Let’s Stop Saying, ‘Balkanization’

Let's Stop Saying, 'Balkanization'

A word that is oft tossed around freely is Balkanization. In its truest form, it refers to the breakup of the country that was formerly known as Yugoslavia. In its most idiotic form, it is used to refer to collection of smaller items that separate from a larger one. I have a crazy idea: stop using this word.

As you can see from the Wikipedia article that I linked to, there isn’t really any history given as to how the word came about. Obviously it came in to use as former Yugoslavia started to fall apart, but there isn’t any mention as to who was the first person to coin it in to the common vernacular. At this point, it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that it’s an offensive word. Why people can’t simply say, “breakup”, “collapse”, or “separation” is the same reason that we use French words for wine varietals, or “terroir” instead of locale, in that one believes one has the air of being educated if one is to use this bigger, fancier word.

Do any of you who use this word think of the people who actually live in this region of the Western Balkans and what this means to them? It would be like saying every time you serve a bad meal that it’s suffered “Britization”. No one wants that and it’s an unfair association to a region that never asked for the word to be used in the first place. And I pick on the British in this example as I suspect them of starting common use of the word, such as in this article on the BBC that’s actually about Africa. It’s just one of many.

Beyond the offense of the term, there is just the complete blindness to history. Yugoslavia was actually comprised of various states that had been independent at various points throughout history. So, Yugoslavia was an artificial entity that was bound to separate just like countless other larger countries that have broken up over the centuries. Of course we don’t say USSRization, Czechoslovakization, British Empirization, or even Austro-Hungarization. No, we say Balkanization and we say it too much. It’s a word we need to lose and just revert back to the normal words I mentioned before. Saying Grenache instead of Garnacha may sound “fancier” to some, but saying, Balkanization just shows that you have no true grasp of what you’re talking about, leaving you to fumble for large words to attempt to cover that fact up.

8 Replies to “Let’s Stop Saying, ‘Balkanization’”

    1. Yeah, I know. Why the US and Britain split on language spellings is beyond me, but I’m in the US and we say, Balkanization, so there you have it. Either spelling is thought to be an error by Firefox’s spellchecker though, so maybe that says something.

    2. Great article and a great point. Thank you for being sensitive and aware. Please direct some scholars, UC Berkeley professors, and linguists to this post. We need to start a Facebook group and educate more people about this…

    3. Thank you for this post. I am living in the Balkans, and from my perspective, Balkanisation (or Balkanization) refers to the sociological elements of this geographical area (the mentality of the people living here) when they are being replicated elsewhere – but that is seen as more bohemian and hedonistic in nature then what your post implies. I’d agree that Balkanis(z)ation should not be used as equivalent of ‘breakup’ and ‘separation’ as that is offensive and belittleing to the people in the region.

      I would also advise you change the profile photo of the FB group to include the WHOLE Balkan area and to show the present countries, not Austro-Hungary & its contemporaries.

      Thank you,

    4. I have read this article in any other site.Nice thing you have mention in the article like break up of Yugoslavia etc.

  1. Does not Balkanisation mean the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire? You have restricted it to Yugoslavia.

  2. Very well said. I have just come upon the term “balkanization” used copiously in a scholarly paper, and I have found it quite offensive. I googled “balkanization offensive” and yours is the only site that was saying what I was looking for. Why are there so few people that understand this?!

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