Turkish-Serbian relations – a rising strategic axis in the Western Balkans

The strategic relations between Turkey and Serbia is an important case of how a century of negative peace could transform via economic cooperation and development.

What are the principles of conflict transformation?

By Dr. Doga Ulas Eralp

Turkey and Serbia have emerged as two important partners that transform political tensions in the Western Balkans for good. During a recent visit to Turkey, Serbian president, Tomislav Nikolic, told his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, that the trade volume between the two countries should exceed the $1b mark.  It is really encouraging to see the extent of positive change in bilateral relations over the past few years. There are three main pillars of the strategic partnership between the two countries: economic , political and cultural.

On the economic front, trade volume between the two countries reached an impressive $550m, making the relationship one of the most critical in the Western Balkans. Turkish business representatives are interested in investing in a number of infrastructure projects in Serbia that would connect Southern Serbia closer with the rest of the South East Europe. For example, in Spring 2012 the Turkish government signed a deal with the government of Serbia, donating €10m for the reconstruction and expansion of the military airport in Kraljevo for civilian purposes, which would serve around 2 million people in central Serbia. This deal is one of the many recent positive developments between Serbia and Turkey that would have an impact on investment, trade and movement of people between the two countries.

Turkish companies are already involved in  reconstruction and renovation of Corridor 10, which runs between Belgrade, the Sanjak region and the Adriatic. Turkey and Serbia have a lot to gain from further cooperation in energy transportation, such as South Stream. Turkey’s approval of the South Stream pipeline route through its maritime waters has boosted Serbia’s potential as an energy hub serving Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Politically, the two have been cooperating very closely ever since the start of the trilateral consultation mechanism between Serbia, BiH and Turkey. Former Serbian president, Boris Tadic, took courageous steps in correcting Serbia’s relationship with Bosnia-Herzegovina by attending the Srebrenica commemoration, as well as facilitating the Serbian parliament’s apology. It is equally important that president Nikolic is committed to a vision of political  reconciliation between the sister republics of former Yugoslavia. Nikolic’s announcement of an upcoming trilateral consultation meeting with BiH and Turkey in May can be seen as Serbia’s commitment to durable peace in the region.

Serbia is striving to modernize and diversify its economy by attracting foreign direct investment from diverse countries such as Qatar, United Arab Emirates and China as the Eurozone economies continue to stagnate. The Serbian government seems to have come to terms with the fact that separating politics from economy could only work in its favor in the long run. Serbia’s improving political relations with Turkey also helps to attract more investment interest from the Gulf countries.

Culturally, Turkey and Serbia have been going through a period of getting to know each other a little bit better. It turns out that these societies share similar values about the role of the family, respect to elders and nostalgia. The success of Turkish TV series in Serbia – as in other Balkan countries – underscores a shared cultural space to which young audiences can relate. The growing interest in Turkish language courses in Serbia is a clear indication that the two countries are actually closer than more than meets the eye.

Perpetual peace envisions deepening of economic, political and cultural connections between societies. Strategic relations between Turkey and Serbia are an important case of how a century of negative peace could transform via economic cooperation and development. It would not be surprising to expect an economically confident Serbia that contributes to regional peace and prosperity in the coming decade.

Dr. Doga Ulas Eralp teaches at the Program on Justice and Peace at Georgetown University.

What are the principles of conflict transformation?

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