Last April, a Bosnian court sentenced Munib Ahmetspahic to three years in prison after a guilt admission agreement with the prosecutor. From 2013 to 2018, Ahmetspahic fought in Syria with Jabhat al Nusra and returned to Bosnia with a serious leg amputation. He was detained at the airport in Sarajevo in November 2018. However, Ahmetspahic was not the first returning foreign fighter to be convicted in Bosnia.
Ever since the foundation of the 16+1 cooperation platform with Eastern European countries, China has become one of the most influential players in the Balkans too.
China’s Increasing economic presence in the region has led many analysts to focus on the effects of rising Chinese influence. While this is a sound observation, it must necessarily be followed by two questions – to what end is China building its influence in the region and why are Balkan leaders so keen to accept Chinese propositions?
The presence of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the Balkans has come under rather intense media scrutiny in recent years. This is mainly due to high-profile investments in the construction sector, whose premier example is the controversial Belgrade Waterfront project – a luxury citadel to rise on the banks of the Sava River in the Serbian capital. In the context of the receding allure of the European model in the Western Balkans, the UAE have started to be analysed as one of those non-EU actors that could ‘fill the void’ of the value vacuum in the region.
There is a fundamental misperception with regard to Turkey’s relationship with the Balkans. Turkey is not external to the region, the way Russia is for instance. Its history and geographic location make it a part of southeast Europe. Millions of Turks have their family roots in what was once known as ‘Turkey-in-Europe.’ This includes the founder of the republic, the Salonika-born Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Ties run deep at the political, economic, and societal levels.
Twenty years have passed since NATO’s bombing campaign on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia that ended the wars that shook the Balkans for a decade. Since then, the region has changed considerably, but it has retained its role as a bridge between the East and the West, because of the great influence from both Western institutions like the EU and countries like Russia, China or Turkey.
In 1999, the NATO bombing of Serbia and Montenegro put an end to war in Kosovo and to the long, bloody process of the collapse of Yugoslavia. The legacy of the destructive Nineties dictated the future political agendas for Balkan countries, which committed themselves to EU integration, though keeping doors open to other international players.
Following a Constitutional Court decision in December 2016 and the EU's failure to turn the technical measures it tried to propose as part of an ambitious "Reform Agenda" into a comprehensive political strategy, Bosnia and Herzegovina is facing possibly its biggest political crisis after general elections will be held in October 2018 .
In a recent ISPI article, Valbona Zeneli wrote that, despite other big actors at play, the European Union is the only game in town in the Western Balkans (WB). Is it really so? A review of the activities of the three most important non-EU players in the region - Russia, Turkey and China - points us in another direction.
There is one paramount question to be asked after 18 years of EU enlargement efforts in the Western Balkans: What will happen if we don’t see materialize what we want to happen? We wanted to have democratic and prosperous Balkans integrated into the EU at the latest by 2014, but now we find ourselves debating whether the possible entry date of 2025 is not too optimistic.
Corruption is deeply rooted in the Western Balkans. A 2016 survey by SELDI (a southeast European network of think tanks against corruption) shows wide distribution of low-level administrative corruption in all the countries. Albania, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina ‘lead’ the group with 40%, 29% and 28% of the respondents reporting involvement in at least one incident of bribe, gift or favor exchange.