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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