Interactive Map

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

  • Where exactly is the CREES area of study?

    Where exactly is the CREES area of study? Does it include Europeans? Asians? Slavs? Freezing North? Desert South? Christians? Muslims? World Wars? Soviet Union? Mongol Empire? Find out using this interactive map!

  • Looking for images of Russia, Eastern Europe & Eurasia? Check out the CREES Flickr Album full of photographs taken by KU students and faculty on their travels. 

  • Albania

    Located on the Balkan Peninsula in Southeastern Europe, Albania borders the Adriatic Sea and Ionian Sea, between Greece in the south and Montenegro and Kosovo to the north. Just slightly smaller than the state of Maryland, Albania is home to 2,994,667 citizens. Outside of Albania's borders, there are millions of ethnic Albanians living in the surrounding countries of Southeast Europe as well as throughout the world. Indeed, there are over a million ethnic Albanians living in the United States.

    Notable Personages:

    Skanderbeg
    King Zog
    Enver Hoxha
    Ismail Kadare

    Ethnic Groups:

    Albanian (95%), Greek (3%), other (2%: Vlach, Roma (Gypsy), Serb, Macedonian, Bulgarian). Note: in 1989, other estimates of the Greek population ranged from 1% (official Albanian statistics) to 12% (from a Greek organization).

    Religions:

    Muslim (70%), Albanian Orthodox (20%), Roman Catholic (10%). Note: percentages are estimates; there are no current statistics on religious affiliation; all mosques and churches were closed in 1967 and religious observances prohibited; in November 1990, Albania began allowing private religious practice. From 1925-1945, the Muslim branch known as "Betktashi" had its world Headquarters in Albania. Bektashi Islam is quite different from mainstream Sunni Islam in that it allows for the consumption of alcohol and women are less segregated.

    Languages:

    Albanian (official - derived from Tosk dialect), Greek, Vlach, Romani, Slavic dialects.

    Useful Albanian phrases:
    Tungjatjeta (hello)
    Mirupafshim (goodbye)
    Faleminderit (thank you)
    Me falni (excuse me)

    Capital City:

    Tirana

    Economy:

    Albania, a formerly closed, centrally planned state, is making the difficult transition to a more modern open-market economy. The government has taken measures to curb violent crime, and recently adopted a fiscal reform package aimed at reducing the large gray economy and attracting foreign investment. The agricultural sector, which accounts for almost half of employment but only about one-fifth of Albania's GDP, is limited primarily to small family operations and subsistence farming because of lack of modern equipment, unclear property rights, and the prevalence of small, inefficient plots of land. Energy shortages because of a reliance on hydropower, and antiquated and inadequate infrastructure contribute to Albania's poor business environment and lack of success in attracting new foreign investment needed to expand the country's export base. With help from EU funds, the government is taking steps to improve the poor national road and rail network, a long-standing barrier to sustained economic growth.

    Country Bio:

    Albanians refer to their country as Shqipëria (pronounced "schip-ree-ya") and trace their roots back to the ancient tribal Illyrians who briefly challenged but were then ruled by the Romans. In 1344 Albania was annexed by Serbia, but after the defeat of Serbia by the Turks in 1389 the whole region was open to Ottoman attack. In 1417 Ottoman forces began its takeover of Albanian territory and was largely successful except from 1443-1468 when Albania's famous resistance fighter, Skanderbeg, resisted Turkish rule, winning all 25 battles he fought against the Turks. The Ottomans finally overwhelmed Albanian resistance in 1479, 26 years after they had captured Constantinople and 11 years after Skanderbeg's death (from malaria). Albania declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912, but was conquered by Italy in 1939. In 1941, Albanian Communist party was founded with Enver Hoxha, as first secretary, a position he held until his natural death in April 1985. Instead of joining the Yugoslav Federation, Hoxha allied Albania first with the USSR (until 1960), and then with China (to 1978). In the early 1990s, Albania ended 46 years of xenophobic Communist rule and established a multiparty democracy. The transition has proven challenging as successive governments have tried to deal with high unemployment, widespread corruption, a dilapidated physical infrastructure, powerful organized crime networks, and combative political opponents. Albania has made progress in its democratic development since first holding multiparty elections in 1991, but deficiencies remain. International observers judged elections to be largely free and fair since the restoration of political stability following the collapse of pyramid schemes in 1997; however, there have been claims of electoral fraud in every one of Albania's post-communist elections. Albania joined NATO in April 2009 and is a potential candidate for EU accession. Although Albania's economy continues to grow, the country is still one of the poorest in Europe, hampered by a large informal economy and an inadequate energy and transportation infrastructure.

    Sources

    CIA World Factbook
    Wikipedia
  • Armenia

    One of three Caucasus countries, Armenia lies in the highlands surrounding the Biblical mountains of Mt. Ararat, upon which Noah's Ark is said to have come to rest after the flood. The country borders Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Iran. A little over 2 million live in Armenia, 1.1 of whom live in the capital city, Yerevan.

    Notable Personages:

    Aram Khatchaturian
    Vartan Pasha
    Levon Aronian

    Ethnic Groups:

    Armenian 97.9%, Yezidi (Kurd) 1.3%, Russian 0.5%, other 0.3% (2001 census).

    Religions:

    Armenian Apostolic 94.7%, other Christian 4%, Yezidi (monotheist with elements of nature worship) 1.3%.

    Languages:

    Armenian (official) 97.7%, Yezidi 1%, Russian 0.9%, other 0.4% (2001 census).

    Key Armenian phrases (transliterated):
    Parev tsez (Hello)
    Tsuhdesootyoon (Goodbye)
    Shnorhagal em (Thank you)
    Guh nerek (Excuse me)

    Capital City:

    Yerevan

    Economy:

    After several years of double-digit economic growth, Armenia faced a severe economic recession with GDP declining more than 14% in 2009, despite large loans from multilateral institutions. Sharp declines in the construction sector and workers' remittances, particularly from Russia, were the main reasons for the downturn. The economy began to recover in 2010 with nearly 5% growth. Under the old Soviet central planning system, Armenia developed a modern industrial sector, supplying machine tools, textiles, and other manufactured goods to sister republics, in exchange for raw materials and energy. Armenia has since switched to small-scale agriculture and away from the large agroindustrial complexes of the Soviet era. Armenia has managed to reduce poverty, slash inflation, stabilize its currency, and privatize most small- and medium-sized enterprises. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Armenia had made progress in implementing some economic reforms, including privatization, price reforms, and prudent fiscal policies, but geographic isolation, a narrow export base, and pervasive monopolies in important business sectors have made Armenia particularly vulnerable to the sharp deterioration in the global economy and the economic downturn in Russia. The conflict with Azerbaijan over the ethnic Armenian-dominated region of Nagorno-Karabakh contributed to a severe economic decline in the early 1990s and Armenia's borders with Turkey remain closed. Armenia is particularly dependent on Russian commercial and governmental support and most key Armenian infrastructure is Russian-owned and/or managed, especially in the energy sector. The electricity distribution system was privatized in 2002 and bought by Russia's RAO-UES in 2005. Construction of a pipeline to deliver natural gas from Iran to Armenia was completed in December 2008, and gas deliveries are slated to expand due to the April 2010 completion of the Yerevan Thermal Power Plant. Armenia has some mineral deposits (copper, gold, bauxite). Pig iron, unwrought copper, and other nonferrous metals are Armenia's highest valued exports. Armenia's severe trade imbalance has been offset somewhat by international aid, remittances from Armenians working abroad, and foreign direct investment.

    Country Bio:

    Armenia prides itself on being the first nation to formally adopt Christianity (early 4th century). Despite periods of autonomy, over the centuries Armenia came under the sway of various empires including the Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Persian, and Ottoman. During World War I in the western portion of Armenia, Ottoman Turkey instituted a policy of forced resettlement coupled with other harsh practices that resulted in an estimated 1 million Armenian deaths. The Ottomans ceded the eastern area of Armenia to Russia in 1828; this portion declared its independence in 1918, but was conquered by the Soviet Red Army in 1920. Armenian leaders remain preoccupied by the long conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, a primarily Armenian-populated region, assigned to Soviet Azerbaijan in the 1920s by Moscow. Armenia and Azerbaijan began fighting over the area in 1988; the struggle escalated after both countries attained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. By May 1994, when a cease-fire took hold, ethnic Armenian forces held not only Nagorno-Karabakh but also a significant portion of Azerbaijan proper. The economies of both sides have been hurt by their inability to make substantial progress toward a peaceful resolution. Turkey closed the common border with Armenia in 1994 because of the Armenian separatists' control of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas, further hampering Armenian economic growth. In 2009, senior Armenian leaders began pursuing rapprochement with Turkey, aiming to secure an opening of the border; this process is currently dormant.

    Sources

    CIA World Factbook
    Wikipedia

     

  • Azerbaijan

    With over 8 million inhabitants, Azerbaijan is the largest country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, it is bounded by the Caspian Sea to the east, Russia to the north, Georgia to the northwest, Armenia to the west, and Iran to the south.

    Notable Personages:

    Uzeyir Hajibeyov
    Pur Hasan Asfaraini
    Khurshidbanu Natavan

    Ethnic Groups:

    Azeri 90.6%, Dagestani 2.2%, Russian 1.8%, Armenian 1.5%, other 3.9% (1999 census). Note: almost all Armenians live in the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh region.

    Religions:

    Muslim 93.4%, Russian Orthodox 2.5%, Armenian Orthodox 2.3%, other 1.8% (1995 est.). Note: religious affiliation is still nominal in Azerbaijan; percentages for actual practicing adherents are much lower.

    Languages:

    Azerbaijani (Azeri) (official) 90.3%, Lezgi 2.2%, Russian 1.8%, Armenian 1.5%, other 3.3%, unspecified 1% (1999 census).

    Useful Azeri phrases:
    Salam əleyküm (Hello)
    Salamat qalın (Goodbye)
    Təşəkkür edirəm (Thank you)
    Bağışlayın (Excuse me)

    Capital City:

    Baku

    Economy:

    Azerbaijan's oil production increased dramatically in 1997, when Azerbaijan signed the first production-sharing arrangement (PSA) with the Azerbaijan International Operating Company. Oil exports through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline remain the main economic driver while efforts to boost Azerbaijan's gas production are underway. However, Azerbaijan has made only limited progress on instituting market-based economic reforms. Pervasive public and private sector corruption and structural economic inefficiencies remain a drag on long-term growth, particularly in non-energy sectors. Several other obstacles impede Azerbaijan's economic progress: the need for stepped up foreign investment in the non-energy sector and the continuing conflict with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Trade with Russia and the other former Soviet republics is declining in importance, while trade is building with Turkey and the nations of Europe. Long-term prospects will depend on world oil prices, the location of new oil and gas pipelines in the region, and Azerbaijan's ability to manage its energy wealth to promote sustainable growth in non-energy sectors of the economy and spur employment.

    Country Bio:

    Historically, Azerbaijan was part of many different state formations, including the Scythian, Medes, Macedonian, Seleucid, Sassasnid, and Byzantine Empires. It is also the location of the farthest known outpost of Roman troops. The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, the first democratic and secular republic in the Muslim world, was established in 1918. Among the important accomplishments of the Parliament was the extension of suffrage to women, making Azerbaijan the first Muslim nation to grant women equal political rights with men. In this accomplishment, Azerbaijan preceded the United Kingdom and the United States. Within two years, however the country was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1920; it regained its independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Despite a 1994 cease-fire, Azerbaijan has yet to resolve its conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, a primarily Armenian-populated region that Moscow recognized as part of Soviet Azerbaijan in the 1920s after Armenia and Azerbaijan disputed the status of the territory. Armenia and Azerbaijan began fighting over the area in 1988; the struggle escalated after both countries attained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. By May 1994, when a cease-fire took hold, ethnic Armenian forces held not only Nagorno-Karabakh but also seven surrounding provinces in the territory of Azerbaijan. Corruption in the country is ubiquitous, and the government, which eliminated presidential term limits in a 2009 referendum, has been accused of authoritarianism. Although the poverty rate has been reduced in recent years due to revenue from oil production, the promise of widespread wealth resulting from the continued development of Azerbaijan's energy sector remains largely unfulfilled.

    Sources

    CIA World Factbook
    Wikipedia

     

  • Belarus

    Just East of Poland, Belarus also borders Lithuania, Latvia, Russia, and Ukraine. In terms of size, Belarus is only slightly smaller than Kansas, and is home to over 9.5 million people. Belarus has the distinguished honor of being, arguably, the last dictatorship on the European continent.

    Notable Personages:

    Alexander Lukashenko
    Francysk Skaryna
    Yanka Kupala

    Ethnic Groups:

    Belarusian 81.2%, Russian 11.4%, Polish 3.9%, Ukrainian 2.4%, other 1.1% (1999 census)

    Religions:

    Eastern Orthodox 80%, other (including Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim) 20% (1997 est.).

    Languages:

    Belarusian (official) 36.7%, Russian (official) 62.8%, other 0.5% (includes small Polish- and Ukrainian-speaking minorities) (1999 census).

    Вітаю (Vitayu) (Hello)
    Да пабаченьня (Da pabachen'nya) (Goodbye)
    Дзякуй (Dziakuy) (Thank you)
    Дзякуй (Dziakuy) (Excuse me)

    Capital City:

    Minsk

    Economy:

    Belarus has seen limited structural reform since 1995, when President Lukashenko launched the country on the path of "market socialism." In keeping with this policy, Lukashenko reimposed administrative controls over prices and currency exchange rates and expanded the state's right to intervene in the management of private enterprises. Since 2005, the government has re-nationalized a number of private companies. In December 2010, Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan signed an agreement to form a Common Economic Space and Russia removed all Belarusian oil duties.

    Country Bio:

    Until the 20th century, the lands of modern day Belarus belonged to several countries, including the Principality of Polotsk, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Russian Empire, and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. As a result of the Russian Revolution, Belarus became a founding constituent republic of the Soviet Union. After seven decades as a constituent republic of the USSR, Belarus attained its independence in 1991. It has retained closer political and economic ties to Russia than any of the other former Soviet republics. Belarus and Russia signed a treaty on a two-state union on 8 December 1999 envisioning greater political and economic integration. Although Belarus agreed to a framework to carry out the accord, serious implementation has yet to take place. Since his election in July 1994 as the country's first president, Aleksandr Lukashenko has steadily consolidated his power through authoritarian means. Government restrictions on freedom of speech and the press, peaceful assembly, and religion remain in place.

    Sources

    CIA World Factbook
    Wikipedia
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina

    A former Yugoslav country, Bosnia and Herzegovina is located in Southeast Europe, and borders the Adriatic Sea, Croatia, Montenegro, and Serbia. Roughly the size of West Virginia, the country has 4.6 million inhabitants, the vast majority of whom do not live in the country's capital city of Sarajevo. Sarajevo was the location of the 1984 Winter Olympics.

    Notable Personages:

    Mehmed-pasa Sokolovic
    Gavrilo Princip
    Ivo Andric

     

    Ethnic Groups:

    Bosniak 48%, Serb 37.1%, Croat 14.3%, other 0.6% (2000). Note: The term Bosniak refers to those who identify themselves as ethnically Muslim, but to not necessarily adhere to the Islamic faith. This ethnic vs. religious distinction is similar to those who identify themselves as ethnically Jewish yet do not necessarily practice the Jewish faith.

    Religions:

    Muslim 40%, Orthodox 31%, Roman Catholic 15%, other 14%.

    Languages:

    Bosnian (official), Croatian (official), Serbian. Note: The primary difference between the Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian, and Montenegrin languages is not pronunciation but the alphabet with which the language writes. Croatian uses strictly the Latin alphabet. Standard Serbian, Bosnian, and Montenegrin uses both Cyrillic and Latin script (latinica), although Cyrillic is the official script of the administration in Serbia and Republika Srpska.

    Useful Bosnian phrases:
    Zdravo (hello)
    Hvala (thank you)
    Molim (please)

    Capital City:

    Sarajevo

    Economy:

    The interethnic warfare in Bosnia and Herzegovina caused production to plummet by 80% from 1992 to 1995 and unemployment to soar. Recovery has been slow since peace was settled in the region. One of Bosnia's main economic challenges in 2010 has been to reduce spending on public sector wages and social benefits to meet the IMF's criteria for obtaining funding for budget shortfalls. The konvertibilna marka (convertible mark or BAM) - the national currency introduced in 1998 - is pegged to the euro, and confidence in the currency and the banking sector has increased. Bosnia's private sector is growing, but foreign investment has dropped off sharply since 2007. Bosnia and Herzegovina's top economic priorities are: acceleration of integration into the EU; strengthening the fiscal system; public administration reform; World Trade Organization (WTO) membership; and securing economic growth by fostering a dynamic, competitive private sector.

    Country Bio:

    Often simply referred to as "Bosnia," Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) is actually comprised of two different geographical entities: Bosnia in the north, and Herzegovina in the South. For periods between 1180 and 1463 Bosnia was one of the most powerful states in the Western Balkans, but by the 1460s, was almost entirely under Ottoman control. Traditionally, Bosnia was known for its cultural and religious diversity and tolerance. In the late 15th century when the Sephardic Jews were expelled from Spain, it was Bosnia that welcomed them. Because it lacked the strong supra-religious national structures that dominated many of the surrounding countries, BiH was the most swiftly assimilated into the Ottoman Empire. Within generations, Islam was the dominant religion amongst the local people and the Bosnian contingent of the Ottoman army was particularly noted for producing prized soldiers and high-ranking advisers for the Turkish court. BiH was occupied by the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1878 and benefited from the Empire's cultural and intellectual peak of the 1890s. While it existed before, nationalism was at a particularly high zenith during this time. Bosnian Catholics increasingly identified with neighboring Croatia (also within the Austro-Hungarian Empire). Orthodox Bosnians identified with the then recently independent Serbia. And Bosnia's Muslim population, those who for centuries had profited from a close cultural and religious alliance with the Ottoman Empire, became increasingly apart. These ethnic distinctions would have high consequences in the 20th Century. The "shot heard round the world" which assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and set off WWI took place in Sarajevo in 1914. An astonishing 15% of the Bosnian population was killed during WWI, and with the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires gone, the country was absorbed into a proto-Yugoslavia. In WWII, BiH was occupied partly by Italy and partly by Germany, and then absorbed into the newly created fascist state of Croatia. Known for besting even Germany's Nazis when it came towards its anti-Semitic zealotry, Croatia's Ustase decimated Bosnia's Jewish population. Post WWII, BiH was a republic within Tito's Yugoslavia and remained so until it declared independence in 1992. This set off a civil war with Bosnian Serbs, supported by neighboring Serbia and Montenegro, responding to the independence declaration with armed resistance aimed at partitioning the republic along ethnic lines and joining Serb-held areas to form a "Greater Serbia." Bosnian Croats also fought for independence in the hopes of joining the Herzegovina part of the country with Croatia. The Bosnian war of the 1990s is remembered for its horrific war crimes, ethnic genocide, and a 4-year long siege of Sarajevo during which it is estimated that 10,000 Sarajevans were killed or went missing in the city, including over 1,500 children. In March 1994, Bosniaks and Croats reduced the number of warring factions from three to two by signing an agreement creating a joint Bosniak/Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. On 21 November 1995, in Dayton, Ohio, the warring parties initialed a peace agreement that brought to a halt three years of interethnic civil strife (the final agreement was signed in Paris on 14 December 1995). The Dayton Peace Accords retained Bosnia and Herzegovina's international boundaries and created a multi-ethnic and democratic government charged with conducting foreign, diplomatic, and fiscal policy. To this day, the country is divided into two different political entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska.

    Sources

    CIA World Factbook
    Wikipedia
  • Bulgaria

    Located on the Black Sea, Bulgaria borders Romania to the north, Turkey and Greece to the South, and Serbia and Macedonia on the West. Bulgaria has a population of over 7 million, and in terms of square kilometers, is the 15th largest country in Europe.

    Notable Personages

    Asparukh
    Todor Zhivkov
    Lyudmila Zhivkova
    Elias Canetti

    Ethnic Groups:

    Bulgarian 83.9%, Turk 9.4%, Roma 4.7%, other 2% (including Macedonian, Armenian, Tatar, Circassian) (2001 census)

    Religions:

    Bulgarian Orthodox 82.6%, Muslim 12.2%, other Christian 1.2%, other 4% (2001 census)

    Languages:

    Bulgarian (official) 84.5%, Turkish 9.6%, Roma 4.1%, other and unspecified 1.8% (2001 census).

    Useful Bulgarian phrases:
    Здравейте (Zdravejte) (hello)
    Довиждане (Doviždane) (goodbye)
    Благодаря (blagodarya) (Thank you)
    Извинете! (Izvinete) (Excuse me)

    Capital city:

    Sofia

    Economy:

    Bulgaria, a former Communist country that entered the EU on 1 January 2007, averaged more than 6% annual growth from 2004 to 2008, driven by significant amounts of foreign direct investment and consumption. Successive governments have demonstrated a commitment to economic reforms and responsible fiscal planning, but the global downturn sharply reduced domestic demand, exports, capital inflows, and industrial production. The economy is expected to grow modestly in 2011, however. Corruption in the public administration, a weak judiciary, and the presence of organized crime remain significant challenges.

    Country Bio:

    The Bulgars, a Central Asian Turkic tribe, merged with the local Slavic inhabitants in the late 7th century to form the first Bulgarian state. In succeeding centuries, Bulgaria struggled with the Byzantine Empire to assert its place in the Balkans, but by the end of the 14th century the country was overrun by the Ottoman Turks. Northern Bulgaria attained autonomy in 1878 and all of Bulgaria became independent from the Ottoman Empire in 1908. Having fought on the losing side in both World Wars, in 1945 Bulgaria became a communist state and was a part of the Eastern Bloc until the political changes in Eastern Europe in 1989/1990, when the communist part allowed multi-party elections. Communist domination ended in 1990, when Bulgaria held its first multiparty election since World War II and began the contentious process of moving toward political democracy and a market economy while combating inflation, unemployment, corruption, and crime. The country joined NATO in 2004 and the EU in 2007.

    Sources

    CIA World Factbook
    Wikipedia
  • Croatia

    Located along the Adriatic Sea, Croatia borders Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. With 4.8 million inhabitants, Croatia is famous for its Dalmatian Coastline and tourism.

    Notable Personages:

    Zvonimir
    Maksimilijan Vrhovac
    Josip "Tito" Broz
    Ivo Andrić

    Ethnic Groups:

    Croat 89.6%, Serb 4.5%, other 5.9% (including Bosniak, Hungarian, Slovene, Czech, and Roma) (2001 census).

    Religions:

    Roman Catholic 87.8%, Orthodox 4.4%, other Christian 0.4%, Muslim 1.3%, other and unspecified 0.9%, none 5.2% (2001 census).

    Languages:

    Croatian (official) 96.1%, Serbian 1%, other and undesignated (including Italian, Hungarian, Czech, Slovak, and German) 2.9% (2001 census). Note: The primary difference between the Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian, and Montenegrin languages is not pronunciation but the alphabet with which the language writes. Croatian uses strictly the Latin alphabet. Standard Serbian, Bosnian, and Montenegrin uses both Cyrillic (ћирилица) and Latin script (latinica), although Cyrillic is the official script of the administration in Serbia and Republika Srpska.

    Useful Croatian phrases:
    Bog (Hello)
    Doviđenja (Goodbye)
    Hvala (Thank you
    Pardon (Excuse me)

    Capital City:

    Zagreb

    Economy:

    Once one of the wealthiest of the Yugoslav republics, Croatia's economy suffered badly during the 1991-95 war as output collapsed and the country missed the early waves of investment in Central and Eastern Europe that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall. Between 2000 and 2007, however, Croatia's economic fortunes began to improve slowly, with moderate but steady GDP growth between 4% and 6% led by a rebound in tourism and credit-driven consumer spending. Inflation over the same period has remained tame and the currency, the kuna, stable. Nevertheless, difficult problems still remain, including a stubbornly high unemployment rate, a growing trade deficit and uneven regional development. The state retains a large role in the economy, as privatization efforts often meet stiff public and political resistance. While macroeconomic stabilization has largely been achieved, structural reforms lag because of deep resistance on the part of the public and lack of strong support from politicians. The EU accession process should accelerate fiscal and structural reform.

    Country Bio:

    When the Roman Empire split in 395AD, Croatia, along with Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, stayed with the Western Roman Empire, while present-day Serbia, Kosovo and Macedonia went to the Eastern Roman Empire, later known as the Byzantine Empire. A stalwart of Roman Catholicism, Croatia allied earlier on with Hungary for protection against the Orthodox Byzantine Empire. In the 14th century when the Ottomans began pushing into the Balkans, Croatia turned to the Austro-Hungarian Empire for protection in 1527 and remained part of their empire until the end of WWI. In 1918, the Croats, Serbs, and Slovenes formed a kingdom known after 1929 as Yugoslavia. Germany invaded the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1941 and placed the Ustaše Croatian Liberation Movement in power. The Ustaše were known for their particular zealotry with regards the elimination of Jews, Roma, antifascist Croats, and also against Croatia's ethnic Serb population. The exact number of Serb victims is uncertain and highly controversial, but estimates range somewhere between 60,000-120,000. Josip "Tito" Broz, himself born in Croatia, led the Yugoslav Partisan guerilla movement to victory against the Germans and Ustaše, and was later made prime minister of the federal independent Communist state of Yugoslavia, established in 1945. Although Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, it took four years of sporadic, but often bitter, fighting before the Dayton Peace Accords were signed in 1995, recognizing Croatia's traditional borders as an independent, sovereign nation. Under UN supervision, the last Serb-held enclave in eastern Slavonia was returned to Croatia in 1998. In April 2009, Croatia joined NATO; it is a candidate for eventual EU accession, expected in 2013.

    Sources

    CIA World Factbook
    Wikipedia

     

  • Czech Republic

    Located in Central Europe, between Germany, Poland, Slovakia, and Austria, the Czech Republic is home to over 10 million people, 1 million of whom live in the capital city of Prague.

     

    Notable Personages:

    King Přemysl Otakar II
    Charles IV
    Jan Hus
    Jan Amos Komenský
    Gregor Mendel
    Antonín Dvořák

    Ethnic Groups:

    Czech 90.4%, Moravian 3.7%, Slovak 1.9%, other 4% (2001 census).

    Religions:

    Roman Catholic 26.8%, Protestant 2.1%, other 3.3%, unspecified 8.8%, unaffiliated 59% (2001 census).

    Languages:

    Czech 94.9%, Slovak 2%, other 2.3%, unidentified 0.8% (2001 census).

    Useful Czech phrases:
    Ahoj (Hello)
    Nashledanou (Goodbye)
    Dĕkuju (Thank you)
    Promiňte (Excuse me)

    Capital City:

    Prague

    Economy:

    The Czech Republic is a stable and prosperous market economy, which harmonized its laws and regulations with those of the EU prior to its EU accession in 2004. The auto industry is the Czech Republic's largest single industry and, together with its suppliers, accounts for as much as 20% of Czech manufacturing. The Czech Republic produced more than a million cars for the first time in 2010, over 80% of which were exported. Foreign and domestic businesses alike voice concerns about corruption, especially in public procurement. Other long-term challenges include dealing with a rapidly aging population, funding an unsustainable pension and health care system, and diversifying away from manufacturing and toward a more high-tech, services-based, knowledge economy.

    Country Bio:

    The Czech state, the core of which was known as Bohemia, was formed in the late 9th century, and reached its greatest territorial extent during the 13th and 14th century. In 1526, the Kingdom of Bohemia was integrated into the Habsburg monarchy as one of its three principal parts alongside Austria and Hungary. At the close of World War I, the Czechs and Slovaks of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire merged to form Czechoslovakia. During the interwar years, having rejected a federal system, the new country's leaders were frequently preoccupied with meeting the demands of other ethnic minorities within the republic, most notably the Sudeten Germans and the Ruthenians (Ukrainians). On the eve of World War II, the Czech part of the country was forcibly annexed to the Third Reich, and the Slovaks declared independence as a fascist ally of Nazi Germany. After the war, a reunited but truncated Czechoslovakia (less Ruthenia) fell within the Soviet sphere of influence. In 1968, an invasion by Warsaw Pact troops ended the efforts of the country's leaders to liberalize Communist Party rule and create "socialism with a human face." Anti-Soviet demonstrations the following year ushered in a period of harsh repression known as "normalization." With the collapse of Soviet-backed authority in 1989, Czechoslovakia regained its freedom through a peaceful "Velvet Revolution." On 1 January 1993, the country underwent a "velvet divorce" into its two national components, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Czech Republic joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004.

    Sources

    CIA World Factbook
    Wikipedia

     

  • Estonia

    One of three known as the Eastern European Baltic states, Estonia borders the Baltic Sea, Gulf of Finland, Latvia and Russia. Home to 1.2 million people, the land size of Estonia is only slightly smaller than New Hampshire and Vermont combined.

    Notable Personages:

    Oskar Luts
    Jaan Kross
    Jaan Kaplinski

    Ethnic Groups:

    Estonian 68.7%, Russian 25.6%, Ukrainian 2.1%, Belarusian 1.2%, Finn 0.8%, other 1.6% (2008 census).

    Religions:

    Evangelical Lutheran 13.6%, Orthodox 12.8%, other Christian (including Methodist, Seventh-Day Adventist, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal) 1.4%, unaffiliated 34.1%, other and unspecified 32%, none 6.1% (2000 census).

    Languages:

    Estonian (official) 67.3%, Russian 29.7%, other 2.3%, unknown 0.7% (2000 census).
    Useful Estonian phrases:
    Tervist (Hello)
    Nägemiseni (Goodbye)
    Tänan (Thank you)
    Vabandage (Excuse me)

    Capital City:

    Tallinn

    Economy:

    Estonia, a 2004 European Union entrant, has a modern market-based economy and one of the higher per capita income levels in Central Europe and the Baltic region. Estonia's successive governments have pursued a free market, pro-business economic agenda and have wavered little in their commitment to pro-market reforms. The current government has followed relatively sound fiscal policies that have resulted in balanced budgets and very low public debt. The economy benefits from strong electronics and telecommunications sectors and strong trade ties with Finland, Sweden, and Germany.

    Country Bio:

    After centuries of Danish, Swedish, German, and Russian rule, Estonia attained independence in 1918. Forcibly incorporated into the USSR in 1940 - an action never recognized by the US - it regained its freedom in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since the last Russian troops left in 1994, Estonia has been free to promote economic and political ties with the West. It joined both NATO and the EU in the spring of 2004.

    Sources

    CIA World Factbook
    Wikipedia

     

  • Georgia

    Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus country of Georgia is bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russia, to the southwest by Turkey, to the south by Armenia, and to the southeast by Azerbaijan. Georgia covers a territory of 69,700 km² and its population is over 4.5 million. Known for good wine and generous hospitality, Georgia's city of Gori is also known for being the birthplace of Joseph Stalin.

    Notable Personages:

    Joseph Stalin
    Shota Rustaveli
    Mikheil Saakashvili
    Ilia Chavchavadze

    Ethnic Groups:

    Georgian 83.8%, Azeri 6.5%, Armenian 5.7%, Russian 1.5%, other 2.5% (2002 census).

    Religions:

    Orthodox Christian (official) 83.9%, Muslim 9.9%, Armenian-Gregorian 3.9%, Catholic 0.8%, other 0.8%, none 0.7% (2002 census).

    Languages:

    Georgian (official) 71%, Russian 9%, Armenian 7%, Azeri 6%, other 7%. Note: Abkhaz is the official language in Abkhazia.

    Capital City:

    Tbilisi

    Economy:

    Georgia's main economic activities include the cultivation of agricultural products such as grapes, citrus fruits, and hazelnuts; mining of manganese and copper; and output of a small industrial sector producing alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages, metals, machinery, aircraft and chemicals. Areas of recent improvement include growth in the construction, banking services, and mining sectors, but reduced availability of external investment and the slowing regional economy are emerging risks. The country imports nearly all its needed supplies of natural gas and oil products. It has sizeable hydropower capacity, a growing component of its energy supplies. Georgia has overcome the chronic energy shortages and gas supply interruptions of the past by renovating hydropower plants and by increasingly relying on natural gas imports from Azerbaijan instead of from Russia. The construction on the Baku-T'bilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, the Baku-T'bilisi-Erzerum gas pipeline, and the Kars-Akhalkalaki Railroad are part of a strategy to capitalize on Georgia's strategic location between Europe and Asia and develop its role as a transit point for gas, oil and other goods. Georgia has historically suffered from a chronic failure to collect tax revenues; however, the government, since coming to power in 2004, has simplified the tax code, improved tax administration, increased tax enforcement, and cracked down on petty corruption.

    Country Bio:

    The region of present day Georgia contained the ancient kingdoms of Colchis and Kartli-Iberia. The area came under Roman influence in the first centuries A.D. and in the 330s, Georgia became one of the first countries to declare itself Christian. Domination by Persians, Arabs, and Turks was followed by a Georgian golden age (11th-13th centuries) that was cut short by the Mongol invasion of 1236. Subsequently, the Ottoman and Persian empires competed for influence in the region. Georgia was absorbed into the Russian Empire in the 19th century. Independent for three years (1918-1921) following the Russian revolution, it was forcibly incorporated into the USSR until the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. On May 26, 1991, Zviad Gamsakhurdia was elected as the first president of independent Georgia. Gamsakhurdia stoked Georgian nationalism and vowed to assert Tbilisi's authority over regions such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia that had been classified as autonomous oblasts under the Soviet Union. He was soon deposed in a bloody coup d'état after which the country became embroiled in a bitter civil war, which lasted almost until 1995. In 1995, Edvard Shevardnadze was officially elected as president of Georgia. At the same time, simmering disputes within Abkhazia and South Ossetia, between local separatists and the majority Georgian populations, erupted into widespread inter-ethnic violence and wars. Supported by Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, with the exception of some "pockets" of territory, achieved de facto independence from Georgia. In 2003 Eduard Shevardnadze was deposed in what is known as the “Rose Revolution.” New elections in early 2004 swept Mikheil Saakashvili into power. Progress on market reforms and democratization has been made in the years since independence, but the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have complicated this progress. After a series of provocations, Georgian military action in South Ossetia in early August 2008 led to a Russian military response that not only occupied the breakaway areas, but large portions of Georgia proper as well. Russian troops pulled back from most occupied Georgian territory, but in late August 2008 Russia unilaterally recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This action was strongly condemned by the United States and many of the world's nations and international organizations.

    Sources

    CIA World Factbook
    Wikipedia

     

  • Hungary

    Located in Central Europe, Hungary borders Romania, Austria, Croatia, Serbia, Slovakia, and Ukraine. With a population of just under 10 million people, Hungary is approximately the size of Indiana. The country is home to the largest thermal water cave system and the second largest thermal lake in the world (Lake Hévíz).

    Notable Personages:

    Saint Stephen I
    István Széchenyi
    Albert Szent-Györgyi
    Ferenc Liszt
    Béla Bartók
    Imre Kertész

    Ethnic Groups:

    Hungarian 92.3%, Roma 1.9%, other or unknown 5.8% (2001 census).

    Religions:

    Roman Catholic 51.9%, Calvinist 15.9%, Lutheran 3%, Greek Catholic 2.6%, other Christian 1%, other or unspecified 11.1%, unaffiliated 14.5% (2001 census).

    Languages:

    Hungarian 93.6%, other or unspecified 6.4% (2001 census).

    Jó napot kívánok (Hello)
    Viszontlátásra (Goodbye)
    Köszönöm szépen (Thank you)
    Elnézést (Excuse me)

    Capital City:

    Budapest

    Economy:

    Hungary has made the transition from a centrally planned to a market economy, with a per capita income nearly two-thirds that of the EU-25 average. The private sector accounts for more than 80% of GDP. Foreign ownership of and investment in Hungarian firms are widespread, with cumulative foreign direct investment worth more than $70 billion.

    Country Bio:

    Following a Celtic (after c. 450 BC) and a Roman (9 AD – c. 430 AD) period, the foundation of Hungary was laid in the late 9th century by the Hungarian ruler Árpád, whose great-grandson Saint Stephen I was crowned with a crown sent from Rome by the pope in 1000 AD. The Kingdom of Hungary lasted for 946 years, and at various points was regarded as one of the cultural centers of the Western world. For many centuries Hungary served as a bulwark against Ottoman Turkish expansion in Europe. The kingdom eventually became part of the polyglot Austro-Hungarian Empire, which collapsed during World War I. A great power until the end of World War I, Hungary lost over 70% of its territory, along with one third of its population of Hungarian ethnicity. The country fell under Communist rule following World War II. In 1956, a revolt and an announced withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact were met with a massive military intervention by Moscow. Under the leadership of Janos Kadar in 1968, Hungary began liberalizing its economy, introducing so-called "Goulash Communism." Hungary held its first multiparty elections in 1990 and initiated a free market economy. It joined NATO in 1999 and the EU five years later. In 2011, Hungary assumed the six-month rotating presidency of the EU for the first time.

    Sources

    CIA World Factbook
    Wikipedia

     

  • Kazakhstan

    The Republic of Kazakhstan is bordered by Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and also a significant part of the Caspian Sea. Almost four times the size of Texas, Kazakhstan is ranked as the ninth largest country in the world. In 1997, the country's capital moved from Almaty to Astana.

    Notable Personages:

    Abay Qunanbayuli
    Kanysh Satpayev
    Nursultan Nazarbayev

    Ethnic Groups:

    Kazakh (Qazaq) 63.1%, Russian 23.7%, Uzbek 2.8%, Ukrainian 2.1%, Uighur 1.4%, Tatar 1.3%, German 1.1%, other 4.5% (2009 census).

    Religions:

    Muslim 47%, Russian Orthodox 44%, Protestant 2%, other 7%.

    Languages:

    Kazakh (Qazaq, state language) 64.4%, Russian (official, used in everyday business, designated the "language of interethnic communication") 95% (2001 est.).

    Useful Kazakh phrases:
    Сәлем! (Sälem!) (Hello)
    Сау болыңыз (Saw bolıñız) (Goodbye)
    Рахмет (Raxmet) (Thank you)
    Кешіріңіз (Keşiriñiz) (Excuse me)

    Capital City:

    Astana

    Economy:

    Kazakhstan, geographically the largest of the former Soviet republics, excluding Russia, possesses enormous fossil fuel reserves and plentiful supplies of other minerals and metals, such as uranium, copper, and zinc. It also has a large agricultural sector featuring livestock and grain. Landlocked, with restricted access to the high seas, Kazakhstan relies on its neighbors to export its products, especially oil and gas. Although its Caspian Sea ports and rail lines carrying oil have been upgraded, civil aviation has been neglected. Telecoms are improving, but require considerable investment, as does the information technology base. Supply and distribution of electricity can be erratic. Despite solid macroeconomic indicators, the government realizes that its economy suffers from an overreliance on oil and extractive industries, the so-called "Dutch disease." In response, Kazakhstan has embarked on an ambitious diversification program, aimed at developing targeted sectors like transport, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, petrochemicals and food processing.

    Country Bio:

    Ethnic Kazakhs, a mix of Turkic and Mongol nomadic tribes who migrated into the region in the 13th century, were rarely united as a single nation. The area was conquered by Russia in the 18th century, and Kazakhstan became a Soviet Republic in 1936. During the 1950s and 1960s agricultural "Virgin Lands" program, Soviet citizens were encouraged to help cultivate Kazakhstan's northern pastures. This influx of immigrants (mostly Russians, but also some other deported nationalities) skewed the ethnic mixture and enabled non-ethnic Kazakhs to outnumber natives. Independence in 1991 drove many of these newcomers to emigrate. Kazakhstan's economy is larger than those of all the other Central Asian states largely due to the country's vast natural resources. Current issues include: developing a cohesive national identity; expanding the development of the country's vast energy resources and exporting them to world markets; diversifying the economy outside the oil, gas, and mining sectors; enhancing Kazakhstan's economic competitiveness; developing a multiparty parliament and advancing political and social reform; and strengthening relations with neighboring states and other foreign powers. In 2007, Kazakhstan's parliament passed a law granting President Nursultan Nazarbayev lifetime powers and privileges, immunity from criminal prosecution, and influence over domestic and foreign policy. Critics argue he has become a de facto "president for life."

    Sources

    CIA World Factbook
    Wikipedia

     

  • Kosovo

    Bordered by Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, and Montenegro, Kosovo is home to 1.8 million inhabitants. While recognized as a sovereign state by the US, Kosovo's independence has yet to be recognized by several members of the international community including Russia and China.

    Ethnic Groups:

    Albanians 92%, other (Serb, Bosniak, Gorani, Roma, Turk, Ashkali, Egyptian) 8% (2008).

    Religions:

    Muslim, Serbian Orthodox, Roman Catholic

    Languages:

    Albanian (official), Serbian (official), Bosnian, Turkish, Roma.

    Useful Albanian phrases:
    Tungjatjeta (hello)
    Mirupafshim (goodbye)
    Faleminderit (thank you)
    Me falni (excuse me)

    Capital City:

    Pristina

    Economy:

    Over the past few years Kosovo's economy has shown significant progress in transitioning to a market-based system and maintaining macroeconomic stability, but it is still highly dependent on the international community and the diaspora for financial and technical assistance. Remittances from the diaspora - located mainly in Germany, Switzerland, and the Nordic countries - are estimated to account for about 13-15% of GDP, and donor-financed activities and aid for another 7.5%. Kosovo's citizens are the poorest in Europe with an average annual per capita income of only $2,800. Unemployment, around 40% of the population, is a significant problem that encourages outward migration and black market activity. Most of Kosovo's population lives in rural towns outside of the capital, Pristina. Inefficient, near-subsistence farming is common - the result of small plots, limited mechanization, and lack of technical expertise. A limited and unreliable electricity supply due to technical and financial problems is a major impediment to economic development, but Kosovo has received technical assistance to help improve accounting and controls. The official currency of Kosovo is the euro, but the Serbian dinar is also used in Serb enclaves. Kosovo's tie to the euro has helped keep core inflation low.

    Country Bio:

    The central Balkans were part of the Roman and Byzantine Empires before ethnic Serbs migrated to the territories of modern Kosovo in the 7th century. During the medieval period, Kosovo became the center of a Serbian Empire and saw the construction of many important Serb religious sites, including many architecturally significant Serbian Orthodox monasteries. The defeat of Serbian forces at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 led to five centuries of Ottoman rule during which large numbers of Turks and Albanians moved to Kosovo. By the end of the 19th century, Albanians replaced the Serbs as the dominant ethnic group in Kosovo. Serbia reacquired control over Kosovo from the Ottoman Empire during the First Balkan War of 1912. After World War II, Kosovo became an autonomous province of Serbia in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Despite legislative concessions, Albanian nationalism increased in the 1980s, which led to riots and calls for Kosovo's independence. At the same time, Serb nationalist leaders, such as Slobodan Milosevic, exploited Kosovo Serb claims of maltreatment to secure votes from supporters, many of whom viewed Kosovo as their cultural heartland. Under Milosevic's leadership, Serbia instituted a new constitution in 1989 that revoked Kosovo's status as an autonomous province of Serbia. Kosovo Albanian leaders responded in 1991 by organizing a referendum that declared Kosovo independent. The Milosevic government carried out repressive measures against the Albanians in the early 1990s as the unofficial Kosovo government, led by Ibrahim Rugova, used passive resistance in an attempt to try to gain international assistance and recognition of an independent Kosovo. Albanians dissatisfied with Rugova's passive strategy in the 1990s created the Kosovo Liberation Army and launched an insurgency. Starting in 1998, Serbian military, police, and paramilitary forces under Milosevic conducted a brutal counterinsurgency campaign that resulted in massacres and massive expulsions of ethnic Albanians. Approximately 800,000 Albanians were forced from their homes in Kosovo during this time. International attempts to mediate the conflict failed, and Milosevic's rejection of a proposed settlement led to a three-month NATO military operation against Serbia beginning in March 1999 that forced Serbia to agree to withdraw its military and police forces from Kosovo. UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999) placed Kosovo under a transitional administration, the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), pending a determination of Kosovo's future status. A UN-led process began in late 2005 to determine Kosovo's final status. The negotiations ran in stages between 2006 and 2007, but ended without agreement between Belgrade and Pristina. On 17 February 2008, the Kosovo Assembly declared Kosovo independent. Since then, over 70 countries have recognized Kosovo, and it has joined the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Serbia continues to reject Kosovo's independence and in October 2008, it sought an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the legality under international law of Kosovo's declaration of independence. The ICJ released the advisory opinion in July 2010 affirming that Kosovo's declaration of independence did not violate general principles of international law, UN Security Council Resolution 1244, or the Constitutive Framework.

    Sources

    CIA World Factbook
    Wikipedia

     

  • Kyrgyzstan

    Located in Central Asia, landlocked and mountainous, Kyrgyzstan is bordered by Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west, Tajikistan to the southwest and People's Republic of China to the east. Its capital and largest city is Bishkek. Kyrgyzstan is known for its incredible natural beauty and proud nomadic traditions.

    Notable Personages:

    Toktogul Satylganov
    Manas
    Chizghiz Aitmatov

    Ethnic Groups:

    Kyrgyz 64.9%, Uzbek 13.8%, Russian 12.5%, Dungan 1.1%, Ukrainian 1%, Uighur 1%, other 5.7% (1999 census).

    Religions:

    Muslim 75%, Russian Orthodox 20%, other 5%.

    Languages:

    Kyrgyz (official) 64.7%, Uzbek 13.6%, Russian (official) 12.5%, Dungun 1%, other 8.2% (1999 census).

    Useful Kyrgyz phrases:
    Саламатсызбы (Salamatsyzby) (Hello)
    Кош калын (Kosh kalyng) (Goodbye)
    Рахмат (Rahmat!) (Thank you)
    Кечиресиз (Kechiresiz) (Excuse me)

    Capital City:

    Bishkek

    Economy:

    Kyrgyzstan is a poor, mountainous country with a dominant agricultural sector. Cotton, tobacco, wool, and meat are the main agricultural products, although only tobacco and cotton are exported in any quantity. Industrial exports include gold, mercury, uranium, natural gas, and electricity. The economy depends heavily on gold exports - mainly from output at the Kumtor gold mine. Following independence from the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan was progressive in carrying out market reforms, such as an improved regulatory system and land reform. Kyrgyzstan was the first Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) country to be accepted into the World Trade Organization.

    Country Bio:

    The Kyrgyz state reached its greatest expansion during 800s AD and maintained its dominance over its territory for about 200 years. In the twelfth century, however, the Kyrgyz dominion had shrunk as a result of the Mongol expansion. With the rise of the Mongol Empire in the thirteenth century, the Kyrgyz migrated south and were finally conquered by Genghis Khan in 1207. Kyrgyz tribes were overrun in the 17th century by the Mongol Oirats, in the mid-18th century by the Manchu Qing Dynasty, and in the early 19th century by the Uzbek Khanate of Kokand. Most of Kyrgyzstan was formally annexed to Russia in 1876. The Kyrgyz staged a major revolt against the Tsarist Empire in 1916 in which almost one-sixth of the Kyrgyz population was killed. Kyrgyzstan became a Soviet republic in 1936 and achieved independence in 1991 when the USSR dissolved. Nationwide demonstrations in the spring of 2005 resulted in the ouster of President Askar Akaev, who had run the country since 1990. Subsequent presidential elections in July 2005 were won overwhelmingly by former prime minister Kurmanbek Bakiev. Over the next few years, the new president manipulated the parliament to accrue new powers for himself. In July 2009, after months of harassment against his opponents and media critics, Bakiev won re-election in a presidential campaign that the international community deemed flawed. In April 2010, nationwide protests led to the resignation and expulsion of Bakiev. He was replaced by President Roza Otunbaeva. Continuing concerns include: endemic corruption, poor interethnic relations, and terrorism.

    Sources

    CIA World Factbook
    Wikipedia

     

  • Latvia

    The middle of the East European Baltic States, Latvia is sandwiched between Estonia and Lithuania on the North, the Baltic Sea to the West, and Russia and Belarus to the East. Latvia has 2.2 million citizens, and is roughly the size of West Virginia. The Latvians are Baltic people culturally related to the Estonians and Lithuanians, with the Latvian language having many similarities with Lithuanian, but not with the Estonian language (a Finnic language).

    Notable Personages:

    Kārlis Ulmanis
    Pyotr Yakobi

    Ethnic Groups:

    Latvian 59.3%, Russian 27.8%, Belarusian 3.6%, Ukrainian 2.5%, Polish 2.4%, Lithuanian 1.3%, other 3.1% (2009).

    Religions:

    Lutheran 19.6%, Orthodox 15.3%, other Christian 1%, other 0.4%, unspecified 63.7% (2006).

    Languages:

    Latvian (official) 58.2%, Russian 37.5%, Lithuanian and other 4.3% (2000 census).

    Useful Latvian phrases:
    Sveiki (Hello)
    Uz redzēšanos (Goodbye)
    Paldies (Thank you)
    Atvainojiet (Excuse me)

    Capital City:

    Riga

    Economy:

    Latvia is a small, open economy with exports contributing significantly to its GDP. Due to its geographical location, transit services are highly developed, along with timber and wood-processing, agriculture and food products, and manufacturing of machinery and electronic devices. The bulk of the country's economic activity, however, is in the services sector. Corruption continues to be an impediment to attracting FDI flows and Latvia's low birth rate and decreasing population are major challenges to its long-term economic vitality. Latvia officially joined the World Trade Organization in February 1999. EU membership, a top foreign policy goal, came in May 2004. Latvia's current major financial policy goal, entrance into the euro zone, is targeted for 2014.

    Country Bio:

    The name "Latvia" originates from the ancient Latgalians, one of four eastern Baltic tribes that formed the ethnic core of the Latvian people (ca. 8th-12th centuries A.D.). The region subsequently came under the control of Germans, Poles, Swedes, and finally, Russians. A Latvian republic emerged following World War I, but it was annexed by the USSR in 1940 - an action never recognized by the US and many other countries. Latvia reestablished its independence in 1991 following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Although the last Russian troops left in 1994, the status of the Russian minority (some 30% of the population) remains of concern to Moscow. Latvia joined both NATO and the EU in the spring of 2004.

    Sources

    CIA World Factbook
    Wikipedia

     

  • Lithuania

    The most southern of the Eastern European Baltic states, Lithuania borders the Baltic Sea, Latvia, Belarus, Poland, and Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast. The country has 3.5 million people, and is only slightly larger than West Virginia.

    Notable Personages:

    Mindugas
    Vytautas the Great
    Martynas Mažvydas
    Kristijonas Donelaitis

    Ethnic Groups:

    Lithuanian 84%, Polish 6.1%, Russian 4.9%, Belarusian 1.1%, other or unspecified 3.9% (2009).

    Religions:

    Roman Catholic 79%, Russian Orthodox 4.1%, Protestant (including Lutheran and Evangelical Christian Baptist) 1.9%, other or unspecified 5.5%, none 9.5% (2001 census).

    Languages:

    Lithuanian (official) 82%, Russian 8%, Polish 5.6%, other and unspecified 4.4% (2001 census).

    Useful Lithuanian phrases:
    Sveikas (Hello)
    Viso gero (Goodbye)
    Dekoju (Thank you)
    Atsiprašau (Excuse me)

    Capital City:

    Vilnius

    Economy:

    Lithuania gained membership in the World Trade Organization and joined the EU in May 2004. Despite Lithuania's EU accession, Lithuania's trade with its Central and Eastern European neighbors, and Russia in particular, accounts for a growing percentage of total trade. Privatization of the large, state-owned utilities is nearly complete. Foreign government and business support have helped in the transition from the old command economy to a market economy.

    Country Bio:

    Lithuanian lands were united under Mindugas in 1236; over the next century, through alliances and conquest, Lithuania extended its territory to include most of present-day Belarus and Ukraine. By the end of the 14th century Lithuania was the largest state in Europe. An alliance with Poland in 1386 led the two countries into a union through the person of a common ruler. In 1569, Lithuania and Poland formally united into a single dual state, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. This entity survived until 1795 when its remnants were partitioned by surrounding countries. Lithuania regained its independence following World War I but was annexed by the USSR in 1940 - an action never recognized by the US and many other countries. On 11 March 1990, Lithuania became the first of the Soviet republics to declare its independence, but Moscow did not recognize this proclamation until September of 1991 (following the abortive coup in Moscow). The last Russian troops withdrew in 1993. Lithuania subsequently restructured its economy for integration into Western European institutions; it joined both NATO and the EU in the spring of 2004.

    Sources

    CIA World Factbook
    Wikipedia

     

  • Macedonia

    Located just north of Greece, Macedonia also borders Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, and Bulgaria. Home to over 2 million people, Macedonia is known for its vast wineries, ajvar (a Balkan spread made of red peppers), and an ongoing naming dispute with Greece.

    Notable Personages:

    Mother Teresa
    Tose Proeski
    Milčo Mančevski

    Ethnic Groups:

    Macedonian 64.2%, Albanian 25.2%, Turkish 3.9%, Roma (Gypsy) 2.7%, Serb 1.8%, other 2.2% (2002 census).

    Religions:

    Macedonian Orthodox 64.7%, Muslim 33.3%, other Christian 0.37%, other and unspecified 1.63% (2002 census).

    Languages:

    Macedonian (official) 66.5%, Albanian (official) 25.1%, Turkish 3.5%, Roma 1.9%, Serbian 1.2%, other 1.8% (2002 census).

    Useful Macedonian phrases:
    Zdravo (Hello)
    Prijatno (Goodbye)
    Blagodaram (Thank you)
    Molam (Please)

    Capital City:

    Skopje

    Economy:

    Having a small, open economy makes Macedonia vulnerable to economic developments in Europe and dependent on regional integration and progress toward EU membership for continued economic growth. At independence in September 1991, Macedonia was the least developed of the Yugoslav republics. An absence of infrastructure, UN sanctions on the downsized Yugoslavia, and a Greek economic embargo over a dispute about the country's constitutional name and flag hindered economic growth until 1996. Since then, Macedonia has maintained macroeconomic stability with low inflation, but it has so far lagged the region in attracting foreign investment and creating jobs, despite making extensive fiscal and business sector reforms. Official unemployment remains high at 31.7%, but may be overstated based on the existence of an extensive gray market, estimated to be more than 20% of GDP that is not captured by official statistics.

    Country Bio:

    The historical or geographical Macedonian Empire of antiquity, famed for its most recognized leader, Alexander the Great, is now divided between the Republic of Macedonia (38%), Greek Macedonia (51%), and Bulgaria's Pirin Macedonia (11%). With the Roman Empire's division in AD 395, Macedonia came under Constantinople and Greek-influenced Orthodox Christianity. In 862, two Thessaloniki (Greek)-born monks, St. Cyril and St. Methodius, were dispatched by the Byzantine emperor to spread orthodoxy and literacy among the Slavs of Moravia (in modern day Czech Republic). It was their disciple, St. Kliment of Ohrid (Macedonia), who would modify their Glagolitic script to create the Cyrillic alphabet. In the 1400s, the takeover by the Ottoman Empire introduced Islam and Turkish settlers to Macedonia. Under Ottoman rule, Christians were essentially second-class citizens; some, especially Albanians, began converting to Islam for social benefits. Macedonia was the battleground where Western European ethnic nationalism collided violently with the Ottoman Empire in a series of Balkan Wars in the early 1900s. After WWII Macedonia became a republic in Tito's communist Yugoslavia. Macedonia gained its independence peacefully from Yugoslavia in 1991. Greece's objection to the new state's use of what it considered a Hellenic name and symbols delayed international recognition, which occurred under the provisional designation of "the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" or FYROM. In 1995, Greece lifted a 20-month trade embargo and the two countries agreed to normalize relations. The United States began referring to Macedonia by its constitutional name, Republic of Macedonia, in 2004 and negotiations continue between Greece and Macedonia to resolve the name issue. Some ethnic Albanians, angered by perceived political and economic inequities, launched an insurgency in 2001 that eventually won the support of the majority of Macedonia's Albanian population and led to the internationally-brokered Ohrid Framework Agreement, which ended the fighting by establishing a set of new laws enhancing the rights of minorities. Fully implementing the Framework Agreement and stimulating economic growth and development continue to be challenges for Macedonia, although progress has been made on both fronts over the past several years.

    Sources

    CIA World Factbook
    Wikipedia

     

  • Moldova

    Nestled between Romania and Ukraine, Moldova is home to 4.6 million people. Moldova is known for two things: good wine and a frozen conflict in its northern Transnistrian region.

    Notable Personages:

    Stephen the Great
    Mihai Eminescu
    Ion Creangă

    Ethnic Groups:

    Moldovan/Romanian 78.2%, Ukrainian 8.4%, Russian 5.8%, Gagauz 4.4%, Bulgarian 1.9%, other 1.3% (2004 census). Note: internal disputes with ethnic Slavs in the Transnistrian region.

    Religions:

    Eastern Orthodox 98%, Jewish 1.5%, Baptist and other 0.5% (2000)

    Languages:

    Moldovan (official, virtually the same as the Romanian language), Russian, Gagauz (a Turkish dialect).

    Useful Moldovan phrases:
    Salut (Hello)
    La revedere (Goodbye)
    Multumesc (Thank you)
    Scuzați-mă (Excuse me)

    Capital City:

    Chisinau

    Economy:

    Moldova remains one of the poorest countries in Europe despite recent progress from its small economic base. It enjoys a favorable climate and good farmland but has no major mineral deposits. As a result, the economy depends heavily on agriculture, featuring fruits, vegetables, wine, and tobacco. Moldova must import almost all of its energy supplies. Moldova's dependence on Russian energy was underscored at the end of 2005, when a Russian-owned electrical station in Moldova's separatist Transnistria region cut off power to Moldova and Russia's Gazprom cut off natural gas in disputes over pricing. In January 2009, gas supplies were cut during a dispute between Russia and Ukraine. Russia's decision to ban Moldovan wine and agricultural products, coupled with its decision to double the price Moldova paid for Russian natural gas, have hurt growth. The economy has made a modest recovery, but remains vulnerable to political uncertainty, weak administrative capacity, vested bureaucratic interests, higher fuel prices, poor agricultural weather, and the skepticism of foreign investors as well as the presence of an illegal separatist regime in Moldova's Transnistria region.

    Country Bio:

    Due to its strategic location on a route between Asia and Europe, the territory of modern Moldova was invaded many times in late antiquity and early Middle Ages, including by Goths, Huns, Avars, Bulgarians, Magyars, Pechenegs, Cumans, Mongols and Tatars. The Principality of Moldavia, established in 1359, was bounded by the Carpathian Mountains in the west, Dniester River in the east, and Danube and Black Sea in the south. Its territory comprised the present-day territory of the Republic of Moldova, the eastern eight of the 41 counties of Romania, and the Chernivtsi oblast and Budjak region of Ukraine. Like the present-day republic and Romania's northeastern region, it was known to the locals as Moldova. Moldavia suffered repeated invasions by Crimean Tatars and, since the 15th century, by the Turks. In 1538, the principality became a tributary to the Ottoman Empire, but it retained internal and partial external autonomy. Part of Romania during the interwar period, Moldova was incorporated into the Soviet Union at the close of World War II. Although the country has been independent from the USSR since 1991, Russian forces have remained on Moldovan territory east of the Dniester River supporting the Slavic majority population, mostly Ukrainians and Russians, who have proclaimed a "Transnistria" republic. One of the poorest nations in Europe, Moldova became the first former Soviet state to elect a Communist, Vladimir Voronin, as its president in 2001. Voronin served as Moldova's president until he resigned in September 2009, following the opposition's gain of a narrow majority in July parliamentary elections and the Communist Party's (PCRM) subsequent inability to attract the three-fifths of parliamentary votes required to elect a president. Moldova's four opposition parties formed a new coalition, the Alliance for European Integration (AIE), which acted as Moldova's governing coalition until December 2010. Moldova experienced significant political uncertainty in 2009 and 2010, holding three general elections (in April 2009, July 2009, and November 2010) and four presidential ballots in parliament, all of which failed to secure a president. Following the November 2010 parliamentary elections, a reconstituted AIE-coalition of three parties formed a government, but remains two votes short of the three-fifths majority required to elect a president.

    Sources

    CIA World Factbook
    Wikipedia

     

  • Montenegro

    Montenegro shares the Dalmatian Coastline along the Adriatic Sea with Croatia, and is also bordered by Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Albanian, and Kosovo. Montenegro, Crna Gora, Black Mountain - the name romantically describes the mountainous region. With just over 650,000 inhabitants, Montenegro is the smallest country of the Balkans and also one of the newest; having amicably divorced from Serbia, Montenegro became a sovereign nation in 2006.

    Notable Personages:

    Petar II Petrović Njegoš
    Petar Lubarda

    Ethnic Groups:

    Montenegrin 43%, Serbian 32%, Bosniak 8%, Albanian 5%, other (Muslims, Croats, Roma (Gypsy)) 12% (2003 census).

    Religions:

    Orthodox 74.2%, Muslim 17.7%, Catholic 3.5%, other 0.6%, unspecified 3%, atheist 1% (2003 census).

    Languages:

    Serbian 63.6%, Montenegrin (official) 22%, Bosnian 5.5%, Albanian 5.3%, unspecified 3.7% (2003 census). Note: The primary difference between the Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian, and Montenegrin languages is not pronunciation but the alphabet with which the language writes. Croatian uses strictly the Latin alphabet. Standard Serbian, Bosnian, and Montenegrin uses both Cyrillic (ћирилица) and Latin script (latinica), although Cyrillic is the official script of the administration in Serbia and Republika Srpska.

    Useful Montenegrin phrases:
    Zdravo (Hello)
    Dovidenja (Goodbye)
    Hvala (Thank you)
    Molim (Please)

    Capital City:

    Podgorica

    Economy:

    Montenegro severed its economy from federal control and from Serbia during the Milosevic era and maintained its own central bank, adopted the Deutchmark, then the euro - rather than the Yugoslav dinar - as official currency, collected customs tariffs, and managed its own budget. The dissolution of the loose political union between Serbia and Montenegro in 2006 led to separate membership in several international financial institutions, such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. In January 2007, Montenegro joined the World Bank and IMF. Montenegro is pursuing its own membership in the World Trade Organization and signed a Stabilization and Association agreement with the European Union in October 2007. The European Council granted candidate country status to Montenegro at the December 2010 session. Unemployment and regional disparities in development are key political and economic problems. Montenegro has privatized its large aluminum complex - the dominant industry - as well as most of its financial sector, and has begun to attract foreign direct investment in the tourism sector.

    Country Bio:

    The use of the name Montenegro began in the 15th century when the Crnojevic dynasty began to rule the Serbian principality of Zeta; over subsequent centuries Montenegro was able to maintain its independence from the Ottoman Empire. From the 16th to 19th centuries, Montenegro became a theocracy ruled by a series of bishop princes; in 1852, it was transformed into a secular principality. After World War I, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, which became the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929, absorbed Montenegro; at the conclusion of World War II, it became a constituent republic of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. When the latter dissolved in 1992, Montenegro federated with Serbia, first as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and, after 2003, in a looser union of Serbia and Montenegro. In May 2006, Montenegro invoked its right under the Constitutional Charter of Serbia and Montenegro to hold a referendum on independence from the state union. The vote for severing ties with Serbia exceeded 55% - the threshold set by the EU - allowing Montenegro to formally declare its independence on 3 June 2006.

    Sources

    CIA World Factbook
    Wikipedia

     

  • Poland

    Located in Central Europe just east of Germany, Poland also is bordered by the Baltic Sea, Kaliningrad Oblast, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. Home to over 38 million people, Poland is the 6th most populous member of the European Union.

    Notable Personages:

    Nicolaus Copernicus
    Fryderyk Chopin
    Maria Sklodowska-Curie
    Lech Walesa
    Pope John Paul II

    Ethnic Groups:

    Polish 96.7%, German 0.4%, Belarusian 0.1%, Ukrainian 0.1%, other and unspecified 2.7% (2002 census).

    Religions:

    Roman Catholic 89.8% (about 75% practicing), Eastern Orthodox 1.3%, Protestant 0.3%, other 0.3%, unspecified 8.3% (2002).

    Languages:

    Polish (official) 97.8%, other and unspecified 2.2% (2002 census).

    Useful Polish phrases:
    Cześć (Hello)
    Do widzenia (Goodbye)
    Dziękuję (Thank you)
    Przepraszam (Excuse me)

    Capital City:

    Warsaw

    Economy:

    Poland has pursued a policy of economic liberalization since 1990 and today stands out as a success story among transition economies. It is the only country in the European Union to maintain positive GDP growth through the 2008-2009 economic downturn. Since 2004, EU membership and access to EU structural funds have provided a major boost to the economy. Poland's economic performance could improve over the longer term if the country addresses some of the remaining deficiencies in its road and rail infrastructure and its business environment. An inefficient commercial court system, a rigid labor code, bureaucratic red tape, burdensome tax system, and persistent low-level corruption keep the private sector from performing up to its full potential. Rising demands to fund health care, education, and the state pension system caused the public sector budget deficit to rise to 7.9% of GDP in 2010.

    Country Bio:

    Poland is an ancient nation that was conceived near the middle of the 10th century. Its golden age occurred in the 16th century. During the following century, the strengthening of the gentry and internal disorders weakened the nation. In a series of agreements between 1772 and 1795, Russia, Prussia, and Austria partitioned Poland among themselves. Poland regained its independence in 1918 only to be overrun by Germany and the Soviet Union in World War II. It became a Soviet satellite state following the war, but its government was comparatively tolerant and progressive. Labor turmoil in 1980 led to the formation of the independent trade union "Solidarity" that over time became a political force and by 1990 had swept parliamentary elections and the presidency. A "shock therapy" program during the early 1990s enabled the country to transform its economy into one of the most robust in Central Europe, but Poland still faces the lingering challenges of high unemployment, underdeveloped and dilapidated infrastructure, and a poor rural underclass. Poland joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004. With its transformation to a democratic, market-oriented country largely completed, Poland is an increasingly active member of Euro-Atlantic organizations.

    Sources

    CIA World Factbook
    Wikipedia

     

  • Romania

    Located at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe, Romania is known for its luxurious resorts along the Black Sea. Romania shares a border with Hungary and Serbia to the west, Ukraine and Moldova to the north and east, and Bulgaria to the south. With over 21 million people, Romania has the 7th largest population in the European Union.

    Notable Personages:

    Nicolae Ceaușesc
    Mihai Eminescu
    Constantin Brâncuşi
    George Enescu
    Nadia Comăneci

    Ethnic Groups:

    Romanian 89.5%, Hungarian 6.6%, Roma 2.5%, Ukrainian 0.3%, German 0.3%, Russian 0.2%, Turkish 0.2%, other 0.4% (2002 census).

    Religions:

    Eastern Orthodox (including all sub-denominations) 86.8%, Protestant (various denominations including Reformate and Pentecostal) 7.5%, Roman Catholic 4.7%, other (mostly Muslim) and unspecified 0.9%, none 0.1% (2002 census).

    Languages:

    Romanian (official) 91%, Hungarian 6.7%, Romany (Gypsy) 1.1%, other 1.2%.

    Useful Romanian phrases:
    Salut (Hello)
    La revedere (Goodbye)
    Mulţumesc (Thank you)
    Scuzați-mă (Excuse me)

    Capital City:

    Bucharest

    Economy:

    Romania, which joined the European Union on 1 January 2007, began the transition from Communism in 1989 with a largely obsolete industrial base and a pattern of output unsuited to the country's needs. The country emerged in 2000 from a punishing three-year recession thanks to strong demand in EU export markets. Domestic consumption and investment have fueled strong GDP growth in recent years, but have led to large current account imbalances. Romania's macroeconomic gains have only recently started to spur creation of a middle class and address Romania's widespread poverty. Corruption and red tape continue to handicap its business environment.

    Country Bio:

    In the Middle Ages, Romanians lived in three distinct principalities: Wallachia, Moldavia, and Transylvania. By the 11th century, Transylvania became a largely autonomous part of the Kingdom of Hungary and became independent as the Principality of Transylvania from the 16th century until the early 1700s. In Wallachia and Moldavia many small local states with varying degrees of independence developed, but only in the 14th century did the larger principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia emerge to fight the threat of the Ottoman Empire. But by 1541, the entire Balkan Peninsula as well as most of Hungary became Ottoman provinces. The principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia - for centuries under the suzerainty of the Turkish Ottoman Empire - secured their autonomy in 1856; they were de facto linked in 1859 and formally united in 1862 under the new name of Romania. The country gained recognition of its independence in 1878. At the end of World War I, Transylvania, Bukovina and Bessarabia united with the Kingdom of Romania. Greater Romania emerged into an era of progression and prosperity that would continue until World War II. In 1940, Romania allied with the Axis powers and participated in the 1941 German invasion of the USSR. Three years later, overrun by the Soviets, Romania signed an armistice. The post-war Soviet occupation led to the formation of a Communist "people's republic" in 1947 and the abdication of the king. The decades-long rule of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who took power in 1965, and his Securitate police state became increasingly oppressive and draconian through the 1980s. Ceausescu was overthrown and executed in late 1989. Former Communists dominated the government until 1996 when they were swept from power. Romania joined NATO in 2004 and the EU in 2007.

    Sources

    CIA World Factbook
    Wikipedia

     

  • Russia

    Straddling two continents (Northern Asia and Eastern Europe), Russia borders the Arctic Ocean between Europe and the North Pacific Ocean. Russia is nearly twice the size of the US (1.8 times) and spans 9 time zones. Ranked 9th in the world in terms of population, Russia has 138,739,892 citizens living within its borders (July 2011 Census). Its major cities are: Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Novosibirsk.

    Notable Personages:

    Ivan the Terrible
    Peter the Great
    Catherine the Great
    Vladimir Lenin
    Joseph Stalin
    Leo Tolstoy
    Alexander Pushkin
    Grigori Rasputin

    Ethnic groups:

    Russian 79.8%, Tatar 3.8%, Ukrainian 2%, Bashkir 1.2%, Chuvash 1.1%, other or unspecified 12.1% (2002 census)

    Religions:

    Russian Orthodox 15-20%, Muslim 10-15%, other Christian 2% (2006 est.)
    Note: estimates are of practicing worshipers; Russia has large populations of non-practicing believers and non-believers, a legacy of over seven decades of Soviet rule

    Languages:

    Russian (official), many minority languages.

    Useful Russian Phrases:
    Здравcтвуйте (hello): pronounced “zdrah-stvooy-tee”
    До свидания (goodbye): pronounced “duh svee-dah-nee-ye”
    Спасибо (thank you): pronounced “spa see ba”
    Извините (excuse me): pronounced “eez ven itsee ye”

    Capital City:

    Moscow

    Economy:

    Russia has undergone significant changes since the collapse of the Soviet Union, moving from a globally isolated, centrally planned economy to a more market-based and globally integrated economy. Economic reforms in the 1990s privatized most industry, with notable exceptions in the energy and defense-related sectors. In 2009 Russia was the world's largest exporter of natural gas, the second largest exporter of oil, and the third largest exporter of steel and primary aluminum.

    Country Bio:

    Founded in the 12th century, the Principality of Muscovy was able to emerge from over 200 years of Mongol domination (13th-15th centuries) and to gradually conquer and absorb surrounding principalities. In the early 17th century, a new Romanov Dynasty continued this policy of expansion across Siberia to the Pacific. Under Peter I (ruled 1682-1725), hegemony was extended to the Baltic Sea and the country was renamed the Russian Empire. During the 19th century, more territorial acquisitions were made in Europe and Asia. Defeat in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 contributed to the Revolution of 1905, which resulted in the formation of a parliament and other reforms. Repeated devastating defeats of the Russian army in World War I led to widespread rioting in the major cities of the Russian Empire and to the overthrow in 1917 of the imperial household. The Communists under Vladimir Lenin seized power soon after and formed the USSR. The brutal rule of Josef Stalin (1928-53) strengthened Communist rule and Russian dominance of the Soviet Union at a cost of tens of millions of lives. The Soviet economy and society stagnated in the following decades until General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev (1985-91) introduced glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) in an attempt to modernize Communism, but his initiatives inadvertently released forces that by December 1991 splintered the USSR into Russia and 14 other independent republics. Since then, it is generally perceived that Russia has shifted its post-Soviet democratic ambitions in favor of a centralized semi-authoritarian state, whose legitimacy is buttressed, in part, by carefully managed national elections, former President Putin's genuine popularity, and the prudent management of Russia's windfall energy wealth.

    Sources

    CIA World Factbook
    Wikipedia
  • Serbia

    With an estimated 7.3 million people, Serbia is one of the larger countries in South East Europe. It borders Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria.

    Notable Personages:

    Jovan Jovanović Zmaj
    Veljko Bulajic
    Slobodan Milosevic
    Marija Šerifovi
    Nikola Tesla

    Ethnic Groups:

    Serb 82.9%, Hungarian 3.9%, Romany (Gypsy) 1.4%, Yugoslavs 1.1%, Bosniaks 1.8%, Montenegrin 0.9%, other 8% (2002 census).

    Religions:

    Serbian Orthodox 85%, Catholic 5.5%, Protestant 1.1%, Muslim 3.2%, unspecified 2.6%, other, unknown, or atheist 2.6% (2002 census).

    Languages:

    Serbian (official) 88.3%, Hungarian 3.8%, Bosniak 1.8%, Romany (Gypsy) 1.1%, other 4.1%, unknown 0.9% (2002 Census). Romanian, Hungarian, Slovak, Ukrainian, and Croatian are all official languages in Serbia's northern autonomous province of Vojvodina. Note: The primary difference between the Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian, and Montenegrin languages is not pronunciation but the alphabet with which the language writes. Croatian uses strictly the Latin alphabet. Standard Serbian, Bosnian, and Montenegrin uses both Cyrillic (ћирилица) and Latin script (latinica), although Cyrillic is the official script of the administration in Serbia and Republika Srpska.

    Useful Serbian phrases:
    Здраво (Zdravo) (Hello)
    Довиђења (Doviđenja) (Goodbye)
    Хвала (Hvala) (Thank you)
    Извините (Izvinite) (Excuse me)

    Capital City:

    Belgrade

    Economy:

    Milosevic-era mismanagement of the economy, an extended period of international economic sanctions, and the damage to Yugoslavia's infrastructure and industry during the NATO airstrikes in 1999 left the economy only half the size it was in 1990. After the ousting of former Federal Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in September 2000, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition government implemented stabilization measures and embarked on a market reform program. Belgrade has made progress in trade liberalization and enterprise restructuring and privatization, including telecommunications and small- and medium-size firms. It has made some progress towards EU membership, signing a Stabilization and Association Agreement with Brussels in May 2008, and with full implementation of the Interim Trade Agreement with the EU in February 2010. Serbia is also pursuing membership in the World Trade Organization. Major challenges ahead include: high government expenditures for salaries, pensions and unemployment; a growing need for new government borrowing; rising public and private foreign debt; and stagnant levels of foreign direct investment. Factors favorable to Serbia's economic growth include a strategic location, a relatively inexpensive and skilled labor force, and a generous package of incentives for foreign investments.

    Country Bio:

    After the pivotal Battle of Kosovo in 1389, Serbia spent 500 years under Ottoman rule. Turkish Islamic rule led to extreme oppression of Serbian Christians, and a series of uprisings eventually lead to de facto Serbian independence in 1815. Despite remaining conflicts, an era of great progress and innovation followed with the complete independence of Serbia in 1878. In 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Empire used the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a nationalist Bosnian Serb as a pretext to invade Serbia, sparking WWI. Nearly 30% of the Serbian population was lost in this war. Afterwards, Serbia, Vojvodina, Kosovo, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Macedonia formed the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes; its name was changed to Yugoslavia in 1929. Various paramilitary bands resisted Nazi Germany's occupation and division of Yugoslavia from 1941 to 1945, but fought each other and ethnic opponents as much as the invaders. The military and political movement headed by Josip "Tito" Broz (Partisans) took full control of Yugoslavia when German and Croatian separatist forces were defeated in 1945. Tito's government abolished the monarchy and declared Yugoslavia to be a federal republic. Serbia's size was reduced; Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia were granted republic status, but Kosovo and Vojvodina were denied it and instead became autonomous provinces. Although Communist, Tito's new government managed to steer its own Socialist path between the Soviet bloc and the West (belonging to neither the USA nor the USSR power blocks) for the next four and a half decades. Under Tito, Yugoslavia prospered in many ways, even though growing regional inequalities heightened ethnic tensions; Slovenia, Croatia and Kosovo demanded greater autonomy to counter Serbian dominance. Tito's death in 1980 marked the beginning of the end for Yugoslav unity. In 1989, Slobodan Milosevic became president of the Republic of Serbia and his ultranationalist calls for Serbian domination led to the violent breakup of Yugoslavia along ethnic lines. In 1991, Croatia, Slovenia, and Macedonia declared independence, followed by Bosnia in 1992. The remaining republics of Serbia and Montenegro declared a new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) in April 1992 and under Milosevic's leadership, Serbia led various military campaigns to unite ethnic Serbs in neighboring republics into a "Greater Serbia." These actions were ultimately unsuccessful and led to the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995. Milosevic retained control over Serbia and eventually became president of the FRY in 1997. In 1998, an ethnic Albanian insurgency in the formerly autonomous Serbian province of Kosovo provoked a Serbian counterinsurgency campaign that resulted in massacres and massive expulsions of ethnic Albanians living in Kosovo. The Milosevic government's rejection of a proposed international settlement led to NATO's bombing of Serbia in the spring of 1999, to the withdrawal of Serbian military and police forces from Kosovo in June 1999, and to the stationing of a NATO-led force in Kosovo to provide a safe and secure environment for the region's ethnic communities. FRY elections in late 2000 led to the ouster of Milosevic and the installation of a democratic government. In 2003, the FRY became Serbia and Montenegro, a loose federation of the two republics. Widespread violence predominantly targeting ethnic Serbs in Kosovo in March 2004 caused the international community to open negotiations on the future status of Kosovo in January 2006. In June 2006, Montenegro seceded from the federation and declared itself an independent nation. In February 2008, after nearly two years of inconclusive negotiations, the UN-administered province of Kosovo declared itself independent of Serbia - an action Serbia refuses to recognize.

    Sources

    CIA World Factbook
    Wikipedia

     

  • Slovakia

    With a population of over 5 million, Slovakia is bordered by the Czech Republic and Austria to the west, Poland to the north, Ukraine to the east and Hungary to the south.

    Notable Personages:

    Jozef Miloslav Hurban
    Jozef Murgaš
    Alexander Dubček
    Jozef Miloslav Hurban

    Ethnic Groups:

    Slovak 85.8%, Hungarian 9.7%, Roma 1.7%, Ruthenian/Ukrainian 1%, other and unspecified 1.8% (2001 census).

    Religions:

    Roman Catholic 68.9%, Protestant 10.8%, Greek Catholic 4.1%, other or unspecified 3.2%, none 13% (2001 census).

    Languages:

    Slovak (official) 83.9%, Hungarian 10.7%, Roma 1.8%, Ukrainian 1%, other or unspecified 2.6% (2001 census).

    Useful Slovak phrases:

    Ahojte (Hello)
    Zbohom (Goodbye)
    Ďakujem (Thank you)
    Prepáčte (Excuse me)

    Capital City:

    Bratislava

    Economy:

    Slovakia has made significant economic reforms since its separation from the Czech Republic in 1993. Reforms to the taxation, healthcare, pension, and social welfare systems helped Slovakia consolidate its budget and get on track to join the EU in 2004 and to adopt the euro in January 2009.

    Country Bio:

    Slovakia's roots can be traced to the 9th century state of Great Moravia. Subsequently, the Slovaks became part of the Hungarian Kingdom, where they remained for the next 1,000 years. Following the formation of the dual Austro-Hungarian monarchy in 1867, language and education policies favoring the use of Hungarian (Magyarization) resulted in a strengthening of Slovak nationalism and a cultivation of cultural ties with the closely related Czechs, who were themselves ruled by the Austrians. After the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the close of World War I, the Slovaks joined the Czechs to form Czechoslovakia. Following the chaos of World War II, Czechoslovakia became a Communist nation within Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe. Soviet influence collapsed in 1989 and Czechoslovakia once more became free. The Slovaks and the Czechs agreed to separate peacefully on 1 January 1993. Slovakia joined both NATO and the EU in the spring of 2004 and the euro area on 1 January 2009.

    Sources

    CIA World Factbook
    Wikipedia

     

  • Slovenia

    Located at the northern edge of the Balkan Peninsula, Slovenia touches the Alps and borders the Mediterranean at the Adriatic Sea. Slovenia shares a border with Italy, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia. The richest Slavic-nation in the world, in 2008 Slovenia became the first post-Communist state to hold the EU Presidency.

    Notable Personages:

    France Prešeren
    Anton Ažbe
    Friderik - Fritz Pregl

    Ethnic Groups:

    Slovene 83.1%, Serb 2%, Croat 1.8%, Bosniak 1.1%, other or unspecified 12% (2002 census).

    Religions:

    Catholic 57.8%, Muslim 2.4%, Orthodox 2.3%, other Christian 0.9%, unaffiliated 3.5%, other or unspecified 23%, none 10.1% (2002 census).

    Languages:

    Slovenian (official) 91.1%, Serbo-Croatian 4.5%, other or unspecified 4.4%, Italian (official, only in municipalities where Italian national communities reside, Hungarian (official, only in municipalities where Hungarian national communities reside (2002 census).

    Useful Slovenian phrases:
    Pozdravljeni (Hello)
    Nasvidenje (Goodbye)
    Hvala (Thank you)
    Oprostite (Excuse me)

    Capital City:

    Ljubljana

    Economy:

    Slovenia became the first 2004 European Union entrant to adopt the euro (on 1 January 2007) and has become a model of economic success and stability for the region. With the highest per capita GDP in Central Europe, Slovenia has excellent infrastructure, a well-educated work force, and a strategic location between the Balkans and Western Europe. Structural reforms to improve the business environment have allowed for somewhat greater foreign participation in Slovenia's economy and have helped to lower unemployment.

    Country Bio:

    Historically, the current territory of Slovenia was part of many different state formations, including the Roman Empire and the Holy Roman Empire, followed by the Habsburg Monarchy until the Austro-Hungarian Empire's dissolution at the end of World War I. In 1918, the Slovenes joined the Serbs and Croats in forming a new multinational state, which was named the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929. Slovenia was one of the main industrial centers of Yugoslavia. Already in 1919, the industrial production in Slovenia was four times greater than in Serbia, and twenty-two times greater than in Yugoslav Macedonia. On 6 April 1941, the Axis Powers invaded Yugoslavia. Slovenia was divided among the occupying powers: Fascist Italy occupied southern Slovenia and Ljubljana, Nazi Germany got northern and eastern Slovenia, while Horthy's Hungary was awarded the Prekmurje region. The Independent State of Croatia annexed some villages in southeastern Slovenia. While the Italians gave Slovenes a cultural autonomy within their occupation zone, the Nazis started a policy of violent Germanisation. More than 63,000 Slovenes were interned to Nazi concentration camps. After World War II, Slovenia became a republic of the renewed Yugoslavia, which though Communist, distanced itself from Moscow's rule. Dissatisfied with the exercise of power by the majority Serbs, the Slovenes were the first republic to succeed from Yugoslavia, establishing their independence in 1991 after a short 10-day war. Historical ties to Western Europe, a strong economy, and a stable democracy have assisted in Slovenia's transformation to a modern state. Slovenia acceded to both NATO and the EU in the spring of 2004; it joined the eurozone in 2007.

    Sources

    CIA World Factbook
    Wikipedia

     

  • Tajikistan

    Republic of Tajikistan is a mountainous landlocked country in Central Asia. Tajikistan is bordered by Afghanistan to the south, Uzbekistan to the west, Kyrgyzstan to the north, and People's Republic of China to the east.

    Notable Personages:

    Ismail Samani
    Abu Rayhan Biruni

    Ethnic Groups:

    Tajik 79.9%, Uzbek 15.3%, Russian 1.1%, Kyrgyz 1.1%, other 2.6% (2000 census).

    Religions:

    Sunni Muslim 85%, Shia Muslim 5%, other 10% (2003 est.).

    Languages:

    Tajik (official), Russian widely used in government and business.

    Useful Tajik/Farsi phrases:
    Cалом (salom) (Hello)
    Tо боздид (to bozdid) (Goodbye)
    Сепасгозарам (Sepasgozaram) (Thank you)
    Бебахшид (Bebakhsheed) (Excuse me)

    Capital City:

    Dushanbe

    Economy:

    Tajikistan has one of the lowest per capita GDPs among the 15 former Soviet republics. Because of a lack of employment opportunities in Tajikistan, as many as a million Tajik citizens work abroad, almost all of them in Russia, supporting families in Tajikistan through remittances. Less than 7% of the land area is arable. Cotton is the most important crop, and its production is closely monitored, and in many cases controlled, by the government. Mineral resources include silver, gold, uranium, and tungsten. Industry consists only of a large aluminum plant, hydropower facilities, and small obsolete factories mostly in light industry and food processing. The civil war (1992-97) severely damaged the already weak economic infrastructure and caused a sharp decline in industrial and agricultural production. Tajikistan's economic situation remains fragile due to uneven implementation of structural reforms, corruption, weak governance, seasonal power shortages, and the external debt burden. Tajikistan has received substantial infrastructure development loans from the Chinese government to improve roads and electricity transmission. To help increase north-south trade, the US funded a $36 million bridge, which opened in August 2007 linking Tajikistan with Afghanistan. While Tajikistan has experienced steady economic growth since 1997, more than half of the population continues to live in poverty.

    Country Bio:

    The territory of what is now Tajikistan has been under the rule of various empires throughout history, for the longest period being part of the Persian Empire. It was originally called Neb for a short period of time, before being given the name Tajikistan. From the last quarter of 4th century BCE until the first quarter of the 2nd century BCE, it was part of the Bactrian Empire, from whom it was passed on to Scythian Tukharas and hence became part of Tukharistan. Contact with the Chinese Han Dynasty was made in the 2nd century BCE, when envoys were sent to the area of Bactria to explore regions west of China. Arabs brought Islam in the 7th century. The Samanid Empire supplanted the Arabs and enlarged the cities of Samarkand and Bukhara, which became the cultural centers of Tajiks (both of which are now in Uzbekistan). The Mongols would later take partial control of Central Asia, and later the land that today comprises Tajikistan became a part of the Emirate of Bukhara. The Tajik people came under Russian rule in the 1860s and 1870s, but Russia's hold on Central Asia weakened following the Revolution of 1917. Bolshevik control of the area was fiercely contested and not fully reestablished until 1925. Much of present-day Sughd province was transferred from the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) to the newly formed Tajik SSR in 1929. Ethnic Uzbeks form a substantial minority in Tajikistan. Tajikistan became independent in 1991 following the breakup of the Soviet Union, and experienced a civil war between regional factions from 1992-97. Tajikistan experienced several security incidents in 2010, including a mass prison-break from a Dushanbe detention facility, the country's first suicide car bombing in Khujand, and armed conflict between government forces and opposition militants in the Rasht Valley. The country remains the poorest in the former Soviet sphere. Attention by the international community since the beginning of the NATO intervention in Afghanistan has brought increased economic development and security assistance, which could create jobs and strengthen stability in the long term.

    Sources

    CIA World Factbook
    Wikipedia

     

  • Turkey

    Turkey is a Eurasian country located 97% in Asia and 3% in Europe. The Anatolian peninsula, comprising most of modern Turkey, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited regions in the world. Turkey is bordered by eight countries: Bulgaria to the northwest; Greece to the west; Georgia to the northeast; Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Iran to the east; and Iraq and Syria to the southeast. The Mediterranean Sea and Cyprus are to the south; the Aegean Sea to the west; and the Black Sea is to the north. With over 78 million people, Turkey is in the top twenty most populous countries in the world.

    Notable Personages:

    Taqi al-Din Muhammad ibn Ma'ruf
    Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
    Orhan Pamuk
    Can Yücel

    Ethnic Groups:

    Turkish 70-75%, Kurdish 18%, other minorities 7-12% (2008 est.).

    Religions:

    Muslim 99.8% (mostly Sunni), other 0.2% (mostly Christians and Jews).

    Languages:

    Turkish (official), Kurdish, other minority languages.

    Useful Turkish phrases:
    Selam (Hello)
    Hoşça kal (Goodbye)
    Çok teşekkür ederim (Thank you)
    İzninizle (Please)

    Capital City:

    Ankara

    Economy:

    The Republic of Turkey's economy is increasingly driven by its industry and service sectors, although its traditional agriculture sector still accounts for about 30% of employment. An aggressive privatization program has reduced state involvement in basic industry, banking, transport, and communication, and an emerging cadre of middle-class entrepreneurs is adding dynamism to the economy. Turkey's traditional textiles and clothing sectors still account for one-third of industrial employment, despite stiff competition in international markets that resulted from the end of the global quota system. Other sectors, notably the automotive, construction, and electronics industries, are rising in importance and have surpassed textiles within Turkey's export mix. Oil began to flow through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline in May 2006, marking a major milestone that will bring up to 1 million barrels per day from Azerbaijan to market. Several gas pipelines also are being planned to help move Central Asian gas to Europe via Turkey, which will help address Turkey's dependence on energy imports over the long term.

    Country Bio:

    Turks began migrating into the area now called Turkey (derived from the Medieval Latin Turchia, i.e. "Land of the Turks") in the 11th century. Starting from the 13th century, the Ottoman beylik created an empire encompassing much of Southeastern Europe, Western Asia and North Africa. The Ottoman Empire collapsed following its defeat in World War I. Modern Turkey was founded in 1923 from the Anatolian remnants of the defeated Ottoman Empire by national hero Mustafa Kemal, who was later honored with the title Ataturk or "Father of the Turks." Under his authoritarian leadership, the country adopted wide-ranging social, legal, and political reforms. After a period of one-party rule, an experiment with multi-party politics led to the 1950 election victory of the opposition Democratic Party and the peaceful transfer of power. Since then, Turkish political parties have multiplied, but democracy has been fractured by periods of instability and intermittent military coups (1960, 1971, 1980), which in each case eventually resulted in a return of political power to civilians. In 1997, the military again helped engineer the ouster - popularly dubbed a "post-modern coup" - of the then Islamic-oriented government. Turkey intervened militarily on Cyprus in 1974 to prevent a Greek takeover of the island and has since acted as patron state to the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus," which only Turkey recognizes. A separatist insurgency begun in 1984 by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) - now known as the People's Congress of Kurdistan or Kongra-Gel (KGK) - has dominated the Turkish military's attention and claimed more than 30,000 lives. After the capture of the group's leader in 1999, the insurgents largely withdrew from Turkey mainly to northern Iraq. In 2004, KGK announced an end to its ceasefire and attacks attributed to the KGK increased. Turkey joined the UN in 1945 and in 1952 it became a member of NATO. In 1964, Turkey became an associate member of the European Community. Over the past decade, it has undertaken many reforms to strengthen its democracy and economy; it began accession membership talks with the European Union in 2005.

    Sources

    CIA World Factbook
    Wikipedia

     

  • Turkmenistan

    Turkmenistan is bordered by Afghanistan to the southeast, Iran to the south and southwest, Uzbekistan to the east and northeast, Kazakhstan to the north and northwest and the Caspian Sea to the west. With a population of almost 5 million, Turkmenistan is best known for the dictatorial rule and extravagant cult of personality of its former President for Life Saparmurat Niyazov, a.k.a. "Turkmenbashi."

    Notable Personages:

    Magtymguly Pyragy
    Sultan Sanjar
    Saparmurat Niyazov "Turkmenbashi"

    Ethnic Groups:

    Turkmen 85%, Uzbek 5%, Russian 4%, other 6% (2003).

    Religions:

    Muslim 89%, Eastern Orthodox 9%, unknown 2%.

    Languages:

    Turkmen (official) 72%, Russian 12%, Uzbek 9%, other 7%.

    Useful Turkmen phrases:
    Salam (Hello)
    Sag bol (Can be used for both “Goodbye” and “Thank you”)

    Capital City:

    Ashgabat

    Economy:

    Turkmenistan is largely a desert country with intensive agriculture in irrigated oases and sizeable gas and oil resources. The two largest crops are cotton, most of which is produced for export, and wheat, which is domestically consumed. Although agriculture accounts for roughly 10% of GDP, it continues to employ nearly half of the country's workforce. With an authoritarian ex-Communist regime in power and a tribally based social structure, Turkmenistan has taken a cautious approach to economic reform, hoping to use gas and cotton export revenues to sustain its inefficient economy. New pipelines to China and Iran, that began operation in early 2010, have given Turkmenistan additional export routes for its gas, although these new routes have not offset the sharp drop in export revenue since early 2009 from decreased gas exports to Russia. Extensive hydrocarbon/natural gas reserves could prove a boon to this underdeveloped country once extraction and delivery projects are expanded. The Turkmen Government is actively working to diversify its gas export routes beyond the still dominant Russian pipeline network. In 2010, new gas export pipelines that carry Turkmen gas to China and to northern Iran began operating, effectively ending the Russian monopoly on Turkmen gas exports. Overall prospects in the near future are discouraging because of widespread internal poverty, endemic corruption, a poor educational system, government misuse of oil and gas revenues, and Ashgabat's reluctance to adopt market-oriented reforms. In the past, Turkmenistan's economic statistics were state secrets. The new government has established a State Agency for Statistics, but GDP numbers and other figures are subject to wide margins of error.

    Country Bio:

    For centuries, Eastern Turkmenistan formed part of the Persian province of Khurasan; in medieval times Merv (today known as Mary) was one of the great cities of the Islamic world and an important stop on the Silk Road. Annexed by Russia between 1865 and 1885, Turkmenistan became a Soviet republic in 1924. It achieved independence upon the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. Saparmurat Niyazov, also known as "Turkmenbashi," was First Secretary of the Turkmen Communist Party from 1985 until 1991 and continued to lead Turkmenistan for 15 years after independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Foreign media criticized him as one of the world's most totalitarian and repressive dictators, highlighting his reputation of imposing his personal eccentricities upon the country, which extended to renaming months, which had been borrowed Russian words, after members of his family. Turkmenbashi died in December 2006, and Turkmenistan held its first multi-candidate presidential election in February 2007. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, a deputy cabinet chairman under Turkmenbashi, emerged as the country's new president. President Berdimuhamedow repealed some of Turkmenbashi’s most idiosyncratic policies, including banning opera and the circus for being "insufficiently Turkmen."

    Sources

    CIA World Factbook
    Wikipedia

     

  • Ukraine

    Ukraine borders the Russian Federation to the east and northeast, Belarus to the northwest, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary to the west, Romania and Moldova to the southwest, and the Black Sea and Sea of Azov to the south and southeast. The country has a population of over 45 million people, and is the largest country in Eastern Europe.

    Notable Personages:

    Symon Petliura
    Sergey Korolyov
    Leonid Brezhnev
    Taras Shevchenko

    Ethnic Groups:

    Ukrainian 77.8%, Russian 17.3%, Belarusian 0.6%, Moldovan 0.5%, Crimean Tatar 0.5%, Bulgarian 0.4%, Hungarian 0.3%, Romanian 0.3%, Polish 0.3%, Jewish 0.2%, other 1.8% (2001 census).

     

    Religions:

    Ukrainian Orthodox - Kyiv Patriarchate 50.4%, Ukrainian Orthodox - Moscow Patriarchate 26.1%, Ukrainian Greek Catholic 8%, Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox 7.2%, Roman Catholic 2.2%, Protestant 2.2%, Jewish 0.6%, other 3.2% (2006 est.).

    Languages:

    Ukrainian (official) 67%, Russian 24%, other (includes small Romanian-, Polish-, and Hungarian-speaking minorities) 9%.

    Useful Ukrainian phrases:
    Вітаю (Vitayu) (Hello)
    До побачення (Do pobačennja) (Goodbye)
    Дякую (Diakuju) (Thank you)
    Перепрошую (Pereprošuju) (Excuse me)

    Capital City:

    Kyiv

    Economy:

    After Russia, the Ukrainian republic was far and away the most important economic component of the former Soviet Union, producing about four times the output of the next-ranking republic. Its fertile black soil generated more than one-fourth of Soviet agricultural output, and its farms provided substantial quantities of meat, milk, grain, and vegetables to other republics. Likewise, its diversified heavy industry supplied the unique equipment (for example, large diameter pipes) and raw materials to industrial and mining sites (vertical drilling apparatus) in other regions of the former USSR. Shortly after independence in August 1991, the Ukrainian Government liberalized most prices and erected a legal framework for privatization, but widespread resistance to reform within the government and the legislature soon stalled reform efforts and led to some backtracking. Output by 1999 had fallen to less than 40% of the 1991 level. Ukraine's dependence on Russia for energy supplies and the lack of significant structural reform have made the Ukrainian economy vulnerable to external shocks. Ukraine depends on imports to meet about three-fourths of its annual oil and natural gas requirements and 100% of its nuclear fuel needs. After a two-week dispute that saw gas supplies cutoff to Europe, Ukraine agreed to 10-year gas supply and transit contracts with Russia in January 2009 that brought gas prices to "world" levels.

    Country Bio:

    Ukraine was the center of the first eastern Slavic state, Kyivan Rus, which during the 10th and 11th centuries was the largest and most powerful state in Europe. Weakened by internecine quarrels and Mongol invasions, Kyivan Rus was incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and eventually into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The cultural and religious legacy of Kyivan Rus laid the foundation for Ukrainian nationalism through subsequent centuries. A new Ukrainian state, the Cossack Hetmanate, was established during the mid-17th century after an uprising against the Poles. Despite continuous Muscovite pressure, the Hetmanate managed to remain autonomous for well over 100 years. During the latter part of the 18th century, the Russian Empire absorbed most Ukrainian ethnographic territory. Following the collapse of czarist Russia in 1917, Ukraine was able to achieve a short-lived period of independence (1917-20), but was reconquered and forced to endure a brutal Soviet rule that engineered two forced famines (1921-22 and 1932-33) in which over 8 million died. In World War II, German and Soviet armies were responsible for some 7 to 8 million more deaths. Although final independence for Ukraine was achieved in 1991 with the dissolution of the USSR, democracy and prosperity remained elusive as the legacy of state control and endemic corruption stalled efforts at economic reform, privatization, and civil liberties. A peaceful mass protest "Orange Revolution" in the closing months of 2004 forced the authorities to overturn a rigged presidential election and to allow a new internationally monitored vote that swept into power a reformist slate under Viktor Yushchenko. Subsequent internal squabbles in the Yushchenko camp allowed his rival Viktor Yanukovuych to stage a comeback in parliamentary elections and become prime minister in August of 2006. An early legislative election, brought on by a political crisis in the spring of 2007, saw Yuliya Tymoshenko, as head of an "Orange" coalition, installed as a new prime minister in December 2007. Viktor Yanukovuych was elected president in a February 2010 run-off election that observers assessed as meeting most international standards. The following month, the Rada approved a vote of no-confidence prompting Yuliya Tymoshenko to resign from her post as prime minister.

    Sources

    CIA World Factbook
    Wikipedia

     

  • Uzbekistan

    A country in Central Asia, the Republic of Uzbekistan shares borders with Kazakhstan to the west and to the north, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the east, and Afghanistan and Turkmenistan to the south. With around 28 million inhabitants, Uzbekistan is one of two doubly landlocked countries in the world, i.e., a country completely surrounded by landlocked countries - the other being Liechtenstein.

    Notable Personages:

    Tamerlane
    Abu-Rayhon Beruniy
    Djamolidine Abdoujaparov

    Ethnic Groups:

    Uzbek 80%, Russian 5.5%, Tajik 5%, Kazakh 3%, Karakalpak 2.5%, Tatar 1.5%, other 2.5% (1996 est.).

    Religions:

    Muslim 88% (mostly Sunni), Eastern Orthodox 9%, other 3%.

    Languages:

    Uzbek (official) 74.3%, Russian 14.2%, Tajik 4.4%, other 7.1%.

    Useful Uzbek phrases:
    Assalomu Alaykum (Hello)
    Salomat bo'ling (Goodbye)
    Katta rahmat (Thank you)
    Kechirasiz (Excuse me)

    Capital City:

    Tashkent

    Economy:

    Uzbekistan is a dry, landlocked country; 11% of the land is intensely cultivated, in irrigated river valleys. More than 60% of the population lives in densely populated rural communities. Export of hydrocarbons, including natural gas and petroleum, provided about 40% of foreign exchange earnings in 2009. Other major export earners include gold and cotton. Uzbekistan is now the world's second-largest cotton exporter and fifth largest producer; it has come under increasing international criticism for the use of child labor in its annual cotton harvest. Following independence in September 1991, the government sought to prop up its Soviet-style command economy with subsidies and tight controls on production and prices. While aware of the need to improve the investment climate, the government still sponsors measures that often increase, not decrease, its control over business decisions. Potential investment by Russia and China in Uzbekistan's gas and oil industry, as well as increased cooperation with South Korea in the realm of civil aviation, may boost growth prospects. Russian businesses have shown increased interest in Uzbekistan, especially in mining, telecom, and oil and gas.

    Country Bio:

    The first people known to inhabit Central Asia were Persian nomads who arrived from the northern grasslands of what is now Uzbekistan sometime in the first millennium BC. These nomads, who spoke Persian dialects, settled in Central Asia and began to build an extensive irrigation system along the rivers of the region. At this time, cities such as Bukhara and Samarkand began to appear as centers of government and culture. As China began to develop its silk trade with the West, Persian cities took advantage of this commerce by becoming centers of trade. Using an extensive network of cities and settlements in the province of Mawarannahr (a name given to the region after the Arab conquest) in Uzbekistan and farther east in what is today China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the Soghdian intermediaries became the wealthiest of these Persian merchants. Because of this trade on what became known as the Silk Route, Bukhara and Samarkand eventually became extremely wealthy cities, and at times Mawarannahr was one of the most influential and powerful Persian provinces of antiquity. The Mongol conquest under Genghis Khan during the 13th century would bring about a dramatic change to the region. The brutal conquest and widespread genocide characteristic of the Mongols almost entirely exterminated the indigenous Indo-Persian (Scythian) people of the region, their culture and heritage being superseded by that of the Mongolian-Turkic peoples who settled the region thereafter. In the early fourteenth century, however, as the empire began to break up into its constituent parts, the Chaghatai territory also was disrupted as the princes of various tribal groups competed for influence. One tribal chieftain, Timur (Tamerlane), emerged from these struggles in the 1380s as the dominant force in Mawarannahr. Tamerlane became the de facto ruler of Mawarannahr and proceeded to conquer all of western Central Asia, Iran, Asia Minor, and the southern steppe region north of the Aral Sea. He also invaded Russia and India before dying during an invasion of China in 1405. Tamerlane's empire quickly broke into two halves after his death. The chronic internal fighting of the Timurids attracted the attention of the Uzbek nomadic tribes living to the north of the Aral Sea. In 1501 the Uzbeks began a wholesale invasion of Mawarannahr. The slave trade in the Khanate of Bukhara became prominent and was firmly established. Estimates from 1821 suggest that between 25,000 and 40,000 Persian slaves were working in Bukhara at the time. Russia conquered the territory of present-day Uzbekistan in the late 19th century. Stiff resistance to the Red Army after the Bolshevik Revolution was eventually suppressed and a socialist republic established in 1924. During the Soviet era, intensive production of "white gold" (cotton) and grain led to overuse of agrochemicals and the depletion of water supplies, which have left the land poisoned and the Aral Sea and certain rivers half dry. Independent since 1991, the country seeks to gradually lessen its dependence on agriculture while developing its mineral and petroleum reserves. Current concerns include terrorism by Islamic militants, economic stagnation, and the curtailment of human rights and democratization.

    Sources

    CIA World Factbook
    Wikipedia


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