Today, I want to talk about Slavs.

Who are slavs?

Slavs are an ethnic group primarily occupying Eastern Europe who share common customs and traditions. They also speak languages that are in the same family: the Slavic language family. The biggest Slavic country is Russia. Slavs are also the most populous ethnic group in Europe. It is surprising that the rest of the world does not know much about them.

I stumbled upon the term Slav twice. The first time was when I was watching a BBC documentary on the Breakup of Yugoslavia - I learnt that Yugoslavia meant “Land of the Southern Slavs.” Yugoslavia was a collection of different ethnicities and they were all Southern Slavs.

The second time was when I was researching pre-Christian traditions in Europe. I was scouting for lesser known names of Gods and Goddesses while writing a story and stumbled upon Slavic Mythology - I discovered the amazing Goddesses named Zorya!

A beautiful illustration by Minna Sundberg of the Slavic language family tree

Where are the Slavs?

Here is a map of Europe with all Slavic countries highlighted. Pay attention to the map since it will reappear many times in different incarnations.

Slav Map

The only European countries east of Germany and Italy that are not Slavic are:

  • Austria
  • Hungary
  • Romania
  • Moldavia
  • Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania)
  • Albania
  • Greece

Why some of these countries are not Slavic is very interesting and historians have proposed many answers. For instance, Hungarian and Romanian are interesting because the countries they are spoken in are surrounded by people speaking languages in completely different language families.

I made an intriguing observation - most or all of the Slavic countries were behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War! Here is the relevant map.

Iron Curtain

Slavic Names

If you have heard of first names like Vladimir, Ivan, Boris or Sergey - they are all Slavic first names. Common last names can be names ending in vic, ski, etc.

Kinds of Slavs

Western, Southern and Eastern Slavs

Slav Map Geo

Southern Slavs

Balkan countries (Bulgaria & Former countries of Yugoslavia: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia. Kosovo is not included since it is Albanian)

Western Slavs

Czechs, Slovaks and Poles

Eastern Slavs

Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian


Slav Map Religion

The Western Slavs are all Catholic Christian while the Eastern Slavs are Orthodox Christian.

A thousand years ago, there was a big split in European Christianity - an East/West split. Western Europe adopted Roman Catholicism while Eastern Europe adopted Orthodox Christianity. Orthodox Christianity has roots in the old Eastern Roman Empire which was centered in Constantinople, or what is now Istanbul. Catholic Christianity has roots in the Western Roman Empire, which was centered in Rome.

Southern Slavs is where it gets confusing. Slovenes and Croats are Roman Catholic while Serbs, Montenegrins and Macedonians are Eastern Orthodox. Many Bosnians are Muslims, but not all. This incredible diversity sadly led to a civil war in the 1990s resulting in the independence of all the countries.

Now guess which religious sect each of these beauties belong to!

St Petersburg Mosque

St Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow

St Basil-

St Vitus Cathedral, Prague

St Vitus Cathedral

Scripts: Cyrillic and Latin

Many of the Orthodox Christians use Cyrillic script, while the Catholic Slavs use Latin script. There are of course, exceptions to this. The Serbs and some of their neighbors use both Cyrillic and Latin scripts.

Slav Map Script

Vodka with Latin and Cyrillic scripts

Who doesn’t like Vodka eh? And who do you think invented Vodka? Slavs!

On the left, you have an amazing Polish Vodka, with the Latin script. On the right, you have the Russian Standard Vodka, with Cyrillic script. If you know of better vodka, please leave suggestions in the comments!


Stamps with Latin and Cyrillic scripts

Here is a blast from the past - postage stamps from Slavic countries with the two different scripts

Slavic stamps

We have, from left to right, and top to bottom:

  • Polska or Poland, we have a painting by Aleksander_Kotsis
  • Hrvatska or Croatia. Dubrovnik, for the Game of Thrones fans!
  • Ceskoslovensko or Czechoslovakia, from back when Czechia & Slovakia was a single country
  • Two stamps of Jugoslavija or Yugoslavia. The blue stamp has both Cyrillic and Latin script, reflecting the diversity of the erstwhile Yugoslavia. The red stamp only shows the Latin script
  • Stamp with Ship with the letters CCCP. CCCP was the Russian version of USSR.

Similarity with Indians

Guess who has a lot in common with Slavs? Indians! While watching the hilariously entertaining Life of Boris on Youtube, I learnt that Slavs and Indians share many common dishes like kebabs, shashlik, halwa, kotlet, plov/pulao, etc. I think these foods probably spread from the Middle East in two directions - north towards the Slavs and East towards the South Asians.

The Slavic language family is also an Indo-European language family just like the Indo-Iranian language family, or the North Indian languages (Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali, etc). It doesn’t really mean much, since I speak Hindi and I can barely understand Marathi, let alone Russian :P


And finally, who cannot like people who dance like this?!