The term "the Balkans" is used more generally for the region; it includes states in the region, which may extend beyond the peninsula, and is not defined by the geography of the peninsula itself.

This very alibi confronts us with the first of many paradoxes concerning Balkan: its geographic delimitation was never precise. It is as if one can never receive a definitive answer to the question, "Where does it begin?" For Serbs, it begins down there in Kosovo or Bosnia, and they defend the Christian civilization against this Europe's Other. For Croats, it begins with the Orthodox, despotic, Byzantine Serbia, against which Croatia defends the values of democratic Western civilization. For Slovenes, it begins with Croatia, and we Slovenes are the last outpost of the peaceful Mitteleuropa. For Italians and Austrians, it begins with Slovenia, where the reign of the Slavic hordes starts. For Germans, Austria itself, on account of its historic connections, is already tainted by the Balkanic corruption and inefficiency. For some arrogant Frenchmen, Germany is associated with the Balkanian Eastern savagery—up to the extreme case of some conservative anti-European-Union Englishmen for whom, in an implicit way, it is ultimately the whole of continental Europe itself that functions as a kind of Balkan Turkish global empire with Brussels as the new Constantinople, the capricious despotic center threatening English freedom and sovereignty. So Balkan is always the Other: it lies somewhere else, always a little bit more to the southeast, with the paradox that, when we reach the very bottom of the Balkan peninsula, we again magically escape Balkan. Greece is no longer Balkan proper, but the cradle of our Western civilization.

Most of the Balkan nation-states emerged during the 19th and early 20th centuries as they gained independence from the Ottoman Empire or the Austro-Hungarian empire: Greece in 1821, Serbia, and Montenegro in 1878, Romania in 1881, Bulgaria in 1908 and Albania in 1912.

Finally, at the end of 1944, the Soviets entered Romania and Bulgaria forcing the Germans out of the Balkans. They left behind a region largely ruined as a result of wartime exploitation.

As the only non-communist countries, Greece and Turkey were (and still are) part of NATO composing the southeastern wing of the alliance.