Turkey, Serbia and BiH expand economic and political co-operation

22/05/2013

Turkey, Serbia and BiH are building on political and economic relations to expand peace, stability and co-operation in the Balkans.

By Menekse Tokyay for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 22/05/13

photo

From left to right, BiH presidency member Zeljko Komsic (Croatian), BiH presidency member Nebojsa Radmanovic (Serbian), Turkish President Abdullah Gul, President of Serbia Tomislav Nikolic, BiH presidency member Bakir Izetbegovic (Bosnian) pose for a picture at a trilateral summit held in Ankara on May 14 and 15th. [Turkish Presidency Press Office]

At a recent historical summit in Ankara, Turkey President Abdullah Gul hosted several Balkan leaders in a successful diplomatic push to increase co-operation in the region.

The guests were Serbia President Tomislav Nikolic and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) presidency members Bakir Izetbegovic (Bosnian), Nebojsa Radmanovic (Serbian), and Zeljko Komsic (Croatian).

According to the Ankara Summit Declaration adopted at the conclusion of the meeting, the parties reiterated "the underlying principles of the trilateral consultation process, including promotion of good neighborly relations and regional co-operation," and highlighted "the importance of dialogue, tolerance and mutual understanding in a multi-ethnic social environment to promote reconciliation."

The meeting was held on May 14th and 15th.

The trilateral consultation process, which has been in place since 2010 at the foreign minister level, will function now as an institutional framework for regional co-operation, with particular emphasis on economic, cultural, educational, scientific, energy, infrastructure, transportation, sports and tourism co-operation.

The summit provides a platform for all parties to develop trust and co-operation at the level of heads of state, who will now meet annually. Trilateral meetings at the ministerial level will be held biannually.

"The trilateral summit inspires hope as it has been transformed from a conflict-resolving and arbitrating institution into one that emphasises institutionalisation and development of joint projects. The vision adopted by many leaders of Balkan countries … nurtures a new mindset towards the future rather than the past," Gul said in his speech at the summit.

The Ankara Declaration came as Serbian Deputy Prime Minister and Trade Minister Rasim Ljajic, Turkey's Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan and BiH Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations Mirko Sarovic signed an agreement on economic and trade co-operation on the eve of the summit.

The agreement to boost economic and investment between the three countries, including co-operation in third country markets, added to the already developing political relations between the countries.

According to the experts, the trilateral process is a significant positive step to bring economic prosperity and contribute to EU integration and reconciliation between BiH and Serbia.

Turkey has played a proactive and positive role in reducing tensions and developing co-operation among Balkan countries, thanks to its historical bonds and cultural similarities as well as ability to provide guidance in political and economic matters.

Gozde Yasin, a Balkan specialist at the 21st Century Turkey Institute, an Ankara-based think-tank, said the underlying reason that gathers the parties around a table is to preserve Balkan stability and to sustain dialogue between the three countries on the basis of respect for territorial integrity.

"Turkey takes a position at the table because it wants to be active in Balkan politics and fill the gap created by the abortive initiatives of the international community to gather the parties around a table. The fact that the three members of BiH presidency accepted the invitation means that an important psychological threshold has been achieved successfully," Yasin told SETimes.

"Symbolically, the parties give the message that they are the most entitled ones to discuss ways to overcome their differences," she added.

The ongoing co-operation among the ministers of economy of the three countries is further strengthened by the Ankara summit with a declaration to establish a trilateral trade committee. Now the business communities of the three countries will meet more frequently to deepen economic co-operation and trade, as well as to develop joint business initiatives.

"Turkey has been directing Turkish investment to the region and has been involved in the construction works like airport and motorways, which creates geographical bonds between the regional countries. Turkey also encourages Arab and Caucasus countries –especially Azerbaijan- to invest in the region. Turkey uses the investment pillar as a key to preserve stability and promote economic bonds between these countries," Yasin said.

Tanja Topic, a Bosnian political analyst and director of Banja Luka-based Friedrich Ebert Foundation, said the trilateral meeting provides an excellent framework for future relations with the countries of the region.

"Two points are noteworthy. The economy will certainly go upward after this meeting, while political relations have been visibly improved through this initiative," Topic told SETimes.

"The leaders are slowly breaking down the prejudices about domination, that one country has ambitions of conquering the other. I hope that the next meetings will contribute to an even better understanding of political leaders in the region," she said.

In late April, Nikolic, a former high-ranking figure in the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party, knelt down and asked for forgiveness for thousands of Bosnian Muslim victims of the Srebrenica massacre, a significant move welcomed by the entire region.

A recent visit by the BiH presidency to Serbia on April 24th is also revealing, especially with the commitments to make the region more prosperous with joint efforts and to avoid any conflicts in the Western Balkan.

Speaking to SETimes, Dragan Djukanovic, a research fellow at the Institute of International Politics and Economics in Belgrade, said the declaration should give further momentum to resolving some other crucial issues like border problems, refugee status, and the revival of the Interstate Council for Co-operation between Serbia and BiH.

The Ankara Declaration also stressed "the importance of close co-operation and co-ordination in fighting against terrorism, all forms of extremism and organised crime in order to create a safe and secure environment."

For Sadetin Mujezinovic, a member of the city council of Novi Pazar, the center of the Sandzak region of Serbia which hosts about 100,000 people, 82 percent of whom are Bosnian Muslims, such trilateral meetings and the declaration are important for economic development.

"It could be only beneficial for Serbia and Bosnia to have such a country as Turkey, which is one of leading economic forces in this area, as a business partner and have its interest to invest in our two countries," Mujezinovic told SETimes.

"Frequent visits of officials will, for sure, encourage people to enforce economic co-operation since such meetings build confidence among ordinary people as well. Creating employment contributes to the reconciliation between the communities. Bosnia, Serbia and Turkey are a winning combination," he added.

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Citizens are also satisfied with positive messages voiced in Ankara.

"I liked the fact that those people were arguing about the economy. Politics is so out. Citizens should be allowed to work, make money, travel, and meet. When you achieve all of this, then we can talk about politics as about some recreational topic," Ruzdija Kovac, a student of political science from Sarajevo, told SETimes.

Correspondents Drazen Remikovic in Sarajevo and Ivana Jovanovic in Belgrade contributed to this report.

Do you view Turkey's economic and political role in the Balkans as positive? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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