Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

Turkey Faces the Balkans: Areas of Possible Cooperation with Poland

Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

Turkey Faces the Balkans: Areas of Possible Cooperation with Poland

Article excerpt

Introduction

Despite being in the periphery from the 1920s until the 1990s when compared with European countries, for the past two decades Turkey has rebuilt its international position in its neighbourhood, which encompasses the Caucasus, Balkans, Iran, the Middle East and North Africa. Polish regional policy in the Balkans remains limited, being the offspring of Polish membership in the EU and of Poland's relations with other Central European states. Although recent developments in Turkey's southeastern flank in Iraq and Syria suggest that Ankara has overestimated its influence in the Middle East, the Turkish efforts, engagement and carefully planned long-term strategy are starting to yield some results. Turkish authorities under the leadership of the AKP have created a new reality, positing Turkey high in the regional power hierarchy. Turkey has diversified its foreign policy and implemented it to some extent, despite the oftentimes constraining norms and rules imposed by the EU.

Turkey's Ahmet Davutoglu, now prime minister and previously the foreign minister, introduced and developed the doctrine of "strategic depth,"1 according to which Turkey should not merely be a (passive) bridge connecting East and West, but a regional centre, actively managing and influencing developments and international relations in the post-Ottoman lands stretching from Egypt to Iraq and Iran, to Georgia, Azerbaijan, Crimea, and Bosnia and Herzegovina in the West.2 Foreign policy makers, namely Davutoglu,3 have openly expressed their dissatisfaction regarding Turkey's role in the past in its relations with neighbours and its dichotomic approach to East-West conceptualisation. Therefore, Ankara aimed to develop an inclination toward formulating policies based on a Turkey-centred, alternative geopolitical and geocultural vision in comparison to Turkey's previous foreign policy behaviour.4 Davutoglu argues that Turkey is the natural heir to the Ottoman Empire that once unified the Muslim world and therefore has the potential to become a trans-regional power that helps to once again unify and lead the Muslim world. One of the hallmarks of this approach was to follow the principle of a "zero problems with neighbours" policy. Primarily, however, it perceives Turkey as a "go-it-alone" actor, whose dependency on international organisations is limited. "Strategic depth" has been achieved mostly thanks to economic and social exchanges. Making use of the fast-developing Turkish economy, Ankara strengthened ties with the post-Ottoman neighbourhood by means of trade, investments and the liberalisation of visa regimes.5

The Balkans occupy a special place in Turkish foreign policy. They remain in Turkey's immediate neighbourhood, they share a common cultural and historical heritage and they are on the shortest way to Western and Central Europe. Yet, the Balkans are a difficult terrain for Turkish diplomats. First of all, for cultural, historical and religious reasons, the perception of Turkey by these countries, by their elites and especially by their societies has always been one of caution and distance. Second, these areas drifted towards the European West rather than the Turkish East, although certain influential ethnic and religious minority groups looked towards Ankara rather than Germany, France or Austria. This can evoke a number of interesting parallels with Poland's ambitions towards its own eastern neighbourhood, namely Russia, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine. Poland's rather problematic relations with Lithuania and Belarus as well as disappointments with their Western partners have forced Polish elites to look for a reformulation of the country's foreign policy. Such a change would allow for a slow but gradual improvement of the international situation in Poland's immediate neighbourhood. This article aims at highlighting those aspects of Turkish involvement in the Balkans that have enabled the development of friendly relations in the neighbourhood and have increased the country's relative influence in the region. …

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