A Geopolitical Region Where Major Powers Meet: The East, the West, an ‘In-Between’ Europe

On 1 January 2006, the peninsula comprised eight states: Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, and, resulting from the dismantling of Yugoslavia, Macedonia, Serbia Monte negro, Bosnia Herzegovina, Slovenia, and Croatia. Turkey also has a fragment, and its first city, Istanbul. Romania is also sometimes classified as a Balkan state. The de composition of what was the Yugoslav territory until 1991 is still underway: Bosnia Herzegovina has been under international mandate since 1995, Montenegro became independent in May 2006 and Kosovo is gaining for the same status on 17 February 2008, but not yet recognized by the whole international community. At each stage, the Serbian state is shrinking. There is on the one hand a discrepancy between the geographical distribution of the peoples who are claiming recognition as nations and the state borders, and on the other hand an exceptionally marked fluctuation of these borders, and these two phe nomena focus on the 'in between' spatial mechanisms that have modeled the Balkan states from the outset.

Two Millennia to Form a Linguistic, Ethnic, and Religious Mosaic

If we return to antiquity it can be seen how the super imposition of civilizational strata is still influential in contemporary geopolitics (for instance, the Greek ob jection to the name of Macedonia). In antiquity the pen insula was divided between the influence zones of Rome and Constantinople, the first manifestation of the con frontation between West and East. This division is rooted in the languages and their alphabets, Latin to the West, Greek to the East; it was later reactivated by religious identity, when Latin and Greek (and later Slavonic) be came the liturgical languages of the two Christian chur ches. On this cultural dividing line, stable over two millennia, religious competition was intense (Figure 2).

Religions and languages in the Balkans. Balkans

From the sixth century Slav migratory flows brought new populations, but in a territory that was already markedly 'humanized' by groups who maintained their languages (Greek and Albanian): the first kingdoms of Bulgaria and Serbia had to gain settlement space by opposing the Byzantine Empire.

The long Ottoman episode introduced new popu lation patterns, such as Turkish populations, populations converted to Islam and acting as soldiers on the marches of the Empire (Slav Mohammedan Bosnians, Pomaks Bulgarian Mohammedans, Albanian janissaries, etc). From the eighteenth century, the Hapsburg Empire produced similar clusters of peasant soldiers (Serbs in Croatia, villages of all nationalities in Vojvodina). With the fluctuations of the borders between these imperial fronts, major migrations created shatterbelts with their unstable populations. Sephardi Jews found refuge in the Ottoman Empire, which was open to these city dwelling populations with talents for complex social and economic organization. The linguistic, ethnic, and religious mosaic that underpinned social and territorial patterns was the result of an intertwining of outside influences and the confrontation between large powers whose centers were not within the peninsula. In each episode the 'in be tween' mechanism produced breaks that further frag mented the Balkan area.

The Dilemma of Configurations on the Nation-State Model

The political map of the nation states that became es tablished in the course of the nineteenth-century is a major event with the territorial configuration of the peninsula, which thus far had been managed on imperial principles. This resulted from the weakening of the Ot toman power, and from the ambitions of neighboring Hapsburg and Russian empires, which were aimed at the peninsula and the control of the Bosphorus. It was also the result of the rise of national ideologies, with the support of Western powers, which initiated awareness and 'inventions' of nation. To escape from the Ottoman system, in which social distinction was functional, na tional construction was founded on language and litera ture, substituting the ethnic category for the social hierarchy. The modern nation states broke away from the imperial territory, Greece in 1830, Serbia in 1878, joined by the provinces of Croatia and Slovenia in 1921 (pro ducing Yugoslavia), Bulgaria in 1878, and Albania in 1913. The creation of these four states brought a new group of actors onto the geopolitical map, with their problems as newly independent states (hiatus between nationality and nation). These creations did not give in dependence to all the communities involved. They also needed political institutions recognizing a certain degree of individuality for the minorities (language, independent local administration, etc). It is in the setting of this dif ficult articulation between state and community legit imacies that conflicts developed successively. The 'civil' wars were mainly the result of internal tension, even if outside powers intervened. Yugoslavia, broken up into six states in 2006, is the typical example: neither the unitary configuration (1921–1940) nor the federal configuration established by Tito to counterbalance Serbian hegemonic ambition (1944–1991) was successful.

The Major Powers Still Present in Balkan Europe on the Borders of the European Union

Competition for influence over these new states persisted throughout the twentieth century: the sparking of World War I by the Sarajevo assassination in 1914; the Yalta agreement in 1944 which put the whole of the peninsula under Soviet control, except for Greece and Turkey which became NATO bases, signaling the arrival of US influence; then, after 1945, the interplay of influence of the major foreign powers within the then communist zone: Tito's Yugoslavia found Western support in his conflict with Moscow, turned to the Arab countries and initiated an opening up of the 'non aligned' countries in the Third World; Albania used China to escape from Russian domination.

The end of the Cold War saw a very marked re activation of Western influence in the Balkans, and a return to former historical alliances. Germany and Aus tria, retrieving their areas of influence, supported the breaking away of Slovenia and Croatia from Yugoslavia in 1991; although Slav, these two countries had only shared a short period of the past with other Slavs in the south in comparison with their long period of belonging to the central European empire. Russia, although weak ened by the collapse of the Soviet system, reestablished its cultural influence by using its affinities, both linguistic and religious, in Bulgaria and above all Serbia, where it supported the military nationalism. The position of Moslem countries toward Moslem minorities has been complex: it has been moderate, targeting the political and economic fields for Turkey, where the priority has been to obtain entry into the European Union (EU); it has been religious and ideological for the Arab countries, which have financed infrastructures (mosques, schools, and preachers) and the creation of the Eastern European Islamic Council as early as 1991. It was outside military intervention, NATO and then UN forces and the EU (ASA – agreement on stabilization and association, 2003) that put an end to the conflict surrounding the break up of Yugoslavia; US influence partly explains Kosovo's unilateral independence.

Because the Balkans is an 'in between' space, they are areas where geopolitical transition takes the form of ab rupt and violent territorial reorganization.