The 11 countries lying on the Balkan Peninsula are called the Balkan states or just the Balkans. This region lies on the southeastern edge of the European continent. Some Balkan countries such as Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Macedonia were once part of Yugoslavia.
Defining Balkan states is difficult for various geopolitical reasons, and Balkan boundaries have been the topic of much debate between scholars. Though there is some disagreement as to exactly how many countries are encompassed in the Balkan region, these 11 nations are generally accepted as Balkan.
Albania, or the Republic of Albania, has a total population of approximately 3 million people. It is located in the western part of the Balkan peninsula and features a long coastline facing the Adriatic Sea. Albania’s capital city is Tirana and its official language is Albanian. Its government is a unitary parliamentary constitutional republic.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
The country known as Bosnia and Herzegovina is located east of Albania and its capital city is Sarajevo. Bosnia and Herzegovina is ethnically diverse and comprised of three major ethnic groups: Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats. This nation has a total population of about 3.8 million people, 2 most of whom speak either Bosnian, Croatian, or Serbian, many speaking all three. This government is a parliamentary representative democracy.
There are approximately 7 million people living in the Republic of Bulgaria today and they speak the official language of Bulgarian, a Slavic language related to Macedonian. Bulgaria’s capital city is Sofia. A diverse nation, Bulgaria’s largest ethnic group is Bulgarians, a South Slavic group. The government of this country is a parliamentary representative democratic republic.
Croatia, located on the western edge of the Balkan peninsula along the Adriatic Sea, is a parliamentary representative democratic republic. The capital city is Zagreb. Croatia has a population of 4.2 million people, about 90% of whom are ethnically Croats. The official language is Standard Croatian.
The Republic of Kosovo has a population of approximately 1.9 million people and the official languages are Albanian and Serbian. It is a multi-party parliamentary representative democratic republic and the country’s capital city is Prishtina. About 93% of Kosovo’s population is ethnically Albanian.
Moldova, located in the eastern region of the Balkans, has a population of about 3.4 million people, 75% of whom are ethnic Moldovans. Moldova is a parliamentary representative democratic republic and its official language is Moldovan, a variety of Romanian. The capital city is Chisinau.
The 610,000 people living in tiny Montenegro speak the official language Montenegrin. Ethnicity is varied here, with 45% Montenegrin and 29% Serbian. The capital city is Podgorica and the political structure is a parliamentary representative democratic republic.
There are approximately 2 million people living in the Republic of North Macedonia. About 64% is Macedonian and 25% is Albanian. The official language is Macedonian, a south Slavic language closely related to Bulgarian. Like most other Balkan states, Macedonia is a parliamentary representative democratic republic. The capital city is Skopje.
Romania is a semi-presidential representative democratic republic, and its capital city is Bucharest. This country makes up the largest piece of the Balkan peninsula and boasts a population of about 21 million people. Eighty-three percent of people living in Romania are ethnic Romanians. There are several spoken languages in Romania but the official language is Romanian.
Serbia’s population is about 83% Serbs, and there are approximately 7 million people living there today. Serbia is a parliamentary democracy and its capital city is Belgrade. The official language is Serbian, a standardized variety of Serbo-Croatian.
About 2.1 million people live in Slovenia under a parliamentary representative democratic republic government. About 83% of inhabitants are Slovenian. The official language is Slovene, known as Slovenian in English. Slovenia’s capital city is Ljubljana.
How the Balkan Peninsula Came to Be
Geographers and politicians divide the Balkan peninsula in a variety of ways due to a complicated history. The root cause of this is that a number of Balkan countries were once part of the former country of Yugoslavia, which formed at the end of World War II and separated into distinct countries in 1992.
Some Balkan states are also considered “Slavic states” as they are typically defined as Slavic-speaking communities. These include Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia.
Maps of the Balkans often define the countries listed above as Balkan using a combination of geographic, political, social, and cultural factors. Other maps that use a strictly geographical approach include the entire Balkan Peninsula as Balkan. These maps add the mainland of Greece as well as a small portion of Turkey that lies northwest of the Sea of Marmara as Balkan states.
Geography of the Balkan Region
The Balkan Peninsula is rich in both water and mountains, making it a biodiverse and vibrant European destination. The southern coast of Europe is comprised of three peninsulas and the easternmost of these is known as the Balkan Peninsula.
This region is surrounded by the Adriatic Sea, the Ionian Sea, the Aegean Sea, and the Black Sea. If you were to travel north of the Balkans, you would pass through Austria, Hungary, and Ukraine. Italy shares a small border with Slovenia, a Balkan country, on the region’s western edge. But perhaps even more so than water and location, mountains define the Balkans and make this land unique.
The word Balkan is Turkish for “mountains”, so it’s probably not surprising that the aptly-named peninsula is covered in mountain ranges. These include:
- The Carpathian Mountains of northern Romania
- The Dinaric Mountains along the Adriatic coastline
- The Balkan Mountains found mostly in Bulgaria
- The Pindus Mountains in Greece
These mountains play a big role in the region’s climate. In the north, the weather is similar to that of central Europe, with warm summers and cold winters. In the south and along coastlines, the climate is more Mediterranean with hot, dry summers and rainy winters.
Within the many mountain ranges of the Balkans are rivers large and small. These blue rivers are commonly noted for their beauty but they are also full of life and home to an impressive variety of freshwater animals. The two major rivers in the Balkans are the Danube and Sava.
What Are the Western Balkans?
There is a regional term often used when talking about the Balkan Peninsula and this is the Western Balkans. The name “Western Balkans” describes the countries on the western edge of the region, along the Adriatic coast. The Western Balkans include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia.
By Matt Rosenberg at ThoughtCo. Geography Expert
- M.A., Geography, California State University – Northridge
- B.A., Geography, University of California – Davis
Matt Rosenberg is an award-winning geographer and the author of “The Handy Geography Answer Book” and “The Geography Bee Complete Preparation Handbook.”