bal·​kan·​ize ˈbȯl-kə-ˌnīz How to pronounce balkanize (audio)
balkanized; balkanizing
often capitalized

transitive verb

: to break up (a region, a group, etc.) into smaller and often hostile units
opposes the partition of Germany, and holds that the economic consequences of Balkanizing the country would be seriousTimes Literary Supplement
: divide, compartmentalize
now pop culture has been balkanized; it is full of niches, with different groups watching and playing their own thingsRichard Corliss
balkanization noun often capitalized

Did you know?

The Balkan Peninsula of southeastern Europe is lapped by the Adriatic Sea in the west and the Black Sea in the east. It is named for the Balkan Mountains, a mountain range which extends across Bulgaria from its border with Serbia to the Black Sea. (Balkan comes from the Ottoman Turkish balḳān, meaning "wooded mountain or mountain range.") The Balkan States are commonly characterized as comprising Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia, with mainland portions of Greece and the European portion of Turkey often being included as well. The English word, which is often capitalized, is the lexical offspring of geography and history: the decline of the Ottoman Empire in the 18th century led to a series of revolts that accelerated the fracturing of the region into smaller states whose unstable coexistence led to violence that came to a head in World War I. Since the early 20th century, balkanize and its related noun, balkanization, have come to refer to the kind of divisive action that can weaken countries or groups, among other things.

Examples of balkanize in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Al Drago—Bloomberg/Getty Images A new cold war between the United States and China threatens to balkanize the global economy and fuel painful stagflation in the West, warned Nouriel Roubini. Christiaan Hetzner, Fortune, 13 Apr. 2023 Work on energetics is balkanized among different R&D units of the military, with no senior official playing point and advocating at a high level for change. Jeremy Bogaisky, Forbes, 9 Mar. 2023 But splitting the digital world in half would balkanize the technical standards that companies and governments use to collaborate across borders, thereby restricting their ability to innovate. Andy Purdy, Fortune, 9 May 2021 Implementing such a scheme could balkanize the web, destroying its open essence and dramatically raising the cost of doing business. Steven Levy, Wired, 25 Sep. 2020 Publications that used to be easily available are hidden behind paywalls, data balkanized, and the materials underlying research held tightly. E. Richard Gold, Fortune, 26 Mar. 2020 That period, before the adoption of our Constitution, left the country balkanized by predatory and punitive state measures directed against other states. Jonathan Turley, Twin Cities, 25 Oct. 2019 The news comes on the heels of an Oct. 1 court win (perhaps a Pyrrhic one) for opponents of net neutrality that upheld the FCC’s repeal but handed states the authority to impose stricter standards—threatening to balkanize US regulations. Michael J. Coren, Quartz, 3 Oct. 2019 Although our national reliance on shrill identity politics and our loud public shaming of dissenters has had the effect of balkanizing us at an ever-increasing and dangerous rate. John Kass,, 17 July 2019

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'balkanize.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


balkan (Peninsula) + -ize; alluding to the fragmentation of southeastern Europe into relatively small and weak states following the withdrawal of the Ottoman Empire

First Known Use

1918, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of balkanize was in 1918


Dictionary Entries Near balkanize

Cite this Entry

“Balkanize.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Jun. 2024.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!