Saturday, April 27, 2013

Turkey extends its Balkan soft power tactics, by Ioannnis Michaletos

Note to readers: R.I.M.S.E from time to time presents research not exclusively related to the main scope of "Radical islam monitoring in Southeastern Europe' but in sectors which can provide the interested reader with a broader view of the modern day political environment in the region. 

The Turkish foreign policy aims steadily over the past decade to extend its political, diplomatic reach into the Balkans following "soft power" tactics, especially in the education sector. 

In mid-2012 the Turkish Premier boldly declared that Bosnia-Herzegovina is an Ottoman heritage and he added that "‘Bosnia is entrusted [emanet] to you [Turkey]. Don’t leave this region", as supposedly the late Alija Izetbegovic told him in confidence in 2003. In sort Turkey claims a sort of a De Facto status of guarantee power in Bosnia-Herzegovina, one that has not been subject to any international or regional treaty but based on interpersonal relations and subjective interpretation of local history.

The soft power approach bases great value in the academic and educational sector as a prerequisite for the education of younger generations that will be in the future the "Bridge" between Turkish and Bosnian societies. According to Southeastern European Times and reporter Drazen Remikovic “Bosna Sema, a Turkish educational organization, has opened 14 schools in four cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina since 1996... With over 3,500 pupils and over 500 employees". 

Furthermore, two Turkish higher educational establishments already operate in the country and are in direct support by the governing Turkish political party AKP with an estimated 5,000 students. One of them the international University of Sarajevo has attracted over 1,000 Turkish citizens that prefer to reside in Bosnia while studying there and has been up to date a more than 110 million Euros investment. The International Burch University founder is the Istanbul-based Foundation of Journalists and Writers, established among others by Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen.

In particular the Fethullah Gulen movement seems to be more active and having larger educational funds to invest than Turkish state itself, with the presence of it quite extensive in Balkan countries. Only in the higher educational level the following institutions operate:

Beder University
Epoka University

International Burch University

Cyprus (Occupied North)
Eastern Mediterranean University

International Balkan University

Mediterranean University

University of Southeast Europe / Lumina University

Antalya International University 
Gediz University 
Fatih University 
Meliksah University 
Mevlana University 
Zirve University

According to an insider from Albania, "Epoka University disguises itself as secular. For this purpose, it hires a few - unaware - Western, and/or Western-educated, faculty members, to whom it offers high salaries. Religious subjects are not openly taught. However, most faculty members are Turkish Gulen followers. Most Albanian faculty and most students are alumni of local Gulen high schools. Most female teachers wear long skirts and long sleeves, and those who don't are ostracized. Male and female faculty does not mix - i.e. they even dine in separate sections of the cafeteria. Male employees often refuse to shake hands or make eye contact with, and take orders from, female employees. There are no female department heads and no women in upper management.

Both universities are closely affiliated with, and promote themselves in, two Islamic newspapers, also owned and operated by Gulenists - Gazeta Start: and Gazeta Jone: "

The Turkish press agency Anadolu has its main Balkan offices in Sarajevo and closely cooperates with state and non-state Turkish actors. It is of interest to note that Amir Zukic, the bureau chief of the Turkish Anadolu news agency’s Sarajevo office, recently stated in Washington Post that "“Turkish leaders are working at a new Ottoman empire, a gentle one...Turkey, a former regional power, is trying to come back in a big way.” One would wonder what would be the reaction in the region if an Austrian journalist expressed similar views upon a potential return of Austrian-Hungarian Empire being established in Bosnia, or a German, and a Russian one. 

Clearly the soft power tactic exercised by Turkey is gradually shifting from a pragmatic foreign policy tool and expanding into the realm of historical romance, a point which tends to re-affirm the notion to many neutral observers in the region that Turkey has over-extended itself and will sooner rather than latter have its Neo-Ottoman tactic backfiring, especially in the regional societal context, even amongst the Sunni Muslim part.

Sample of educational establishments in selected countries:

FYROM: Gornja Banjica village in Gostivar municipality; Donors: TIKA, the Union of Turkish World Municipalities and Gostivar municipality; 1,400 pupils.

Bosnia-Herzegovina: Bosna Sema with 14 schools since 1996, 3,500 pupils, plus the Sarajevo College 9Secondary education)

Romania: 10 schools in Bucharest, Constanta, Timisoara, Iasi and Cluj-Napoca; first school named "Megidia Kemal Ataturk National College" was founded in 1995

Serbia: One school in Novi Pazr with 1,000 pupils; 1.7 million Euros investment, donor: TIKA

Data originally compiled by Ivana Jovanovic, Paul Ciocoiu and Menekse Tokyay. The above schools do not include the Gullen movement ones, and include only those that were specifically established by institutions directly related to the Turkish state such as TIKA.