were saved by Boris III of Bulgaria, who resisted Adolf Hitler, opposing their deportation to Nazi concentration camps. Almost all of the few survivors have emigrated to the (then) newly founded state of Israel and elsewhere. No Balkan country today has a significant Jewish minority.


Further information: Balkan sprachbund

The Balkan region today is a very diverse ethno-linguistic region, being home to multiple Slavic, and Romance languages, as well as Albanian, Greek, Turkish, and others. Romani is spoken by a large portion of the Romanis living throughout the Balkan countries. Throughout history many other ethnic groups with their own languages lived in the area, among them Thracians, Illyrians, Romans, Celts and various Germanic tribes. All of the aforementioned languages from the present and from the past belong to the wider Indo-European language family, with the exception of the Turkic languages (e.g., Turkish and Gagauz).

State Principal language[104] Linguistic minorities[104]
 Albania 98% Albanian 2% other
 Bosnia and Herzegovina 53% Bosnian 31% Serbian, 15% Croatian, 2% other
 Bulgaria 78% Bulgarian 8% Turkish, 4% Romani, 1% other, 10% unspecified
 Croatia 96% Croatian 1% Serbian, 3% other
 Greece 99% Greek 1% other
 Kosovo 94% Albanian 2% Bosnian, 2% Serbian, 1% Turkish, 1% other
 Macedonia 67% Macedonian 25% Albanian, 4% Turkish, 2% Romani, 1% Serbian, 2% other
 Montenegro 43% Serbian 37% Montenegrin (official), 5% Bosnian, 5% Albanian, 5% other, 4% usnepcified
 Romania 91% Romance 7% Hungarian, 1% Romani
 Serbia 88% Serbian 3% Hungarian, 2% Bosnian, 1% Romani, 3% other, 2% unspecified
 Slovenia 91% Slovene 5% Serbo-Croatian, 4% other
 Turkey 84% Turkish 12% Kurdish, 4% other and unspecified


Most of the states in the Balkans are predominantly urbanized; the exceptions being Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo each being about 50% rural and 50% urban.[105]

Panoramic view of Istanbul
View of Athens and the Acropolis
Bucharest and the Parliament
View of Belgrade and the Sava river which defines the border of the Balkan peninsula
View of Sofia from the parliamentary square

A list of largest cities:

City Country Population Agglomeration Year
Istanbul*  Turkey 9,000,000 10,000,000 2014
Bucharest  Romania 1,883,425 2,272,163 2011[106]
Sofia  Bulgaria 1,260,120 1,681,666 2014[107]
Belgrade  Serbia 1,166,763 1,659,440 2011[108][109]
Zagreb  Croatia 688,163 1,113,111 2011[110]
Athens  Greece 664,046 3,753,783 2011[111]
Skopje  Macedonia 444,800 506,926 2014[112]
Tirana  Albania 418,495 800,986 2011[113]
Plovdiv  Bulgaria 341,567 404,665 2014[107]
Varna  Bulgaria 335,949 344,775 2014[107]
Thessaloniki  Greece 325,182 1,012,297 2011[111]
Cluj-Napoca  Romania 324,576 411,379 2011[106]
Timișoara  Romania 319,279 384,609 2011[106]
Iași  Romania 290,422 382,484 2011[106]
Constanța  Romania 283,872 425,916 2011[106]
Ljubljana  Slovenia 278,789 537,712 2013[114]
Novi Sad  Serbia 277,522 341.625 2011[108]
Sarajevo Bosnia and HerzegovinaBosnia 275,524 688,354 2013[115][116]
Craiova  Romania 269,506 420,000 2011[106]
Çorlu  Turkey 253,500 273,362 2014[117]
Brașov  Romania 253,200 369,896 2011[106]
* Only the European part of Turkey is a part of the Balkans.[29] It is home to two thirds of the city's 14,025,646 inhabitants.


See also


a.   ^ Kosovo is the subject of a territorial dispute between the Republic of Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia. The Republic of Kosovo unilaterally declared independence on 17 February 2008, but Serbia continues to claim it as part of its own sovereign territory. The two governments began to normalise relations in 2013, as part of the Brussels Agreement. Kosovo has received recognition as an independent state from 110 out of 193 United Nations member states.
b.   ^ As The World Factbook cites, regarding Turkey and Southeastern Europe; "that portion of Turkey west of the Bosphorus is geographically part of Europe."


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Coordinates: 42°00′00″N 22°00′00″E / 42.0000°N 22.0000°E / 42.0000; 22.0000

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