Murat Karagöz, deputy director-general of the Turkish Foreign Ministry for the Balkans and Central Europe, has said Turkey, Russia and the US should play a greater role in the Bosnian crisis and underlined that there is no need to rush to replace the Office of the High Representative (OHR) with an EU body. The aforementioned countries are not members of the EU, but they maintain the trust of the parties in Bosnia.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu criticized the approach taken by Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, to solving the problem in Bosnia last month, saying the “take it or leave it” approach is not working and urging for comprehensive consultations with all parties interested, including Russia and Turkey. “Serbs feel more comfortable when they see Russia involved, and Bosnians feel more confident when Turkey is involved,” he said, adding that the imposition of an EU-developed plan on Bosnia would go nowhere.
Tension among Muslims, Serbs and Croats in Bosnia has been brewing for some time over power-sharing disputes, and calls for secession by Serbs and Croats are increasingly being voiced. Turkey wants the utmost attention to the issue from all parties because of upcoming national elections in Bosnia in October 2010.
Ankara is increasingly voicing its concern over what it calls “wrong signals” delivered by the international community to Bosnia. The EU lifted visa restrictions for Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro last week despite the fact that none of these countries has started even accession talks with the bloc while excluding Bosnia, Turkey and Albania, citing technical failures in national passports. Turkey has reacted strongly to the decision, saying the visa policy appears to be excluding Muslim countries.
Davutoğlu said in Brussels last week that Turkey would soon take steps to meet the bloc’s conditions for visa-free travel -- such as the introduction of biometric passports and the signing of an agreement on readmission of illegal immigrants -- and warned that the EU would be imposing double standards if it still refuses to allow Turkish citizens to travel freely to EU member countries. “But there is no excuse for why this right has not been granted to citizens of Turkey, a country negotiating for membership,” he added.
Turkey’s approach to the resolution of outstanding issues in Bosnia hinges on a so-called “membership action plan” with regard to both the EU and NATO. Karagöz said NATO failed to extend an invitation to the Balkan country to join the plan. “Bosnia is currently passing through a crucial juncture. If not handled carefully, we may face unintended consequences,” he said, adding: “Bosnia should not be isolated.”
Turkish policy is sound
At a roundtable discussion organized by the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV) in Ankara on Tuesday, an International Crisis Group (ICG) analyst called Turkish policy on Bosnia “sound” and “extremely wise” and dismissed the perception that Turkey favors Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) over Serbs or Croats as “erroneous.” Sabine Freizer, ICG’s Europe program director, described the situation in Bosnia as “very tense,” urging the involvement of all relevant parties in calming the crisis.
“Tensions remain high. The situation in Bosnia is as grave as it was in the early 1990s,” she said, citing a recent ICG report that drew an alarming picture in Bosnia. She pointed out that Bosnia’s post-war status quo had ended, but the international community risks muddling the transition by delaying decisions on a new kind of engagement.