From Albania and Montenegro to Serbia and Slovenia; there are 11 countries in the Balkans. Here’s everything you need to know.

Until Yugoslavia violently splintered apart in 1991, the map of the Balkans was very different from what you see today. Where Yugoslavia had once occupied a large, socialist bloc stretching from the Italian border, south to Albania and Greece, the void was filled by newly independent nations like Croatia and Slovenia. As the Yugoslav republics split off, one by one, and in many cases, with unprecedented ethnic violence, the map of the Balkans was changed forever.

Until 1991, there were far fewer sovereign nations in the Balkans. To this day, there remain political and geographical contentions as to how many countries there are in the Balkans. I’ve travelled extensively through the region, and depending on who you ask (and where they’re from) you’ll receive different answers to the same question. Serbians don’t recognise Kosovo as an independent nation, for example, while it’s unclear if transcontinental countries like Turkey should be classed as truly ‘Balkan’.

Either way, the Balkans offer a fascinating insight into southern Europe’s geopolitical makeup, which is why I’ve decided to tackle this question head-on. In this article, I’ll explain how many Balkan countries there are, and why there are – potentially – different counts. Keep reading, to find out more.

How many Balkan countries are there?

The Balkans is a geopolitically charged region occupying the southeastern corner of Europe. Geographical, cultural and historical definitions of the Balkans can vary, but there are 11 UN-recognised nations (including Kosovo, which is admittedly only partially recognised) fully, or largely located within the region.

The 11 Balkan countries are as follows:

  1. Albania
  2. Bosnia and Herzegovina
  3. Bulgaria
  4. Croatia
  5. Greece
  6. Kosovo
  7. Montenegro
  8. North Macedonia
  9. Romania
  10. Serbia
  11. Slovenia

However, some definitions might include parts of other countries such as Turkey (European part) and Italy (Trieste region), which have regions within the Balkans but are largely found outside the Balkan Peninsula. The maximum count of countries in the Balkans in this respect would therefore be 13. If you don’t recognise the independence of Kosovo (but in my opinion, it is a sovereign nation, as it fulfils the requirements of the Montevideo Convention on states and is recognised by 104 UN members) then the minimum count of Balkan countries would be 10 and the maximum 12.

Map of the Balkan Region, by Ikonact.

Read more: Is Yugoslavia Still a Country? Everything You Need to Know.

Competing definitions of the Balkans

If you’ve ever travelled to the Balkans, then you’ll know that the region is politically charged. There are several major reasons for competing definitions in the Balkans:

  • Historical Factors: The Balkans have a complex history of shifting borders, empires, and national identities. The Ottoman Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire, and various Balkan Wars have all influenced which regions are considered part of the Balkans.
  • Geographical Variability: The Balkan Peninsula itself does not have a universally agreed-upon boundary. The inclusion of countries often depends on whether geographical criteria (like mountain ranges and river basins) or political boundaries are emphasised.
  • Cultural and Ethnic Diversity: The Balkans are home to countless different cultures, languages, and religions, and not everyone gets along (to put it lightly). Countries with significant historical and cultural ties to the region, even if not entirely geographically within it, can be included based on these connections.
  • Political and Economic Considerations: Modern political relationships and economic ties can influence which countries are considered part of the Balkans. For example, EU membership aspirations or alignment with Western or Eastern blocs might impact inclusion. Recognition of Kosovo is another important factor in the final definition.
Glorious Albanian scenery.

Read more: How Many Countries Are in Europe? Everything You Need to Know.

Where are the Balkans?

To better understand how many countries there are in the Balkans, I find it helpful to look at the geographical definition of the region (which again, can be competing). The following are the key geographical features and borders that define the Balkans:

  • Northern Boundary: The northern limit of the Balkans is often debated, but it is commonly delineated by the Sava and Danube Rivers. These rivers form a natural boundary that separates the Balkan Peninsula from Central Europe.
  • Western Boundary: The Adriatic Sea forms the western boundary of the Balkans. Countries like Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Albania have coastlines along the Adriatic Sea.
  • Southern Boundary: The southern boundary is defined by the Mediterranean Sea, including the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Crete. Greece and Turkey have coastlines along these seas.
  • Eastern Boundary: The eastern edge of the Balkans is marked by the Black Sea. Bulgaria and Romania have coastlines along the Black Sea.
  • Southeastern Boundary: The Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus Strait separating the European part of Turkey from its Asian part. This boundary marks the southeastern edge of the Balkan Peninsula. This boundary therefore places a small part of Turkey within the Balkan region.
The Sea of Marmara marks the most southerly extent of the Balkans.

Read more: Where are the Balkans? Everything You Need to Know.

How many Balkan countries are in the EU?

As of now, there are five Balkan countries that are members of the European Union (EU):

  1. Bulgaria (joined in 2007)
  2. Croatia (joined in 2013)
  3. Greece (joined in 1981)
  4. Romania (joined in 2007)
  5. Slovenia (joined in 2004)

The other Balkan countries are in various stages of the EU accession process or have expressed interest in joining:

  1. Albania: Official candidate for EU membership.
  2. Bosnia and Herzegovina: Potential candidate country, with a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) in force.
  3. Kosovo: Potential candidate country, with an SAA in force, though its status is complicated by the lack of recognition from some EU member states.
  4. Montenegro: Official candidate for EU membership, currently in the negotiation process. Already uses the Euro.
  5. North Macedonia: Official candidate for EU membership, also in the negotiation process.
  6. Serbia: Official candidate for EU membership, currently in the negotiation process.

These countries are working towards meeting the necessary criteria for EU membership, which includes political stability, economic reforms and alignment with EU laws and standards. The process can be lengthy and complex, reflecting the EU’s rigorous accession requirements.

However, as Dimitar Bechev writes in an article published by Carnegie Europe, the process of EU accession has somewhat stalled in the Balkans. He cites a ‘Lack of commitment’, ‘neighbourly disputes’ and a ‘disgruntled public’ as the primary reasons for this. As Russia vies for influence with the EU in countries like Serbia, it will be geopolitically intriguing to see if the EU does take on more Balkan members in the near future.

North Macedonia is an EU candidate.

Read more: Is Montenegro in the EU (European Union)? Everything You Need to Know.

Is Kosovo a country?

I’ve written extensively about this topic before, having visited the country on multiple occasions and heard first-hand the stories of the war with Serbia and ongoing tensions in the north, on the disputed border.

To put things simply, the status of Kosovo is a complex and contentious issue in international relations. Here’s a detailed explanation:

  • Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on 17 February 2008. This followed years of conflict and unrest, including the Kosovo War (1998-1999) and subsequent international administration under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244.
  • Recognition: Over 100 countries, including the United States and a majority of European Union member states, recognise Kosovo as an independent country.
  • Non-Recognition: Several countries, including Serbia, Russia, China, and some EU member states (such as Spain, Greece, Romania, Slovakia, and Cyprus), do not recognise Kosovo’s independence. These countries often cite concerns about separatist movements within their own borders or principles of international law regarding territorial integrity.
  • UN Membership: Kosovo is not a member of the United Nations. Its membership is blocked primarily due to the opposition of Russia and China, both of which hold veto power in the UN Security Council.
  • EU Relations: Kosovo has been recognised by the European Union as a potential candidate for EU membership, and it is part of the EU’s Stabilisation and Association Process. However, its path to EU membership is complicated by the lack of unanimous recognition by all EU member states.
  • International Court of Justice (ICJ): In 2010, the ICJ issued an advisory opinion stating that Kosovo’s declaration of independence did not violate international law. However, this opinion did not resolve the issue of Kosovo’s status, as it did not address the consequences of the declaration or require countries to recognise Kosovo.
  • Governance: Kosovo has its own government, constitution, and institutions, functioning independently of Serbia. Pristina is its capital, and it operates its own judicial and legal systems.
  • Relations with Serbia: There have been ongoing negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia, facilitated by the EU, aimed at normalising relations. Several agreements have been reached, but the core issue of recognition remains unresolved and there are frequent border tensions.

Whether Kosovo is considered a country depends largely on the perspective and policies of individual nations and international organisations. While it functions as a de facto independent state with its own government and institutions, its status as a sovereign country is not universally accepted, and it remains a significant point of contention in international diplomacy.

The author holding up the flag of Kosovo in Pristina.

Read more: Is Kosovo a Country? Everything You Need to Know.

Is Turkey in the Balkans?

Turkey is partially in the Balkans. The part of Turkey that lies within the Balkan region is its European section, known as Eastern Thrace or Turkish Thrace. This area includes the city of Istanbul, which straddles the Bosphorus Strait, effectively bridging Europe and Asia.

  • Eastern Thrace is bordered by Greece to the west and Bulgaria to the north, and it represents a small but significant part of the Balkan Peninsula. The region encompasses several Turkish provinces, such as Edirne, Kırklareli, and Tekirdağ.
  • Historically, this part of Turkey has been integral to the region’s geopolitical dynamics, particularly during the Byzantine and Ottoman periods. Istanbul (formerly Constantinople) served as the capital of both the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, making it a focal point of cultural and political developments in the Balkans.
  • While geographically a minor part of Turkey lies within the Balkans, it plays a crucial role in the broader geopolitical landscape of Southeast Europe. Turkey’s influence and interactions with its Balkan neighbours continue to be significant in contemporary politics and economics.
Turkey bridges Europe and Asia.

Read more: Is Turkey in Europe or Asia? Everything You Need to Know.

Is Italy in the Balkans?

Italy is generally not considered part of the Balkans. However, there is a small exception regarding the northeastern region of Italy.

  • The Italian region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, particularly the city of Trieste, is sometimes associated with the Balkans due to its geographical proximity and historical connections. Trieste lies at the northern end of the Adriatic Sea and has historically been a significant port and a point of interaction between Italian, Slavic, and Germanic cultures.
  • Trieste and its surrounding areas have had historical ties to the Balkans through the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which controlled much of the region until the end of World War I. The region has seen a mix of ethnicities and cultures, including Italians, Slovenes, and Croats. Despite these historical and cultural connections, Italy as a whole is not considered part of the Balkans.

Read more: How Many Countries in the Mediterranean? Everything You Need to Know.

So, how many countries are in the Balkans?

In conclusion, the number of countries considered to be part of the Balkans varies depending on the definitions and criteria used. Geographically, the core region encompasses 11 countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia. However, broader definitions that take into account historical, cultural, and geopolitical factors can extend this number to include parts of Turkey (European part) and Italy (Trieste region), raising the total to as many as 13.

The diversity in defining the Balkans underscores the region’s complex history and the myriad influences that have shaped its political and cultural landscape. From the ancient empires and medieval kingdoms to the turbulent 20th century and ongoing efforts at European integration, the Balkans remain a unique, if geopolitically charged part of Southeast Europe. Understanding the varying definitions of this region helps to appreciate its rich heritage and the contemporary challenges it faces in fostering stability and cooperation.

Prizren, a historic Balkan city in Kosovo.

FAQ: How many countries are in the Balkans?

Here’s an FAQ on the topic, ‘How many countries are in the Balkans?’:

Q1: How many countries are traditionally considered part of the Balkans?

A1: Traditionally, 11 countries are considered part of the Balkans. These are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia.

Q2: Are there any other countries that can be partially considered part of the Balkans?

A2: Yes, Turkey (the European part, including Istanbul) and Italy (specifically the region around Trieste) can be partially considered part of the Balkans due to geographical and historical connections. This brings the total to 13 countries when including these parts.

Q3: Why is there variation in the number of Balkan countries depending on the definition?

A3: Variations arise due to different criteria used to define the region, including geographical boundaries, historical ties, cultural and ethnic composition, and political considerations. This leads to differing interpretations and the inclusion of peripheral regions.

Q4: Is Turkey in the Balkans?

A4: Only the European part of Turkey, known as Eastern Thrace, is considered part of the Balkans. This includes areas west of the Bosphorus Strait, such as Istanbul.

Q5: Is Italy in the Balkans?

A5: Italy is not generally considered part of the Balkans. However, the northeastern region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, including the city of Trieste, has historical and cultural connections to the Balkans.

Q6: Which Balkan countries are members of the European Union (EU)?

A6: Five Balkan countries are members of the EU: Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Romania, and Slovenia.

Q7: Are there Balkan countries that are candidates for EU membership?

A7: Yes, several Balkan countries are official candidates for EU membership, including Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are potential candidates.

Q8: Why is Kosovo’s status as a Balkan country contentious?

A8: Kosovo’s status is contentious due to its declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008, which is recognised by over 100 countries but not by Serbia, Russia, China, and some EU member states. This complicates its international status and recognition.

Q9: What historical events have shaped the current borders of the Balkan countries?

A9: Significant historical events include the Roman and Byzantine Empires, the Ottoman Empire’s influence, the Balkan Wars, World Wars, and the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. These events have greatly influenced the region’s borders and political landscape.

Q10: What defines the geographical boundaries of the Balkans?

A10: Geographically, the Balkans are defined by natural boundaries such as the Adriatic, Mediterranean, and Black Seas, and rivers like the Danube and Sava. The region also includes significant mountain ranges like the Dinaric Alps, Balkan Mountains, Rhodope Mountains, and Pindus Mountains.