Pro-Erdogan Balkan tour finds support, receives criticism

22/01/2014

While thousands are protesting in Istanbul's streets against government corruption, supporters of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan have launched a pro-government campaign across the Balkans.

By Menekse Tokyay for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 22/01/14

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The Union of Turkish Democrats organised a Balkan tour to rally support for the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. [AFP]

Supporters of Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been under fire for a corruption investigation and the government's handling of the Gezi Park protests, organised a tour of the Balkans to shore up support for the government.

The tour, arranged by the Union of Turkish Democrats (UETD), departed on January 2nd from Vienna to organise public campaigns in Balkan cities. The first event, on January 3rd in Sarajevo, included dozens of students and NGO representatives participating in a common prayer at Gazi Husref Bey Mosque. Some carried banners reading, "Stand up straight, Bosnia is with you." The event was organised by the students of the International University of Sarajevo (IUS) and National Union of Turkish students (MTTB).

"Today's event is the least that BiH citizens could do for Muslims in Turkey," Mirsad Karic, professor at IUS, told SETimes. "It is well known that Erdogan is a great friend of BiH and … he constantly supports and assists BiH."

But the effort is being questioned by some in Turkey, which is facing its greatest domestic crisis in years. Hundreds of police officers have been reassigned and three cabinet ministers of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) resigned during a corruption probe, which is seen by many as a struggle between Erdogan's supporters and his former allies, the Gulen movement.

"It sounds like a very ill-conceived, amateurish idea that won't go anywhere," Kerem Oktem, a Turkey-born research fellow at the European Studies Centre at Oxford University, told SETimes. "You don't respond to world opinion with immigrants driving around Europe. Particularly if they use badly translated terms like 'national will' which sounds more like Nazi Germany than the 21st century."

Military-political analyst and sociologist Dževad Galijaševic said the prayer organised for the Turkish prime minister is a conventional political act with religious basis, which has, in fact, no common point with religion.

"Recep Tayyip Erdogan has become a factor of instability not only in his country but also in the entire region," Press RS quoted Galijaševic.

Experts said public opinion in the Balkans about Turkey is formed based on news coming out of the country, highlighting corruption, attacks on media freedom, and the strangling of the judiciary.

"All these are, unfortunately, true stories, and there is no question that the idea of Turkey as shining example of development and democracy is quickly eroding," Oktem said. "For many members of the Muslim communities in the Balkans, Turkey's current demise as a positive role model is deeply worrying."

He added, "Muslims in the Balkans, particularly in Bosnia and Macedonia know that they don't have many allies in the world and that a strong Turkey is also good for their own communities. But as things look now, Turkey's presence in the Balkans will subside, as Turkey's politics get evermore incalculable."

However, Erdogan's government still enjoys strong support in the region, especially, in predominantly Muslim communities. The Bosnia National Council in Serbia recently awarded Erdogan with the gold medal for defending minority rights.

Avdija Salkovic, a librarian and an Erdogan supporter in Novi Pazar, said Erdogan is "one the greatest visionaries and democrats of our time."

"He is Muslim but not Islamist. His contribution to Turkey's development is obvious, primarily, in the democratisation of the army," Salkovic told SETimes. "His contribution to the equality of all citizens is undeniable -- for headscarved women, it was forbidden to study and participate in parliamentary work, but today, at least five covered women are among lawmakers."

Iidža Mayor Senaid Memic said Turkey must have its internal peace in order to keep BiH safe.

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"I hope a common solution for problems will be found and that Erdogan will continue to work in the interests of the Muslim people," Memic told SETimes.

"I am convinced that Prime Minister Erdogan will ensure stability and continue the reform process that will result in further progress and strengthening of Turkey," Bosniak member of the BiH Presidency Bakir Izetbegovic said in a statement. "A strong and stable Turkey is in the best interests of Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as for the whole region."

Correspondents Ana Lovakovic in Sarajevo and Ivana Jovanovic in Belgrade contributed to this report.

What kind of impact will the pro-Erdogan campaign have on public opinion in Balkans? Join the discussion below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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