Journal of Turkish Weekly conducted an exclusive interview with Minister for Culture and Sports in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and member of the Presidency of Party of Democratic Action (SDA), the largest BosniacsÃ party in BiH, Salmir Kaplan, in Sarajevo, on 24th April 2011.
JTW: Mr. Kaplan, could you tell us what is the influence of Turkey and Turkish culture in BiH? Whether there has been an increased impact in the last few years, especially since 2009, when Mr. Ahmet Davutoðlu became Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey, for whom the question of Bosnia-Herzegovina is "a life and death story"?
Mr. Kaplan: TurkeyÃs influence in BiH is felt in all spheres of life, including culture. You asked this question in a very proper way, for the fact that greater impact is felt since 2009, in the period during which Mr. Ahmet Davutoðlu is the head of TurkeyÃs Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During period of one year, Mr. Davutoðlu visited BiH seven times. Especially his last visit is extremely important for it shows support for the integration of Bosnian society, and generally for common language between the parties in BiH. During this visit, apart from Sarajevo, Mr. Davutoglu visited Mostar and Banja Luka as well.
Another great important thing during the same period was the opening of Yunus Emre Institute in Sarajevo. For a long period of time, in our capital, in Sarajevo, there were operating centers of Germany (Goethe Institute), Britain (British Council) and Spain (Cervantes Institute). Opening of Yunus Emre Institute is significant not only because of TurkeyÃs presence in the field of culture, but generally it is important that such institute of the Republic of Turkey operates in BiH. Two weeks ago we had The Third Weekend of Turkish Film in Sarajevo, and many other different activities showing Turkish culture are much more present in the last two years, so the residents of BiH are more familiar with the Turkish culture than they were four years ago, let alone 10 or 15 years.
JTW: Active Turkish foreign policy lead by its architect Ahmet Davutoðlu, has invoked much discussions by foreign policy analysts giving it a negative connotation with the concept of "neo-Ottomanism". What is your attitude regarding this concept?
Mr. Kaplan: Turkey is a world power whose saying is highly valued in the NATO; it is a regional power and it is normal that such power has interests and influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well. It would be abnormal if Turkey was uninterested in Southeastern Europe in general and for our country in particular. The only question is how Turkey’s influence will be called. It has been accepted as a clichÃˆ that name neo-Ottomanism is something negative. I think it is important that Turkey has its influence in the region, and whether someone will call this influence as neo-Otomanism or not, is the least problem. All those who call active Turkish foreign policy as neo-Otomanist, consider it as something negative and use it to combat the influence of present-day Republic of Turkey. We, Bosniacs, are very pleased and satisfied with the TurkeyÃs presence in our region and in our country. Two months ago in BiH we had, letÃs say agony of the establishment of government at the federal level and the Republic of Turkey, especially Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey as representative in the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) together with Ambassador of the United States played an extremely important role in the process of establishing government in BiH. If Turkey wasnÃt strong as it is, if it wasnÃt present in BiH as it is today, we would have no government at federal level right now. Although, today, we have perceptible political crisis, this crisis would be much worse if Turkey didnÃt play its role.
JTW: If BiH implements reforms needed for the European Union (EU), if BiH gets the candidate status in the near future, could this adversely affect the relations between BiH and Turkey? Could BiH turn its back to Turkey in favor of the EU?
Mr. Kaplan: BiH has good relations with Turkey, the EU and the United States. It will never come into situation to choose between Turkey and the EU, since the EU is Turkey’s commitment as well. First of all, it is certain that BiH wonÃt become EU member in the near future, not even in the next 10 years and secondly BiH would not accept any conditions that are against TurkeyÃs interests, because BiH appreciates what Turkey did in the past and what does in the present time. Until today, the EU has not demanded anything that is against TurkeyÃs interests, and we believe it wonÃt in future.
JTW: During his visit to Sarajevo Business Forum 2011, TurkeyÃs State Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan said that cooperation with Bosnia-Herzegovina is of great importance. Could you evaluate more on the TurkeyÃs investments into BiH?
Mr. Kaplan: TurkeyÃs increased influence is felt in economy as well. Turkey has bought a state company BiH Airlines and negotiations to undertake 51% are going on. Ten days ago, Turkish company Turkoil hired half of the tanks at a main oil terminal at Bosnia’s Ploce Port, one of the most significant state-owned companies in BiH. When I say the most significant I think both in financial and strategic way. It is maybe even more important from a strategic point of view. In BiH we have a situation that Russian Oil Company bought the oil refinery in Bosanski Brod and they are now present in the oil market in BiH. In this way we balanced the Russian influence and Turkoil will hopefully play a significant role in the Bosnian market for long time in the future.
JTW: Thank you very much Mr. Kaplan.