The Balkans is a region where the East intersects with the West. From time to time it is cohesive, other times it diverges and fights wars under the shadows of different agendas and plans. For some, it is a buffer zone, for others it is a dangerous fault line where delicate balances remain and where it is uncertain when that fault line will rupture.
The people of the Balkans, who spent years in the shadow of bloody wars and genocides, are enjoying the winds of peace thanks to reconciliatory policies. These came to mind when I was reading the news about President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's Balkan trip from Sept. 6-8. This is because I am among those who think that Erdoğan's 20 years of multi-faceted foreign policies have had a great impact on peace in the region.
As a matter of fact, it is clear that thanks to the policies in question, our country has gradually strengthened its position in the Balkans and has become a more notable actor. The West, as usual, finds Türkiye's dominant influence strange and is disturbed by the situation.
However, this does not damage the connection between Türkiye and the Balkan countries. As it stands, we are talking about countries and peoples that lived under Turkish rule for 450 years and have blended their own cultures with Turkish culture. In other words, we are the ones living side by side for centuries without discriminating based on language and religion!
Ignoring this, the Western media is again trying to create a storm in a teacup and the perception that Türkiye is attempting to prevent the integration of the Balkans with the West. Forget trying to break away from the West, Türkiye in fact supports the Balkan countries joining NATO for the maintenance of stability and security. The EU holds a positive view toward their entry into the negotiation process.
On top of that, considering Türkiye has been a NATO member since 1952, joined the Council of Europe right after its establishment, and first applied to the EU on July 31, 1959, it is clear that Türkiye's activities in the Balkans are not a challenge to the West.
So why is the target being misrepresented? Because the Balkans is always the center of attention of the great powers. In other words, struggles for power are always played out over it, and new strategies are being produced for this. In the first position is the EU. The bloc sees the Balkans as the future of its enlargement zone, and it acts accordingly. America is in second place. The U.S. influence is especially powerful in Bosnia-Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Kosovo, and it does not want to lose this.
Russia, which is continuing its war with Ukraine, does not take its eyes off the Balkans even when the country is in the firing line. Its purpose is the same as that of the U.S.: increasing its influence throughout the region. For this reason, sometimes they employ arguments based on race (Slavic) and religion (Orthodox Christianity).
In the meantime, China is quite full of excitement due to being active in the region. It bought the Greek port of Piraeus and started to support infrastructure projects in Serbia. In short, the country is doing its best to make its presence felt in the region.
So how about Türkiye? Of course, it is natural for us to seek mutual benefits, but without stirring the pot, taking sides and muddying the waters. To this end, foreign policy aimed at maintaining peace and stability in the Balkans is pursued under the leadership of Erdoğan. This is the most important and humane difference between us and the others!
Let's take a look at Erdoğan's recent trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia. As far as I can see, Erdoğan's conciliatory and peaceful rhetoric came to the forefront during this visit and made the headlines, as his previous ones did. Within the scope of the trip, connections were made to increase economic investments and trade volume, but perhaps the most important message of the visit was that Türkiye was ready to make any contribution to the continuation of peace in the Balkans. One of the main topics on Erdoğan's agenda was the ongoing border problem between Serbia and Kosovo.
During his visit to Serbia, Erdoğan reiterated his calls for dialogue at a joint press conference held with his counterpart Aleksandar Vucic. While saying that he hoped the trouble in Bosnia-Herzegovina would end as soon as possible, he uttered the short but profound sentence: “There are no winners in war!”
“We always sincerely support the solution of problems through dialogue. When our help is requested, we provide the necessary support with a constructive and impartial understanding. We are ready to lend all sorts of support to overcome the problem between Kosovo and Serbia. The developments are positive at the moment and I hope that this positive momentum in the Balkans will continue because the region can no longer tolerate such troubles. We have always followed a policy of balance between Russia and Ukraine and we will continue on this path,” Erdoğan said.
“I can say clearly that I do not find the attitude on the part of the West to be right. Because they follow a policy based on provocation. Can we say there is a winner in this war? No. There are no winners in this war, but there are many losers. So many people are dying. There is no need to talk about the monetary aspect of the issue. We hope that a conclusion will be reached as soon as possible, and world peace will be once again achieved with the end of this war,” Erdoğan added.
Naturally, this is the wish of every sane and conscientious person. I dream for the guns to be silenced as soon as possible and for the days when no life or creature, human or animal, will be destroyed by human hands untimely.
A final note: During the Balkan trip, businesspeople exchanged contacts, bureaucrats signed agreements and friendships were strengthened. But that is not all. There is good news for citizens. Following the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova, Serbia has been added to the list of countries where one can travel with a chip-based ID card rather than a passport. Passport and visa-free days, new discoveries and good memories await us. We hope these continue.