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.
Much has been achieved in the Western Balkans since the end of the Yugoslav Wars, yet much remains to be done. The current hard-won stability is something to rejoice at, but severe causes for concern still abound.
The issue of Macedonian identity is a political minefield which stretches beyond the naming dispute of the Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) with Greece. The stakes are high in getting it right because its outcome will not only reshape the future of the population 2-million country and the Western Balkans at large, but also the leverage of the EU in the region and its ambition to be the peace project uniting the whole of Europe.
Two years have passed since the refugee deal between the European Union and Turkey that officially closed the so-called "Balkan Route". But in these two years, facts have shown that this route has not been completely closed: it has only changed its directions and has become even more dangerous for migrants who are trying to reach Europe.