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Balkanization or Balkanisation is the process involving the fragmentation of an area, country, or region into multiple smaller and hostile units. It is usually caused by differences in ethnicity, culture, religion, and some other factors such as past grievances.
The term was first coined in the early 20th century, and found its roots in the depiction of events during the Balkan Wars (1912–1913) and World War I (1914–1918), specifically referring to incidents that transpired earlier in the Balkan Peninsula.
The term is pejorative; when sponsored or encouraged by a sovereign third party, it has been used as an accusation against such third-party nations. Controversially, the term is often used by voices for the status quo to underscore the dangers of acrimonious or runaway secessionism. The Balkan peninsula is seen as an example of shatter belts in geopolitics.
Origins of the term
Coined in the early 20th century, the term "Balkanization" traces its origins to the depiction of events during the Balkan Wars (1912–1913) and the First World War (1914–1918). It did not emerge during the gradual secession of Balkan nations from the Ottoman Empire over the 19th century, but was coined at the end of First World War. Albania was the only addition to the existing Balkan map at that time, as other nations had already formed in the nineteenth century. The term was initially employed by journalists and politicians, who used it as a conceptual tool to interpret the evolving global order resulting from the collapse of the Habsburg and Romanov Empires and the subsequent secession of Balkan nations following the Ottoman Empire's disintegration in the nineteenth century. After the Second World War (1939–1945), the term underwent significant development, expanding beyond its original context to encompass diverse fields such as linguistics, demography, information technology, gastronomy, and more. This expansion extended its descriptive reach to various phenomena, often with pejorative connotations. In response, critical scholars in the late 20th and early 21st centuries sought to denaturalize and reclaim 'balkanization'.
Nations and societies
The term (coined in the early 20th century in the aftermath of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire) refers to the division of the Balkan peninsula, which was ruled almost entirely by the Ottoman Empire, into a number of smaller states between 1817 and 1912. It came into common use in the immediate aftermath of the First World War, with reference to the many new states that arose from the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire.
Uses to stir opinion
Countries in Europe, where uniting quite recently historically distinct peoples or nations, have seen outspoken separatists. These have prompted reactionary voices fearing Balkanization. The Iberian Peninsula, especially Spain, has from the time of Al-Andalus (ending in 1492) seen voices fearing disorderly rupture. Its main separatist movements today are Basque separatism and Catalan independentism.
Canada is a stable country but has separatist movements, the strongest of which is the Quebec sovereignty movement, which seeks to create a nation-state in Quebec, which encompasses the majority of Canada's French Canadian population. Two referendums have been held to decide the question, one in 1980 and one in 1995. Both were lost by the separatists, the latter by a small margin. Less mainstream and smaller movements also exist in the Canadian Prairie, especially Alberta, to protest what is seen as domination by Quebec and Ontario of Canadian politics. Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow also considered separation from Canada if the 1995 referendum had succeeded, which would have led to the balkanization of Canada.
Quebec has been the scene of a small but vociferous partition movement from the part of Anglo-Quebecers activist groups opposed to the idea of independence of Quebec since 80% of the province is francophone. One such project is the Proposal for the Province of Montreal for the establishment of a separate province from Quebec for Montreal's strongly-anglophone and allophone (mother tongue neither English nor French) communities.
In January 2007, the growing support for Scottish independence made Chancellor of the Exchequer of the United Kingdom and later Prime Minister Gordon Brown talk of a "Balkanisation of Britain". Independence movements in the United Kingdom also exist in England, Cornwall and Northern England (themselves parts of England), Wales, and Northern Ireland.
Bates, Coatsworth & Williamson argued Balkanization was observed greatly in West Africa then British East Africa. In the 1960s, countries in the Communauté Financière Africaine started to opt for "autonomy within the French community" in the postcolonial era. Countries in the CFA franc zone were allowed to impose tariffs, regulate trade and manage transport services.
Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Uganda and Tanzania achieved independence toward the end of when the Great Powers postcolonial era came about. The period also saw the breakdown of the Federation of the Rhodesias and Nyasaland as well as the East African High Commission. Splintering into today's nations was a result of the movement towards a closed economy. Countries were adopting antitrade and anti-market policies. Tariff rates were 15% higher than in OECD countries during the 1970s and 1980s. Furthermore, countries took approaches to subsidise their own local industries, but the interior markets were small in scale. Transport networks were fragmented; regulations on labor and capital flow were increased; price controls were introduced. Between 1960 and 1990, balkanization led to disastrous results. The GDP of these regions were one tenth of OECD countries. Balkanization also resulted in what van de Valle called "typically fairly overvalued exchanged rates" in Africa. Balkanization contributed to what Bates, Coatsworth & Williamson claimed to be a lost decade in Africa.
Economic stagnation ended only in 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. By 1994, the number of countries with an exchange rate 50 percent higher than the official exchange rate had decreased from 18 to four. 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. However, this causation narrative is not popular in many circles.
In the Levant
During the 1980s, the Lebanese academic and writer Georges Corm used the term balkanization to describe attempts by supporters of Israel to create buffer states based on ethnic backgrounds in the Levant in order to protect Israeli sovereignty. In 2013 the French journalist Bernard Guetta writing in the Libération newspaper applied the term to:
- Balkan Wars
- Balkan Federation
- Breakup of Yugoslavia
- Cuius regio, eius religio
- Detachment (territory)
- Dissolution of the Ottoman Empire
- Dissolution of Austria-Hungary
- Dissolution of the Soviet Union
- Divide and rule
- Feudal fragmentation
- Protracted social conflict
- Shatter belt (geopolitics)
- Treaty of Sèvres
- Treaty of Trianon
- Westphalian sovereignty
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