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European Ethnic Groups

Instructor: David White
Across the continent of Europe, there are many ethnic groups that inhabit its countries. Through this lesson, you will explore a few of those groups from different parts of Europe.

What Is Ethnicity?

When you think about your identity, how much of it has been influenced by the language you speak, traditions you celebrate, or beliefs you practice? It's possible that you don't think much about this, but they are significant contributors to who you are as a person. In many cases, these elements originate from your ethnicity, or the national or cultural group to which you belong.

If you're an American, you know that at some point you had ancestors that came to the U.S. from another part of the world. Where those people came from is most likely going to dictate which ethnic group you fall into and influence the traditions and values that you learned from your family. A Jewish-American, for example, might celebrate Yom Kippur, practice Judaism, and may even speak Hebrew or Yiddish. These are cultural traditions that have been passed down from their ancestors and they define the ethnic group to which they belong.

In the United States, the vast majority of the population has ethnic roots in another country and a large percentage belongs to an ethnic group in Europe. As a continent, Europe is very big and contains many different ethnic groups and subgroups - far too many to fit into a single lesson. Instead, we will focus on a small number of groups from various parts of Europe.

Eastern Europe

Two of the major characteristics that tend to define a person's ethnicity are the country from which they come and the language they speak. For instance, Russians can be considered a single ethnic group because they speak Russian and come from Russia. This, however, doesn't mean that they still live or must live in Russia to be ethnically Russian. In fact, there are a significant number of ethnic Russians living in the neighboring country of Ukraine, which has led to conflicts like the recent military actions in Crimea.

A good example of an ethnic group that is not associated with a particular country is the Slavs, who are an ethnic group that is dispersed across Europe with large concentrations in eastern countries like Bulgaria and Russia. For centuries, Slavic people have migrated across Europe and eventually other parts of the world, so they are not easily identifiable by language. Nevertheless, they maintain a strong connection to their heritage through cultural traditions like folk music and dance.

Slavic people have maintained a connection to their culture through things like song and dance.
slavic dance

In some cases, ethnicity can divide a country and lead to violent conflict, as in the case of the Bosnian War of the early-to-mid 1990s. This conflict primarily involved two of the country's ethnic groups, the Serbs and the Croats, fighting against each other for control of the territory.

Western Europe

Of the many European ethnicities, those in the west and north are probably most familiar to you. These include, among others, the people of Belgium, France, Germany, and Switzerland. In Belgium, the two main ethnic groups are Fleming and Walloon, who make up about three quarters of the population. As with other ethnic groups, these two are most easily identifiable by their languages, which are indications of where they emigrated from. The Fleming, for example, speak a variation of Dutch, indicating that they originally came from the north, while the Walloon speak a variation of French, indicating that they came from the south.

In Belgium, the country is almost evenly split between the Fleming and the Walloon.
belgium

In Germany, the vast majority of the population is ethnically German, with the second largest ethnic group (a little over 2%) being ethnically Turkish. The presence of ethnic Turks in Germany is related to 20th century migration and despite their small number; they have managed to hold on to their cultural traditions in a different country.

Northern Europe

Of the majority of Americans that are of European ethnicity, many can trace their ancestry to the northern region of the continent, which includes, among others, England, Ireland, Norway, and Iceland. As with many other countries, the ethnicities of this part of Europe tend to be defined by language or nationality. In Norway, for example, most of the population is Norwegian, which also references their language and ancestral origin. There is, however, a much smaller ethnic group known as the Sami.

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