Posted 20.04.2012 13:35:19 UTC
Updated 24.04.2012 14:29:07 UTC
They are trying to grasp what Turkey is attempting to do in the Balkans. On the basis of the media sources in the Balkan countries and the different conferences on Turkey, we can say there are two perceptions of Turkey in the Balkans. While one of them points to an ascending Turkey, the other one aspires to spread the fear of neo-Ottomanism
The economic success Turkey has scored in recent years; the improvements it has made regarding human rights and supremacy of law and Ankara's active foreign policy have been the elements to shape the rising Turkey perception of the Balkan countries. Likewise, there are those who applaud Turkey as a country for its marriage of democracy, globalization, modernity and Islamic values. Along this favorable picture, there is also a picture drawn by certain circles eager to show Turkey through an unfavorable perspective.
First and foremost, the close interest Turkey shows in the Arab divide has created in the Balkan the perception of a Turkey seeking to set up an alliance with the Islamic world.
Ankara's efforts to prove that it can act independently of the west also cause Turkey's foreign policy to be disputable. Those who spearhead the spread of unfavorable ideas about Turkey are from circles prejudiced against Islam for the most part. The historical prejudices against Turks in the Balkans lay the groundwork for those who do their best to create the fear of Neo-Ottomanism and claim that Turkey has a hidden agenda about the Balkans to fulfill their goals.
Text books are among the most practical and influential tools to conduct propaganda about the people of a country. History books have the tendency to reaffirm the values and expressions generally accepted by the public. When the history books in the Balkan countries are examined, we see that they do not remember the Ottomans they identify with Turks with cherished memories.
Those books do not take up the Ottoman state with its social, cultural and religious aspects in the Balkans but concentrate on its military and political characteristics, hence keeping the lid on the wealth of tolerance the Ottoman state had which demonstrated itself, among other things, in the restoration of churches and other holy edifices in the Balkans. For an objective examination of what the Ottoman state did in the Balkans,, the cultural and social life, the family structure, the education system and relations among social groups as well as religion institutions and religious groups need to be delved into, which is not the case with the Balkan history text books.
The language used in those text books is also problematic. The style with which the Ottoman state is told about is not impartial and there is no room for alternative views in controversial issues except those expressed with nationalistic, ideological and political concerns. Given all that, it is not difficult for the circles uneasy about Turkey's presence in the Balkans to find supporters for their anti-Turkish rhetoric and propaganda.
Turkey's presence in the Balkans makes for discomfiture for the non-Balkan actors as well. Some western countries, in particular, are wary of a strengthening Turkey making further efforts to exercise more influence in the Balkans. There is no doubt that some western countries are of the view that the stronger Turkey's leverage in the Balkans is, the weaker their foothold in the region may get. Therefore, it is not incorrect to say that the contributions of the actors outside of the region in helping the fear of Neo-Ottomanism take root in the region cannot be underrated.
The Muslim segments who account for about 12% of the Balkan population are the ones having no objections to and being even happy about Turkey's presence in the region. The few pious among them greet Turkey's activities in the Balkans with enthusiasm and excitement. A larger portion of the Muslims in the Balkans who consider themselves pro-European expect Turkey to constantly act in coordination with the western countries in the Balkans. Those Muslims are against Ankara and Brussels competing with one another in any way in the Balkans.
Turkey's high-level officials express on every occasion that they support the western Balkan countries’ NATO and EU memberships. However, some circles believe that there is a conflict of interest between Ankara and Brussels in the Balkans. That is why those western Balkan countries aiming to join the EU are quite careful about not becoming too involved with Turkey for fear of giving rise to frets in the West.
If Turkey wants to boost its presence and image in the Balkans, there is an urgent need for a comprehensive study analyzing and revealing the Turkey perceptions, judgmental views and expectations. Such a study will undoubtedly provide data to the Balkans dimension of Turkey's dynamic foreign policy.