Understanding the Balkans: A History of Bloodshed

The Balkans is a particularly interesting area of the world, and its ethnic diversity has contributed to unique cultural development as well as times of great struggle and conflict. The Balkans, an area that ranges from Bulgaria to Serbia, is a gateway from Europe to the Near East, shaped by craggy mountains that divide cultures and nations into isolated clusters.

This area has a history of bloodshed and great conflict, perhaps because its diversity can be its own worst enemy. Fundamental differences in religion, culture, and political theories have set many peoples in the region upon each other in a blood bath. Itís proximity to Russia meant that it fell under control of the Soviet Union during much of the Cold War, and the USSR spread communist ideology throughout the nations comprising the Balkans, propping up puppet governments and officers in rigged elections amid religious persecution.

The Bulgarian Communist Party came to power and began to step up its agenda against Catholics and Protestants in the country, attempting to drive them out or sending death threats to intimidate spiritual leaders. Further animosity was created when the Soviet Union injected its influence into Romania in the late 40s, forcing Greek Catholics to merge their church with the Romanian Orthodox church. The Soviets seized as much as 2,600 facilities of worship from the Greek Catholic Church, turning over the property to the state for urban and military development.

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Even more recently after the fall of the Soviet Union, widespread famine and economic ruin drove many Soviet-supported countries in the Balkans to desperation. After the introduction of the market economy and capitalistic values into much of the Balkans, several countries with strong communist values like Albania, Romania, and Bulgaria resisted new ideas, which led to a period of political violence and riotous protests that destroyed state and civilian property and consumed a number of lives. Unfortunately, these were only the early signs of greater political destabilization.

Much like the mountains that divide the countries of the Balkans, the constant turmoil of the outside world sundered any hope for an economic union and drove many political forces in the nations to desperate measures.

With the collapse of the Yugoslav federation in the opening years of the 90s, violent revolt led to a continual series of smaller wars jointly referred to as the Yugoslav War or the Balkans War. Political confusion and economic instability drew out lingering racial tensions that led to widespread ethnic cleansing in the region that further destabilized the situation.

Serbian military forces struck villages and refugee settlements, slaughtering innocents hiding in camps established for the Bosniaks, who were effectively nationless and in the middle of a political identity resolution by the United Nations. In addition, an estimated number of 600,000 Serbs were killed by Croatian operatives during the collective Balkans War.

The Balkans had been a crossroads for war for centuries, bridging the East and West. The Byzantine Empire expanded into the lands during the last centuries of their reign, bringing Christianity to the tribes that resided in the mountains of the Balkans. The Byzantines battled with Arabs and Barbarian forces in the area, driving many residents from the barbarian confederacies in the region as they fled from the endless war between conflicting empires.

The Balkans has the unfortunate curse of being in the middle of two major regions of the world that have been historically at odds. The Cold War provided no refuge and only temporary support from the Soviet Union as the communist nation elected puppet states that served to provide for the military and Soviet interests, and seldom ever provided sufficient resources for workers.

In this, both the ethnic and cultural diversity of the region and the regionís geographical location have contributed to long periods of destabilized governments that have served poorly to protect innocent people residing in the region.

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