Line stretching from the northernmost point of the Adriatic to the northernmost point of the Black SeaThe Balkans are sometimes referred to as the "Balkan Peninsula" as they are adjoined by water on three sides: the Black Sea to the east and branches of the Mediterranean Sea to the south and west (including the Adriatic, Ionian, Aegean and Marmara seas).
The identity of the Balkans owes as much to its fragmented and often violent common history as to its mountainous geography. The region was perennially on the edge of great empires, its history dominated by wars, rebellions, invasions and clashes between empires, from the times of the Roman Empire to the latter-day Yugoslav wars.
Its fractiousness and tendency to splinter into rival political entities led to the coining of the term Balkanization (or balkanizing). The term Balkan commonly connotes a connection with violence, religious strife, ethnic clannishness and a sense of hinterland. The Balkans, as they are known today, have changed dramatically over the course of their history.
Although the former characterization of the Balkans is widely used and extremely common today, it is important to note that this characterization is also widely exaggerated and may be connected to historically negative connotations the Balkans have amongst Western European nations and political elites. Recent problems and conflicts in the Balkans have more to do with a complicated set of factors having to do with recent political and social divisions rather than the so-called age-old 'tendency' of the Balkan peoples to engage in war and conflicts. The tendency to portray the Balkans in this way has been studied extensively by Maria Todorova, whose book Imagining the Balkans deals with these issues.
It should be noted that the Southern and Eastern parts of the Balkans were relatively stable despite the turmoil in the Western part. Countries in the south such as Greece and in the east such as Bulgaria and Romania haven't experienced the horrors of the recent wars such as their Western counterparts, even if the latter two have suffered internal problems. Not withstanding that, Bulgaria and Romania are also set to join the European Union on January 1, 2007, and Greece has been a member since 1981.
Etymology and evolving meaning
The region takes its name from the "Balkan" mountain range in Bulgaria (from a Turkish word meaning "a chain of wooded mountains" ). On a larger scale, one long continuous chain of mountains crosses the region in the form of a reversed letter S, from the Carpathians south to the Balkan range proper, before it marches away east into Anatolian Turkey. On the west coast, an offshoot of the Dinaric Alps follows the coast south through Dalmatia and Albania, crosses Greece and continues into the sea in the form of various islands. The word was based on Turkish balakan 'stone, cliff', which confirms the pure 'technical' meaning of the term. The mountain range that runs across Bulgaria from west to east (Stara Planina) is still commonly known as the Balkan Mountains.
As time passed, the term gradually obtained political connotations far from its initial geographic meaning, arising from political changes from the late 1800s to the creation of post-World War I Yugoslavia (initially the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes). Zeune's goal was to have a geographical parallel term to the Italic and Iberian Peninsula, and seemingly nothing more. The gradually acquired political connotations are newer, and, to a large extent, due to oscillating political circumstances. After the split of Yugoslavia beginning in June 1991, the term 'Balkans' again received a negative meaning, even in casual usage. Over the last decade, in the wake of the former Yugoslav split, Croatians and especially Slovenians have rejected their former label as 'Balkan nations'. This is in part due to the pejorative connotation of the term 'Balkans' in the 1990s, and continuation of this meaning until now. Today, the term 'Southeast Europe' is preferred or, in the case of Slovenia and sometimes Croatia, 'Central Europe'.
Even if incorrect, both historically and politically, it is probable that "Balkans" will continue to have a wider, and pejorative, meaning.
Due to the aforementioned connotations of the term 'Balkan', many people prefer the term Southeastern Europe instead. The use of this term is slowly growing; a European Union initiative of 1999 is called the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe, and the online newspaper Balkan Times renamed itself Southeast European Times in 2003.
The use of this term to mean the Balkan peninsula (and only that) technically ignores the geographical presence of northern Romania and Ukraine, which are also located in the southeastern part of the European continent.
Ambiguities and controversies
The northern border of the Balkan peninsula is usually considered to be the line formed by the Danube, Sava and Kupa rivers and a segment connecting the spring of the Kupa with the Kvarner Bay.
Some other definitions of the northern border of the Balkans have been proposed:
the line Danube - Sava - Krka (river in Slovenia) - Postojnska Vrata - Vipava River - Isonzo River (also known as Soča river)
the line Danube - Sava - Ljubljansko polje - Idrijca river - Soča river
the line Dniester - Timişoara - Zagreb - Triglav
the line Trieste - Odessa (Trieste-Odessa line) 
the line Bay of Trieste - Ljubljana - Sava - Danube ()
Balkan peninsula (as defined by the Danube-Sava-Kupa line)The most commonly used Danube-Sava-Kupa northern boundary is arbitrarily set as to the physiographical characteristics, however it can be easily recognized on the map. It has a historical and cultural substantiation. The region so defined (together with Romania and excluding Montenegro, Dalmatia, and the Ionian Islands) constituted most of the European territory of the Ottoman Empire from the late 15th to the 19th century. The Kupa forms a natural boundary between south-eastern Slovenia and Croatia and has been a political frontier since the 12th century, separating Carniola (belonging to Austria) from Croatia (belonging to Hungary).
The Danube-Sava-Krka-Postojnska Vrata-Vipava-Isonzo line ignores some historical and cultural characteristics, but can be seen as a rational delimitation of the Balkan peninsula from a geographical point of view. It assigns all the Karstic and Dinaric area to the Balkan region.
The Sava bisects Croatia and Serbia and the Danube, which is the second largest European river (after Volga), forms a natural boundary between both Bulgaria and Serbia and Romania. North of that line lies the Pannonian plain and (in the case of Romania) the Carpathian mountains.
Although Romania (with the exception of Dobrudja) is not geographically a part of the Balkans, it is often included in the Balkans in public discourse.
According to the most commonly used border, Slovenia lies to the north of the Balkans and is considered a part of Central Europe. Historically and culturally, it is also more related to Central Europe, although the Slovenian culture also incorporates some elements of Balkan culture.
However, as already stated, the northern boundary of the Balkan peninsula can also be drawn otherwise, in which case at least a part of Slovenia and a small part of Italy (Province of Trieste) may be included in the Balkans.
Slovenia is also sometimes regarded as a Balkan country due to its association with the former Yugoslavia. When the Balkans are described as a twentieth-century geopolitical region, the whole Yugoslavia is included (so, Slovenia, Istria, islands of Dalmatia, northern Croatia and Vojvodina too).
The aforementioned historical justification for the Sava-Kupa northern boundary would exclude a big part of Croatia (whose territories were by and large part of the Habsburg Monarchy and Venetian Republic during the Ottoman conquest). Other factors such as prior history and culture also bind Croatia to Central Europe and the Mediterranean region more than they bind it to the Balkans. Nevertheless, its peculiar geographic shape (as well as its recent history with Yugoslavia) inherently associates it with the region Bosnia and Herzegovina is part of.