Southeast Europe

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      The Balkan Peninsula The states or regions designated (in the broadest sense) as Southeast European
Proposal of the German Standing Committee on Geographical Names to delimit Southeastern Europe

Southeast Europe refers to the countries in southeast Europe , although the delimitation varies depending on the context. The term Balkans or Balkan Peninsula is often used synonymously, but the respective area is not congruent.


For the controversial term Southeastern Europe, a topographical classification is mostly used in geographic and historical research, which assigns the term to the states of the Balkan Peninsula plus the Pannonian Basin and the Transcarpathian region between the Lower Danube and Dniester . Southeast Europe in the broader geographical and political sense includes the following countries:

AlbaniaAlbania Albania
Bosnia and HerzegovinaBosnia and Herzegovina Bosnia and Herzegovina
BulgariaBulgaria Bulgaria
GreeceGreece Greece
KosovoKosovo Kosovo
CroatiaCroatia Croatia
Moldova RepublicRepublic of Moldova Moldova
MontenegroMontenegro Montenegro
North MacedoniaNorth Macedonia North Macedonia
RomaniaRomania Romania
SerbiaSerbia Serbia
SloveniaSlovenia Slovenia
TurkeyTurkey Turkey ( Eastern Thrace only )
Northern CyprusTurkish Republic of Northern Cyprus Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus
TransnistriaTransnistria Transnistria
HungaryHungary Hungary
Cyprus RepublicRepublic of Cyprus Cyprus

Sometimes Cyprus , the de facto independent area of ​​the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and Turkey (states that actually belong to Asia ), as well as Budschak ( Ukraine ) are counted as part of Southeastern Europe. In total, it is about an area of ​​over 960,000 km² with around 90 million inhabitants.

Cooperation and alliances: All recognized states in Southeast Europe participate in the OSCE , are members of the Council of Europe and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development , the latter also including Kosovo. With the exception of Greece and Turkey, all countries in Southeastern Europe and Kosovo are or were members of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) until they joined the European Union . The countries of Southeast Europe - with Slovenia, without Hungary - are the members of the Cooperation Council for Southeast Europe (SEECP) .

Country EU status Participants in cooperations location
AlbaniaAlbania Albania Candidate for membership , SAA SMWK , OIC , NATO South (east) europe
Bosnia and HerzegovinaBosnia and Herzegovina Bosnia and Herzegovina potential candidate country , SAA (OIC observer) , ( NATO candidate for accession) Southeast Europe
BulgariaBulgaria Bulgaria Member since 2007 SMWK , NATO Southeast Europe
GreeceGreece Greece Member since 1981 SMWK , OECD , NATO South (east) europe
KosovoKosovo Kosovo potential candidate country , SAA Southeast Europe
CroatiaCroatia Croatia Member since 2013 (SMWK observer) , NATO Central Europe (Southern Europe)
Moldova RepublicRepublic of Moldova Moldova Eastern partnership SMWK , GUS , GUAM Southeast Europe (Eastern Europe)
MontenegroMontenegro Montenegro Candidate for membership , SAA NATO South (east) europe
North MacedoniaNorth Macedonia North Macedonia Candidate for membership , SAA NATO Southeast Europe
RomaniaRomania Romania Member since 2007 SMWK , NATO Central Europe / Southeast Europe
SerbiaSerbia Serbia Candidate for membership , SAA SMWK Central Europe / Southeast Europe
SloveniaSlovenia Slovenia Member since 2004 OECD , NATO Central Europe
TurkeyTurkey Turkey Candidate for membership SMWK , OECD , OIC , G20 , NATO , ECO , D-8 Southeast Europe / Middle East
HungaryHungary Hungary Member since 2004 OECD , NATO Central Europe


History of the designation

The term Southeast Europe, introduced by the Albania researcher Johann Georg von Hahn (1811–1869), was temporarily used as an alternative to the (narrower) Balkan term. In German-language (and parts of foreign) research, however, the broader term Southeast Europe became established in the course of the 20th century. Similar to the Balkans, the demarcation of south-east Europe in the north-west and east- central Europe (another controversial term) is problematic. There are no clear and universally accepted geographical or historical dividing lines. Under these circumstances, Southeastern Europe must be understood as a working term that must be modified according to the respective subject and period of study.

The term Southeastern Europe gained in importance , especially during the Nazi era. It was introduced in the interwar period by proponents of German Ostforschung and geopolitics as an alternative to the Balkans , which from the perspective of German foreign policy had negative and undesirable connotations. For example, Franz von Papen warned in his memoirs against a “Balkanization of Central Europe”. While the Balkans stood for an oriental past, disorganization, political instability and a "tangle of peoples", Southeastern Europe, on the other hand, symbolized a "progressive" order under German hegemony that contributed to the "civilization" and "Europeanization" of the region.

In the 1934 essay The Southeast Area in the Concept of Central Europe (ZfG, Heft 3, 1934, pp. 162–164), Rupert von Schumacher tries to delimit Southeast Europe from “Central Europe”, another geopolitical battle term that was used for the successor states of the Habsburgs. Monarchy was used. Von Schumacher regarded “space” as the only stable factor in the Balkans and pointed out the “dual character” of Croats and Hungarians . The Balkan peoples should be seen as "biologically and politically unreliable factors".

According to this worldview, the “supplementary region of Southeast Europe” should be integrated as a supplier of raw materials and labor and as a buyer of German industrial products into a German-dominated “Greater Europe” region. In 1940 the German press announced that “the Balkans were dead” and “Southeast Europe was born” (Daily Mail, November 2, 1940).

The description of Southeast Europe as a “working term” can be found for the first time in an article by the NSDAP member and founder of the volkish “Southeast Research”, Fritz Valjavec (Southeast Europe and the Balkans, Südostforschung 7, 1942, p. 1). According to Valjavec, the differences between Balkan and Southeast research are that Balkan research requires “the existence of Balkan connections”, whereas “Southeast European research is not based on the unity of Southeast Europe, but rather the unity of consideration of the research process according to the fact that Southeast Europe in today's sense is primarily (not exclusively!) a working term ”.

In order to influence and exploit the Balkan states, the Southeast Europe Society (SOEG) was founded in Vienna in 1940 by the Nazi bureaucracy . It competed with the Central European Economic Day (MWT), an association supported by major German banks and companies that wanted to use economic means to establish a long-term dependence of Southeastern Europe on Germany.

In the early 1940s, difficulties in delimiting the term became apparent:

  • Franz Ronneberger criticized the vague and inconsistent use of the term by authors such as Hermann Ullmann and Otto Leibrock (Franz Ronneberger: Der Politische Südosteuropa-Term. In: Reich, Volksordnung, Lebensraum. Journal for volkische Verfassungs und Verwaltung. Vol. VI, 1943, p . 68-69). Leibrock, in particular, used the terms “Danube-Balkan countries” and “Danube-Balkan region” in his book “The Southeast, Greater Germany and New Europe” and therefore drew Ronneberger's criticism.
  • Hermann Gross took the view that the term was only applicable to "relatively sparsely populated" areas with backward industry and underdeveloped agriculture. In his opinion, these included Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Albania, Greece and Turkey.
  • The diplomat and southeast expert Ulrich von Hassell made a distinction between the political and geographical borders of Southeast Europe. Politically, he included Hungary, Croatia (NDH), Serbia, Montenegro, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece, geographically Slovakia, Albania and European Turkey. The latter, however, require special treatment for political reasons (G. Hass and W. Schumann (eds.): Anatomie der Aggression. New documents on the war aims of fascist German imperialism in World War II. Berlin, 1972).
  • Franz Tierfelder described the area south of the Trieste - Odessa line as "Southeast European or Balkan Peninsula in the broadest sense". To Southeastern Europe in the narrower sense he counted Yugoslavia, the "Romanian old Reich " (Romania in the borders before the First World War), Bulgaria, Albania, Greece and the European Turkey. It should not be forgotten that northern Croatia “extends into Central Europe”. Tierfelder differentiated according to historical criteria between peoples who are “only Balkan peoples” (Yugoslavs, Bulgarians, Romanians, Greeks and Albanians) and those who are “also Balkan peoples” (Hungarians and Turks). Ronneberger criticized Tierfelder for assigning Slovenians and Croats to the Balkan peoples, which in his view belonged neither geographically nor historically and culturally.
  • For the economist Hans-Jürgen Seraphim , the definition of Southeast Europe depended primarily on whether the area was viewed from a cultural, political, economic or geographical point of view. Seraphim took an economic point of view and suggested adding all those Balkan states to south-east Europe that were ready for economic cooperation with Germany. The definition of the Southeast Europe term might have to be expanded on the basis of this criterion.

Despite efforts to the contrary to standardize the term, Ronneberger came to the conclusion in 1943 that Southeastern Europe was a German “definition of the political for our purpose”. Since one is not dealing with a “pure” and objective science, such as mathematics or the natural sciences, but with an extremely political branch of science, the assignment of a people to a certain cultural and economic “circle of power” is involved linked to a political decision.

Overlap with other terms

In overlap with the terms “the Balkans” and “Southeastern Europe”, the terms “Eastern Europe” or “East-Central Europe” are used in Anglo-Saxon literature to denote the states that were socialist and dependent on the Soviet Union until the end of 1989 .

By Christian Giordano and other scientists one of the six is the historical regions of Europe "South Eastern Europe" called. This metropolitan area was significantly shaped by the Byzantine and later the Ottoman Empire . The Ottoman feudal land division system ( Tımar ) and the frequently practiced subsistence economy prevented the connection to the economic development of northwestern Europe for centuries.


In German history, Southeast Europe is treated as one of the three historical subregions of Eastern Europe alongside East Central Europe and the East Slavic settlement area (with a focus on Russia ) . The difficulties in the geographical and historical definition of the term result from the fact that Southeast Europe - despite its geographical differentiation in the interior - is open to traffic on the periphery and forms the most important link between Central Europe and the Middle East . For thousands of years it has acted as a transit area and bridge between two continents. "Southeast Europe and Asia Minor together form a kind of cultural bridge of eminent importance since the emergence of the oldest high cultures" ( Valjavec ).

Migration of Nations

In contrast to the two other historical subregions of Eastern Europe, Southeastern Europe has ancient cultural foundations which, however, were largely displaced, reshaped and reshaped in the course of the Middle Ages and modern times by new immigrants and the formation of great powers. With the Slavic conquest of the Byzantine empire at the end of the 6th century, the ethnic structures of the area have been fundamentally changed and have not come to rest for more than a millennium. The remnants of the pre-Slavic population in southeastern Europe ( Greeks , Albanians and Romanians , or their ancestors) lived at times widely scattered and were on the defensive against the Slavs . With the penetration of more equestrian nomads and with the Hungarian conquest at the end of the 9th century, the ethnographic map of the region was redesigned again.

Ethnic groups and denominations

Ethnographic map of Southeast Europe

In the middle of the 14th century the Ottoman Empire expanded from Asia Minor . Two centuries later, the Habsburg monarchy invaded the area in the opposite direction. Both processes have favored ethnic instability (migrations). “National” autochthonism and ethnic continuity, which have been elevated to the highest credo since the nation was formed, mostly turn out to be pure fictions.

Today at least twelve “state-bearing” nations live in Southeastern Europe: Albanians , Bosniaks , Bulgarians , Greeks , Croats , Magyars , Macedonians , Montenegrins , Romanians , Serbs , Slovenes and Turks , plus possibly the Moldovans , who fluctuate between their own nation and belonging to Romania. Most of the “state peoples” also form national minorities outside their state territory. In addition, there are a number of other ethnic groups that do not have a state of their own within the region. Most nations claim an independent written language, although the differences between the individual standard languages ​​are sometimes small.

Confessionally, Southeast Europe is divided into a Christian (in the west and north Roman Catholic , otherwise Orthodox ) and an Islamic sub-area.

Cut off from the rest of Europe

For almost half a millennium, a large part of Southeast Europe was cut off from developments in Western Europe. Depending on the geographical location, the individual sub-regions were under direct or (as in the case of Transylvania and the principalities of Wallachia and Moldova ) under direct Ottoman rule for one and a half to five centuries . During this long period, the late medieval Byzantine Orthodox culture of the Balkans was preserved or, in some places (especially in the Albanian settlement area, in Bosnia-Herzegovina and southwestern Bulgaria) Islamically reshaped. These old Balkan, patriarchal zones with their Islamized sub-regions differ not only sharply from the Eastern Alpine cultural zone with its Central European character, but also from the Pannonian cultural zone and the Adriatic coastal zone with their Romanesque-Slavic cultural symbiosis.

State formation

The beginnings of today's states go back to the 19th century, when the internal and external collapse of power of the Ottoman Empire entered the final phase. As a result of uprisings, wars and interventions by the rival European great powers, the Ottoman domination in Europe was gradually pushed back.

When the Austro-Hungarian multi-ethnic state also disintegrated towards the end of the First World War , the way was clear for a fundamental redesign of the political map of Southeast Europe. The political ruling classes in the region all came up with maximum territorial demands that mutually overlapped and were "legitimized" partly with ethnic, partly historical, and from case to case also with economic and strategic arguments. A demarcation that would have complied with the principles of the “ right of the peoples to self-determination ” was neither possible (at least not on the basis of the territorial principle) in view of the numerous ethnic mix-ups, nor was it sought.

Serbia , Romania and Greece in particular emerged stronger from the Balkan Wars and the First World War .

Political division

The result of the political reorganization was the emergence of two heterogeneous large states ( Yugoslavia and Romania ), a persistent political division in the Danube-Balkan area and the continued existence of numerous foreign and domestic political hot spots, which made it extremely difficult to stabilize and consolidate the young states. The political turmoil in Southeast Europe made it easier to establish first National Socialist and then Soviet hegemony in large parts of the region.

The roughly four decades of division of south-eastern Europe into a western (Greece, Turkey) and a socialist sub-area (Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria and Albania with different models of socialism) has, of course, shaped the region as a whole much less than the historical structures that have grown over centuries. The latter were politically effective instrumentalized in the early 1990s when Yugoslavia collapsed - and with it that state that reflected the diversity of Southeast Europe in an exemplary manner. (See also Yugoslav Wars )


Whoever tried to formulate the unifying and special features of Southeastern Europe as a historical region, referred in the first place to the diversity in the unity or to the fact that "precisely the plurality typical of Southeastern Europe in terms of the regional bracing, the linguistic and ethnic diversification, of the cultural and social wealth of forms has modeled an unmistakable south-east European physiognomy ”( Bernath ).

A constitutive element of the regional understanding is thus the mutually overlapping and pervasive diversity with ethnically and culturally "flowing" border areas, the existence of which is often a thorn in the side of nationalists.

See also

Portal: Southeast Europe  - overview of existing articles, opportunities for collaboration



  • Fritz Mitthof, Peter Schreiner, Oliver Jens Schmitt (Hrsg.): Handbook for the history of Southeast Europe. Volume 1: Rule and Politics in Southeastern Europe from Roman Antiquity to 1300. de Gruyter, Berlin / Boston 2019.
  • Online manual on the history of Southeast Europe



Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Edgar Hösch, Karl Nehring and Holm Sundhaussen (eds.): Lexicon for the history of Southeast Europe. Böhlau, Vienna 2004, ISBN 3-8252-8270-8 , p. 663.
  2. ^ Dietrich Orlow: The Nazis in the Balkans: A Case Study of Totalitarian Politics. University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh 1968.
  3. ^ Christian Giordano: Interdependent diversity: The historical regions of Europe , in: Karl Kaser u. a. (Ed.): Europe and the borders in the head , Wieser-Verlag, Klagenfurt 2003, pp. 113-134.
  4. Dieter Haller (text), Bernd Rodekohr (illustrations): dtv-Atlas Ethnologie , dtv, Munich, 2nd edition 2010