The Balkan Peninsula of southeastern Europe has been a focal point in world history since the times of Classical antiquity. While historians speak of the Balkan Peninsula and its eponymous mountains as one of several cradles of Western civilization, recent history places the region in a different light. The modern Balkans are best known for economic hardship and decades of genocidal war. While the entire region might be highlighted as a place where some lines desperately need shifting, two areas in particular deserve specific attention. These two breakaway regions present curiously linked yet strikingly dissimilar scenarios: Kosovo and Transnistria.
Both stories start with the decline of the Roman Empire. Rome’s influence encompassed the peninsula and most of the region surrounding the Black Sea. As the Roman and Byzantine Empires declined, “barbarian” groups moved into their periphery. In the west, these groups were primarily Germanic, and their descendants comprise a great deal of modern England, Germany, and Austria’s genetic makeup. Their Romanized kin became the French. The eastern invaders were the ancestors of the Slavic people. The Slavs eventually established themselves as Rome’s successors via the Kievan Rus, which became part of the Russian and Ukrainian cultural identities. Before that, the Slavs moved into the Balkans, conquering and assimilating the Romanized peoples of the western, Adriatic coast in particular. This invasion separated the Eastern Romance speakers—the ancestors of modern Romanians—from the rest of the Romance-speaking world. This also brought the Slavs into contact with the other Balkan peoples, in particular the Greeks and Albanians.
This map highlights Kosovo and Transnistria (red), the countries from which they seceded (blue), and other countries involved in the conflicts. (Adapted from Wikimedia Commons.)