Alon Ben-Meir: Albanian leaders should distance themselves from Turkey

 A New York University professor warns Albania and Kosovo of the danger of Turkish influence and says it is clear that Rexhep Taip Erdogan's objective is to expand his control over the Balkans.

Alon Ben-Meir, a researcher at the Center for Global Affairs of this University, said in an interview to Voice of America (VOA) that Albania's leaders have accommodated Turkey for mutual interests and that they should distance themselves if they want to approach the EU.

Alon Ben-Meir: Albanian leaders should distance themselves from Turkey

Professor Alon Ben-Meir

Professor Ben-Meir spoke with VOA journalist Keida Kostreci about Turkish influence in Kosovo as well.

Voice of America: Professor Ben-Meir, you have expressed concern about Turkish influence in the Balkans. What is the essence of your concern?

Alon Ben-Meir: Our concern lies in President Erdogan's agenda and his agenda is to promote Islam where he can, as well as the return of a variant of the Ottoman Empire and he has said this by himself. His former Prime Minister (Ahmet) Davutoglu and many officials with whom we speak regularly said that by 2023, which coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Turkish New Republic, will have a power and influence similar to that of the Ottomans Empire had over 500 years in control of this area. So in my opinion, his agenda is malevolent. I'm not sure he is doing it for the good of Kosovo and Albania, but he will pull them into his orbit to get away from the European Union.

He (Erdogan) is using religion as a political instrument to promote the Turkish agenda, especially in Muslim majority countries. Albania and Kosovo are perfect candidates, precisely because geographically and geopolitically, Erdogan will do so to exercise control and influence throughout the Balkans.

Voice of America: Your latest article with co-author Arbana Xharra, spoke about the risk of Albania and that this is being realized through investments, banks, and infrastructure. You say that Albania must be worried ...

Alon Ben-Meir: No discussion. Albania has over 50 percent Muslim populations and he (Erdogan) feels very comfortable trying to impose his Islamic program and he is doing it in a number of ways, for example with investments. He is investing heavily in Albanian infrastructure, building dozens of mosques. In fact, he is now building the largest mosque in the whole Balkans. It controls the largest banks. Turkish (Airline) is building the largest airport. What he is trying to do is by investing and promoting the Islamic program, under the guise of cultural exchanges, he is coming to Albania because in his mind this is one of the ways he can expand his orbit throughout the Balkans and, as I said earlier with a clear program, to bring these countries closer to Turkey, leaving the European Union, especially now that Albania is at the forefront in its efforts to join the European Union. He does not want this to happen, especially because Turkey itself is no longer a potential candidate for entry into the European Union. So he is trying to attract these places to Turkey and use it in the future as a balance to the EU by saying "I am in control, I have tremendous influence and that they have to deal with me, if they want to deal with Balkan states. "

Voice of America: Prime Minister Edi Rama in an interview recently denied that Turkey poses a threat to Albania's sovereignty. Where do you see the link between these investments and the threat to sovereignty, which makes you think these efforts should be taken seriously?

Alon Ben-Meir: I think the leaders of Albania are submissive and Erdogan is very capable of exploiting any kind of weakness. This is one element. The other element is that there is a lot of corruption within the government itself and in this regard, negotiating with Turkey to benefit favors from the Turkish government and Erdogan himself is something that he likes and would like to see expanded. So what we see here is a reciprocity of interests between the two sides and I think here we may be talking about a long-term agenda. For Erdogan the problem is how to restore the Ottoman Empire and use the Balkans as the basis for this process, and this is not the only area where Erdogan is trying to exercise Turkish power, he is trying to do so in various Middle East areas. This is wider than the Balkans, but the Balkans for him is a primary objective at this moment.

Voice of America: According to you, the country's leaders do not realize that efforts are being made to influence, or because of these concerns are expresed publicly now and they want to minimize their significance?

Alon Ben-Meir: I'm no astonishment at all that they are so disregarding these allegations. We did not expect anything different, because in fact this is the method they use to hid this dangerous relation with Turkey.

Of course they will deny it, but the truth is this: Albania is a key EU candidate. The more distanced from Turkey, the better it is for Albania, to become a member of the European Union and I think that the Albanian people and the Albanian government must have this in mind. So yes, you can have good relations with many countries, including Turkey, but you should not allow a government such as Turkey to control what is happening in Albania and many Albanians are disturbed by this attitude and view it as a malevolent stand on Erdogan's side, and not as a good-willed attitude on the part of Turkey, so that both countries benefit because both countries could benefit from Turkish investments, but that goal is not Erdogan's main goal, as I said before.

Voice of America: You said that this impact is worrying even for the European Union. Can not it be argued that while the European Commission recommended itself the opening of negotiations, this is not such a big concern?

Alon Ben-Meir: Albania has developed a good relationship for some time with the European Union and the EU would not consider a new member if that country does not comply with EU standards in terms of human rights, democratic governance, there must certainly not be corruption. There is no discussion that Albania is in that direction, but I think the leaders are doing their best to accommodate Erdogan and I think this would be a big mistake because the EU is looking very carefully and is very dissatisfied with what Erdogan is doing in many countries, but especially in the Balkans.

Voice of America: President Erdogan did not hesitate to express his dissatisfaction with the measures of the Prime Minister of Kosovo following the deportation of four Turkish citizens from Kosovo, citing the fact that Turkey was among the first countries to recognize its independence. How concerned are you about Turkish influence in Kosovo?

Alon Ben-Meir: The concern we have for Kosovo is even bigger than that of Albania. About two years ago Erdogan said that Kosovo is Turkey and Turkey is Kosovo. He sees Kosovo as a colony of Turkey and treats it as well. He is doing the same thing with Kosovo, trying to get it the Turkish orbit, following the same method, investing and doing whatever he can to increase its impact, while on the other hand makes every effort to weakened the impact that Fethullah Gulen's movement had on Kosovo. The deportation event of four Turkish citizens was something that was not heard anywhere else. So he (Erdogan) feels rather free to do what he wants in Kosovo and in the latter case unfortunately Kosovo's governance is related to it because they need Turkish support in many directions, of course they need Turkish investments in various sectors of the economy.

Voice of America: When do you say governance what do you consider, because the incident showed to some extent that the President and the Prime Minister were not in the same line?

Alon Ben-Meir: It's true, but I'm not sure. My feeling is that this was more about public consumption. How is the intelligence chief doing this without announcing the president? And he really fired the chief of intelligence, wanting to demonstrate that Kosovo disagrees with these kinds of activities, but is this a stand, a real policy? Because seeing the bilateral relations between Turkey and Kosovo looks very close and there is little difference we see carefully, there is little difference between the two countries in terms of the different levels of governments of both sides.

Voice of America: Do you think that to impede this influence, should the EU exert pressure, or should the leaders distance themselves?

Alon Ben-Meir: If the EU wants to weaken Erdogan's influence on the Balkan countries, should undertake more initiatives, especially financially in these countries, and increase significantly the investment in these countries because, like Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia - all these countries - are not in good economic condition. If the EU wants to weaken Erdogan's influence in these areas, it has to invest much more in these countries, especially now with Albania, having in mind that is discussing the steps to enter the EU.

Voice of America: This is similar to what the Albanian prime minister in Germany asked, telling Europe that if he wanted to stop the radicalism in Albania, he should open the door of Albania membership. But this attitude does not have a logical line because, on the other hand, he himself defended ties with Turkey. What is your comment?

Alon Ben-Meir: What he wants to see (Rama) is for Albania to become an EU member, but without sacrificing relations with other countries, including Turkey. This is not a problem as long as he understands that there are limits to how much can allow Turkey to enter to Albania and affect internal affairs.
Alon Ben-Meir: Albanian leaders should distance themselves from Turkey Alon Ben-Meir: Albanian leaders should distance themselves from Turkey Sunday, May 13, 2018 Rating: 5
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