Balkanize

By Maeve Maddox

A word one hears and sees a lot these days is the verb to balkanize. Especially common are impassioned warnings about something described as “the balkanization of America.”

Note: the Merriam-Webster entry for balkanize is lowercase, with the notation, “often capitalized.”

Balkanize was coined about 1918 as a geopolitical term to describe the political fragmentation of a specific area of the world: the Balkan Peninsula.

Located in Southeast Europe between the Adriatic Sea on the northwest and the Black Sea on the east, the Balkan Peninsula is also called “the Balkans.” The region takes its name from the Balkan Mountains. It’s a very large area–257,400 square miles (about the size of Texas)–occupied by numerous ethnic and religious groups.

Following World War I the old powers that once ruled the peninsula were replaced by numerous new states. Because of ethnic and religious differences among their populations, these new “Balkanized” states were often hostile to one another.

The verb coined to described the situation in the Balkans is still used to describe actual political conditions in other regions of the world:

Experts Warn of Balkanization of Libya

ArabSaga: Iran-Iraq pushing for Syria’s balkanization

Hydropolitics Propel Balkanization in Africa

A Balkanized Middle East Set To Blow

In addition to political connotations, balkanize and its noun balkanization have acquired an extended meaning of fragmentation that can apply to just about anything:

Balkanization Of America Accelerating

We Can’t Let the Internet Become Balkanized

The Balkanization of English Language and Literature

Signs of Balkanization in L.A. Unified [schools]

Pat Buchanan Warns against “Balkanization and Disintegration”

A Warning Against “Rights” Balkanization

Ex-KGB Analyst Predicts Balkanization of US

The idea of hostility implied in the term makes balkanize a popular rhetorical choice to express negativity. The allusions to the balkanization of America focus on what seems to be a growing reluctance among legislators and various segments of the population to compromise on issues that affect the country as a whole.

Note: the Balkan States are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Slovenia, and three states that have emerged from what used to be known as Yugoslavia: Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo. A small part of Turkey also lies on the Balkan Peninsula.

The Balkan States in Southeast Europe are not to be confused with the Baltic States in Northern Europe. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are the countries usually meant by “the Baltic States,” but Finland and Poland also lie along the Baltic Sea.

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9 Responses to “Balkanize”

  • alex

    Serbia and Montenegro are separate countries for some years.

  • Belinda

    Just to say that unless this article is over 7 years old, Yugoslavia – Serbia and Montenegro have also become even more balkanised and now comprise two (or three if you count Kosovo) different countries…

  • Michael W. Perry

    I doubt the U.S. is in much danger of being Balkanized. We’re perhaps the most gifted country in human history at integrating in new peoples, so much so that even the silliness of ‘diversity’ experts can’t do much harm.

    Europe, on the other hand, has a woefully poor record of bringing in new peoples. The Balkans, after all, are a part of Europe. To the extent that Europe has been able to deal with the problem, it has done so by rearranging borders and sometimes nasty forced population relocations. And none of that will handle the issues that are developing with migrating Islamic populations that are hostile to fitting in.

    G. K. Chesterton described the problem with Islam to near perfection when he noted that when Rome conquered Greece, it didn’t hesitate to learn from the Greeks or, as one poet put it, “Captive Greece took Rome captive.”

    On the other hand, when it conquered Greece, the Islamic Ottoman empire learned nothing from Greek culture. Chesterton described that, and I quote loosely, by noting that Rome sat upon Greece like a sponge, while the Turks sat upon it like a rock.

    –Michael W. Perry, editor of Chesterton on War and Peace

  • Curtis

    I’d balk a using such a term . . .

  • Frank

    “I doubt the U.S. is in much danger of being Balkanized. We’re perhaps the most gifted country in human history at integrating in new peoples,”

    Especially the original inhabitants and the introduced slaves …

  • Dale A. Wood

    Quoting the following:
    Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are the countries usually meant by “the Baltic States,” but Finland and Poland also lie along the Baltic Sea.
    ————————————————————–
    This sentence is peculiar in its omissions.
    Several other countries also lie along the coast of the Baltic Sea:
    RUSSIA, SWEDEN, GERMANY, and DENMARK.
    The entire seacoast of Sweden lies along the Baltic Sea. Note that Sweden does not have a coast on the Arctic Ocean because that part of the Arctic coast lies completely on Russia and Norway.
    Russia acquired a seaport on the Baltic Sea when Peter the Great acquired St. Petersburg and a short coast around it. (That city was called “Leningrad” the communists.) Then in 1945, Russia got the northern half of East Prussia, too.
    Germany has part of its seacoast on the Baltic Sea, and that place became part of a famous speech by Winston Churchill in 1946. There is a town close to the northern end of the old border between East Germany and West Germany, and it is named Stettin. Churchill said, “From Stettin on the Baltic to Trieste on the Adriatic, an IRON CURTAIN has decended across Europe.”
    Finally, Denmark has an East Coast on the Baltic Sea, and a West Coast on the North Sea. Then, separating Denmark from Sweden and Norway there are the straits named the Kattegat and the Skagerrak that form the northern border of Denmark. Not too many years ago, a highway/railroad connection via bridge and tunnel was completed across the strait between southwestern Sweden and northwestern Denmark, the large Danish island that contains Copenhagen.
    Therefore, these are the countries that have seacoasts on the Baltic Sea, in alphabetical order: Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, and Sweden. That is nine countries in all.

    That is just the way that my memory works: visual information is what I remember the best, and I memorize maps and other diagrams. Historical information is also easy to remember when it has visual associations, like Churchill said: There was an Iron Curtain from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic Sea. From 1946 through 1956, the Iron Curtain divided both Germany and Austria into two parts, and the Curtain divided West Germany from Czechoslovakia, and the Curtain divided Italy from Yugoslavia.
    Then in 1956, the Western Allies (the U.S., the U.K., and France) got an agreement from the U.S.S.R. that allowed Austria to reunify, with the understanding that Austria would be a neutral country, similar to Switzerland and Sweden. That is how it has remained.
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    The idea that the United States risks becoming Balkanized is based on the following, depending on regional differences:
    1. The states from New Jersey and New York to the northeast all the way through Maine could become their own country, either “de jure” or as a practical matter.
    2. The Middle Atlantic states including Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia could become another country, just as in item number one.
    3. The Southeastern states from North Carolina through Florida, and thence west to the Mississippi River could become a third country. Maybe Louisiana and Arkansas would join this one, and maybe not.
    4. The rest of the states along the Great Lakes could become a country, and maybe taking Kentucky with them.
    5. Of course, there is a deep-rooted desire among some TEXANS to become an independent country again. These are in a minority now (fewer than 25 percent), but things could change. Also, Texas might take some of these adjacent states with it: Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico.
    6. Then there is a broad area of the Great Plains States and Rocky Mountain States that might want to separate – or like I said, to become separate for practical purposes.
    7. There could be a Northwestern county that would include Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and maybe Montana and Alaska, too.
    8. California has its large population, natural resources, and industrial power, and it seems to be primed to separate. Some other states might go with it, and those could be Nevada, Arizona, and Hawaii.

    So, that makes eight countries of Balkanization, and some authors have speculated on ten or eleven. These are things that might happen if the states do not learn to cooperate with each other better, and especially through their representatives in Congress. There is real risk of Balkanization in the United States if there is not a better sense of cooperation in Congress, and cooperation between the Legislative branch and the Executive branch of the Federal government.

    It is also quite disappointing when many people in government and the corporations cannot even name the three branches of our Federal government. The third branch is the Judicial branch. To me, it is shocking that people who should know better cannot even NAME these three, much less explain their functions and the system of checks and balances that is built into the Constitution.
    D.A.W.

  • venqax

    I doubt the U.S. is in much danger of being Balkanized. We’re perhaps the most gifted country in human history at integrating in new peoples, so much so that even the silliness of ‘diversity’ experts can’t do much harm.

    Hmmm…well, I’d say we’ve already been balkanized, if we don’t restrict the term to the extreme connotation of actual warfare between states. And those “silly” diversity experts and their allies have already done an incalculable about of harm. The separations described by some– like Dale points out– are a currate’s egg at worst.

    Also, rubber is rarely balkanized. It is vulcanized. I have heard people discuss balkanized rubber, but I think they were just trying to start trouble. Actual Vulcans, of course, are unemotional so they don’t take the bait. Perhaps someone would like to exapand on this…

  • venqax

    “I doubt the U.S. is in much danger of being Balkanized. We’re perhaps the most gifted country in human history at integrating in new peoples,”

    Especially the original inhabitants and the introduced slaves …
    Oh yeah. You’re right. Change that. The US is the worst, ever. Worse than any other country. Forget about 10s of millions of immigrant who were assimilated. Even if the US were the best in history at doing this– even though not perfect– it wouldn’t matter. As Frank reminds us. Thank you, Frank.

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