Central and Eastern Europe: Looking for books
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For a manageable overview of Balkan history I recommend Mark Mazower's The Balkans (the touchstone comes up Greek, must be the latest CK entry).
The list of the countries you'll be visiting covers enormous territory, spatial and temporal. A survey of European history may be the best beginning point for getting a hang on "what happened", but as to why, or, especially, getting to "understand people", I don't trust any number of books to be adequate or sufficient source. As a rule, it is better to assume a basic intelligibility--i.e. those people are like people anywhere else, needing and wanting the same things, valuing similar things, thinking similar thoughts.
In your place, I think I'd start with Tony Judt's Postwar, for the contemporary point of view, the attention it pays to Eastern Europe and a new way of looking at it, such as older ideological histories don't have. Then I'd look at his references for more specific interests.