To be found in the bottom right hand (south east) corner of Europe just before you fall out of the west and into the east.
The Balkans started life as part of the Ancient Greek world. It later became part of the Roman dominated empire (who did their best to exterminate everyone then living in Romania) before being given a free transfer to the Byzantine (or eastern Roman) empire.
It made up much of the Medieval Byzantine Empire till in 1300-1453 it was absorbed peacefully with no war, unpleasantness or belligerence at all (honest gov) by the very calm and un-warry Muslim Ottoman Empire. Islam thus became the regions state religion, most religions/cultures were sort of respected and the area was relatively stable except on the borders where Christian and Muslim tried to kill each other in a pattern of raid and reprisal.
After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire ... The Balkans, together with Belgium, became Europe's favourite battleground. In fact, WWI, which was mostly fought in Belgium, had a sideshow in the Balkans and started in Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital.
After the fun and games of WW2, communism became the 'firm' hand that suppressed the internal loathing and hatred still simmering after 400 years. With the fall of communism it was decided by all sides in the region that it was ... ETHNIC CLEANSING TIME!
A map of the Balkans area
What do we know them from?
During the early nineties, first the UN and later NATO had a large Peacekeeping / Peace Enforcing. A lot of British and other European soldiers spent years of their lives trying to keep Yugoslavians from killing each other.
Where are they?
'The Balkans' is the name for an area of South-Eastern Europe, containing several countries. It is bordered in the East by the Black Sea, in the West by the Aegean Sea and in the South by the national borders of Greece and Turkey. Countries in the Balkans are those who used to form Yugoslavia; Albania; Macedonia; Romania; Bulgaria and Moldovia. Generally, anywhere Slavic is bound to be Balkans. Which is why Greece and the European bit of Turkey are decidedly not part of the Balkans! The Northern edge of the Balkans is marked by civilised countries like Italy, near Triëste; Austria and even the relatively humane territory of Hungaria.
Some Balkanish Things
- Slivovitch: A sort of plum brandy... (their bowels must work like V8 pistons)
- Palinka: A sort of plum brandy... (Jeez I feel a Grand Slam coming on)
- Rakia: A sort of plum brandy... (how do they find the time to kill each other?)
- Lads willing to rent out their sisters for 10 DM.
- Being a place where the DM was more readily accepted than the USD.
- Cold winters, scorching summers.
- A collective ability to set the clock of Europe back to the darkest Medieval ages.
Wars in the Balkans
- 1904: Greeks and Bulgarians having it out inside Macedonia.
- 1909: Bulgaria fights its way out of the Ottoman Empire.
- 1912: First Balkan War; Turks, Greeks; Macedonians and Bulgarians having big pubfight.
- 1913: Second Balkan War; Bulgaria attacks Serbia and Greece, while Montenegro, Romania and the Ottoman Empire intervened later against Bulgaria. The Greeks nick Tessaloniki from the Turks.
- 1914: WWI is set off by a Bosnian Serb who shoots the Austrian-Habsburger crown prince in Sarajevo. A major allied campaign was fought in the backwards, hilly area of the Ottoman Empire we all know as 'Les Balkans.'
- 1940: WWII; most Balkan states enthusiastically participate on either the German, allied, communist, or their own side. Mostly not as part of the main war effort, but as a good ... ahem ... opportunity to get at their neighbours.
- 1945: Most of the Balkans are thoroughly underfoot of the Soviet Russian empire. A number of smaller countries form Yugoslavia under the inspiring leadership and armed fist of Tito. An era of eerie calm sets in.
- 1989: Slovenia splits of from Yugoslavia, setting an example and precedent that will spark a decade long civil (?) war in the soon to be Former Yugoslavia. This series of wars (Croatians against Serbs; Serbs against Bosnian Muslims; Bosnian Muslims against Bosnian Serbs against Croatians; Croatians and Bosnian Serbs against Bosnian Serbs... Do I need to go on?) led to a degree of cruelty and slaughter not seen since the last months of WWII. A new buzzword was introduced: Ethnic Cleansing, the PC way of saying: Wholesale slaughter of non-combatants.
It can be safely said that the Balkans are only calm when a foreign empire keeps a lid on it. It used to be the Ottomans and the Soviet Russians; now it is NATO. Will NATO be succeeded by the EU (letting some more impoverished Eastern Europeans in...) or will the old animosities flare up once again?