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news 18 Jun 15

Serbia-Turkey Ties Crucial for Balkans, Experts Say

Serbia's relations with Turkey are crucial for the Balkans, experts told a forum in Belgrade on Wednesday - although they did not all agree on Turkey's future role in the region.

Igor Jovanovic
Serbia-Turkey relations forum. | Photo by BIRN

Good relations between Serbia and Turkey are important for the stability of the entire Balkan region, experts told a forum, "Current Serbia-Turkey Relations," organized by the Belgrade Institute for International Politics and Economy.

Ali Resul Usul, head of the Center for Strategic Research in Ankara, said that cooperation between Turkey, in the eastern Balkans, and Serbia, in the west of the peninsula, was improving and aiding stability and prosperity in the region.                                

"There is a synergy in our relations that has helped us to create a platform for the establishment of peace and stability," he said.

Branislav Djordjevic, head of the Institute for International Politics and Economics, meanwhile said Serbia and Turkey were the most important countries in this part of Europe.

"Nothing has happened in the region into the past and nothing is going to happen in the future without their participation," Djordjevic said.

He also said that Turkey could help Serbia build better relations with both Bosnia and Kosovo, and positively affect relations with Bosniaks living in southwest Serbia.

However, the status of Kosovo and the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina are seen as sticking points in relations.

While Turkey has recognized the independence of Kosovo, Serbia has not, and still considers Kosovo its own province.

The Bosnian Serb leader, Milorad Dodik, has repeatedly meanwhile accused Turkey of taking an anti-Serbian standpoint in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Professor Jovan Teokarevic, from the Faculty of Political Sciences in Belgrade, said Turkey would not continue to play such an important role in the Balkans as it did from 2009 to 2011.

"The reason for this are numerous changes in the internal and foreign policies of Turkey and the Balkan countries in recent years," Teokarevic said.

Teokarevic said the EU's failure to quickly integrate the Western Balkan countries had boosted Turkish influence between 2009 and 2011.

"But the key processes in Serbia and the other Balkans countries now are being continued without Turkish participation. These are the talks between Serbia and Kosovo and the new [EU] initiative for resolving the crisis in Bosnia," Teokarevic said, adding that the EU had again assumed a dominant role in the Balkans.

According to him, Turkey's position in the Balkans was now being limited also by the emergence of new players in the region, such as China and some of the Arab states.

Djordje Pavlovic, from the Faculty of Political Sciences in Belgrade, said that Bosnia was a crucial factor in relations between Serbia and Turkey, and the three countries should continue to work on their relations and hold more frequent meetings.

Pavlovic noted that relations between Serbia and Turkey, after a period of ups and downs, had worsened after the then Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while on a visit to Kosovo in 2013, said "Kosovo was Turkey and vice versa".

Didem Sarıer Ekinci, from Cankaya University in Ankara, said there were many opportunities to boost economic cooperation between Serbia and Turkey.

"Turkish businessmen investing in Serbia have another advantage - which is Serbia's agreement on free trade with Russia, and it should be used," she said referring to Serbia's trade agreement with Russia.

Serbia and Russia signed a free trade agreement in August 2000, which allows for the favorable export of the goods to the Russian market.

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