By Deniz Baran - Turkey
Balkans have always been a part of us in our hearts, though, the state borders seperate us today. As a result of this, we have always regarded issues about Balcans and they have always regarded issues about Turkey… Starting from this point I had a fruitul conversation with Mr. Edhem Foco, one of the most prominent journalists of Bosnia and Balkans, in order to examine Turkey’s position in Balcans and actual problems of the region.
Foco is the General Manager of Al Jazeera Balkans at present. His another interesting feature is that he was the student of former Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu once upon a time
- Balkans region, somehow, could not achieve political stability and high prosperity though it was expected following Dayton Agreement and the involvement of many Balkan states in the EU… What is wrong? And will the situation be better or worse in near future according to your expectation?
Dayton Agreement was hastily put peace agreement, without proper insight into the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina. It brought peace, but an unjust peace, as our late President Alija Izetbegovic said. As you mentioned, it failed to bring political stability and economic prosperity in the short and medium term, yet it is impossible to change the Dayton-made-order today. The Balkans, or rather countries of former Yugoslavia, create their policies based on their own interests, obviously, and Bosnia is disadvantaged there being sandwitched between Serbia and Croatia who have overwhelming influence on sizable part of Bosnian population, who, unfortunatelly, do not have interests of Bosnia at heart. Croatia became a member of EU and its ambitions will probably wane over time. Same could happen with Serbia, I guess. Reality is, though, that both countries (Serbia and Croatia) have sizable electorate who expects more involvement on nationalistic issues when it comes to Bosnia. It further complicates the situation.
- Specifically, the situation in Bosnia seems strained and complicated at present. What is going on? Is it possible to face with any escalation between Serbs and Muslims or any other side soon?
The situation in Bosnia is quite bad. While EU officials keep on heaping praise on this administration, reality in quite the opposite: this is the worst administration ever. Bosniak leadership is very week and incompetent and that has opened an irreversible space for Serb and Croat nationalists to stregthen their positions, further placing Bosnia at the risk of break-up. Croat nationalists, led by HDZ and its leader Dragan Covic, have outplayed Bosniak Muslim politicians and Croats, despite being less than 15% of the country’s population, firmly hold the key positions and instruments of power, all at the expense of Bosniaks. In addition, Croat HDZ has teamed up with separatist-talking Serb nationalist and leader of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, to further put strains on weak central government administration in Sarajevo. They are creating an impossible and unfunctionable government, hoping that Bosniak side will have no choice but to surrender and grant Serb-Croat informal coalition whatever they want. So far, Serb-Croat alliance seems to have upper hand and has constantly been getting concessions from the Bosniak side, led by very week and ineffectual SDA party. As for the escalation between Serb and Muslims, it is only a play for public. Serbs, despite beeing very week, especially economicaly, win almost every political battle with Bosniak leadership. Should Serbs pull any dangerous moves that could lead even to secession of their part of the country, reality is that current Bosniak leadership would have no answer whatsoever and would surrender parts of sovereign Bosnia “without a single bullet”. Bosniak political elites are too deeply involved in their self-interests and corruption and are not motivated (nor do they have a capacity) to defend the country the way late Alija Izetbegovic managed in the 1990s.
- Is the order after Dayton cracking?
It has already cracked in many ways. There is an impotent international community representative, the weakest and most ineffectual ever. Complications in functioning of politics and economy that Dayton has created, made Bosnia almost a failed state. And international community, whatever that means, has no will nor vision to do anything in Bosnia. Our situation could be improved, though, only if we get a new breed of politicians with some knowledge, courage, vision and less greed. I am an optimist that it can happen one day. Not soon, though...
- What is the impact of the tension between “West and Russia” on Balkans?
Russia has become more active and aggressive only lately. In principle, Russia has never even tried to be a stabilizing factor. Their media in Serbia, for example, together with Russia-sponsored politicians, are good only at stroking nationalism, confrontationalism and distrust. Russians have also tried to meddle in Montenegrian elections, where the current pro-EU and pro-NATO government is not to their liking. Their influence in Bosnia is somewhat less, but their ambassador here has had very partisan, non-diplomatic performance, openly biased against the country and its Bosniak Muslim population and blindly supportive of hard-line nationalist rhethorics that comes from Banja Luka (Serb part of Bosnia-Herzegovina). West, on the other hand, is pretty directionless and not keen on any serious involvement. Slovenia and Croatia are already in the EU, so their stance is clear. Montenegro is in the pipeline to join EU and Kosovo is most pro-American country in the world, probably. EU, especially Germany, has been working hard with Serbia and managed to keep them still out of very firm Russia’s grip. Bosnia and Macedonia are places where “the West” should have been involved more, but realities of the world are such that there are many other priorities.
- What is Turkey’s role in Balkans now? And what must it be?
Turkey has been very active in the Balkans for the past 6-7 years, but obviously it has other priorities at the moment. It is very well positioned in Kosovo and Macedonia and it has strong clout over current Bosniak leadership in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Its relationship with Serbia is quite good: previously it was because of Turkish political involvement in getting Bosniak parties to support Boris Tadic’ government, currently it is because of decent investment strategy and very proper diplomatic approach that Turkish officials have towards Serbia. During Dr Ahmet’s reign in Turkish diplomacy, Turkey has created informal groups, one being Serbia-Bosnia-Turkey and the other Croatia-Bosnia-Turkey. Coupled with frequent visits of Turkish politicians to the region, it gave Turkey very genuine and strong influence in the Balkans. Turkey is still very relevant and influential, although we could see some signs of Turkish fatigue and maybe local priorities that make Turkey less visible as a player in the Balkans. What Turkey’s role should be? Not easy to say. I think it has to work more on investment diplomacy. More and well-publicized investments in Serbia and Bosnia would give them genuine influence, very fast. Approach with other segments of Bosnia’s political scene, other than the current single-person preference, would make Turkey more serious and genuine player in Bosnia, I assume. But investments, again well-publicized, would still be the main thing. Turkey had some very successful and significant investments in Bosnia in years after the war, but in the last 10-15 years nothing has happened. Turkey did grant a decent loan to those who returned to their homes, or to small and medium scale industries, but the PR exercise of such a loan was very poor. For Bosnia-Turkey relations I would still blame mainly Bosniak politicians, as the onus would be on them to provide Turkey with strategy and concrete projects that could be vital and beneficial for both sides. Now that may even be a bit late, as Turkey will likely see much more conservative investment policy in next few years.
You are a successful journalist settled between Turkey and Europe Mr. Foco. It is important to get your opinions in regard to:
- As you know, the coup attempt held on 15th July shook our country profoundly. Yet, the Western main stream media showed unbelievable neglection about this threatment to Turkey and their coverage, somehow, has tended to target Turkish government. Why?
The Western media failed miserably on the coverage of the coup itself. One of the worst and least professional media coverage ever. They were probably led by their personal dislike for the President Erdogan and could not hide it in their reporting. That was a sad and embarrasing episode for a lot of these big, mainstream, media in the West and they failed in Turkey on the 15th/16th July. Period. However, post-coup coverage is something entirely different. Traditionally, Western media is devoting a lot of space and coverage to human rights and rule of law situations in non-Western countries. I think it was expected that the Western media would take critical stand on the post-coup happenings in Turkey, even if they had different players on the ground in Turkey, i.e. leadership that the West would like.
- Are Turkish media, think tanks and government doing something wrong too? What are our mistakes that do not obstruct us to express our voice to the West well? Do you have suggestions for our foreign public diplomacy and media coverage?
The West, especially its media and politicians, follow happenings in Turkey closely. They also follow pro-Government and Government-owned media. Statements that are often heard there are simply wrong, illogical, offensive and very emotional. Explanations and statements that we hear from Turkey are also very emotional and with little, if any, tolerance for criticism. That is wrong. Of course, Turkey can choose its own path in anything, but sulking and lecturing the West is not being very helpful, I think. It would be much better to engage with the West and hear their criticism and even try to address it. No one can be so arrogant and think that they are right in everything, not even Turkey. I just feel that Turkey has taken very harsh position: it should be softer, more engaging and more open to criticism.
- How much influential is Gulenist network within Balkans now?
Gulenists were very active in years after the war, especially in Bosnia. They had it easy, opened schools, some businesses and bought their influence with Muslim intellectuals very cheaply: by sponsoring their books, or inviting them for some trips, etc. It was embarrassing to see how eager were these “top Islamic intellectuals” to praise Gulen and his activities, in exchange for some small money. However, that was nothing substantial – same “intellectuals” are now first in line to criticize Gulenists, so that proves that the “influence” one thought Gulenists had, was not there. Same is with the students of Gulenist schools. Those kids were, probably because of different mentality, simply not “cadres” that Gulenists could rely on in the future. Today, their businesses and their physical presence in almost gone, only left is an association running their schools, mainly consisting of Bosnians. Even secular media stays away from giving them some open support, so I would say that their role or influence is close to zero at the moment. There are no politicians or prominent people linked with Gulenists, only some pious businessmen, who probably turned to Gulen because of inefficiency of our own islamic Community to offer them platform for contributions. I believe that even these businessmen are distancing themselves from the movement now.
- The last question what kind of opportunities does Al Jazeera Balkans give the youth wants to work there? Are you welcoming young people/journalists from Turkey?
Al Jazeera Balkans is run in the lingua franca of the region: Serbian, Croatian or Bosnian language. That is the issue. We had some students from Turkey here for trainings and one of them is now employed by Anadolia Agency office in Sarajevo. I could help you with some training stint, but job positions are almost impossible, due to language issues. Unfortunatelly.