Τρίτη, 7 Σεπτεμβρίου 2010

Surveying Turkish influence in Western Balkans


Surveying Turkish influence in Western Balkans
2 September 2010
From: http://europenews.dk/en/node/34965

Turkish President Abdullah Gul will visit Bosnia-Herzegovina from Sept. 2-3, amid rising tensions in the lead-up to Bosnian elections. Turkey has been able to use tensions among Bosnia-Herzegovina’s ethnic groups to exert influence in the Western Balkans by acting as mediator. This is part of Turkey’s plan to reassert itself geopolitically and show Europe that without Turkey, the Western Balkans will not see lasting political stability.

However, Turkey’s efforts face several obstacles, including a weak economic presence in the Western Balkans, suspicion inside the region about Ankara’s motives, and growing concerns in the West about Turkey’s power.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul will pay an official visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina from Sept. 2-3. The visit comes amidst largely expected rising nationalist rhetoric in the country due to the upcoming Oct. 3 general elections. Milorad Dodik, premier of Serbian entity Republika Srpska (RS), has again hinted that RS might consider possible independence, prompting the Bosniak (Slavic Muslims from the Western Balkans) leadership to counter by calling for RS to be abolished. Meanwhile, Croat politicians continue to call for a separate ethnic entity of their own, a potential flash point between Croats and Bosniaks.

Amidst the tensions between Bosnia-Herzegovina’s ethnic factions — as well as between the countries of the Western Balkans — Ankara has found an opportunity to build up a wealth of political influence in the region by playing the role of moderator. As such, Turkey is both re-establishing its presence in the region it dominated during the Ottoman Empire and attempting to become the main arbiter on conflict resolution in the region, thus obtaining a useful lever in its relationship with Europe.

Ultimately, the Balkans are not high on Turkey’s list of geopolitical priorities. Turkey has much more immediate interests in the Middle East, where the ongoing U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is leaving a vacuum of influence that Turkey wants to fill and use to project influence throughout its Muslim backyard, and in the Caucasus, where competition is slowly intensifying with Russia. The Balkans rank below these, but are very much on Turkey’s mind, especially as the Balkans relate to Ankara’s relationship with Europe.

However, three major factors constrain Turkey’s influence in the Balkans: a paltry level of investment on the part of the Turkish business community, suspicion from a major group in the region (Serbs) and Turkey’s internal struggle with how best to parlay the legacy of Ottoman rule into an effective strategy of influence without stirring fears in the West that Ankara is looking to recreate the Ottoman Empire.

Turkey’s history in the Balkans

The Ottoman Empire dominated the Balkans between the 14th and early 20th centuries, using the region as a buffer against the Christian kingdoms based in the Pannonian Plain — namely the Hungarians, and later Austrian and Russian influences. The Eastern Balkans, particularly the Wallachia region of present-day Romania, was a key economic region due to the fertile Danube basin. But the Western Balkans — present-day Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania — were largely just a buffer, although they also provided a key overland transportation route to Central Europe, which in the latter parts of Ottoman Empire led to growing economic importance (...)

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