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Balkans: Heavensgate for the EU stability
Prof. Dr. Hüseyin BAĞCI – 17 February 2001, Turkish Daily News
The meeting of the three Balkan states presidents in Plovdiv (Bulgaria) is concerned mainly with soft security issues like illegal drug traffic, preventing illegal migration and enhancing the security cooperation among the police forces. Therefore, the main idea of this regular meeting since 1997, initiated by the Bulgarian President Stayanov, serves other purposes among many common problems between Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey.
Indeed, Bulgaria is one of the key countries in the Balkans and its orientation since early 90’s towards the European Union is remarkable. What’s even more remarkable is that the EU is considering Bulgaria a “corner stone” in its Balkan Policy. It pays great attention to its political developments and supports it financially in order to speed up its membership negotiations. It is also expected that Bulgaria, despite some major shortcomings in the economic field, does not have “political or social obstacles” for EU membership, i.e. no public opposition to the EU, as it is not the case in Romania and now increasingly in Turkey. The Bulgarian president is widely respected in European circles and his constructive approach, not only towards Turkey but also to the Turkish minority in Bulgaria, is a positive step for his country which was harshly criticized in the 80’s under Todor Jivkov’s repressive policies.
On the other hand, Turkish-Bulgarian relations are a success story in international relations of how two neighbors can change the political atmosphere from tense to relaxed within one decade. No doubt, the Bulgarian politicians since early 90’s changed their attitude towards Turkey in so sincere a way that this new orientation could only be welcomed by recent Turkish governments.
In his detailed account on Bulgarian-Turkish relations, (Turk -Bulgar Iliskileri, 1983-1989, Cilt 1, [1983-1985,] Avrasya Stratejik Arastirmalar Merkezi Yayinlari, Balkan Arastirmalari Dizisi. No.2, Ankara 2000) former Turkish Ambassador to Sofia Omer E. Lutem explains how Bulgarian governments repressive policies had been implemented during the Cold War Years and how the Turkish government, under Turgut Ozal, tried to prevent it, using all instruments of international politics and diplomacy. Therefore, the fact remains that thousands of families suffered under this and a wave of forced migration was a result in the Summer of 1989, where also the revolutions in eastern Europe has started. The fall of the Iron Curtain and a reduced influence of the Russian Federation over the Balkans countries during the time of Boris Yeltsin’s leadership, in particular Bulgaria, was among the most successful countries of former “Soviet Satellites” to transform itself into a democratic and functioning market system despite the fact that the change of constitution was not so difficult than in many other former communist states, when compared.
One should also take notice that despite the fact that Turkey was nearly declaring war in the summer 1989 because of forced migration of more than 350,000 Turks from Bulgaria, all the Turkish presidents since then, Turgut Ozal, Suleyman Demirel and now Ahmet Necdet Sezer, show a continuity for improving relations and currently there are no big controversial issues between Turkey and Bulgaria. On the contrary, these regular meetings serve to increase the trust and fight against common danger in and outside the region.
Turkey’s support for Bulgaria’s membership into NATO is interesting because in the early 1950’s Bulgaria closed its border to Turkey as a result of Soviet pressure so it’s now a surprise that Turkey has become part of the capitalistic world and imperialism. Today, it is the irony of history that Turkey supports Bulgaria’s candidacy and most importantly, how it was a wise and long fetched policy of Turkish government then to join NATO. If Turkey was not in NATO today, most likely, the membership would be not so easy. Example, ESDP of the EU!!
Romania’s President Iliescu is the most experienced president among these three because he is a “survivor” in both systems. No doubt, Romania is also on the way to the EU with great French support but, concerning the NATO membership, it will be a little bit difficult. The main reason for this is that Romania experiences increasing anti-EU and anti-NATO opposition. Also Romania was proud to be in a “non-nuclear free zone” during the Cold War years and opposed again the Soviet system under Chaucesku as far as it could. Romania today on the other hand is one the best trade partners of Turkey and is the most cooperative one also within the Black Sea Economic Cooperation. Turkey’s policy towards Romania has been traditionally very good and no major conflict does exist between the two countries.
President Sezer is well aware how important is it to increase relations with Bulgaria and Romania and continue the cooperation also as the candidate countries for the EU membership. Steyanov, Iliescu and Sezer as the “Trioka of the Balkans” give a positive image to every direction of dialogue that is important for the Balkans. In 1988, there was the idea of “Balkan Helsinki” including Yugoslavia at that time. Today, Yugoslavia has also “returned to the Balkan politics” and no doubt, without Yugoslavia, the Balkan stability and cooperation will be less effective. In other words, Yugoslavia should be taken in to the process, despite the remaining facts and problems of the “post-Milosevic Yugoslavia.”
The stability and security of southeast Europe, or in classical terms Balkans, can only be guaranteed by a strong dialogue and cooperation where all the countries are present. Historically, Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania have always been in the forefront like today. Not only the EU, but also Russia follows the Balkan developments very closely and let’s not forget, of course, the new American administration. Turkey as a NATO country should support further the Bulgarian and Romanian membership into NATO. As in the Vilnius Declaration of May 2000, NATO should extend its invitation to Bulgaria and Romania to join NATO. It is very clear that all the three countries will not join the ESDP in the foreseeable future.
The meeting in Plovdiv was good one. A stable and economically active Balkans is in Turkey’s best interest. The Balkan’s have always been a gateaway for nations and people and it seems that it will remain so. In particular for Turkey, it is also a “heavensgate to Europe,” in the sense of the EU membership, well remarked.