Balkanization, or Balkanisation, is a geopolitical term used to describe the process of fragmentation or division of a region or state into smaller regions or states that are often hostile or uncooperative with one another.[1][2] Balkanisation is a result of foreign policies creating geopolitical fragmentation, as has happened in the namesake Balkan region under the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Nations and societies

The term refers to the division of the Balkan peninsula, formerly ruled almost entirely by the Ottoman Empire, into a number of smaller states between 1817 and 1912.[3] It was coined in the early 19th century and has a strong negative connotation.[4] The term however came into common use in the immediate aftermath of the First World War, with reference to the numerous new states that arose from the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire.

The larger countries within Europe, often being the result of the union of several historical regions or nations, have faced the perceived issue of Balkanisation. The Iberian Peninsula and Spain especially has from the time of Al-Andalus had to come to terms with Balkanisation,[5] with several separatist movements existing today including the Basque Country and Catalan independentism.

Canada is a stable country but does harbor separatist movements, the strongest of which is the Quebec sovereignty movement which seeks to create a nation-state that would encompass the majority of Canada's French-Canadian population. Two referendums have been held to decide this question, one in 1980 and the last one in 1995 being lost by the separatist side by a tiny margin. Less mainstream, smaller movements also exist in the western provinces, namely Alberta, to protest what is seen as a domination by Quebec and Ontario of Canadian politics. Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow had also considered separation from Canada if the 1995 Quebec independence referendum had succeeded; which would have led to the balkanisation of Canada.

Quebec has been the scene of a small but vociferous partition movement from the part of anglophone activist groups opposed to the idea of Independence of Quebec, as such a country would be dominated by francophones on the order of 80%. One such project is the Proposal for the Province of Montreal, which wishes for the establishment of a separate province from Quebec from Montreal's strongly anglophone and immigrant communities.

In January 2007, regarding the growing support for Scottish independence, the then-Chancellor of the Exchequer of the United Kingdom, and later Prime Minister, Gordon Brown talked of a "Balkanisation of Britain".[6] Independence movements within Great Britain also exist in England, Wales, Cornwall, and Northern Ireland.

Balkanization in Africa

As Bates, Chatsworth & Williamson would argue, Balkanization was observed to a great extent in Africa. During the 1960s, countries in the Communauté Financière Africaine have started to opt for "autonomy within the French community" in this post-colonial era.

Countries within the CFA zone were allowed to impose tariffs, regulate trade and manage transport services. Zambia, Malawi, Uganda and Tanzania achieved independence in the post-colonial era. This period also saw the break down of the Federation of the Rhodesias and Nyasaland as well as the East African High Commission. Balkanization was a result of the movement towards a closed economy. Countries were adopting antitrade and anti-market policies. Tariff rates were 15% higher than OECD countries during the 1970s and 1980s.[7] Furthermore, countries took approaches to subsidize their own local industries yet the market within the country was small-scale. Transport networks were fragmented; regulations on labor and capital flow were more regulated; prices were under control. Between 1960 and 1990, balkanisation led to disastrous results. The GDP of these regions were one-tenth of OECD countries.[7] Balkanisation also resulted in what van de Valle called "typically fairly overvalued exchanged rates" in Africa. Balkanization contributed to what Bates, Chatsworth & Williamson claimed to be a lost decade in Africa.

Economic situations only took a turn during the mid-1990s. Countries within the region started to input more stabilization policies. What was originally a high exchange rate eventually fell to a more reasonable exchange rate after devaluations in 1994. Eighteen countries had an exchange rate 50% higher than the official exchange rate, by 1994, the number of countries that had such exchange rate was decreased to four.[8] However, there is still limited progress in improving trade policies within the region according to van de Walle. In addition, the post-independent countries still rely heavily on donors for development plans. Balkanization still has an impact on today’s Africa.

Other uses

The term is also used to describe other forms of disintegration, including, for instance, the subdivision of the Internet into separate enclaves.[9] However, Robert Morgus' and Tim Maurer's study suggests that the alarmist term Balkanisation should be replaced with more appropriate terms such as fragmentation.[10] Late in his presidency, Barack Obama voiced concern that "Balkanized" news and social media were embittering partisan divisions during his administration and throughout the 2016 campaign season. In an interview with Prince Harry, the former president stated:

One of the dangers of the internet is that people can have entirely different realities. They can be cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases... The question has to do with how do we harness this technology in a way that allows a multiplicity of voices, allows a diversity of views, but doesn’t lead to a Balkanisation of society and allows ways of finding common ground.[11]

The term has been used in American urban planning to describe the process of creating gated communities.

See also



  1. "Balkanize". Merriam-Webster Online. Retrieved 15 October 2017.
  2. Vidanović 2006.
  3. Pringle 2016.
  4. Simic 2013, p. 128.
  5. McLean, Renwick (29 September 2005). "Catalonia steps up to challenge Spain". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 October 2017.
  6. "UK's Existence is at Risk – Brown". BBC News. 13 January 2007. Retrieved 15 October 2017.
  7. 1 2 Bates, Coatsworth & Williamson 2007.
  8. Van de Walle 2004.
  9. Freeland, Chrystia; Water, Richard (4 September 2008). "Google Lays Out Browser Aims". Financial Times. Archived from the original on 13 October 2011. Retrieved 15 October 2017.
  10. Maurer, Tim; Morgus, Robert (19 February 2014). "Stop Calling Decentralization of the Internet 'Balkanisation'". Slate. Retrieved 15 October 2017.
  11. Ceylan Yeginsu (27 December 2017). "When Harry Met Barry: The BBC Obama Interview". Retrieved 11 January 2018.


Bates, Robert H.; Coatsworth, John H.; Williamson, Jeffrey G. (2007). "Lost Decades: Postindependence Performance in Latin America and Africa". The Journal of Economic History. 67 (4): 917–943. doi:10.1017/S0022050707000447. ISSN 1471-6372. 
Pringle, Robert W. (2016). "Balkanization". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 15 October 2017. 
Simic, Predrag (2013). "Balkans and Balkanisation: Western Perceptions of the Balkans in the Carnegie Commission's Reports on the Balkan Wars from 1914 to 1996". Perceptions. 18 (2): 113–134. ISSN 1300-8641. 
Van de Walle, Nicolas (2004). "Economic Reform: Patterns and Constraints". In Gyimah-Boadi, E. Democratic Reform in Africa: The Quality of Progress. Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers. pp. 29–63. ISBN 978-1-58826-246-2. 
Vidanović, Ivan (2006). Rečnik socijalnog rada (in Serbian). Udruženje stručnih radnika socijalne zaštite Srbije; Društvo socijalnih radnika Srbije; Asocijacija centra za socijalni rad Srbije; Unija Studenata socijalnog rada. ISBN 978-86-904183-4-3. 
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