The increasingly numerous Turkish initiatives in the Balkans, which have intensified above all in these years, seem to mark Turkey's return to the region.Ankara's activism in recent years coincides more or less with the centenary of the Ottoman Empire's exit from the Balkan peninsula. In the first Balkan war of the 1912, in fact, a military alliance composed of Greece, Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria defeated the Empire, causing the definitive withdrawal of the Ottoman power from the Balkans. The historic decline of the Ottoman Empire was completed by the defeat in the First World War by the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Wilhelmian Germany.
But today, a century later, Turkey returns to the Balkans differently. It returns as a country of considerable weight, substantially democratic and modern, with great economic potential and an important demographic dynamism. The 2002, the year in which the party of Justice and Development (AKP) of current prime minister Erdogan came to power, marked the construction of a new Turkish foreign policy for the Balkans. The real protagonist of this new policy was undoubtedly the Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, a former professor of international relations in various universities, including that of Malaysia and former diplomatic advisor to Prime Minister Erdogan. Davutoglu has repeatedly illustrated what Turkey's new role in the region would like to be, and especially in areas where Muslim majorities live. On the occasion of his visits to the Balkans, the Turkish minister proudly evoked the moments of the common history and repeatedly reiterated that the fate of the Balkans and Turkey is common. The goal of Turkish foreign policy is to make the Balkans together with Turkey the center of world politics, as in past years. To this end, Turkey intervened immediately, with a very clear policy, placing economic ties at the center of relations with the Balkan countries.
Since the 2004-2005, Turkey has rapidly increased investment in most Balkan countries, without including Islam as a religious and cultural bridge. Turkey has the advantage of having a very aggressive and effective market and investments that cover all the main sectors. For example, there have been numerous infrastructure projects in Kosovo, Serbia, Montenegro and Albania, for hundreds of millions of euros. Turkish Airlines has acquired a minority stake in the national airline of Bosnia and Herzegovina, B & H Airlines, and is in talks to take over JAT Airways from Serbia. Turkish investments also include the telecommunications sector in Albania where the "sticky" Turkish "Çalik Holding", bought the majority of shares in the company AlbTelecom, and invested millions of euros in mobile telephony.
Other key sectors where Turkey has its influence are: The banking sector in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, the energy sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina; the automotive industry Bulgaria; agriculture Bosnia and Herzegovina, health Albania, Kosovo; the food industry Macedonia ,; education Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania.
Furthermore, several Turkish companies could increase their investments due to the crisis in Greece and Romania. Last November, Turkey and Bulgaria agreed to build an interconnection pipeline to increase Caspian gas supplies to Bulgaria. Bulgaria has also signed an agreement with Greece for the construction of an oil pipeline in this branch. But, in addition to the economic sphere, Turkey is trying to exert its influence by intervening also in the cultural sphere. Many Turkish soap operas are being broadcast on many TV stations in the Balkan countries. Many universities and schools funded by Turkey have been opened in Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina; free Turkish language courses in Albania; renovation of Ottoman monuments in Serbia, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, teaching of the history of the Ottoman period in schools in Albania and Kosovo, cultural centers in Romania, Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina; support for Turkish minorities in Bulgaria, Greece, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Although the economic dimension of relations is praised, it must be said, however, that the cultural dimension attracts criticism not only from traditional opponents in Turkey, but also from Kosovo, Albania or Macedonia.
The perception of Turkish activities in the Balkans, for a part of the people, seems to become dominant and replaces Western and European Union influence. We must not forget that the Balkan countries look to the European Union and look to the Western cultural model.
However, the fact remains that the Western Balkans are outside the EU common market and Turkey is an important trading partner. The Balkan countries are looking for foreign investments to accelerate economic growth, and Turkey seems to be a suitable and adequate partner to obtain the maximum economic advantage, and the benefits are mutual. Turkish exports to the region are on the rise, with free trade agreements in place between Turkey and individual countries. The possibility for Balkan companies to export to Turkey is increasing.
Turkish politicians and businessmen are ready to focus on the region with which to enjoy a huge trade surplus. Most Balkan countries are relatively poor and the amount of foreign direct investment is rather limited. Turkey, therefore, dominates trade and investment, buying companies at a good price, despite the sometimes unstable political situation. Once the region becomes part of the European Union, these activities will become increasingly important, and will proceed even if Turkey does not become a member of the EU, because Turkey is now part of the Balkan game and intends to play it a leading role.
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