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The BALKANS Explained (Geography Now!)

Hey everybody so as you know, I'm working on the scripts for the next few country episodes

Which means it's gonna be a filler week! Heavily requested but never really fulfilled until now

The Balkans explained

AKA Europe's most dysfunctional family

before we get into this though

Just want to give a quick shout-out to one of my favorite brands to work with - Seterra

You guys know I'm very

picky with which brands we get to sponsor here on Geography Now and Seterra is definitely cool on my list

Seterra is a geography learning game.

Go to their website to find out more. Download the app if you want, or you could play for free on the website

Seterra. Thank you. Anyway back to the Balkans

Now if you look at the map of southern Europe

You see this whole mess and you're like,

"the hell is going on?"

Basically, this place has a lot of weird history. Everybody loves and hates each other

These two countries can understand each other when they speak, as can these four,

but they all swear it's distinct different languages

In modern times today

Generally, they're all kind of cool with each other

And the younger generation has pretty much moved on from all that animosity that their grandparents endured during war times

Like I've heard Greek people say,

Hey, I've traveled to Albania and Turkey, the nations of our enemies and yet they were like totally treated fine by the locals

when they told them that they were Greek and they had a great time

so it's pretty much like that like mostly the

government and the zealous people are just the ones that create the modern drama

Quick historical context, this entire area at one point was ruled over the Ottoman Empire

then during the 20th century half of it was Yugoslavia

Wars battles music and Rakija. Done.

Geographically speaking

What exactly are the boundaries of the Balkans?

Apparently the Balkan Peninsula is surrounded by the Adriatic Sea to the west,

the Mediterranean Sea to the south, and the Black Sea to the east

Its northern boundary is often given as the Danube, Sava, and Kupa rivers

Or the Balkan and Dynaric Alps mountain ranges

The countries that lie entirely in the area include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bulgaria, Montenegro, and the newly named North Macedonia

As well as the disputed, partially recognized Kosovo area

and parts of Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, most of Greece and a very small part of Romania, Turkey, and even Italy

In this episode though, we're just gonna talk about the major Balkan nations that are either completely or mostly located within the Balkan area

So no Italy and I talked to some Romanian people and a lot of them said "Nah, we're not Balkan,

We're just our own thing in southern Europe."

So I'm not gonna talk about Romania. And with that being said, let's start off alphabetically, Albania

Oh, Albania was one of the first episodes I made. That was so long ago.

Out of all the Balkan nations, Albania is probably like the one that sticks out like a sore thumb the most

It's like the oddball that doesn't quite fit in

It's like the emo kid at the dinner table

Their language has no other relatives and they have a bunch of these like dome bunkers all over the country because their former leader was kind of paranoid

I mean, come on Albanians. Let's be real, Enver Hoxha, he was a little intense

About half the country is Muslim

which is interesting because they went through a weird communist era in which

all religious practice was banned and illegal but like the religious communities still kind of held on

For the longest time they were actually closed off to the entire world

Except China

Today however, they are completely opened up and a lot of like intrepid Europeans like to travel here

because there's a lot of like secret hidden beaches

Everything here is cheap. They are a candidate to join the EU

However, they still have some political obstacles that they have to overcome in order to join and uh yeah

They kind of don't really get along well with Serbia because of the whole Kosovo thing

Which we will explain in a bit

Bosnia and Herzegovina. Our first South Slavic nation

This is the most confusing political entity in, I would argue, the entire world

just watch the episode if you want a recap, but basically they have three constituent people groups

No other country has this. Maybe kind of Comoros, but that's a little different

And it's weird because like, everything here comes in threes.

The Bosnians or Bosniaks are mostly Muslim

The Serbians are mostly Orthodox and the Croatians are mostly Catholic

The country is divided into three parts

This all happened because after the breakup of Yugoslavia, there was a Bosnian war yada yada yada

and here we are

What's even crazier is they have three presidents - one for each of the constituent groups

and even weirder, they all pretty much speak the same language

But they are very keen to make sure that they distinguish that it's Croatian, Serbian, and Bosnian

like, it's all basically the same thing but they still, like, distinguish it

The country is almost completely landlocked

But they have this small little twenty kilometer long coast on the Adriatic. But yeah for what it's worth

They have a really cool art and music scene. They hosted the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo

you still see some of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire in things like food and architecture

and yeah, interesting place that not a lot of people talk about, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bulgaria, our second Slavic nation.

Ah, the land of roses. Every time I get something sent in from Bulgaria for fan mail,

it always usually includes something made out of roses.

Bulgaria is, how can I put it? It's kind of like the, uh...

Slowly withering beauty. Here's the thing like Bulgaria is loaded with lots of cool

you know natural sights and wonders and culture,

but like a lot of people are just leaving. Since the early 90s, about a quarter of their entire population has left

Making them one of the highest population decline nations in the world

Joining the EU has helped a bit but they still rank as the poorest nation in the EU

Nonetheless, lots of history started here

They're proud of being known as the place where the Cyrillic alphabet was created by these two brothers.

They love their bagpipes

Technically they're descended from the Bulgars which like migrated from Asia

So technically you could say Bulgarians have Asian roots Bulgarians and Macedonians are pretty much family

I mean they speak the exact same language almost. In fact many Bulgarians will say that Macedonians are just kind of like confused Bulgarians

It's just the biggest difference is that North Macedonia was historically part of Yugoslavia whereas Bulgaria was not

Keep in mind though, their language is Slavic, but it is not intelligible to the Serbo-Croat Bosnian languages

Like, they can't understand each other

Croatia. Our third Slavic nation. Croatia is kind of like "the one that got really lucky"

It's the land of the best Balkan sunsets. All those Game of Thrones locations

They even have Game of Thrones tours Croatia is one of the five Catholic influenced Slavic nations

Whereas the rest are predominantly Orthodox, you see a lot of Italian and ancient Roman influence here.

Lots of Italians even live here

They are seafaring folk

thousands of islands and rocks off the coast

They have the second highest quality of life index in the Balkans

Their tourism sector has just been exploding. So many cool natural and man-made sights. Huge music and art scene here

In fact, one of my favourite bands 2 Cellos was started here

And yeah, overall they've pretty much moved on from war times and they've built up quite a reputation Croatia

Greece. We all know this one. Very few countries love their culture and history and background as much as Greek people do

Greeks love being Greek.

Greece is kind of like the master of history and the remnant to the ancients, the cradle of western civilization

Now, they're known for being loud dancing party animals. Sorry. It's... Come on, Greeks, you know it's true

Like Albania, they are a linguistic anomaly. They have no other cousin languages

However, it's interesting because Koine Greek was the lingua franca of the Roman Empire

So you had people all over on three continents speaking Greek (ancient Greek)

They are a seafaring powerhouse! Over 6000 islands and the 11th longest coastline in the world

I'm not going to get into the whole economy and EU drama thing. We all know about it

We'll talk about the North Macedonia thing in a bit. But for what it's worth. Yeah, Greece is popular

They love Serbians and Serbians love Greece. They've worked historically alongside each other a lot

especially during the fight against the Ottomans plus Serbia also kind of likes how Greece does not recognize Kosovo which brings us to the

Partially Recognized disputed area of Kosovo

Kosovo is like the weird wildcard guy that nobody really wants to get involved in except for Serbia and Albania

If you ask a somewhat nationalistic Serbian they will probably say

If you ask a Kosovar, they will probably say

But then Serbia will say, "yeah, but not a full participating member state"

"Plus there's a lot of Serbian history and cultural sites in Kosovo."

"Okay, well, we're still pretty much in every sense a country. Even your government recognizes our administration"

"Well, you can claim whatever you want, but no, you're not a country"

And it goes on. Whatever you want to claim Kosovo is, it's basically like Albania's little brother

The majority of people in Kosovo are Albanian. There's a huge war in the 90s after the breakup of Yugoslavia

Which pretty much led to what we have now and keep in mind

There is a Serbian minority in Kosovo, which is where a lot of the conflict centers around

Whatever you want to consider Kosovo as, basically

It's a place that's kind of trying to move into the 21st century in a weird awkward way

Tourism is starting to grow especially amongst intrepid travelers who like to say that they've been to a disputed area

But yeah, probably the biggest controversy of the Balkans

Montenegro. The fourth Slavic country

I had so much fun making the Montenegro episode because

I had no idea how hilarious their reputation was amongst the Balkans.

If you didn't watch the episode, basically, Montenegro is the sleepiest country on Earth

They even have a "Lazy Olympics" where you can get about 400 Euros just for being the person who does nothing for the longest

They're like the chill lazy little hippie sister of Serbia that has access to the beach and she likes to sleep on the beach

They were the last part of the former Yugoslavian Republic to break away in 2006 from Serbia

Probably because they were sleeping and missed the deadline

They speak pretty much the same language as Serbians, Croats, and Bosnians, but they just have their own little Montenegrin accent

They really don't like getting into drama or conflicts which is funny because

historically, they were known for being like really vicious fighters.

They get along with pretty much all of their neighbors

However, in the end, Serbia is just kind of like their best friend-ish

Like a lot of Montenegrins go to Serbia for education and job opportunities, and Serbia likes to use Montenegro for access to the sea

The newly named North Macedonia. Ooh, the country that must not be named

Other than Kosovo, this is probably the most controversial area in the Balkans

For the longest time, they had gone through a series of disputes and economic blockades, mostly against Greece

All because of the name

I don't have too much time to explain just watch the video which is already kind of outdated

For the longest time, under the UN they were labeled as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

Many countries called them the Republic of Macedonia

Greeks were not happy because the word Macedonia implies Hellenistic roots

When clearly the people of this area are... They're not Greek, they speak a Slavic language

But then the Macedonians have their side of the argument and then it just gets kind of messy

I'm not gonna go further into this

Anyway, yeah, the people here are kind of like in a tug of war against everybody around them

I mean Bulgarians are kind of like "Come on, you guys are basically Bulgarians just join us"

Serbia is like "You guys are kind of cool and plus you and Montenegro are the only two countries that kind of

split apart from us without any bloodshed but your church is kind of messed up"

Albania is like, "I don't like your Western border, especially by Lake Ohrid"

Culturally, it's a huge mix as well

So you have like a weird Orthodox Muslim mix thing going on kind of

You have a lot of preserved Byzantine frescoes and paintings

I was told a lot of Balkan people loved going here because everything is like super cheap and they do have pretty good food here

And I mean if you just kind of like look past all the semantics and like overarching diplomatic issues

Then they're just like people that like to eat, have fun, and chill.

It's just yeah government and politics makes things crazy

Serbia! Oh boy, if you ask anybody in the Balkans, they all have an opinion on Serbia

A lot of people will probably say Serbia is kind of like where all the crazy stuff starts

It's the country they all love to hate and hate to love

Like, they kind of started and pushed the kingdom of Yugoslavia

They kind of started World War I and the Yugoslav wars.

Let's be honest, though. Yugoslavia was kind of like a collective effort. I mean Tito was Croat-Slovene

But then people are like "eh I guess the new younger generation that never saw war is kind of cool and a little sexy I guess"

And the thing is, for the longest time, Serbia was actually a kingdom apart from the Austro-Hungarian Empire

Unlike Croatia and Bosnia which were part of it

So they're kind of proud of the fact that they kind of like stood their ground

Of course, they are another Slavic nation, they can understand Croatians and Bosnians.

They are a "negotiating" candidate to join the EU but of course everything is on hold because of the whole Kosovo thing

Plus it's interesting because if they did join the EU that would kind of maybe strain their relations with Russia

Which is like one of their closest allies. That's a whole other thing

But I mean, there's a lot of history and culture here, too

Belgrade is like over 7,000 years old and it was actually Celtic before it was Roman

It was actually voted by Lonely Planet as the city with the best nightlife

They love raspberries and they have like one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world

and like in a nutshell, they are such a key figure in the Balkans

And uh yeah, what else? Novak Djokovic

And finally, Slovenia. Slovenia is the richest and most well-off of all the Balkan nations

Their language is kind of intelligible to the Serbo Bosnian Croat language

But I heard it's just like a little bit more difficult to understand

They have beautiful world-renowned buildings and monasteries

They don't like to cause any drama. They get along very well with Italy

There's a lot of Italians that live here, even though they're kind of pissed off that

Italy got the entire Trieste coast cutting off half of their access to the sea, but eh

And it's kind of like whenever they're at a party with all their cousins

It's like everybody's drinking rakija, but then Slovenia is like the one who's like "I prefer a nice glass of wine"

Which is like almost sacrilege

Serbians, Croatians, and Bosnians kind of joke that Slovenians are kind of like the stuck-up people

They're kind of like the nerdy brother that got a good job in banking and he still shows up to the family reunions

But he kind of like keeps his distance and doesn't want to party too hard cuz he has work in the morning

and everybody else is like "ugh, you little wuss" but hey, they're rich, so they don't care

And that's basically it. There's so much I missed out on, I know I could have added a lot more

but that's why I kind of want you guys to explain in the comments

which is gonna be a beautiful place, and it's gonna have no controversy and no arguments obviously

For what it comes down to though, the Balkans is a place with lots of culture and history

It's just kind of jumbled up a little bit here and there that's kind of the beauty of it all you know

People bringing something different to the table

In the end, they all love doing their shots of rakija and they can all agree

At least we're not under the Ottoman Empire anymore

This was fun. Hope you have a good one. Stay cool. Stay tuned