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Turkish Interests and Involvement in the Western Balkans: A Score-Card

The vigor which has characterized the Turkish approach to the Western Balkans since the end of the Cold War has transformed the country into an important regional actor from its previous position as a distant neighbor that showed little interest. Although Turkey and the Western Balkan countries have in the meanwhile achieved the most intensive relationship since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey has not yet displayed the economic capacity and political weight that could make it compete with the magnetism of the European Union for Western Balkan countries. Turkish cultural influence, although significantly widened in the last few years, particularly through investments in educational institutions, is mostly limited to the Muslim population in the region. While potential EU membership remains the most important driver for the political elites in the region, the stalled EU membership prospects of both Turkey and the countries of the region might change this in the future.

 

Turkey’s increasingly assertive engagement in the Western Balkans leaves many people wondering about the purpose of such activism. Javier Solana, the former EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy (1999–2009), emphasized in a recent article for the Serbian daily Danas the need for cooperation between the EU and Turkey in order to achieve a permanent solution in Bosnia and Herzegovina.1 It is telling that he considered it necessary to state the obvious—that Turkey has leverage and increasingly has capacities in the Western Balkans and that the EU has to recognize this. Some participants at a conference devoted to Turkey’s Western Balkan policies, organized by the International Security Affairs Centre (ISAC Fund) on April 8, 2011 in Belgrade, insisted that Turkey understands far better the intricacies of the region’s problems than the West and is thus better qualified to act as an “honest broker”. Turkish diplomats argue in private that contrary to the traditional Western “win-lose” thinking, Ankara is seeking a “win-win” solution for everyone. As a result, according to a Turkish political analyst, Turkey can play “a complimentary and even crucial role that could actually ease the task for the EU” in

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