Sunday, May 26, 2024

WHAT WILL ERDOGAN’S VICTORY MEAN FOR NORTH MACEDONIA AND THE REGION?

In all surveys, Turkey appears among the most friendly countries towards North Macedonia, thus uniting Macedonians and ethnic Albanians, unlike other countries where completely opposite attitudes appear. There are different opinions on this, especially among ethnic Albanians in the region, most of whom are of the Muslim faith. The construction of new mosques and the restoration of old ones have often raised dilemmas and debates about whether Turkey is trying to achieve great influence at a cheap cost.

Author: Xhelal Neziri

The victory of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the presidential elections of Turkey was also celebrated in the cities of North Macedonia and Kosovo. The third consecutive presidential term was enjoyed by many citizens in Skopje, Tetovo, Gostivar, Prizren and other localities of the region, who see Erdogan as the leader of all Muslims in the world. The euphoria of celebrating Erdogan’s victory outside Turkey, by people who neither live in this country nor have had the right to vote, is indicative of the influence Turkey has in the region.

During the pre-election campaign, where Erdogan competed with the opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu, some politicians came out publicly in support of him. The Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama, appealed to Albanians with Turkish citizenship to support Erdogan. The self-determination of Albin Kurti did this indirectly. The BESA and Alternativa parties, meanwhile, sent their teams to help Erdogan’s AKP campaign on the ground, also participating in the biggest rally he held in Istanbul.

This great influence of Erdogan’s Turkey in the region would not continue if Kılıçdaroğlu came to the head of the state. Now Erdogan enters his third decade in power, surpassing even the founder of the modern Turkish Republic, Kemal Ataturk, who held power for 15 years. Despite the economic difficulties created by the record decline in the value of the Turkish lira, Turkey’s policy of all-round influence in the region will continue to be a reality, at least for the next five years.

How should this impact be seen?

Turkey sees North Macedonia and the Balkan region, in general, as its area of ​​interest. Traces of Turkish influence are present everywhere in the public sphere, in every area of ​​life. The use of soft power in achieving Turkey’s objectives in the Balkans has characterized its entire presence in this region. Investments in the economy, culture, education, sports and various social activities create a strong basis for the extension of influence.

In the period 2010-2020, Turkey has always been in the top 10 of the biggest investors in North Macedonia. With 242 million euros of capital invested in 2016, it was the fourth, right after the Netherlands, Greece and Great Britain. In 2020, it ranks fifth with 403 million euros invested.

Cultural influence is omnipresent, especially through film production and various educational and cultural centers. The series that are shown on all televisions in North Macedonia promote a culture of life, which has not been distant for us. The region and Turkey have been part of a common empire, that is, the Ottoman one, and this fact is present in almost every field.

Investments in the media also enable Turkey to have considerable power in shaping public opinion in the country. Turkish state media broadcast programs in the languages ​​of the region and the country, thus becoming a serious source of information not only about events happening in Turkey. These media already have editorial offices or offices in Skopje and in all the countries of the region.

In the context of cultural influence, in addition to the media and film production, a special role is played by the religious closeness of the population of the Muslim faith. By most of the Balkan population, Turkey continues to be seen as a leading Muslim country in the world. Taking into account the influential power of religion in the country and the region, such a proximity allows Turkey to have an even greater influence than expected, which should be in direct proportion to the investments in the economy, before everything. If through direct economic investments the mind is won, through investments in religion the hearts of the citizens are won.

Harmful or beneficial influence

In all surveys, Turkey appears among the friendliest countries towards North Macedonia, thus uniting Macedonians and ethnic Albanians, unlike other countries where completely opposite attitudes appear. There are different opinions on this, especially among ethnic Albanians in the region, most of whom are of the Muslim faith. The construction of new mosques and the restoration of old ones have often raised dilemmas and debates about whether Turkey is trying to achieve great influence at a cheap cost.

Although it can be defined as a rather complex and problematic partner, which is marking a decline in the quality of democracy in recent years, however, so far Turkey has not played a negative role in any country in the Balkans. As a NATO member country and a candidate for EU membership, this country has supported North Macedonia’s strategic objectives for integration into the Euro-Atlantic structures. Ankara’s role for the most part has been constructive in terms of resolving open issues in the region. Therefore, the Turkish influence in the country and the Balkans should not be seen as malignant, but as a normal presence of a country that today represents a real economic and political power.

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