Academic journal article The Geographical Review

New European Countries and Their Minorities

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

New European Countries and Their Minorities

Article excerpt

SINCE 1990, fourteen countries in Europe have become independent states. All were recently communist; most are Slavic. As nationalism replaced communism as a unifying force for states, three former countries, the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia, fragmented into twenty-two sovereign republics, of which fourteen are in Europe. These new states are based on specific nationalities, but it would be inappropriate to label them nation states because each has its very own minority problems (Mikesell 1983).

Europe has undergone no comparable burst of country formation since the rise of modern nation states. The Napoleonic period also witnessed major changes but not the creation of so many modern states. The period after World War I, with the independence of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland and with the creation of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, came the closest (Pearson 1983). It is appropriate to recall the key role played by the American Geographical Society in the study of the distribution and boundaries of the nationalities and minorities in Europe in preparation for the peace treaties after that war (Dominian 1917; Bowman 1921, 1928). After World War II the changes were mainly a westward shift in the boundary of the Soviet Union to incorporate non-Russian areas of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, eastern Poland, eastern Czechoslovakia, and northern and eastern Romania, and a westward shift of the boundary of Poland.

Most of the fourteen new states are small, with the exception of Russia, the largest country in the world, Ukraine, the second largest country in Europe, and Belarus. Russia, with 147 million inhabitants, is the most populous country of Europe. Ukraine, with a population of more than 51 million, is the sixth most populous country of Europe.

The past political affiliations of these areas afford historical depth for understanding their regional orientations. Current dominant nationalities provided the basis for their establishment. An analysis of their minorities suggests potential future problems. This article presents brief notes on past political associations but focuses mainly on current nationalities and minorities. It is based on data from the 1989 census of the Soviet Union (Goskomstat 1991b), the 1991 census of Czechoslovakia (Statisticka rocenka 1991), and the 1991 census of Yugoslavia (Nacionalni sastav 1992).


                                  AREA             POPULATION
STATE                      (thousands sq. km.)     (thousands)

Russia                         17,075.4             147,022
Ukraine                           603.7              51,452
Belarus                           207.6              10,152
Estonia                            45.1               1,566
Latvia                             64.5               2,667
Lithuania                          65.2               3,675
Moldova                            33.7               4,335
Czech Republic                     78.9              10,299
Slovakia                           49.0               5,269
Slovenia                           20.3               1,963
Croatia                            56.5               4,760
Bosnia and Hercegovina             51.1               4,365
Macedonia                          25.7               2,034
"Yugoslavia" (Serbia
  and Montenegro)                 102.2              10,406

Sources: Goskomstat SSSR 1991a, 68-73; Goskomstat SSSR 1991b,
5-19; Statisticka rocenka 1991, 694; Statisticki godisnjak
Jugoslavije 1991, 78; Nacionalni sastav 1992, 9-43.

a Census of 1989 for successor states of the Soviet Union;
censuses of 1991 for successor states of Czechoslovakia and


Ethnic complexity contributed to the instability of the three former federal republics--the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia--from which the new states were formed. …

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