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Massive Mammoth on Display in Serbia

While the Balkans nations have long been described as a place where life first emerged in terms of human civilization, paleolithic specimens have played a big role in recent discoveries, as well. A coal pit nearly 100 km south east of the Serbian capital of Belgrade tells the story of a large mammoth that had strayed from its herd and entered marsh like territory where it began to sink into the weak soil. The mammoth, which scientists have confirmed through DNA testing was of the female sex, was aging at the time and did not fight the sinking, instead laying down and passing from life in a peaceful way. The bones she left behind are the latest addition to paleontology. They were discovered near the Danube River, a major water way in south east Europe. So far, scientist have been calling the skeleton by the name of Vika.

The country is eager to utilize Vika to educate its population and the world at large by welcoming in tourists to come and view what are certainly one of the most rare bones to be uncovered recently. According to Zoran Markovic, quite a number of these bones have been uncovered in the nation for a number of years, but such a complete skeleton as Vika exemplifies is a rare sight. Markovic was extremely excited upon first sight and has been able to determine that Vika belong to a species of mammoth that existed before the Ice Ages began. The creature would have weighed 10 tons and lacked the fur that was present on Siberian mammoths, looking far more similar to today’s elephants.

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US Pledges Support to Balkan Nations

Things have begun to look up even more than in recent years for nations in the Balkans as both the United States and many nations in Europe have begun to voice their support towards the integration of the nations in this region not only into the European Union, but also several other organizations. The US has been particular vocal in expressing its support of the Western Balkan nations and encouraging European partners in diplomacy to do the same as they extend their efforts to improve trade in the region. According to the US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, the Obama administration wishes to help the Balkans emerge as a power house of stability and peace in Southern Europe. The advances made by a number of countries in the region have encouraged the US President, Steinburg has stated. By pursuing common goals together, official expressed, the US, the Balkan nations and all of Europe stand to gain quite a lot in terms of trade and other important elements of international prosperity.

Quality of life for citizens of the region has been a top priority for the current US administration, according to the official and he has been impressed during visits to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia and Slovenia. During a visit to the Slovenian capitol of Ljubljana, Steinberg praised the nation for being a key partner in promoting peace and becoming a NATO ally that has helped in conflicts against terrorist in the Middle East. He further commented that Slovenia has done well in using its success to promote better opportunities for its own people.

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Croatia Working with Canada in Economic Alliance

According to recent announcements made to the press by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Prime Minister of Croatia, Jadranka Kosor, both countries are now entering into a brand new era in which they will strengthen their bilateral relationships with one another. By signing a recent agreement that allows young people from both countries to work and travel between the two nations, the countries are expecting to be able to strengthen their cultural ties. Prime Minister Harper is the first Canadian PM to pay a visit to the nation of Croatia since 1991. The agreement allows Canadian young people between the ages of 18 and 35 to travel and work in Croatia and the same is true in reverse for Croatians who wish to do the same in Canada. This is not a first for Canada, which has more than 25 similar agreements with other nations around the world.

Harper happened to be in the area thanks to his attendance at a summit for the Canada European Union relations which is being held in Brussels. He has visited 4 different European nations during this current trip. During his visit to Croatia, a small welcoming ceremony was held for the Prime Minister in St. Mark’s Square and several Canadian ex patriots showed up sporting jerseys of hockey teams in their home land. Prior to receiving such a warm welcome in Croatia, Harper had been touring Amsterdam where he met with a variety of Dutch leaders of industry and attended a lunch with Queen Beatrix, the nation’s symbolic royal figure.

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Italy to Support Serbia in EU Status

During a recent visit to the Serbian capitol city of Belgrade, the preisdent of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, Gianfranco Fini, stated to the local press reporters that Italy will be the first country to ratify the European Union’s Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) that has been extended to Serbia. The press release statement from the Government of Serbia reported that during the state visit, Fini had a meeting with Mirko Cvetkovic, the Prime Minister of Serbia, to discuss the arrangement before making a formal announcement to reporters. The SAA agreement lays out all of the provisions which are part of a nation becoming a member of the EU, as many Balkan countries are looking to do. Each member state formally signs the agreement to offically approve the EU status of all new incoming nations.

Fini has stated that he believes the move by his home nation of Italy signals an important gesture for Serbia, backed by the Italian government which views Serbia as an important new addition to the EU not just due to its contribution to the EU itself, but to the Balkan region, as well. With EU integration, Serbia stands to advance its political status in the global community beyond the EU and may be able to further expand its economic opportunities for both foreign investors and more trade relations around the world. For his part, Cvetkovic expressed thankfulness to the Italian minister for the encouragement from his nation. More discussion between the two men will lead to future economic partnerships between both countries, say political insiders.

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The people who reside in the nations that make up the Balkans regions come from a huge number of different ethnic roots and they hail from a variety of different tribes and civilizations that have come to meet in this region down through the centuries. This part of Europe is among the most mixed of any geographic area in terms of ethnicity, religion and cultural influences. Massive forces in human civilization have met in this part of the world over and over again. This is the place where Latin and Greek roots of the Roman empire have met and intermixed in antiquity. It is also one of the first places human beings traveled to after leaving the area known as the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East. As a result of so much intermixing, it can be difficult to sort out all of the various influences which have combined here to create such a unique blend of heritages. What can be said clearly is that most of the cultures in the Southern part of Europe and the Western part of the Middle East have made their way into the Balkans in one shape or form and left their mark here. Continental European culture, Middle Eastern culture and Mediterranean culture all have played very important roles in shaping each of the populations of the nations that make up the Balkans today.

Many different languages thrive today in the Balkans, whether or not they are official, and most of these spring from two primary sources: Greek language and Slavic tongues of the Southern Slavic language system. No matter whether one is discussing Croatian or Montenegrin language, nearly all of the languages here derive from one of those two roots with significant influences being present from Middle Ages Latin. 

Religions play a very big part of the lives of the people in this region of the world and the dominant forces are Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism and Islam. In Eastern Orthodoxy, every nation has a state church and the countries which feature these as the primary religion are: Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro. The Roman Catholic Church is the dominant religion in Croatia and Slovenia, but it is Islam that holds sway in Kosovo, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Aside from these, there are many other smaller minority religions including variations of the Jewish faith which populate much of this region, albeit in much smaller numbers.

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Nature, Wildlife and Natural Resources

As its name, which means ‘A string of forested mountains’ in Turkish, suggests the Balkans are covered in mountain ranges that make up the vast bulk of the terrain. There are the Sar Mountains, the Pindus Mountains, the Dinaric Alps, which run from north to south; and there are the Balkan Mountains and Rhodope Mountains which run east to west. Out of these mountains, perhaps the most famous is Mount Olympus in Greece which is featured as the mountain of the gods in Greek mythology. The vast majority of the region is heavily forested, but there are also plains regions which are suitable to agriculture and here a great deal of food is produced. 

The climate of the region can be divided out into three primary categories: continental, alpine and coastal. The continental areas of the country are where food is grown and these house the bulk of the population in each of the different Balkan nations. Here the summers are hot and the winters generally feature some level of snowfall, often quite heavy. However, in the upper reaches of the mountainous areas, the snow is much more intense and the winters tend to be much longer than the summers, not to mention far colder. The coastal climates are described as Mediterranean in nature which means that the sun shines more throughout the year and rather than any particular extremes, there is a much balmier type of weather. To the north, the Balkan nations have longer, colder winters than in the milder southern parts of the region.

Due to not only the forest areas, but the vast abundance of both lakes and rivers in this part of the world, there are a huge number of different animals to be found here. The lynx is one of the most impressive of the predatory mammals, eagles have impressed many here throughout history and there are even species of turtles that charm visitors to this part of the world. One of the biggest aspects of wildlife flourishing in this part of the world is the fact that many bird species migrate here during certain parts of the year so in places such as Lake Skadar in Montenegro there can often be seen millions of birds in one location. The biodiversity in the Balkans has made it one of the major stars of the ecotourism industry.

Mining also plays a major role in the economies of many nations here and the resources available include: copper, zinc, tin and bauxite. The harvesting of trees continues, as well, and species such as fir, beech, and oak are prevalent here. Oil and natural gas reserves are not as heavy as in other parts of the world, but they are present.

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The nation of Montenegro is one of the smallest on the Balkan Peninsula, covering just over 5,000 square miles. It derives its name from the Montenegrin word meaning Black Mountain, referring to the fact that the mountainous areas of this country are thick with the classic ‘black forest’ style peaks famous in many parts of Europe.  The capital city of Podgorica is its largest city, as well, home to most of the 600,000 citizens of the country. Most people here speak the official Montenegrin language, but dialects ranging from Serbian to Croatian are generally understood by many, as well. Montenegro shares borders with Bosnia and Herzegovina to the northwest, Serbia to the northeast, Albania to the southeast, Croatia to the west and Kosovo to the east. Along part of its southwest border lies the Adriatic Sea. 

While Montenegro’s name is a Slavic term first used to describe the region during the 1200’s AD, it held populations far earlier, according to some historians even as far back as the Neolithic period. In 9 AD the Romans arrived and after that time, a huge number of different civilizations would show up and rule for periods of time. Cultures from the Middle Eastern regions of the world, Europe and the Mediterranean all played a large role in shaping the populations here, but more than any other part of this region, Montenegro has ended up with the most diverse population. While ethnic Montenegrins are the greatest percentage of the population, there are many Serbs, Bosniaks, Ethnic Muslims, Croats and Albanians, as well. This has blended to create a distinct culture that manages harmony and variety that is also reflected in its geography.

There are Mediterranean climates along the coast of the Adriatic Sea where it is warm and sunny most of the year. There are alpine regions which receive much snow in the winters, making them home to ski resorts and mountain climbing destinations. In the more central part of the nation there is a more continental climate and rivers which lend to greater agriculture. Over all, this is one of the most highly developed nations in all of the Balkans and a rising star in the tourism industry due to that fact. Massive levels of recent foreign investment have brought in large numbers of world renowned resorts and a rising ecotourism trade has brought about high levels of visitors with over a million people visiting this nation annually in recent years thanks to its transportation system and famed night life in the coastal regions.

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Bosnia and Herzegovina

Formerly a part of the nation known as Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina is the official name of a country which is composed of three main cultures, including Bosniaks, Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs. The nation itself is almost entirely inland, with only a short border along the coast of the Adriatic Sea. The countries it neighbors are Montenegro to the southeast, Serbia to the east and Croatia to the north. It has a federal democratic republic style of governance and three official languages: Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian. For such a small country of just under 20,000 square miles, it has a relatively large population of 4.6 million people. Sarajevo is not only its capital, it is Bosnia and Herzegovina’s largest city, as well.

As in much of the rest of the Balkan regions, the area that composes Bosnia and Herzegovina was first populated during the Stone Age by the Illyrians and then later, 400 years BC, the Celt tribes arrived. Even in those early days, many different civilizations with their own languages called this area home. Rome would eventually rule the land by AD 9, and this would lead to a long and colorful history that includes influences by a number of European and Middle Eastern cultures who have all managed to carve their own niche here. Today, there are several religious traditions alive and well here, including Islam, Serbian Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholicism. Along with the arts, this country has produced its share of literature, music and cinema. It is also well known for its spicy cuisine which incorporates influences from the palates of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures, mixing them with slight influences from continental Europe.

The geographical make up of Bosnia and Herzegovina is highly mountainous, with the Dinaric Alps playing a large role in the topography. The Pannonian Basin provides ample space for agriculture and this is where the majority of the nation’s food is produced. Nearly half of the country is forested and a great many rivers, including the Sava, Bosna and Neretva, all flow through this land. The main cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina are Sarajevo, Zenica, Bijeljina, Mostar, and Banja Luka. 

Recently, the tourism industry in this country has expanded at a rapid pace, giving it the third highest rate of increase in tourism in the world. With its many historic, religious and cultural offerings, Sarajevo offers an attractive prospect for many tourists, but ecotourism has taken hold due to the heavy concentration of forests, as well. Whitewater rafting, hiking and skiing are all major activities here now.

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Officially known as the Republic of Bulgaria, this is the 3rd largest country in the Balkan region and shares borders with the nations of Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, along with the Black Sea, and finally, Romania to the north. In all, Bulgaria covers 42,823 square miles and is home to a little over 7.5 million people. The primary language spoken here is Bulgarian and most of the people descend from those ethnic roots. The capital is Sofia and is the largest city, as well. 

There is a rich history to Bulgaria which extends far back into the past since this area of land has played host to several Neolithic cultures such as the Hamangia and Vinca tribes. It continued to be a home for humans throughout the Bronze Age and it would not be until about 7th Century AD that the first true Bulgarian culture, close to how it is recognized today, would arise. After this, many other cultures would pass through and leave traces of their people behind, creating a rich and vast tapestry of influences that has infused Bulgarian history with much lore from other lands. Along with empires from Rome, Greece and Turkey, there were also two distinct Bulgarian Empires that ruled the land. 

Due to its size, there is quite a variety of both geography and climates in Bulgaria. There are the Balkan, Rila and Pirin Mountain ranges which feature alpine climates that hold snow most of the year, but in stark contrast is the warm, mild Black Sea coastal areas. The Danubian Plain has a continental climate that has snowy winters and warm summers. Many lakes, rivers and forests draw significant interest from eco tourists due to their picturesque appearance and biodiversity. The mountains themselves provide vast deposits of mineral wealth such as gold and silver, thus fueling a thriving trade in traditional jewelry and explaining many ancient treasures housed in the museums of this country.

The economy of Bulgaria has been booming in recent times and even throughout the global economic downturn, the nation managed to keep itself in good shape despite what was happening in the world around it. The tremendous amount of manufacturing, production and service business here have seen it through what could have been very tough times. The nation has managed to put itself into the top 40 countries around the globe most popular for tourists and has a regular flow of over 5 million visitors each year.

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Croatia, formally known as The Republic of Croatia, is a country located near the Adriatic Sea, the Balkan Mountain range and the Pannonian plain. To the east of Croatia lies Montenegro and Serbia, to the north Hungary and Slovenia and along its southeastern border lies Herzegovina and Bosnia. The country is 21,851 square miles in total area with a population of just under 4.5 million people in all. The language spoken here is Croatian, a South Slavic language, one of many in the Balkan region. Zagrab is both the largest city in Croatia and the seat of its capital.

While many archaeologists state that the region today known as Croatia was inhabited thousands of years ago, Croats, the original Croatian people, settled in here in the 7th century AD and organized the first true governments of the land. Many fossils remain here from the Neanderthal and Neolithic eras of pre-history which place Croatia high on the list of important places for those interested in the study of early humans who flourished just after the last Ice Age. As with much of the rest of the region, many different cultures have flourished in Croatia from time to time, each leaving their specific imprint on the land and its people, but unlike many other of its neighbors, Croatia was also once its own kingdom. The rich cultural history is a big part of what draws visitors to this land and its museums are some of the most important in the world when it comes to prehistoric and medieval European history and artifacts.

Geographically Croatia resembles the shape of a horseshoe. There are many diverse terrains throughout the country such as plains, rocky coast lines and dense wooded mountain areas. Croatia is well-known for the many national parks it features, many of which attract the growing tide of ecotourists who come to the Balkans each year. There are a huge number of caves here, many of which extend quite deep with the deepest one known to man reaching a full 3,280 feet into the Earth. 

Croatia’s economic is quite well diversified with a heavy emphasis on service, followed by industry. There are shipbuilding, pharmaceutical and other large production businesses thriving here, but it is tourism that is really growing. A full 11 million people visit Croatia each year to enjoy its scenic beauty and this has lead it to be ranked as the 18th most popular destination in the world.