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.