Turkey's influence on BiH, Balkans is growing

08/05/2012

Although analysts believe that Turkey's role in the region is increasingly important, the opinions of local politicians and citizens are divided.

By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo -- 08/05/12

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"Turkey is extremely important for our country. People in BiH really love Davutoglu, and see him as a symbol of a modern Turkey," Bakir Izetbegovic, the Bosniak member of BiH's presidency, said. [Reuters]

Turkey supports BiH's accession to NATO, and peace in the Balkans, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said last week, after he was given the Leader of the 21st Century award by the International League of Humanists in Sarajevo.

Zdravko Surlan, general secretary of the league, said that Davutoglu received the award for his outstanding contribution to the reconciliation of the Balkan peoples.

"No one before him has brought together leaders of the region in one place since the war in the former Yugoslavia ended. Davutoglu has shown that the leaders of the Balkan countries can live as good neighbours, and that only with neighbourly relations can these states go forward," Surlan told SETimes.

Bakir Izetbegovic, the Bosniak member of BiH's presidency, thanked Davutoglu for the support that Turkey provides BiH on its path towards Euro-Atlantic integration.

"Turkey is extremely important for our country. People in BiH really love Davutoglu, and see him as a symbol of a modern Turkey," Izetbegovic told local media after his meeting with the foreign minister.

Noting the second anniversary of the signing of the April 2010 Istanbul Declaration among the presidents of Turkey, Serbia and BiH in Istanbul, Davutoglu said that these three countries will continue to hold meetings to foster Turkey's role in the Balkans. The next meeting is expected to be held in Sarajevo at the end of the month.

However, many believe that Turkey should focus its attention on the economy rather than its political influence in BiH and the Balkans.

Borislav Bojic, vice president of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), told SETimes that Davutoglu's statements about the Ottoman Empire are unacceptable for Serbs in BiH.

"Turkey is a country that has a strong economy, and we must improve economic relations with it. But talk about a new Ottoman empire in the Balkans is unacceptable ... These are careless statements and I think it put back the relations between Turkey and BiH," Bojic said.

Ivo Miro Jovic, vice president of the Croatian Democratic Union of BiH (HDZ BiH), said that BiH and Turkey need to build stronger economic ties.

"The focus should be on economic co-operation -- BiH is a small country compared to Turkey, and can draw significant benefits from economic co-operation with Turkey. However, it's not good that Turkey now forces more political influence in BiH and the region, especially in the time of general crisis," Jovic told SETimes.

Turkey's exports to BiH reached 205m euros in 2011, a 20% increase from 2010, according to the Turkish Economy Ministry. BiH's exports to Turkey have also increased steadily, reaching a high of 68.8m euros in 2011, a 25% growth compared to 2010 exports.

Birgul Demirtas, a Balkan expert from the international relations department of Ankara-based TOBB University, told SETimes that Turkish decision makers should be careful not to give any impression of neo-Ottomanism when designing relations with BiH.

"For example, Davutoglu's speech during his visit to Sarajevo in October 2009 was marked by sanctification of the Ottoman sovereignty in the Balkans that led to criticisms from the region. Calling the Ottoman centuries a 'success story,' Davutoglu argued that 'we have to reinvent this success' through new cultural and economic means," she noted.

However, Demirtas underlined that BiH became the centrepiece of Turkey's Balkan initiatives that aim to contribute to the solution of domestic disputes.

"Turkey contributed to the betterment of Bosnian relations with its neighbours, mainly Serbia and Croatia, through trilateral dialogues between state leaders and foreign ministers."

BiH Ambasador to Turkey Dragoljub Ljepoja said that the two countries' political relations are on a high level.

"Turkey is involved in many projects of cultural monuments' restoration in our country, especially the old ones from the Ottoman period," Ljepoja told SETimes.

But, he said, the economic relations between two countries should be at the same level.

BiH's citizens also have differing opinions about Turkey's "diplomatic offensive."

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Marko Zivanic, 29, from Banja Luka said that Turkey's actions should not be construed as benevolent. "We were under the Turks for five centuries. Obviously, it was not enough for them, but now they want more. It's unacceptable," Zivanic told SETimes.

On the other hand, Sarajevo resident Mirsad Mektic, 45, says that the connection between the two countries is unbreakable.

"I have relatives who live in Istanbul, and my daughter will probably go there to study. It is perfectly natural that we have good relations with such a developed country," Mektic told SETimes.

SETimes correspondent Menekse Tokyay from Istanbul contributed to this report.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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