Is there a historic reason for why the Balkans are so fragmented? Because while I can't name any of the top of my head, I'm sure there are regions that are just as ethnically diverse, but with less fragmentation and animosity between different ethnicities. So why is this the case in the Balkans?
Your question is based on a false premise:
"I'm sure there are regions that are just as ethnically diverse, but with less fragmentation and animosity between different ethnicities. So why is this the case in the Balkans?"
Here are the countries of the Balkans listed by descending area in square kilometres), with the additional nations of England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Northern Ireland mixed in for comparison:
- Romania 238,392
- Greece 131,940
- England 130,279
- Bulgaria 110,994
- Hungary 93,030
- Scotland 77,993
- Serbia 77,453
- Ireland 70,273
- Croatia 56,594
- Bosnia & Hercegovina 51,129
- Albania 28,748
- Macedonia 25,713
- Wales 20,779
- Slovenia 20,273
- Northern Ireland 14,130
- Montenegro 13,812
- Kosovo 10,908
As you can see, the Balkans is no more or less fragmented nationally than the British Isles are.
That there has been an undue amount of warfare in the region over the past two hundred years, in the breakup of the Ottoman and Austrian empires that previously ruled the area for a millennium, is comparable to the centuries of bloodshed that led to the independence of Ireland in the early 20th Century, and the unification of England, Scotland and Wales from the 12th to 18 centuries.
Further, the breakup of the Ottoman Empire over the 19th and early 20th centuries coincides with the rise of nationalism throughout most of Europe. The broken nature of the mountainous terrain had fostered a wide variety of distinct ethnic-religious cultures that all saw themselves as distinct nations, but not always with distinct natural borders. This latter point is particularly true for the religiously distinct but otherwise very similar Serbians, Croats and Bosnians; intertwined territorially and sharing a language with slight dialectal variation.
A commenter claims that my comparison of the Balkans to the British Isles is clearly inappropriate because:
As diverse as the British Islands are, their overwhelming history is not one of fracture but one of unity. Unity of a single powerful country dominating it's internal rivals.
I counter that the History of Ireland alone, and of any century of that history from the 11th to the 19th, is more fragmented and ethnically violent than the Balkans has ever seen. It is simply more remote from our present consciousness.
Similarly the main island has seen numerous periods of internecine violence comparable to anything witnessed by the Balkans over a comparable time period:
In the power vacuum created in the departure of the Roman Empire in the mid 5th century, we see 600 years of successive invasions and internecine strife through Anglo-Saxon invasion of a Celtic homeland, consolidation of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, Viking Raids and the conquest by Canute, followed again by Norman Conquest. Bloody conquest of Wales and Scotland follows for another two centuries, during which time the attempts at conquest of Ireland begin.
In the wake of the unsuccessful Hundred Years War with France in 1453, there follows in quick succession, with intermittent breaks:
- Three decades of War of the Roses until 1485
- Decades of religious strife from the divorce of Catherine of Aragon in 1531 through the ascension of Elizabeth I in 1558, including rule by a foreign monarch in the form of Philip II of Spain
- More religious strife and Civil War, with breaks, from the ascension of Charles I in 1625 through the Glorious Revolution in 1688 and on to the Battle of Culloden and defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1746.
In a word diversity. The Balkans incorporate the historic boundaries were multiple rival beliefs and cultures meet. It was where the Eastern and Western Roman Empires met. It is where Rome settled the Visigoths. It was also where Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity battled for supremicy.
East West Schism
Disputes in the Balkans, Southern Italy, and Sicily over whether Rome or Constantinople had ecclesiastical jurisdiction.
It was an area heavily contested by the influx of the barbarians(Slavs in Roman times, and and later the Bulgars in midivil times). It was one of the area's which was raided by the Mongols incursion into Europe. It later where the Hapsburg Empire and Ottoman Empire met. Where Islam made inroads into Europe.
It was Napoleon's stepping stone into the east and Russia. It contain's the eastern most out post of what Himmler believed was aryan population in Europe.
- It was the first non-Germanic Waffen-SS division
- As for their ethnic background and SS requirements, it appears that Himmler accepted the theories advanced by both Croatian and German nationalists that the Croatian people, including the Muslims, were not ethnic Slavs but pure Aryans of either Gothic or Iranian descent.
It is where Mussolini and Hitler set up their Fascist puppet state during WWII.
- During its entire existence, the NDH was governed as a one-party state by the fascist Ustaša organization. The Ustaše was led by the Poglavnik, Ante Pavelić. The regime targeted Serbs, Jews and Roma as part of a large-scale campaign of genocide, as well as anti-fascist or dissident Croats and Muslims.
- From the signing of the Treaties of Rome on 18 May 1941 until the Italian capitulation on 8 September 1943, the state was a territorial condominium of Germany and Italy. In its judgement in the Hostages Trial, the Nuremberg Military Tribunal concluded that NDH was not a sovereign state. According to the Tribunal, "Croatia was at all times here involved an occupied country"
Is there a historic reason for why the Balkans are so fragmented?
The historic reason is that at different times different ethnicities/religious enteties entering or trying to expand their territory in the region have fought wars against each other ( Catholic Croats, Slavic Orthodox Serbs, and Muslim Bosnians ) have all been at war with each other.
These wars traditionally have involved proxy states. The Catholic Croats traditionally have been sponsored by Western Europe Catholic Kingdoms( Germany, Poland, Italy, France, and Hapsburg Empire). The Orthodox Serbs have traditionally been aligned with Russia but were a part of the Moslem Ottoman Empire for centuries. The Bosnians with the Ottoman Empire, or Turkey and the Moslem world. These traditional alliances some of which reach back thousands of years can be counted upon even in modern times to magnify any conflict which arrises in the region even as recently as the 1990s war which broke up Yugoslavia. They also played a significant role in the beginning of WWI. And while they were not decisive factor in the beginning of WWII, the region was engulfed in a proxy civil war which paralleled Hitlers war with the allies.
- East West Schism
- Western Roman Empire
- Mongol Invasion of Bulgaria and Serbia
- Napoleon's Adriatic Campaign
- 13th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Handschar (1st Croatian)
- Independent State of Croatia
- The principles of Ottoman rule in the Balkans
- The Hapsburg Empire
Response to Comments
Pieter Geerkens Just for starters: The statement "These traditional alliances some of which reach back thousands of years" is rubbish. The countries listed have in no case existed in any modern sense for even a thousand years.
What country in your mind does exist in the "modern sense" a thousand years ago? I'm not sure what that even means. However what I meant is that both Croatia and Serbia have histories which go back further than 1000 years. As does Croatia's association with both Poland and Germany (Francia).
The Countries listed above included Croatia Serbia and Western Europe Catholic Kingdoms( Germany, Poland, Italy, France)
History of Croatia
- Croatia first appeared as a duchy (of Francia) in the late 7th century and then as a kingdom in the 10th century. From the 12th century it remained a distinct state with its ruler (ban) and parliament, but it obeyed the kings and emperors of various neighboring powers, primarily Hungary and Austria.
The period from the 15th to the 17th centuries was marked by bitter struggles with the Ottoman Empire ( Ottoman Empire incorporated Serbia in the 1389).
According to the work De Administrant Imperio written by the 10th-century Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII, the Croats had arrived in what is today Croatia, from southern Poland, south of Kraków in the early 7th century, however that claim is disputed and competing hypotheses date the event between the 6th and the 9th centuries. Eventually two dukedoms were formed—Duchy of Pannonia and Duchy of Dalmatia, ruled by Liudewit and Borna, as attested by chronicles of Einhard starting in the year 818. The record represents the first document of Croatian realms, vassal states of Francia at the time.
The Frankish overlordship ended during the reign of Mislav two decades later. According to the Constantine VII christianization of Croats began in the 7th century, but the claim is disputed and generally christianization is associated with the 9th century. In 879, under duke Branimir, the duke of Croats, Dalmatian Croatia received papal recognition as a state from Pope John VIII.
FYI, Serbia also traces it's history back to around the 7th century and became an independent country in 1166.
Serbs settled the Balkan Peninsula in the 6th and 7th centuries and adopted Christianity in the 9th century. In 1166, Stefan Nemanja, a Serbian warrior and chief, founded the first Serbian state. By the 14th century, under the rule of Stefan Dusan, it became the most powerful state in the Balkans. After Serbia was defeated in the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, it was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire. Throughout the 19th century its struggle against Ottoman rule intensified, and in 1878 Serbia gained independence after Russia defeated the Ottoman Turks in the Russo-Turkish war of 1877–1878. In the Balkan wars (1912–1913), Serbia and other Balkan states seized hold of more former Ottoman lands on the peninsula.
Further, this post begs the question by stating as the cause of warfare and fragmentation: "different ethnicities/religious entities entering or trying to expand their territory in the region have fought wars against each other
Yeah who ever heard of Russia, Christian Europe and the Ottoman Empire fighting?
The Balkans contained the frontiers of the Hapsburg Empire, Ottoman Empire, and Russia. which fought centuries of wars between themselves.
I said proxy wars. Serbia became part of the Ottoman Empire after the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 and gained independence when Russia defeated the Ottoman Turks in the Russo-Turkish war of 1877. Croatia became part of the Hapsburg Empire in 1527. From 1500's to the late 1800's there were numerous wars between the Habsurgs and Ottoman Empires in the Balkins.
- Siege of Vienna in 1529
- the Little War of 1530
- The Mediterranean War 1480–1540
- Ottoman–Venetian War (1570–1573)
- Thirteen Years' War 1593–1606
- Great Turkish War 1663
- Another Siege of Vienna in 1683 (Battle of Zenta in Serbia)
In the 18th century the Hapsburgs and Ottomans were also involved in the:
- War of the Spanish Succession,
- Austro-Turkish War (1716–18),
- Prince Eugene of Savoy captures Belgrade, 1717
- Russo-Turkish War (1735–1739),
- Austro-Turkish War (1788–91)