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2-10 Who are the Slavs




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This article is from the Bulgaria FAQ, by Dragomir R. Radev radev@tune.cs.columbia.edu with numerous contributions by others.

2-10 Who are the Slavs

(by Harry Tsamaidis), last updated: 02-Jul-1996
Slavs are any of several groups of peoples, most of whom live
in Eastern Europe. There are about 275 million Slavs. They
speak similar languages, called the Slavic or Slavonic
Languages.

The first Slavs lived over 5,000 years ago in a region
that now forms part of the northwestern Ukraine and
southeastern Poland. From A.D. 200 to 500, they migrated
to other parts of Europe. Some Slavs settled in what are
now the western Soviet Union and eastern and central Europe.
Other Slavs migrated to the region of southeastern Europe
known as the Balkans.

During the 800's, the Slavs established the Great Moravian
Empire, which united the peoples of central Europe for the
first time. In 906, the empire was conquered by the Magyars,
the ancestors of the Hungarians. Since then, the Slavs have
been ruled by many foreign powers, including the Byzantine
Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, Austria-Hungary, and Germany.

In 1918, after World War I ended, the Slavs established such
independant states as Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Former
Yugoslavia. Germany conquered these Slavic states during
World War II (1939-1945).
Today, the Soviet Union dominates most of the Slavic peoples.
In eastern Europe, only the Slavs of Former Yugoslavia; and
Greece are free of Soviet rule.

Historians classify the Slavs into three main groups-
(1) eastern, (2) western, and (3) southern - based on the
regions in which these people live.

Eastern Slavs

consist of the Byelorussions, or White Russians; the Russians,
or Great Russians; and the Ukrainians, or Little Russians.
The eastern Slavs were strongly influenced by the culture of the
Byzantine Empire. About A.D. 988, the ruler of the Russian Slavs,
Grand Prince Vladimir I, married a Byzantine princess and became
a Christian. As a result, most of the people under his rule also
turned to Christianity. Today, many eastern Slavs belong to
Eastern Orthodox Churches.

Western Slavs

form a group that includes the Czechs; the Slovaks; the Poles; and the
Wends, who also are known as Sorbs or Lusatians. The Wends live in
East Germany. During the 800's, two Greek monks, named Cyril
and Methodius, converted many western Slavs to Christianity.
At that time, church services were held in Greek or Latin, which
few people could understand. But Cyril and Methodius held services
in the language of the Slavs, called Old Church Slavonic.

As the western Slavs became involved in the affairs of western Europe,
they also became influenced by the Roman Catholic Church. Through the
Centuries, the Catholic Church has strongly influenced western
European Culture. Today, most western Slavs are Roman Catholics.

Southern Slavs

are a group composed of the Bulgarians, the Croats, the Macedonians,
the Serbs, and the Slovenes. During the 800's, a large number of
southern Slavs were converted to Christianity by followers of Cyril
and Methodius. However, these Slaves were also strongly influenced
by the Byzantine culture. Today, the majority of southern Slavs
belong to Eastern Orthodox Churches. Most members of the group
live in the Balkans.

 

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