Balkanization is a geopolitical term originally used to describe the process of fragmentation or division of a region into smaller regions that are often hostile or non-cooperative with each other. The term has arisen from the conflicts in the 20th century Balkans. The first balkanization was embodied in the Balkan Wars, and the term was reaffirmed in the Yugoslav wars.
The term is also used to describe other forms of disintegration, including, for instance, the subdivision of the Internet being divided into separate enclaves, and the breakdown of cooperative arrangements due to the rise of independent competitive entities engaged in “beggar-thy-neighbor” bidding wars.
Balkanization is sometimes used to refer to the divergence over time of human languages, programming languages and data file formats (particularly XML).
The term has been used in American urban planning to describe the process of creating gated communities. There are also attempts to use the term balkanization in a positive way equating it with the need for sustenance of a group or society. Occasionally, a legal opinion may contain the terminology as a descriptive term. See, for example, Justice Stevens' dissenting opinion in Granholm v. Heald, 544 U.S. 460 (2005).
In January 2007, regarding a rise in support for Scottish independence, Gordon Brown talked of a “Balkanisation of Britain”.