Balkanalysis on Twitter

Tourism on Turkey’s Black Sea Coast: Interview with Dr. Gülçin Bilgin Turna Editor’s note: in this new interview, Turkish professor and tourism expert Dr. Gülçin Bilgin Turna shares her knowledge and experience of the issues regarding Black Sea tourism development with Director Chris Deliso.

 Born in Istanbul in 1981, Dr. Turna received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Business Administration, with a major in Marketing from Yeditepe University, Istanbul in 2004. She subsequently worked in the corporate marketing department of Anadolubank, and served as a management trainee in Istanbul for two years. She later taught English for three years at Rize’s Bilge Primary School.

 Dr. Turna received a scholarship from The Scientific and Technological Research Council for her PhD at Karadeniz Technical University, Trabzon. With the support of European Union-Erasmus Scholarship funds, she studied in Halmstad University, Sweden in 2010 and worked as a visiting researcher in Erasmus University Rotterdam in 2013. She is presently assistant professor at Recep Tayyip Erdogan University in Rize. Dr. Turna has written several research papers about the effects of country image on consumer behavior. Her main research aim is gaining a better understanding of consumer choices in relation to a country’s reputation. Dr. Gülçin Bilgin Turna can be contacted by email at:

The Current Tourism Situation, Nationally and Locally

Chris Deliso: Professor Turna, thanks for taking the time to speak with us today.

Gülçin Bilgin Turna: I would like to thank you for your time. I am happy to answer your questions.

Balkanalysis interview with dr gulcin bilgin turna

For Dr. Turna, “the combination of Black Sea and high mountains” is what makes the Rize area appealing to visitors.

CD: Firstly, can you tell us something about the Turkish Black Sea coast, particularly the east, where you are located, and how this differs from other shores of the same sea? What do you like most about the area, which is obviously very different from your home city of Istanbul?

GBT: Rize, the city where I have lived since 2005, and which is located in the east of Turkey’s Black Sea coast, is totally different from my home city of Istanbul. Istanbul is a metropolitan located in the west of Turkey with more than fifteen million inhabitants. It is Turkey’s economic, cultural and historical heart. Rize, on the other hand, is a small city with 330,000 people.

What makes it different and special is that it is highly mountainous which means it has a different climate and lifestyle. What I like most about the area is that we have the combination of Black Sea and high mountains. Virgin nature in different shades of green fascinates the tourists. Tea grows only in Rize in Turkey. The crime rate in the area is low, which makes tourists and inhabitants feel safe. The city center of Rize is small, so it is easy to get around and get things done. Everybody knows each other.

 CD: Please tell us more about Recep Tayyip Erdoğan University in general, and particularly the work done on the tourism research topic at your university. What are the objectives of the center, and what kind of research is being done there? Do you think it makes an impact on the policy discussion or tourism development program in your country?

 GBT: Our university was founded in 2006. There are various faculties including the faculty of tourism. I work at the department of Business Administration as an assistant professor. We recently founded the “Centre for Black Sea Strategic Studies” in order to cooperate with the countries in the Black Sea, to improve the area economically and culturally, and to come up with scientific research and publications. Attending the symposium in Athens organized by ICBSS and the meeting of Black Sea Universities Network were our first interactions.

Studies at our university are being done not only in the area of tourism, but also in the development of agriculture and fisheries. I cannot be certain about the impact of our center on the policy discussion or tourism development in our country, because our centre is quite young. However, I can say that since our university takes its name from Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whatever we do attract attention from the public and government. There is also a development foundation within our university supported by philanthropists from Rize. They provide scholarships for students and funds for all kinds of research at our university.

 CD: In terms of national tourism visitor numbers, you have noted that Turkey is the 6th most-visited country in the world, and 12th among world countries in terms of tourism sector income. And you have noted that among BSEC countries, Turkey is first, ahead of perennial tourism powerhouse Greece. However, are you aware more specifically of what percentage of overall tourism visitors/figures is specific to your region of Turkey? If so, what percentage is it, and how important to the eastern Black Sea economy is tourism presently?

GBT: Yes, Turkey is very successful in international tourism in the world and among BSEC thanks to its Mediterranean, Aegean and Marmara Regions. I am not sure about the exact percentage of overall international tourists in our region of the east Black Sea but I believe it is extremely low.

CD: You have also noted that the Turkish government plans to make ‘a huge leap’ in increasing tourism between now and 2018, and then after that to be sustained at an even level of growth, and that in executing this policy it plans to increase spending. Are you aware of any specific policies in this regard, and if so, what amount of attention is Ankara giving to tourism in your region?

GBT: Yes, Turkey had this leap in the last five years and has plans for the upcoming five years. The general strategy is to build more hotels, improve infrastructure and direct flights from abroad. Foreign tourists enjoy Turkey due to its climate, hospitable people and reasonable prices. I believe Turkey will be successful in its tourism plans. About the development of tourism in our region, certain areas were chosen as priority regions. In particular, Ayder, Anzer, Ovit and Kuspa are the four areas chosen to be improved in tourism by our government. They will build a ski resort on Ayder Mountain.

CD: Given the current uncertainties in the region such as instability in Syria and Iraq, and recent violence in southeastern Turkey, do you think the government will fail to make this ‘huge leap’ come true? Or is it also possible that the Black Sea area, being far from any of these crisis zones, could possibly benefit in comparison with other parts of the country in terms of visitor numbers?

 GBT: Turkey had been struggling with terrorism in southeastern Turkey for many years. Given the current uncertainties in Syria and Iraq, tourism numbers decreased in southeastern Turkey, but not in other regions. The other regions of Turkey are very safe. X-ray machines are operated both in the entrance of airports and shopping malls. I don’t think that the crisis in southeast of Turkey affect the tourism in Black Sea area.

Challenges and Solutions

 CD: You have mentioned that Rize tourism professionals could use some insight and experience from Turkish tour operators and other professionals who come from the far more popular Aegean and Mediterranean coastal areas. What kind of insights or knowledge do you think they could provide? And, considering the very different physical conditions and appeal of the two areas, how relevant would the input of those persons be?

GBT: They could provide their general knowledge in the area of tourism. We can never be sure until we consult them. I believe it is worth the effort. They and local tourism authorities may form synergies.

CD: So, mentioning Turkey’s warmer coasts and seas brings us to the hard question: to be brutally honest, why should someone go to the frequently stormy, cold and dark Black Sea when they have those other enticing options? Or are you looking for a different kind of tourist profile altogether?

GBT: The Black Sea is not cold; it has more of a tropical climate. And when you swim in the Black Sea in summer, you don’t feel cold at all. However, there are no beaches suitable for international tourists. You can experience different weather by the coast and in the mountains. It is stormy only in winter. The problem in our area is the scarcity of land. The number of hotels is not sufficient.

So, first the infrastructure and bed capacity should be improved. The Black Sea does not offer nice beaches and nightlife like the Mediterranean does. The Black Sea, especially in the east, is famous for its high and mystic mountains, so people think that the Black Sea region is something totally different. Given its traditional values, the region does not offer the same type of entertainment as other areas do. So yes, different kinds of tourists visit our area. Mostly adventurers (sports and hiking) and tourists, who like the rain and fog in the mountains, trying to escape from the very hot weather elsewhere in Turkey, visit the Black Sea.

 CD: You have said that Rize and Black Sea tourism professionals need more language skills. What is the current level of English or other foreign languages spoken there? Should an independent foreign visitor expect to get by without speaking Turkish, or would it be difficult?

 GBT: Hotel receptionists and tour guides can speak English, however local people cannot. Yes, unfortunately it would be difficult for an independent visitor to get around without speaking Turkish. But I’m sure all the locals will try to help using body language and talking Turkish very loudly, heh heh. The local government provides free English courses for all the professionals.

CD: What is the situation in Rize for local and foreign companies that want to get involved in the tourism sector? Is the bureaucracy difficult, and if so are they working to fix this? What is the balance of different responsibilities and power shared by local or national authorities, for example, with regards to giving permissions to build, collection of taxes, regulation of tourist activities and so on?

GBT: To the best of my knowledge, the bureaucracy is not difficult. Government provides incentives for investors. However, due to the scarcity, it is very expensive to buy land in Rize. That is the problem.

Local Activities and Initiatives

 CD: You have pointed out that Rize will increase its offerings of health tourism and some culture/history tourism, as well as outdoor sports like hiking, rafting and heli-skiing. Can you give us some more specific details about these plans and these attractions and where readers can learn more about what is available?

GBT: There are spa hotels in Ridos and Ayder. There are many hiking, rafting and off-roading clubs. These clubs address Turkish tourists; there are no websites available in English as far as I know. But once the foreign tourists are in the area, they can benefit from all these activities. Heli-skiing, on the other hand, totally targets foreign tourists, especially French. Many websites in English are available.

CD: I have seen in other parts of Turkey, such as the Taurus Mountains to Egirdir, the popularity for European hikers of the St Paul Trail. Are there any historic or symbolic hiking trails in the Rize area that can be exploited in such a way, maybe creating linkages with other areas of Turkey or neighboring countries like Georgia or Armenia?

GBT: Yes, it is “Kaçkar Mountain Trails”. Armenians and Georgians settled early in the Pontic Alps, now the Kaçkar, later building wonderful stone monastery churches hidden in the mountains. The Turks gradually occupied the area from the 11th century but the area remained ethnically mixed; Turkish, Hemşin and Laz languages are still used. More information about the trail can be found on the Internet.

CD: On the sub-regional level, what does Rize have to offer in particular, compared to other Turkish Black Sea coastal towns like Trabzon or Samsun? Is there anything specific to Rize that cannot be found in other coastal towns in Turkey?

GBT: Trabzon and Samsun are big and industrialized cities. Rize is more agricultural. Rize is small, more mountainous and natural, people are more hospitable. Tea and kiwi grow here.

CD: Can you say at the present time, what kind of tourists are you seeing most in your region? I mean, whether independent or package tourists, from what countries, what ages and so on? And, do you have any data or other information on how do these tourists find out about the area and decide to visit, compared to any other part of Turkey they could go?

GBT: As far as I have observed, independent tourists are from Europe; package tourists are from Arabia. They are usually middle-aged. Independent tourists find about the area by their guidebooks. An American friend of mine followed the route her travel guide offered. She flew to Trabzon from Istanbul, went to Kackar Mountain Trail, and then to Sumela Monastery. She went to Cappadocia and the Lycian Way afterwards. Visitors to the Mediterranean are usually package tourists, and people who want to visit Istanbul can find a lot of information online.

CD: In terms of the cultural tourism aspect, what is the current situation of the historic minorities of the mountains, mentioned in the Byzantine and Ottoman sources, people such as the Laz and Tzan? Are they integrated in any way yet into the tourism offering of the area, and do you seem them playing any role in the future in increasing the interest value of the area?

GBT: I have never heard Tzan. Laz and Hemşin people have their own language. It is only spoken. They are very nice people and integrated into the tourism offering of the area. They have a different life style and clothing style which increase the interest value of the area.

CD: What about the region’s main attraction for foreign visitors- the Byzantine cave monastery of Sumela, in the forests near Trabzon? When I visited a few years ago, I recall the frescoes being in a precarious state, with graffiti scrawled across them. Do you know of any restoration plans, and how does this medieval attraction play into your region’s future tourism strategy?

GBT: Whenever I have visited Sumela in the last five years, it was being restored. Sumela Monastery is the most attractive tourism value in our area and I am sure it will keep its importance in the future.

Infrastructure Development Plans

 CD: Regarding infrastructure and the wider region, I understand that a proposed Black Sea Ring Highway will be built, a four-lane motorway some 7100km in length, to connect the various countries along the coast. Do you have any news about the state of this project and when it might be completed, as well any idea how it will affect the visibility and economy of Rize and the eastern Black Sea coast?

GBT: I am not sure when it will be completed by all the neighboring countries. Turkey’s side of the highway is finished. From Samsun to Artvin-Georgia border (from mid- to east-Black Sea Region). The highway is along the coast, which may sound convenient; however, that is one of the reasons we do not have nice beaches along the coast. For example, I live by the seaside in Rize and I have to listen to the sounds of cars and trucks because there is a highway in front of my apartment.

When the ring road is completed, all the areas will benefit from this for sure. There is also another project in Turkey called “Green Road” which will connect all the plateaus in our area (from Samsun to Artvin). The road will allow tourists to visit all the plateaus easily; they do not need to go to the city center every time they want to visit a plateau. The density of the population is really high in the city center of Rize, so at the moment tourists may not enjoy the city center but the mountains. On the other hand, the locals in the mountains are not looking forward to the “Green Road” project because they are afraid they will lose their privacy. They do not want their nature to be destroyed.

CD: Again about infrastructure, I recall that it was a bit complex getting to Georgia from Trabzon and the Turkish Black Sea, requiring multiple changes of bus and minibus just to get to Batumi. How is the situation now? Are there any improvements, or is still mostly a route used by locals?

GBT: It is not complex anymore. People can go to Georgia by one bus. We [Turkish citizens] don’t need a passport to go to Georgia which makes traveling more appealing for us.

CD: We have also heard about a maritime highway plan for Black Sea ferries, but there is less information. Do you have some further information on this, and how it could affect Rize and other Black Sea ports?

GBT: I also have little information on that. I know that from Samsun, people can travel to Batumi (Georgia) and Novorossiysk (Russia); from Trabzon to Sochi (Russia); from Istanbul to almost all destinations in the Black Sea region. In Rize we do not have a suitable international port for cruise ships. Trabzon, our neighbor city, benefits from this. I believe both the highway and maritime highway plans will be beneficial economically for all BSEC member countries.

CD: At the current moment, are there any ferries from Rize, or else Trabzon, to other points on the Turkish or international parts of the Black Sea coast? If so, is this something that presents or will present a nice opportunity for tourists?

GBT: Unfortunately there is no ferry from Rize or Trabzon. Trabzon hosted some cruise ships during summer. If you want to travel from Istanbul to Trabzon by ferry, it is not possible. People prefer airlines. It is a 1.5-hour flight from Istanbul to Trabzon and it is extremely convenient, at reasonable prices. The interesting thing in our area is not the city center (the coast is the city center), it is the mountains that attract tourists’ attention to the area. So they would not prefer traveling by ferry.

CD: Back on land: in regards to the planned Baku-Tbilisi-Kars rail route, a part of the ‘new Silk Road.’ Kars of course is inland and east of Rize. But is there any chance the existence of such a line could benefit tourism in the Black Sea, given the geographical challenges and existing infrastructure, is this of any relevance to your area’s tourism development?

GBT: Some 76 km of the 180-km rail road pass through Turkey. Once the “Marmaray Project” and “New Silk Road” are finished, it will be easy to transport goods from Europe to China directly. These are very big projects. Once the railroad connects Rize, then we can benefit from it. For now, I do not think we can benefit from the “New Silk Road”.

However, Rize will benefit from another project called “Mount Ovit Tunnel” very soon; it connects Erzurum and Rize. It is said that it will be Turkey’s longest, and the world’s 4th longest tunnel. Also there is another project, the “Rize-Mardin Highway” that connects the north of Turkey to the south. I believe the abovementioned “Green Road” that connects the plateaus will be the most beneficial for the tourism in the East Black Sea of Turkey. Once it is finished, I hope both visitors and locals will be happy about it.

CD: Finally, the town of Rize is served by air from nearby Trabzon Airport. Can you tell us how this airport’s capacity is developing now and the coming years, with expansion of budget flights and other operators Turkish and foreign alike?

GBT: Trabzon Airport is developing over the years at a rate of 10 percent. People from Artvin, Rize, Bayburt and Giresun also benefit from this airport. Three million people flew from this airport last year. Turkey’s main operator, Turkish Airlines, and Pegasus, which provides low cost flights, fly to Trabzon Airport. There are direct flights from Germany to Trabzon in summer. By the way, an airport will be built in Rize in three years.

CD: Dr. Turna, thanks very much for your time and good luck with your work in working towards tourism development on the Black Sea coast.

GBT: Thank you very much.


Business Development in Turkey: Interview with Eskişehir Chamber of Commerce Chairman Metin Güler Editor’s note: in this exclusive new interview with the leader of the Eskişehir Chamber of Commerce, Director Chris Deliso gives readers an inside view of the economic development of one of Turkey’s most dynamic emerging cities. Set at an important transport crossroads in Anatolia, and home to leading universities, Eskişehir is an up-and-coming city that will become more known to both foreign tourists and businessmen alike in the coming years.

We would also like to give a special thanks to Mr. Arda Genç of the Chamber of Commerce, for his assistance with this interview.


Chris Deliso: Mr Güler, thank you for speaking with us today. How did you first become involved with developing the economic potential of your city? What sort of related economics coordination or business work has this involved?

Metin Güler: Since I have been on duty at the Eskişehir Chamber of Commerce (ECC), we have been working to shape the future of the economy of Eskişehir and trying to turn Eskişehir’s potential into new opportunities. This is because we believe the values of Eskişehir don’t only come from it being a crossroad of lands and civilizations, but we believe also in its potential for becoming the crossroad of economies.

Metin Güler Balkanalysis Interview

According to Chairman Güler, “our companies in the field of air defense, machinery industry, food and construction components are both cooperating and competing with the biggest companies on the global scale.”

Since I was nominated as President of the Eskişehir Chamber of Commerce on 18 December 2013, we have been coming together with the organizations and institutions from Eskişehir. We have been setting meetings about export, new investments, innovation, R&D, entrepreneurship and problems of merchants and industries. Also, we have been meeting together with the ambassadors and international commerce delegations to discover new commerce strategies.

CD: What is the main function of the Economic Chamber in the city? For example, facilitating trade relations on the national and international level, attending trade fairs, providing contact for legal and legislative support, etc. What are the key priorities of the chamber?

MG: Besides its own authorizations, Eskişehir Chamber of Commerce is responsible for bringing in new opportunities and developing the export capacity of its members. On the other hand, we have to help these members in solving their problems. Our members also define us as having broad vision, as being an up-to-date organization, capable of providing opportunities for its members on a global scale, and as a leading organization in the country. To achieve our goals, we are working with our international trade, ECC academy, R&D and strategic research, as well as a project office, visa office, EU information center, plus law and tax advisory departments.

CD: Most foreigners have not heard of Eskisehir. What do you consider the main benefits of the city for foreign investors? What are the main most interesting sectors for foreign investment there?

MG: First of all I want to point that Eskişehir is now a more famous city than it was before abroad. Eskişehir is becoming an attraction for not only Turkey but for the world. This is because Eskişehir is located on the crossroads of railway and highway systems, and thus connects many cities to one another. In addition, we have one of Turkey’s most extensive industrial zones. We have rich sources of boron, thorium, coal, and so on. We are receiving more tourists with our two universities and recently accelerated tourism in our city.

Moreover, our companies in the field of air defense, machinery industry, food and construction components are both cooperating and competing with the biggest companies on the global scale. Foreign investors are aware of the high-technology industry, educated human resources, high-value mines and logistical advantages of Eskişehir.

CD: The Turkish government has plans to increase foreign investment in Turkey. Is there some benefits (taxation rules, business incorporation, local municipal support, etc) that Eskisehir has an advantage on over the national average?

MG: In this sense, Eskişehir is well-developed and has attracted investments by itself, so the government hasn’t needed to provide much of a boost. In fact, Eskişehir was placed at the lower end of the government’s ‘boost’ list, because so many investors are already investing Eskişehir. Every passing day a new company is built here.

CD: A lot of attention was given to the new high speed railway to Ankara and Bursa. What is the situation with the planned railway to Istanbul? Is it possible to quantify the increased benefits this rail link has brought to Eskisehir, in terms of improving logistics/speed of business, arrival of more businessmen and tourists, etc?

MG: The new high-speed train project has been actively working for about a month now. During this 24-day period, approximately 35,000 people entered Eskişehir using the high-speed train. We think that in the near future, high-speed trains will carry at least 4 million passengers who will come, stay and contribute to tourism. After all, several new hotels have opened, which supports this view.

CD: Eskisehir has been long known as a liberal, student-friendly city, whereas much of Turkey and especially Anatolia is more conservative. Do you think your city’s special character is something that can be used to create an ‘urban brand’? Do you plan to cater to certain types of tourists because of its unique offerings?

MG: First of all, we need to indicate that Eskişehir, from its past to its future has been a province that has received immigrants. When it comes to cultural heritage, Eskişehir has traces of the ancient Phrygian culture, the Byzantine era, the Selçuk Turks and the Ottoman Empire. So, it resembles a mosaic of cultures. Our town has received immigrants from a lot of countries and areas, from the Balkans, Crimea and Caucasus. In this sense our immigrant-citizens have contributed to Eskişehir’s identity and personality.

On the other hand, we mustn’t forget one person who lived in Eskişehir- Yunus Emre, well-known around the world for his generosity and philosophy. He said, “come, let’s meet. Let’s make everything easier.” Famously known for his humor, and an important person of value to the country, Nasrettin Hoca also lived in Eskişehir. Eskişehir has 50-year-old universities that have contributed to the social life and city’s fabric Of course, this image of the city as modern and integrated in the wider world contributes to Eskişehir’s image and brand value. When you put them all together, the colorful and polyphonic characteristic of Eskişehir reveals itself.

CD: Statistically, does the Chamber have information on the number of foreign investors in Eskisehir, their sector, their annual turnover and contribution to local employment and taxes? If so, is the trend towards more investment value or less in the projected period 2014-2020? What are the main drivers of growth?

MG: Certainly, we are following foreign investments carefully. Without a doubt, Eskişehir’s most important feature in this aspect is its close proximity to the Marmara industrial area and perfect industrial infrastructure. In addition, our landing costs are quite reasonable. Therefore, we can easily remark that, Eskişehir is going to be more popular day by day.

CD: Turkey has been in the news a lot because of the security problems in Syria and Iraq. Is it possible that any of these tensions can be felt in your city, or do you believe that it will be insulated from any possible spillover of violence from those areas?

MG: Of course political and social instabilities in the same geography interfere with commerce and industry. Definitely Eskişehir’s economy is being influenced by these complications. As long as we are not on the borders, this situation doesn’t present any danger. However, our members who are carrying on business with these territories can experience problems.

CD: The Russian one-year ban on food imports from European and other countries has been seen as a great export opportunity for Turkey. Are there any specific agricultural or other products from your region that could be exported in large quantities to Russia, and thus benefit from this situation?

MG: Eskişehir already has an important position in the foods market. We have companies active on the global market. So yes, the Russian food export boycott of EU and other countries will be an advantage for Eskişehir.

CD: Finally, what are the sectors of economy that you see most vital for your city in the coming decades? Are the local universities and business growth lobbies aware of this, and training the students and young employees towards the relevant industries?

MG: Eskişehir will be strong in the aviation defense industry, machinery manufacturing, food, construction components and the textile industry, as it already is now. Also it’s unavoidable to add new universities to Eskişehir’s current two universities. Tourism will be one of the biggest gains for our city.

Of course our business audience is aware of all of this, and they are structuring their future activities with consideration of this. Foreign investors are also following Eskişehir’s activities for the future. As the Eskişehir Chamber of Commerce, we are continuing promoting Eskişehir’s potential to the world.

Macedonia’s EU Accession and Reform Goals: Interview with Deputy Prime Minister Fatmir Besimi editor’s note: after four consecutive postponements of accession negotiations, and after being having realized progress in the key areas required for opening negotiations, Macedonia looked forward to the June European Council, when a decision was expected on granting the country a date to start talks. The European Commission’s Spring Report endorsed its October 2012 positive recommendations, recording progress made in the implementation of EU-related HLAD reforms, in improving good-neighborly relations, and urged for immediate enforcement of the March 1, 2013 political agreement. However, on June 27-28, the Council’s agenda did not include discussions on the progress made by the Republic of Macedonia towards opening EU membership negotiations and, consequently, no date for opening accession talks has been set.

In light of these recent events, contributor Cristian Dimitrescu recently sought some insights from the Macedonian government’s Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs, Fatmir Besimi, regarding the latter’s views on the pace of policy formulation and reform implementation, in regards to the on-going High Level Accession Dialog (HLAD) and anticipated decision on EU accession negotiations.

Holder of a PhD from Staffordshire University, Mr Besimi has several years of experience in high-level governmental service in Macedonia, having been minister of economy (December 2004-July 2006 and August 2008-July 2011) and minister of defense (August 2011-February 2013). Before these positions, he had served as vice-governor of the National Bank of the Republic of Macedonia.


According to Deputy Prime Minister Besimi, “the government is committed to further fulfillment of all necessary obligations regardless of their complexity.”

Cristian Dimitrescu: Aside from the regular cooperation framework set by the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), the Macedonian government and the European Commission have engaged, since March 2012 in the High Level Accession Dialogue (HLAD). The subsequent assessments talk about the government’s successful engagement and its capacity to deliver on the negotiated commitments. How can we explain this mobilization of resources and capacities that led to such an outcome?

Fatmir Besimi: As you know, the Republic of Macedonia was granted candidate-country status in December 2005 and received the first recommendation by the European Commission to start accession negations in 2009. This recommendation has been subsequently repeated each year to date. So, on one hand we had the confirmation that the country fulfils the criteria, but on the other hand we were not given a date for formal start of the negotiations due to the name dispute; therefore, we needed some kind of mechanism that would ensure sustained implementation of the reforms, but also something that would confirm the European perspective of the country.

We have to admit that the High Level Accession Dialogue fulfilled its purpose as it provided new dynamism to the EU integration process. Even though it was a new and challenging process, the administration had the necessary capacity to respond to the requirements in an effective and efficient manner, considering that we have been constantly strengthening our capacities for negotiations since 2005. Furthermore, the government has demonstrated its firm commitment to this process and delivered results in all areas covered by the Accession Dialogue, as was noted in the Commission’s report. I think that the success was a result of the joint efforts of all institutions in the country and the support provided by the European Commission.

CD: It is sometimes said that Macedonia takes advantage of the Greek veto in order to postpone socially unpopular reforms and decisions. How do you answer to this claim?

FB: I would not agree with such a perception. We are fully aware that many of the EU-related reforms are difficult and some of them may not be popular, but the government is prepared to undertake and implement all the necessary reforms.

On the other hand, we as elected representatives have to ensure that the citizens not be heavily affected by the reforms, which is especially important in a time of global financial crisis. It is always challenging to find the right balance, but I assure you that we are doing our utmost to implement the EU reforms, as doing so is in the interest of the citizens for our better future.

CD: A range of documents recently issued by different EU institutions (e.g., EC Report of April 16. 2013; EP Resolution of May 23, 2013) mention – despite noticeable progress – certain delays in adopting and implementing legislation on independence and impartiality of public administration and the judiciary, fighting corruption and organized crime, electoral procedures and political party financing, media independence, and so on. In your opinion, why does the implementation process in these areas take longer than the EU partners would have wanted or anticipated?

FB: All these areas that you mention are also both important and difficult for reform, but they are also covered by the High Level Accession Dialogue which indicates that the government acknowledges their importance and is prepared to address those issues. It is also a fact that these areas include a wide range of groups with different interests, which are concerned by the reform activities. So, if we want the reforms to succeed it is necessary that we ensure the support of all stakeholders and to achieve that it is needed in order to ensure their involvement, by providing conditions for debates and an exchange of opinions. This requires a lot of time and can sometimes lead to delay in the implementation of the envisaged activities.

On the other hand I would like to underline that significant progress has been achieved especially in these sensitive areas over the last year. For instance in the area of freedom of expression, one of the key issues was decriminalization of defamation and insult, and indeed we have managed to adopt the law on civil liability for defamation and insult through transparent and inclusive process.

Nevertheless, I want to reiterate that the government is committed to further fulfillment of all necessary obligations regardless of their complexity, and is looking forward to overcoming all the challenges along the way, in the interest of ensuring stronger democracy and prosperity for the future of all our citizens.

CD: Do you believe the envisaged cross-party Memorandum of Understanding would really help to overcome at least some of the deficiencies you just mentioned? How do you think such an agreement would effectively concentrate political will around “the country’s strategic objective of EU and Atlantic integration,” and what are the deadlocks to be firstly addressed?

FB: The EU integration of the Republic of Macedonia enjoys the support of the wider public in the country, including all political parties. Moreover, the goal of EU membership as an option for our country has never been questioned by any political subject. The differences are maybe in terms of what are the priority reforms, or the manner in which they are implemented.

Therefore, I believe that the signing of the cross-party Memorandum of Understanding as a formal confirmation of our goal of becoming an EU member state would be important for achieving political consensus on the issues of national interest and maintaining political dialogue, in order to ensure smoother implementation of all necessary reforms. In terms of recent deadlocks, I think that currently it is of key importance that the Inquiry Committee regarding the 24 December events has been established, and now it should act upon its tasks. Moreover, the country should continue with the remaining essential issues and key reforms of the March Agreement in the area of freedom of expression and media, election reforms and so on.

CD: In view of forthcoming EU Council discussions on opening accession negotiations with Macedonia, which of the country’s latest advances do you believe have been overlooked and should be weighted or perceived in a more adequate manner?

FB: Our relations with the European Commission have always been close, cooperative and based on mutual respect. In this regard, we expect that our efforts and progress in the implementation of the reforms be adequately noted and acknowledged in the EC documents.

Moreover, we also accept and seriously take into consideration all comments and recommendations given by the European Commission in regard to the areas which require additional reforms. This kind of correlation has worked extremely well so far and has been very helpful for us to identify needs and to define the appropriate measures for the EU-related activities. I believe that our cooperation with the European Commission will continue in the same manner.

Insights into the Hague Tribunal and Trends in International Justice: Interview with Sir Geoffrey Nice

In this interview with Sir Geoffrey Nice, QC, a former chief prosecutor of Slobodan Milosevic at the ICTY, Bosnia correspondent Lana Pasic explores the ways in which international tribunals contribute to the establishment of common truth and reconciliation in the Balkans- and what the future of the tribunal and international justice holds for other conflict regions. Sir Geoffrey Nice currently serves as a law professor at Gresham College in London.

Lana Pasic: Considering your prominent role in the ICTY, maybe as an introduction we can talk about the international tribunal itself, what it aimed to achieve and how far has it done so?

Sir Geoffrey Nice: All these tribunals aim to achieve particular mandates for trying individuals who have been involved in conflicts. But they also always have much broader objectives, typically including to bring about peace and reconciliation and to stop impunity.


While Sir Geoffrey Nice notes that in theory participants in recent Libyan or Syrian violence “can be tried,” he finds “it unlikely that there will be another ad hoc tribunal of the Yugoslav model.”

Thus far these broader objectives may be seen as over-ambitious and I am never quite sure that it is that wise to advance them as justifications for tribunals, because if the broader objectives are not met then the tribunal as a whole may be  judged to have failed.

That said, the Yugoslav tribunal, has probably been very successful in terms of the number of the people that have been tried and the number of verdicts returned that have commanded respect.

Unfortunately, there have been a number of things that have been less than satisfactory in the tribunal, such as the conduct of senior management in some of the cases.

Of course it is quite difficult for the tribunal to escape from some characterisation of its being political in a way – all these courts are political and there is nothing necessarily wrong with that. It’s when they are shown to be vulnerable to the political pressure of an improper kind that it becomes troubling.

Lana Pasic:  In terms of these broader goals, which are of course  very difficult to achieve, when we talk about peace and reconciliation, and creating a common history, to what extent has the Tribunal for Yugoslavia focused on that goal?

Sir Geoffrey Nice: I don’t think its senior figures, either the prosecutors or the judges, would acknowledge that they focused on leaving a history of the region or the conflict behind; they are always very clear, and rightly, that it is not their function to write history. But simply by the amount of evidence that they listen to, record and leave for posterity – and indeed by the verdicts that they return in relation to particular cases – the output of the tribunal is inevitably going to become part of the history of the region.

What people have to keep in mind, when looking at trial evidence or the verdicts, is that the evidence led by the prosecution and the defence may have been carefully selected and may not reflect what actually happened.

Lana Pasic: In the case of trials in the Balkans, verdicts of the courts are against individuals; however, they are often taken as a national matter, rather than a matter of an individual who has committed crimes.

Sir Geoffrey Nice: That is a very important point. For historic and good reason, the modern tribunals can only try individuals. What I always found very interesting in the trials was that Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia were all organised through pre-existing or new government bodies, operating in standard government ways.

Generally speaking, activities in the conflict were being funded by institutions of government. A lot that was done was the responsibility of people around the equivalent of a cabinet table- that is a government responsibility; I am not sure it is that helpful always just to pick just one man and say he is responsible. You can try to pin decisions on an individual, but the decisions are usually not one individual’s; they are decisions of governments or parts of governments. And if you want to control conflict by law, then you have to be able to say that decision-makers and leaders have the responsibility.

Lana Pasic: I would also like to talk about different type of state responsibility and trials. Some of the war crimes are now tried in Bosnia. In light of this, and Bosnia’s structural and institutional challenges, does the Bosnian state have a responsibility for conducting the trials on its own?

Sir Geoffrey Nice: Many people regard it as preferable that war crime trials should be conducted in a local setting, as soon as possible and whenever possible, unless it is either too dangerous or too difficult to do. Of course, international tribunals, which are hugely expensive, can only manage a very limited number of cases, and for this reason alone it is preferable that the trials are conducted at local courts.

I don’t know enough about the local Bosnian courts and how efficiently they work, but I think that it might have been a very good idea to conduct as many as possible [a number] of trials there. It would have served several beneficial purposes in the region; it would have been better, arguably, than trials being dealt with remotely and sent down to Bosnia or Serbia, almost as entertainment television.

Lana Pasic: In a context of local trials, and thinking of the examples such as the Rwandan gachacha system and the TRC in South Africa, I can’t help but wonder if this kind of system within the community, or at least within the country might have raised greater awareness about the truth, about common history, understanding what has happened, and eventually, through a long and difficult process to reconciliation.

Sir Geoffrey Nice: I think most people would think that functioning truth commissions were more likely to achieve these results than simple trial systems.  But for truth commissions to be effective, you have to have a starting point of willingness by all sides to reveal the truth having a common purpose in doing so.

In South Africa it was comparatively straightforward, there were just two parties, one was in power and the other one was not but was compelled by various factors to engage. In somewhere like Bosnia where you’ve got Bosniaks, Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Croats and other minorities, under absolutely uninspiring leadership, where are you going to find leadership that could make a truth commission successful?

Lana Pasic: In spite of all the flaws that the institution has, the work of tribunal continues. Considering the contemporary global context of recent uprisings and the case of Syria, there have been some indications that certain individuals from Libya and Syria might be tried in tribunals similar to that of the former Yugoslavia. Where do you see this going forward?

Geoffrey Nice: Well, offences committed by individuals in Syria of course can be tried in the permanent International Criminal Court, and that is what they have been considering doing. Unlike in the case of Libya, there seems to be political reluctance from the Security Council to do this. It may be that being too willing to refer a case to the ICC limits your ability to negotiate politically a diplomatic solution to the problem.

But in theory, they can be tried. It is unlikely that there will be another ad hoc tribunal of the Yugoslav model, certainly [not] in the short term. The ICC, despite its flaws, has an important role to play and it is better to see the whole thing as a work in progress and keep a firm eye on advantages that do flow from these courts.

Lana Pasic: Thank you so much for you time Sir Geoffrey, it has been most interesting.

Looking for More Publications?

Find articles in the Central And Eastern European Online Library (CEEOL)

Buy articles and e-books for Amazon Kindle

The Croatian Tourism Industry and Outlook for 2013: Interview with Peter Fuchs editor’s note: in the following interview by Director Chris Deliso with Peter Fuchs, CEO of Valamar Hotels and Resorts Croatia, readers are treated to an inside view of Croatian tourism from an industry leader in charge of Croatia’s biggest hospitality provider.

In the interview, Mr Fuchs discusses everything from his company’s holdings and activities to the challenges and opportunities that face Croatia  as it tries to modernlze and diversify its tourism offerings while finding creative ways to lengthen the tourism season. In the interview, Mr Fuchs voices his optimism that imminent EU membership will help the already strong Croatian tourism sector compete further on the European and world tourism market, and notes the benefits of recently increased air routes to Croatian destinations.

Introducing Valamar

Chris Deliso: Please tell us a little more about Valamar, which I understand is the biggest hospitality provider in Croatia. When was the company established, and what good practices did you use to develop and establish a dominant position?

Peter Fuchs: We are the leading Croatian hospitality management company, operating 39 properties situated on the Adriatic coast, with a major presence in two of the main tourist regions in Croatia, Istria and Dubrovnik. Valamar is the first Croatian hotel brand, present on the market since 2004, and represents a combination of international standards of service quality, Mediterranean gastronomic enjoyment and Croatian hospitality.

Balkanalysis-Interview with Peter Fuchs Valamar Croatia

“Croatia is becoming more and more interesting to foreign tourists, and I believe that its EU entrance will help raise awareness about Croatia,” attests Mr Fuchs.

We hold around 10% of overall Croatian categorized capacities which makes us the largest tourism portfolio owner managed by one company. We operate 23 hotels, seven apartment villages and nine campsites.

Our dominant position lies in the fact that we have the capacity for around 40,000 guests at almost 40 properties of various kinds. But of course that is not enough. We invest a lot in people. The hospitality industry makes the most of its business in service, and service is provided by people. We are aware of how important it is to attract the best people in the industry- not only managers but also the best chefs, waiters and other specialists.

Another factor behind our success is our lean management structure. We are completely focused on guest satisfaction. Our service approach is driven by the idea that each guest should leave our care carrying lasting memories of Valamar and our destinations. Our size and structure is also a very important factor explaining our success. Valamar as a management company focuses on sales and marketing activities, purchase department, operations management, HR and all other internal services. That makes us additionally competitive on the market.

Online Upgrades Increase Bookings

CD: You have recently announced your new website. What increased functionality does it have? How do you project it will help visitors and drive business?

PF: Our development of the new website was based on feedback we have received from our visitors at our old website. Our marketing department made a thorough analysis and thanks to their efforts and global trends we have been following, we created a completely different web page with clarified design, simple architecture and upgraded and optimized content. In the hospitality industry, content is very important – guests decide on their travel destinations based on picture, advice and on how well we manage to convey the experience of our destination.

In the hospitality business,  creating our own booking service has been a high priority since we want to have more reservations through our own channels. This also has a strong influence on our business. If we compare January 2012 with January this year, just through having the new web page we have generated 20% growth in online reservations and 30% growth in revenues.

Challenges to Tourism Operators in Croatia

CD: What are the biggest challenges to operating in Croatia? On the other hand, what are the best benefits the country offers- aside from the obvious sea, islands and history?

PF: Well, various taxes and administrative burdens are something that has a huge impact on doing business in Croatia. We are paying many taxes that are influencing our business on a daily basis. Our holding company, Valamar Adria Holding is one of the biggest investors in Croatian tourism. The Croatian government has made some steps towards improving the investment climate, and I hope that the new national tourism strategy – presented a few days ago by the minister of tourism – will additionally help Croatia to become one of the top 20 destinations in the world. Certainly, there is room for improvement in the current building and land legislation.

I would also like to see an educational system that would allow students of tourism schools, colleges and universities to receive an educated focused more on the practical side of the business, and to be able to respond to the market demands much better and faster. There is a gap in expertise in specific tourism knowledge like F&B specialists and operations managers and that is for sure a challenge for the whole Croatian tourism industry.

Croatia is a beautiful country, a true Mediterranean jewel. The biggest advantage of the country is its beautiful clean sea, untouched nature and traditional way of living. This is one of the best places in the world to live, with a very high quality of life. Therefore, it must be also a great place for tourists to visit and spend some time here.

Client Profiles and Target Audiences

CD: What is the typical tourist profile for Valamar, and does it vary between the hotels and residential properties? In terms of nationality, median age, place of residence, time of visit, etc?

PF: By definition, we are a leisure tourism company. Most of our guests are families and couples, but since we are building a strong MICE segment also, we have many business groups and individuals that are business-related. Our northern destinations like Poreč, Rabac or Krk are more family oriented, while Dubrovnik is more visited by couples, groups and elderly people. Istria is naturally very interesting to guests with specific interests, because of additional offers like hiking, biking or wine and gastronomic tourism offers.

Although our guests come from all over the Europe, our priority markets are Germany, Austria, Slovenia, France, Italy, Scandinavia and the UK. Most of them are aged between 25 and 45. Our camping guests, on the other hand, comprise a very specific market: most of them come from Germany, Austria and Slovenia, and visit us from April to November. Last year, our camping business did very well.

Croatian Tourism: Predictions for 2013

CD: What do you predict for Croatian tourism in 2013? Increase, decrease, and why?

PF: In 2012, Valamar enjoyed a growth rate of 7.8% in overnights and 14% in total revenue compared to 2011. Croatia is becoming more and more interesting to foreign tourists, and I believe that its EU entrance will help raise awareness about Croatia as a beautiful and safe country for nice and relaxing holidays. Last year Croatia as a destination did very well. There were many factors for that success; for sure, the uncertainties of the Arab Spring and the Greek crisis did help Croatia to have many more tourists, but I believe that Croatia has also become a top choice for many travelers who want to discover a new European jewel and a peaceful oasis in the middle of Europe. This year, Croatia will be a very interesting destination for not only European, but also Asian and other overseas guests.

The Impact of EU Membership on Croatian Tourism

CD: In your opinion, what will EU membership do for Croatian tourism and in particular your company? Is there anything – whether legislation, competition, consumer inflation, or other factors – that will affect your success and the success of the country as a whole?

PF: The investment climate in Croatia is getting better but there is still a lot to be done to remove administrative burdens for doing business and for investments. EU entrance could help by speeding up those processes. Croatia is at the moment enduring a relatively difficult economic situation and tourism is one of the most important industries, supporting GDP substantially.

Economic indicators show that Croatia will benefit from EU entrance. This will reflect on tourism too, and have some positive impacts. In Valamar we traditionally serve mostly foreign European guests. Entering the EU will additionally promote Croatia as an interesting destination.

Valamar sees an opportunity in the coming years, hence we are heavily investing in our properties and quality of service. In 2013, we are investing around 23 million euros in our properties. Our biggest investment is in Hotel Valamar Sanfior in Rabac, in Istria, which will become a four-star property for leisure guests with discerning demands. Our second biggest investment is in one of our best campsites on the Adriatc coast, Camping Krk on Krk island. It has its own pool, spa area, mobile homes with satellite TV and their own yard, beautiful beaches and essentially the full infrastructure of a hotel, under open skies. These investments, together with Croatia’s EU entrance, are making us set optimistic goals for the coming season.

The Challenge of Diversification and Destination Management

CD: In what ways do you see Croatia being able to diversify its tourism offering to becoming a more year-round destination, if this is possible?

PF: Croatia unfortunately still isn’t a year-round destination, and that is a huge challenge for Croatian tourism in general. That is also one of our priorities in Valamar. How can we bring a guest to Dubrovnik or Istria out of the season and provide him with memorable experiences? Property services are not enough. This year for the first time, we are having two hotels remain open for the whole year (Valamar Lacroma in Dubrovnik and Valamar Diamant in Poreč).

Croatia has a lack of destination management (DMC), quality management of destination that would strongly impact Croatian tourism in general, and naturally Valamar. Foreigners still don’t know that Dubrovnik, the former Dubrovnik Republic [of Ragusa], is the cradle of modern diplomacy and even when they come to Dubrovnik there are few developed offerings about history. The development of such products will have a strong influence on Croatian tourism in the future, and that is a challenge for a tourism country such Croatia.

On the other hand, through providing financial support, the ministry of tourism has done a good job of stimulating air traffic in the pre- and post-season periods. For example, this year we have had, for the first time, direct Croatia Airlines flights to Dubrovnik from some major European cities. This had a very positive impact on tourist arrivals to Dubrovnik this winter, and it is one of the main drivers for tourists to visit certain destinations- first of all, to have a suitable way of getting there.

Looking for More Publications?

Find articles in the Central And Eastern European Online Library (CEEOL)

Buy articles and e-books for Amazon Kindle

Boosting Contemporary Art in Romania: Interview with Mihai Suta and Dan Vuletici Editor’s Note: in this extraordinary new interview, Director Chris Deliso documents the experience and ideas of two visionary young Romanians working hard to develop and promote contemporary art in their country. Chris spoke recently with the pair, Mihai Suta and Dan Vuletici at the arty Scârţ loc lejer bar in their city of Timisoara to learn more about their project for proliferating contemporary art more widely. The project, taking place in one of Romania’s traditional cultural capitals, is meant to help the artists. Yet it also seeks to challenge the accepted understanding of art in Romania, the perception of its audience make-up, and the power structures that control its distribution and exhibition- all with a little help from the social Web and a spirit of volunteerism.

Mihai Suta studied economics and political science at Timisoara University. He then worked for several years as a business developer for private investors in Romania, Hungary and Austria, and did the same for several multinationals in the last two years- while also devoting plenty of time in 2012 to the new art project.

Dan Vuletici finished high school and university of fine arts, worked at various local agencies as a web/print designer then moved to London to build social websites for major corporations such as BBC Channel 4, Sony, Orange and more. Between these jobs, he also developed his painting skills, which he has turned into a profession as an artist.


Origins of the Project

Chris Deliso: So, let’s start with some background- tell me about your project. How did you decide to start it?

Mihai Suta: We didn’t start it, actually- at first, we were just meeting for coffee. But then, as we developed it, over the past year my free time has become increasingly focused on the project’s strategy, design and concept.

Dan Vuletici: Over these coffees, I would tell Mihai about my problem as an artist- you know, having a lot of works I had created, but not enough spaces where I could exhibit them.

MS: I had already been wanting to get involved in art somehow-

CD: Why did you want to get involved with art?

MS: I am originally from Satu Mare, in Satu Mare county in the north of Romania, but I studied economic and political science here in Timisoara. However, on a personal level I was already connected to the arts. I used to be a singer and I played the gorduna, which is like something between a cello and contrabass, a very unique instrument from Northern Romania. And then one day, much later, I came across my own instrument- in the Brussels Museum of Instruments.

CD: What! How on earth did that happen?

MS: After I ended my playing days, my teacher didn’t have enough money and sold it. I recognized my instrument, there are only a few in the country like it. It took a bit of time to explain to the people in the museum. But I knew the scratches, where I had dropped it on the train once. It was a very strong experience, and it reminded me of the arts.

CD: That’s amazing. It must have been a big surprise.

The Timisoara project is “based on a new idea in Europe, about social entrepreneurship based on the actual market situation,” attests Mihai Suta. “As a society, we need to become more humane in our approach to the economy.”

MS: Yes, it was. And then this planning happened over time, and lots of conversations with Dan. We were going to the same coffeehouses, and we talked about it for a long time until it developed-

DV: There was a general feeling, among other artists too, that somebody had to do something about the situation of not having enough exhibition space in Timisoara. And I wanted personally to exhibit more of my art.

CD: So this is where you started to see an opportunity?

MS: Yes, that’s right. As an economist, this is how I approach things- okay, we have a problem, so let’s find how to solve it, to see how something can be done.

CD: So in this particular case, what was the actual problem with the exhibition space? Are there not enough art galleries in Timisoara? Or do they only display limited works?

DV: Well, there’s always a lot of mumbo-jumbo dealing with galleries in this region. And they take 40 percent or even more of artists’ profits-

CD: Wow! I don’t know anything about this area, but that seems like a lot.

DV: Then you have to answer to the curator- he has to like your work, which is ridiculous, because they’re usually not artists themselves.

MS: So it creates a problem that shouldn’t be there. This problem led to our basic concept- you don’t need anything for a gallery exhibition space, except a wall.

The Situation for Artists in Timisoara

CD: Interesting… a very simple concept.

MS: That is how we ended up with the idea. I started by looking at it from the business perspective, researching the art market in Romania, the situation with the galleries in the country, and I asked what we would need. In the end, I tried to strip it down to the essence. I only saw the walls. This is what we need.

CD: So you envisioned a particular idea for a type of exhibition space that would work?

DV: Exactly, a place with a little peace and quiet to enjoy looking at art. Obviously you can’t hold it in a kebab shop. That’s the thing. Artists here in Timisoara, and in Romania in general are very annoyed with how galleries operate.

CD: Tell me, does Timisoara have a large artistic community?

DV: There are so many artists in this town. They are more than it might appear, because of the lack of exhibition space. I would say that 90 percent of the artists in this town do not exhibit here.

CD: Really! It sounds difficult. But do you mean that they don’t exhibit their works at all, or they just go somewhere else?

DV: Yes, most of them don’t exhibit- or they get stuck looking for some other places.

MS: We have discovered this, since we started exhibiting with ten or so artists… and the others have heard about our exhibitions, and more keep coming, asking if they can join and exhibit through us too.

Art Buyers in Romania

CD: So tell me then, with this big supply of artists, and some amount of interest, what is the typical profile of the art buyers here? And how many are there, anyway?

MS: In general, the art buyers in Romania are those persons who have the money and interest in buying works of art. There are about 30 of them in Timisoara, another 30 in Cluj-Napoca, and 200 or so in Bucharest. You can’t call it a market- this is a niche.

DV:  And the galleries flood them with paintings, and their own projects. This is why they only exhibit the most known artists.

CD: You mean, the Romanian artists who happen to be most famous in the country?

Addressing the challenges facing Romanian artists today, Dan Vuletici affirms that “we want our project to come to be seen by new artists as something that gives them hope.”

MS: Yes, they’re the ones who they’re sure about- that is, the gallery owners are sure they can sell their works, to the very small percentage of people in Romania who actually buy art. But in doing so, they are making a normal business, which is something we don’t want to do.

FA91A2: The Project without a Name

CD: What is it you want to do, then?

MS:  The project has two sides. From the economic point of view, we would of course like to create a market for artists, so that they can make a living doing their work. And through the artists, we would also have another opportunity to promote local culture.

From the second point of view, the social idea, this is to exhibit art to those who don’t usually go to galleries and see art. Ninety percent of these people here are living in those old communist apartment blocs and work in factories.

DV: The ridiculous thing is that every family in town has at least one painting, or a photo, something artistic, on their walls. They could have an original artwork for the same price!

MS: And those items are usually not art, just copies of art.

CD: So you would like to introduce art to those people who are not used to looking for it, but who might like it if they knew about it. Is that correct? It seems like a very unusual and interesting way of going about it.

MS: Yes. We identified this as a chance to build a market in a very unconventional way. This can be explained by the logo which Dan designed based on the idea- a pink dot, made with a single stroke of a brush.

CD: Why pink?

MS: Because it is a combination of two colors- orange and violet. Orange stands for creativity and artists, and violet for community. These two colors, when put together, bring out this shade of pink. The brush movement that is a circle represents what we are doing in the project- we are moving art from one place to another, making a circle, a circuit.

CD: Interesting! But what is this project called?

MS: Our idea doesn’t have a name. We have a blog that has the color code in hexadecimal coding.

CD: What? Come on!

DV: No, really, the project doesn’t have a name. If it did, it would stand out in front of the art.

CD: But surely you have some identification for it, otherwise…

MS: Of course- we use the code FA91A2, that is the exact pink colour code we created. We used it since we needed to register the blog. So this is how you call it, just our blog address, FA91A2. And, we will open a similar website, we are still working on it so it is not available, but it will be after December 15 or so, at

CD: This is certainly unusual!

DV:  Yes, unusual, but not completely without precedent, in some ways. I was working as a social web designer when I lived in London, and I learned a lot from the experience of other companies and what they did. Take Apple- they changed their original marketing from the company name to the logo, a shape, which is now what everyone recognizes and associates with the company and its products. We didn’t start with a name- we skipped that stage. The logo explains the project.

What is also present in not having a name, is the idea that what a painting represents to you is always subjective, so you see the painting uniquely from everyone else and they from you. It continues the idea that we don’t have a narrow point of view in talking about or defining art.

CD: I see. So we have this almost ‘anonymous’ approach, and a hesitance to defining art. How does this fit in with or help to achieve your goal with the project?

MS: Well, we want to spread as much art as possible to as many people as possible. They will create the market, not us. And this is because artists get their input and their inspiration from the society they live in. therefore it is more appropriate that the people in a community select the art- not one curator or a few specialists. Certainly not us either.

CD: You’re an economist and you’re both obviously in touch with all of the technology and trends. I say this because from all of this it sounds like it has crowdsourcing and other applications. So how are your backgrounds and expertise being used in leading this project?

MS: Well, we find that our backgrounds have relevance in all three dimensions of the project. First it’s a social project. We take contemporary art to the people, those who usually wouldn’t access anything. On the other hand it’s also a cultural project, a structure for artists to put their work out there, and to be seen by as many people as possible.

And third, it benefits our partners, including companies. This is why we have started working with multinationals. which employ thousands of people. They have the most to gain, because we don’t charge anything for filling their corporate space with artworks. They have benefit in the sphere of corporate social responsibility and public relations-

CD: Ah yes, they’re seen as doing something cultural.

DV: Well yes, it is good for them because they get involved with an art project. But they will also have a different connection to their employees by fostering this interaction. And somehow we are connecting the artists to the wider community, and those who might appreciate their work, whether or not they would have found out about these artists some other way or not.

Funding and Cost Issues

CD: So inevitably, we get to the question of funding, as it seems like a lot of work for you to do. How do you manage to keep going and what kind of support do you get? Do you charge artists some commissions?

DV: We don’t charge artists at all- on our blog, next to the images of each artwork we have prices, if someone wants to buy that piece. But we don’t take any commission from the artists unless they want to give us something. If they want to give us a coffee, or even a handshake, we will accept!

The swirly pink dot- mysterious symbol of the FA91A2 (click to visit the project’s blog).

MS: It’s the same with our partners. They are free to help us if they want. An example is two companies in the city who are sympathetic to the project. They don’t have the capacity to exhibit our art on their space, but they do have vans. They said, ‘look, if you need to transport your art we will let you use the car.’ That’s also the crowdsourcing thing. Even volunteers. Anyone who wants to join can.

CD: I understand how that works, but still there must be some fixed costs somewhere that can’t be left to possible donation?

MS: Of course we have fixed costs, for which we are accountable. But we don’t announce these as specific costs that others need to absorb. If there is anyone with whom the project resonates, and they have something to give, that’s great. Even what you are doing for us right now- if you want to make our project publicized on your website, this is also a huge help, even if it can’t be quantified.

DV: But also, we wouldn’t want to grow faster than we can reasonably do it. We would like to get as many unconventional galleries as we can, but not to rush beyond our capacities.

First Exhibitions, Feedback and New Results

CD: So then, what news do you have about progress? How many exhibitions have you held, and where have these exhibitions taken place?

MS: We started implementing the project on 28 September [2012], at the headquarters of CEC Bank in Timisoara. This is one of the biggest and oldest banks in the country. They gave us two floors. We filled this space with 42 paintings by 10 young local artists.

CD: Why did you choose a bank to use as your gallery?

MS: Well, customer traffic in the bank is about 20,000 persons a month. This bank specifically is quite long-established, it was working as a bank in the communist era and earlier, so it is very well known and used by retired people and the old generations, which is good for us. And of course, 20,000 people a month would be very many for a ‘regular’ art gallery here!

CD: What kind of feedback did you get from this event?

DV: It was 100 percent positive. People all said it was a good idea, ‘yeah, go on with it!’ People helped us put the paintings up. Certain people in the professional art field were informed about it too, and they gave us some contacts, influential people who are very interested in art, and so we were able to send a lot of invitations out to the opening event.

MS: And that event provided a great boost too. We were mentioned in six local media outlets. This helped us, the project, the bank, and of course the artists- we can say that about 90 percent of their paintings that we put up there had not been exhibited before, so for them, this was huge.

CD: That’s a great achievement, congratulations to you and to them. But tell us, how do you decide which artists and which works? And how do you decide the value of them? I don’t know anything about art, I wouldn’t be able to judge anyway. So what are your guidelines?

DV: First of all, we try to promote young artists, from the average ages of 24 to 34. And what is most interesting, the artists evaluate their own paintings and they decide.

MS: We did get some offers from specialists- they said, ‘okay, I like your project, and I will evaluate this art and tell you my opinion of its worth.’ But we declined. We wanted to let them, the artists, to tell us the price.

DV: It also goes for names. Why should someone outside the process get to give a painting a certain name? You’re the artist, you can name it what you want- it’s your painting!

MS: Yes, in every way, we try to strip off unnecessary barriers. For our first exhibition, fortunately the showing was seen by the vice-president of the bank-

CD: of the whole bank, you mean, from Bucharest?

MS: Yes, the vice-president of the whole bank. And he was so impressed with it that he said we can have this Timisoara branch as a permanent, free gallery. The manager agreed, it will be permanent and every 30 days we will change the paintings. Since then, we have also opened a new gallery in TRW Automotives, an American company with 3000 employees. The space there is a 170 sqm cafeteria for their workers.

CD: For their workers?

MS: Well, as we said, with the social aspect of our project, these are the kind of people who don’t get to access art generally, but they are part of the community, and they should get this chance. It may open a new interest in them, it improves the working environment, and it is good for the company too of course.

CD: So how else has this early success carried over? Did the original push lead to more interest?

DV: Until now, we have gotten seven or eight companies that want to show our work. Among them was another bank, which approached us and said they would like to offer exhibition space.

MS: Also, Hostel Costel, which as you know is very popular with young international travelers in our city, is now part of this project, which makes a great way for young local artists to be seen by more international viewers, many of whom come to love the city and Romania in general. And the national theatre has agreed to host us.

CD: What do you plan for the coming period in terms of exhibitions?

MS: We have decided to focus on the three newest galleries we opened this month and another four we will open in December. In total, we want to close this year with eight galleries containing the works of around 20-22 local artists.

So since our first exhibition, we have also been contacted by another multinational, DURA Auto, and in the next month we will surely have seven galleries. Altogether these include CEC Bank, Leman Industrie, TRW Automotive, DURA Auto, Hostel Costel, and the popular alternative café and bar, Aethernative.

Finally, we have gotten approval from the biggest of all- Timisoara City Hall. They have agreed to our project and with their three floors, they have a huge space, enough to hold all 17 artists we have gotten ‘til now and all 80-plus works we exhibit now. We’re still looking for another space, since our target is eight galleries by the end of the year. The value of the paintings we have rose from around 6000 euros in the first month to almost 40000 euros in the second month!

CD: Wow, that is all really impressive.

MS: Something that is also very interesting from the social perspective, is that we will work with the county hospital.

CD: The hospital- you mean by doing this to cheer up the patients? It is a captive audience alright.

MS: Well, like any hospital in the world, of course it can be difficult for patients stuck there. But here there really was no color, nothing to look at. So, more color in the hospital was the idea. Anything that would improve conditions for the patients, and also the people who visit them, and the employees. And we had a meeting with the manager and he agreed we will choose the paintings according to the people who go there.

Economic Solutions and Web Models for the Project

CD: That sounds like a kind initiative, and you are certainly making very fast progress. But do you think this can become self-perpetuating? Are there any business or marketing models you follow to manage this, from your personal backgrounds?
MS: I will explain how I got to this point, and how the strategy was devised. As I said, I began from seeing a problem, and then thought how to solve it. I said, okay, we want to do this project, and we looked in our pockets- zero [money]. So I started researching economic approaches to zero-budget solutions regarding a need. I found some examples from India, in Gandhian economics and that way of finding solutions. I was inspired by that and by others who created something from nothing.

If we think about it from this perspective, our first gallery represented one of the biggest public surfaces in Timisoara. In the end, everything that we did to get the space, get the art, transport and install the art, cost us around 10 euros. That is the budget for an artistic gallery, whose contents are worth maybe over 10,000 euros!

CD: This is very resourceful of you!

DV: Well, we Romanians are resourceful people [laughing]. You can definitely say it is characteristic of us. As a Web guy, now I am trying to translate the recent Western European and US experience with crowdsourcing and crowdfunding platforms like Indigogo and Kickstarter. What aspects of these platforms and ideas can work in Romania? What is the best way to develop this experience? We have to address this.

MS: As I said, we do have needs, for money and so on, but it can’t always be counted as a sum, especially because we are open to unexpected opportunities. So in the case of this interview, if we would have contacted a foreign newspaper, for example, to promote us, we would have had to pay something, maybe 500 euros or more. But you are doing this interview for free, simply because you heard about our project and you liked the idea.

CD: Well, it is a good idea you have. So how do people get involved who might be interested?

MS: Anyone can help, they just need to contact us- in person, or by email []. And it doesn’t need to be help with money, of course if there is some small sum they want to offer that is great. But it is a big help if they know a space for exhibitions they can recommend, or want to suggest an artist- hey, even a nail also good for us. We can hang a painting from it!

DV: Yes. If our project is something that resonates with people, we are happy for any kind of support.

A Profit in Romanian Art? Future Goals

CD: So what do you envision for the future of this project? Suppose it really becomes a hit, and you manage to get artists out there and people want to buy their paintings. Can you see yourself making a standard commission? After all, you are talking about this first from the background of economic research, and you have spent a lot of your time on it, so I am assuming there is financial profit in it somewhere?

MS: The companies that we work with, we will eventually get to ask them for covering the operating costs at least. But not based on what we sell, but on what they are willing to give. We won’t say we need this amount- we will just say we have costs, here is a donation form.

If we start selling art, which after a certain amount of time we will, the artists will help us as it is in their own interest to create the market. Once we create a market, the opportunities are endless. But it’s a long-term project. In 10 years, people will, I hope, have gotten exposed to contemporary art through what we are starting now. If they see it once or twice every day, they will start to resonate with art. If out of 10,000 people, we reach even 100, it’s still a very good thing.

CD: That is understood, but to give me some general idea- what are the sort of prices that artists have been putting on their own work so far been?

MS: We have paintings ranging from 45 to 1000 euros. Romanians are not generally rich, but this means that a person who earns only 250 euros a month can, at least once a year buy a good piece of artwork.

DV: We want our project to come to be seen by new artists as something that gives them hope. The financing is mostly based on the concept of humanity, not corporate. The existing structure now is limiting, and doesn’t give them hope.

CD: Do you think that you can actually change the structure? I don’t know my art history, but it sort of reminds me of that alternative gallery in Paris in the 19th century where future famous painters like Manet showed their works? It was called the ‘gallery of the amateurs’ or something like that…

DV: Actually, it was called the ‘Gallery of the Rejects.’ Yes, it seems similar in some ways. Those people were trying to find a way of showing the works that the accepted Salon would not.

CD: Is there a feeling among the young artists in Timisoara today of being rejected in some way?

DV: It’s not really so much a feeling of being rejected, just not having enough opportunities to show their work. In Romania, it’s normal experience for artists to get turned down on a regular basis when asking to exhibit. Obviously a curator is going to choose someone who he knows will sell, so if it is a young artist who doesn’t have a name yet, the chances to sell the work are much lower.

But with our project it is quite simple. We have this structure and the artists can do whatever they like. If they want to be part of it, they are invited. We are not judging, we let the viewers decide what they like.

CD: Do you have any plans to widen your project to include other kinds of art, or it will remain strictly paintings?

MS: Yes, we are also thinking of expanding to photography and sculpture, but that is for the future. We didn’t focus on it yet. Sculpture is nice, but from the logistics point of view, it is quite expensive. So we decided to focus on paintings for now.

DV: This is another thing, if we get a budget, we will love to offer things like framing services.

CD: Aha- so you could capitalize on derivative businesses associated with art?

MS: Yes, and also we can rent space for art for business. We want to have a whole database of paintings so that we can, say, go to a lawyer’s office and say, ‘hey, your walls are bare,’ and show him what we can offer to sell them or rent them for a month. So that is for the future, after we have built the market.

CD: Have you gotten any outside feedback or interest from foreign artists?

DV: We were contacted by some people, yes, a Dutch sculptor for example who said he would like to lend some of his sculptures for us to exhibit. There have been others, including some Romanian artists in Vienna who said that they want to take part, but we are not capable yet financially- but we will eventually.

MS: This project will become our full-time occupation someday; we have the structure and the processes. This is what I do- logistics and operations. After I have an idea, I get to answer the ‘why’ question its very important for the motivation of the whole strategy.

CD: So what is the answer to this ‘why’ question?

MS: Well, I can tell you that ‘I need to make a profit’ is not the answer to the ‘why’ question. The answer would be that we want art to reach as many people as possible- then we can ask how. Then we can find an answer to what we need in order to get this solved. And so on. I have worked in management and strategy for festivals, for multinational corporations, and so on. As a project manager, I had to deal with the same kind of issues: handling a lot of information, and finding quick, cost-effective solutions.

This is all based on a new idea in Europe, about social entrepreneurship based on the actual market situation. As a society, we need to become more humane in our approach to the economy. I believe there will be a change in the paradigm in business in the following years. Obviously what is happening now in Europe with the economic crisis, this is not sustainable.

CD: So, you see your project as contributing to a new economic model. Does this mean that you envision people doing the same thing as you in other places?

MS: For our contribution, we are set on art. We have a project, but we do not try to make a monopoly on the idea. Of course, we can help out anyone who is interested with information and logistics and planning. The idea is simple but there is a structure. If people in other countries see a value in following our model, that is great. They just have to know what they want to do and how to implement the project where they are. And we will be glad to help them if asked. Well, you know we have an identity, the name is a little weird, but still it is more like a movement.

CD: Well, this certainly seems like an interesting project, and we wish you a lot of luck. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk today.

MS: Thank you too, we appreciate it!

Looking for More Publications?

Find articles in the Central And Eastern European Online Library (CEEOL)

Buy articles and e-books for Amazon Kindle


The Mystery of Macedonia’s Islamic Manuscripts: Interview with Mesut Idriz Editor’s note: while an October exhibition of Macedonian medieval manuscripts in Brussels incited protests from the government in Sofia over historical issues, there is another collection of texts in the country about which relatively little is known- that is, Macedonia’s Islamic manuscript collection, a legacy from Ottoman times.

In this intriguing new interview, Director Chris Deliso gets the insights of Prof. Dr. Mesut Idriz, an expert on the subject who has done considerable research on the history, identity and preservation possibilities of Islamic manuscripts from Macedonia.

A native of Macedonia, Dr. Idriz received his graduate and doctoral degrees from the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC) at the International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM). Previously, he also studied in Syria. Currently he is Professor at the Department of Political Science and Sociology at the International University of Sarajevo. Dr Idriz has also served as Head of the Department of Political Science and International Relations and was Founding Director of the Center for Intercultural Dialogue and Education at Hasan Kalyoncu University (then, Gazikent University). Dr Idriz has taught at both the International Islamic University of Malaysia and the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC), and was Chief Editor (Academics) at MPH Group Publishing (Kuala Lumpur). He is also a regular Visiting Professor at the International Summer School (PISU) of Prishtina University, Kosovo, teaching a special course on “Public Diplomacy in the Balkans.”

In addition, Dr Idriz has published, edited and translated numerous academic books and articles concerning the Balkans, Ottoman and Muslim history, Islamic civilization, the history of Islamic education (particularly the tradition of ijazah, diploma). Among his books is The Ijazah of ‘Abdullah Fahim: A Unique Document from Islamic Education, analyzing and translating into English the Former Prime Minister of Malaysia Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s Grandfather’s ijazah. He is co-English translator of HE Ali Akbar Velayeti’s voluminous work, Mawsū‛ah al-Islām wa Irān (The Encyclopedia of Islam and Iran). Dr Idriz’s works have been published in English, Turkish, Albanian, Persian, French and Malay. He recently co-edited Turkish-Albanian Macedonian Relations: Past, Present and Future (2012), and is currently co-editing Islam in Europe: Past Reflections and Future Prospects for Oxford University Press (2014).


Chris Deliso: You provided a wealth of new information in a paper of last year entitled ‘An evaluation of the current state of Islamic manuscripts in Macedonia and future prospects.’ Can you tell us a little about your motivations for getting interested in the subject in the first place, and in taking the time to research it? What makes the Islamic manuscripts of your country significant to you?

Mesut Idriz: The manuscript literature of the Islamic world is a vast area of study; these manuscripts contain an as-yet almost untapped source for the rich Islamic heritage. [Islamic] manuscripts have been studied for quite a long time, and many are well-known. However, even more of them remain still unknown, or at least insufficiently appreciated. Nowadays, these manuscripts are not the exclusive preserve of Arab and Muslim countries, or even countries with large Muslim minorities, like the Balkan region. Islamic manuscripts are found extensively in Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia, Australia, and Japan. There is hardly a country in the world that does not possess some manuscripts produced under the aegis of Muslim civilization.

According to Dr. Idriz, in Macedonia “the number of manuscripts outside of the official institutions might reach into the tens of thousands in total.”

It is estimated that three million Islamic manuscripts survive today. These are normally held either in private collections or by public libraries. They are always highly valued by their holders. Some private holders may remain unaware of the value of what they have in their collections; yet they are often reluctant or unwilling to share information about them. Islamic manuscripts in Macedonia and those housed in the St Clement of Ohrid National and University Library in Skopje are highly significant and part of the Muslim heritage, endowed by scholars and government officials throughout the Ottoman rule.

CD: Your overview of the Islamic manuscripts in, and arriving in Macedonia during the Ottoman period was comprehensive, but can you give us any examples of specific highlights- either particularly valuable pieces, whether for aesthetic or artistic reasons, or rarity of content, or quality of writing, or other factors?

MI: A large number of manuscripts written in all the three Muslim languages (Arabic, Ottoman-Turkish and Persian) represent authentic small masterpieces of the Islamic calligraphers, illuminators and book binders. It is assumed that among the manuscripts written in Arabic language, Some of their authors probably originate from Macedonia. They are Muhammad Vahdetî ibn Muhammad el-Üskübî and Şeyh Sinani Mustafa ibn Mahmud el-Üskübî, both from Skopje, judging by their nisbe indicated at the end of their names, as well as Abdurrahman ibn Hasan ibn Abdurrahman el-Debrevî, originating from Debar. All these manuscripts are original works, which should be studied by academics and students pursuing their doctoral degrees.

CD: Similarly, about the languages used in the manuscripts- are they generally in Arabic, or in Turkish, Persian or other languages? Are there any written in Balkan languages?

MI: I have not been able to go through each book available in the National and University Library but we are informed that they are in the Arabic, Ottoman-Turkish and Persian languages. I have come across some manuscripts written in Albanian and Bosnian – using the Arabic alphabet – but these books can be found [only] in the private hands of individuals around Macedonia.

Macedonia and the Balkans’ First Ottoman Library

CD: You mentioned that the first Islamic library in the Balkans was created in Macedonia, by Ottoman Commander Isa Beg in 1469. You add that he donated 330 rare manuscripts to it. Are any of these original texts still surviving? If so, are they in the country or in outside museums or private collections?

MI: [The 330] rare manuscripts donated by the Ottoman Commander Isa Beg during the 15th century may not all be available today, but it is believed that most of the original works are still surviving, and are housed in the National and University Library.

CD: You write that following the end of the Ottoman Empire Macedonia inherited over 20,000 Islamic manuscripts but that the vagaries of time, the two world wars and theft have affected this figure. So what is the known number that survived post-1945? And, as far as the issue of stolen manuscripts from this period goes, are there any unique stories about where they ended up and if any have been recovered?

MI: The exact number actually is not known. In various venues I have been suggesting that a small center employing a dynamic team should be established. This team should conduct a comprehensive survey around Macedonia and prepare a detailed list of Islamic manuscripts found in the individual libraries, tekkes, centers of learning, etc. As far as the issue of stolen manuscripts is concerned, nothing has been so far published about their whereabouts, or stories about them, except for certain information that we have been receiving through word-of-mouth, typically, from elderly people. But theft of manuscripts is not the only issue we have. For instance, the bell of the clock-tower in Skopje (Saat, in Sultan Murat Mosque) was stolen and still today no one has written or investigated the matter in depth.

CD: Of the maniscripts that were preserved, you write that the majority of local collectors were Sufi mystics. Is there any reason why these particular people had an interest in rare manuscripts, or were other factors involved too?

MI: No, there is no particular reason for that. However, we may assume that Sufi mystics are the lovers of God and they devote themselves in seeking His guidance at all time. After all, God’s first verse revealed to the Prophet Muhammad is iqra’, which means “read;” and here the word ‘read’ does not refer merely to the reading of the Holy Book only, but to any knowledge that is beneficial to mankind. Therefore, they paid attention to preserve these books containing knowledge and particularly beneficial ones for mankind. This act of preserving them is considered a noble one.

Knowns and Unknowns

CD: Like any other branch of cultural heritage, Islamic manuscripts might be prone to theft or ‘relocation.’ Are you aware of any attempts at ‘relocating’ any of Macedonia’s Islamic manuscripts in recent years? Where are they stored for safekeeping, and who and how many people have access to them?

MI: With reference to your question, we have to know that there are two groups of Islamic manuscripts in Macedonia, and I call them as “officially known” and “officially unknown” works.

Concerning the former, the majority of them are kept in the National and University Library. In the mid-1980s, the Isa Beg Medrese – not the one that was established by the Ottoman Commander Isa Beg mentioned earlier, though it bears the same name – was founded, and later the Faculty of Islamic Studies of Skopje, under the Islamic Community of Macedonia. The staff of the Library of Isa Beg then began to make a list by hand of the Islamic manuscripts available in their possession. However, a proper catalogue has yet to be produced for either the National and University Library’s or the Isa Beg Library’s collections.

As for “officially unknown” manuscripts, there is no single survey that has been done so far; therefore, how many manuscripts there are, and where, is yet to be established. We are not aware about whether there have been any attempts to ‘relocate’ any kind of manuscripts housed in the official institutions. Access-wise, the manuscripts kept in the National and University Library are open for researchers and students, but the problem is that the catalogues informing about the list and content of the book are not ready and published; therefore, this creates a big problem for researchers. I urge that the list of manuscript available in any library be published and made available for the public. If this happens, the details about the works will be known and hopefully none of them will ‘go missing’ in the future.

CD: While most of the manuscripts are in the capital, therefore, do you still believe that there may be cases of rare or unknown manuscripts perhaps existing in remote village mosques or the attic of some villager’s home, or other such places? Have you personally ever made discoveries of otherwise unknown manuscripts in this way?

MI: Oh yes. That is why it is presumed that the number of manuscripts outside of the official institutions might reach into the tens of thousands in total. And yes, I have come across many, many manuscripts kept in private hands, either inherited from their ancestors or just purchased at some point, or else received as a gift from others. Again, this is why I urge an institution supervised by the government(s) to be established and to employ a group of young researchers, in order to make a comprehensive survey all around Macedonia, and as a result, to produce a detailed list about the Islamic manuscripts available in Macedonia.

Cataloguing Attempts

CD: You have written that ‘some private holders may remain unaware of the value of what they have in their collections.’ So in this light, there are two questions: one, are you aware of any attempts to systematically catalogue the value of Macedonia’s Islamic manuscripts? If so, is there an authorized body or internationally recognized expert or group of experts behind this process?

MI: With regard to the National and University Library’s collection of Islamic manuscripts, certain cataloguing attempts have been made since the 1950s. With the great assistances of Muderris Abdulfettah Rauf, known as Fettah Efendi (1910-1963), who was an expert in all three major Muslim languages, Arabic, Ottoman-Turkish and Persian as well as a famous scholar, this initiative took off. The catalogue began to be prepared in the Macedonian language. However with his sudden death in 1963, this work was somehow put off. After almost four decades, after being appointed to the position of caretaker of these manuscripts, English and Arabic expert Marijana Kavčič began to work on this unaccomplished mission of cataloguing. Marijana should be credited for her marvelous job and acknowledged for her positive contribution as she, in addition to Macedonian, began to prepare the catalogue in the English language, which we consider will have a greater global effect. Unfortunately the fate of cataloguing Arabic Islamic manuscripts did not last long as Marijana began to work in the library in 2005 and left the position in 2008.

In the meantime, with the sponsorship of [Turkish International Development Agency] TIKA, a work on the cataloguing of “officially known” Ottoman-Turkish manuscripts available in Macedonia began in 2003, and was completed and published in 2007 under the title Makedonya Kütüphaneleri Türkçe Yazma Eserler Kataloğu by two academics, Yaşar Aydemir and Abdulkadir Hayber. This important catalogue was produced in the Turkish language. But this work does not have any inventory survey on what we call “officially unknown” manuscripts, and as a result it does not include those manuscripts available in the country’s private collections. To my knowledge, there is a lack of inventory survey, comprehensive cataloguing and digital processing of the Islamic manuscripts available in Macedonia. Further, there is no authorized body or internationally recognized expert or group of experts behind this process.

Manuscript Collectors and Factoring Prices

CD: Following on from that, do you know any private collectors of Macedonian Islamic manuscripts- either inside or outside of the country? If yes, do you have any knowledge of what kind of works may remain ‘hidden’ in their private collections?

MI: Yes, there are a few private collectors of Islamic manuscripts in Macedonia, as well as Islamic manuscripts of the Balkans in general in various parts of the world. I know a few Middle Eastern scholars who possess works that originated from the Balkan region. I have also met a few Europeans who are lovers of Islamic manuscripts who posses original copies from this region. One of the collectors I visited in the United Arab Emirates recently had about 10 Islamic manuscripts that he had acquired from the Balkan region.

CD: To give us some sense of scale, what are some of the highest auction prices or agreed values for other Islamic manuscripts from elsewhere in the world? What is the profile of the kind of persons or groups who purchase such texts?

MI: Very interesting question. I visited a collector who is himself a scholar, who divided his library into two parts: the first for handwritten manuscripts, and the second for published books. Interestingly, his handwritten manuscripts were locked in a vault protected by electronic sensors, which contained almost eleven thousand works. The oldest manuscript he had dated back to the 10th century- something that is really priceless.

In our casual discussion, he mentioned that all of these handwritten manuscripts may be worth over $50 million if he were to sell them.

Some of these collectors are either people who are financially wealthy, and their hobbies include collecting old manuscripts; others are scholars; and some others are just pure businessmen who buy and sell Islamic manuscripts. To my knowledge, the highest price ever paid for an Islamic manuscript was paid for the oldest surviving Holy Book of the Qur’an. Among the well-known personages who collects handwritten Qur’ans is HRH Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei.
CD: In your professional opinion, are there subjective factors involved with the perception of value (i.e., devout Muslims who will buy these objects simply because of the religious or sentimental value) that affects the global market view of their value? How difficult is it to assign or find an objective consensus on the value to these objects compared to other historical items or works of art, given that some collectors will have different motivations for acquiring them? And is this any different than how the market works for other (non-Islamic) historical objects?

MI: To begin with the last question: it is not that different from how the market works for other historical objects, when we look at it in terms of the object’s value at the auction level. Only the sentimental issue adds value to the item for certain people, or sellers try to include the sentimental and/or religious values in order to ‘manipulate’ the market price.

There are definitely subjective factors from the point of view of value perception, as when the historical objects in question are concerned with religion. This is especially the case when it is related to the Holy Book(s), where the global market view might not even be considered when valuing the item(s). Imagine if you tried to put a value on the Holy Qur’an kept in Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. It dates to the period of the Third Caliph ‘Uthman b. ‘Afwan; this item is ‘impossible’ to value, no money can buy it nor be offered for it. There are many similar examples, and not only from the Muslim world. In fact examples from the non-Muslim world exceed those from the Muslim world by many times.

A Turkish-Macedonian Initiative?

CD: The goal you presented in last year’s paper was ‘the cataloging and ultimately digitalizing’ of the Macedonian Islamic manuscripts. Until now, have you managed to attract the attention of any sponsors whether from the government, corporations, universities or other foundations? If so, what is the result?

MI: There are some discussions going on. I have managed to raise this matter with the local Macedonian government officials, with some NGOs, foreign institutions and donors. It is not a difficult process, but still not an easy task. The only thing I can say is “let’s hope” a joint effort takes place between the Turkish and Macedonian governments on this highly significant aspect of Islamic heritage inherited from the Ottoman era.

CD: Among the interested parties in your work you have specified the London-based al-Furqan Foundation and the Institute of Arabic Manuscripts, a project of the Arab League. Both have the goal of collecting and publishing Islamic manuscripts from around the world. Are these groups actively involved in supporting any current or future project in Macedonia related to your idea? If so, what benefit can they, and the Islamic interests of Macedonia, get from this?

MI: I have not been involved with either institution in my personal capacity, except for with the former (Al-Furqan Foundation) which jointly with my former workplace organized a training course on the cataloguing and digitizing process in 2006 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. As for benefits and interests, this is a vast subject. It is not only in the interest of Macedonia only, but of the whole world, higher learning institutions, think-tanks, research centers, and the students and academics.

CD: The Turkish International Cooperation and Coordination Agency, TIKA, has been involved with some research on this field. What is the goal and what is the assistance of the Turkish government in the area of Islamic manuscripts from Macedonia, in terms of their own legacy in the region and their goals for the future?

MI: TIKA has been offering assistance internationally in order to forge better Turkish relations and cooperation with various regions, to create the Turkish-friendly awareness in societies outside of Turkey by reviving, renovating and establishing monumental buildings, houses, centers, and so on. In terms of Islamic manuscripts in Macedonia, particularly the Ottoman-Turkish ones, as mentioned earlier, TIKA in 2003 managed to sponsor two academics, Yaşar Aydemir and Abdulkadir Hayber, to catalogue the “officially known” manuscripts, and subsequently published it in 2007 under the title Makedonya Kütüphaneleri Türkçe Yazma Eserler Kataloğu. This catalogue was prepared in Turkish. We wish it had included English, too. And this catalogue did not include the Arabic and Persian manuscripts. To my knowledge, there is no other financial assistance from TIKA regarding cataloguing and digitizing the rest of the Islamic manuscripts of Macedonia.

Financial Benefits of Digitization

CD: You have told me that digitizing original manuscripts and then selling facsimiles to university libraries could bring in a quite substantial sum- if I remember correctly, you said up to $500 million. If such a windfall were to occur, where would the money go? The investors, or the countries, the Islamic community, individuals, etc?

MI: First of all, the figure of $500 million might sound imaginative, but when you study the matter from all the angles and in the long-term, then the stated figure could actually be small. Let’s assume that an inventory survey, comprehensive cataloguing and digital processing of the Islamic manuscripts in Macedonia at large were conducted. And let’s assume that the total number of handwritten manuscripts, including the one housed in the National and University Library, reached 10,000.

The comprehensive catalogue of all available manuscripts would be published in a few volumes. These volumes would then be purchased by half of the educational institutions and various centers around the world, as well as by certain individual and scholars. These volumes then would probably be published and reprinted several times, where their publication could be over 10,000 copies. We should not forget this, as we have a similar example from Gazi Husrev Beg Library in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the catalogue of Islamic manuscripts was prepared and published in Bosnian by Kasim Dobraca in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Kasim Dobraca’s work was reprinted several times and is available in most of the libraries around the world.

Up to that stage, the cataloguing of Islamic manuscripts in Macedonia would generate millions of dollars. Then after the preparation of the comprehensive catalogue followed by the digitization of the manuscripts, and again, similar to the volumes of catalogue, thousands if not tens of thousands of institutes of higher learning and private individuals would buy either the whole collection of the digitized copies, or would purchase ad hoc copies from the collections. When multiplying the revenue from this digitized form of copies in the long-term, it might then exceed the amount stated above. Again, an example can be given from Bosnia’s Gazi Husrev Beg Library, where the Islamic manuscripts available were recently digitized by the Bosnian Institute (Bosnacki Institut) in Sarajevo, with initial financial assistance from the Gulf region.

Towards an Institute

Now to continue to the last part of your question, it could be proposed that an ‘institute of Islamic manuscripts of Macedonia’ be jointly established by the Turkish and Macedonian governments, and that this institute be in the form of an endowment, as was originally done by the Ottoman Commander Isa Beg in the 15th century. All the revenues received directly or indirectly from the Islamic manuscripts of Macedonia would be re-invested for further research, translations, and other related areas of studies. The trustees of the institute and its operation would be the governments of Turkey and Macedonia. This is one of the proposals. Of course I believe that there might be much better proposals by others. Revenues should not go to the investors, the countries, the Islamic Community, or the individuals whatsoever.

CD: If in fact there is a lot of profitability in the proliferation of these manuscripts, do you foresee any potential disputes over ownership between the state library and the Islamic Community, or even other bodies? After all, you note that you and others have sought clarification from the state authorities about why the manuscripts are legally housed in the National Library’s Collection of Oriental Manuscripts.

MI: There should not be any potential disputes over ownership between the National and University Library and the Islamic Community, or even other bodies. Because these valuable manuscripts are not belonging to the state or any other body; they either belong to deceased individuals from the past or were endowed by certain wealthy personalities and scholars of the past.

CD: The individual curator in Skopje who you refer to most, Marijana Kavçiç, was according to your paper funded by George Soros’ Open Society Institute to attend a training course on Islamic Cataloguing in Kuala Lumpur in 2006 at the International Islamic University Malaysia. We all know George Soros is a businessman, but does he have any reason to be interested in Islamic manuscripts? Or else what reason does his institute have for financially supporting this initiative?

MI: I do not know exactly the motives behind the sponsorship of Open Society Institute in Skopje; this information which was published in OSI’s Annual Report in 2007 says that it covered the expenses of Marijana’s trip to Kuala Lumpur, and nothing else. However, we can assume that OSI knows the value of Islamic manuscripts in general and those housed in the University Library in Skopje, as the worth of the handwritten books is priceless; perhaps if we had to put it into figures it could reach into the millions of dollars. I recall certain government-linked institution in Japan offered over $10 million to buy some Islamic manuscripts found in Aceh, Indonesia.

CD: You mention an anecdote about the work of the above-mentioned TIKA academics Yaşar Aydemir and Abdulkadir Hayber. However, you relate that they were asked to pay an ‘astronomical’ sum for the right to copy the first and last page of each manuscript, and that the authorities said it would be ‘impossible’ to digitize the entire collection.

MI: Yes, this statement occurs in the preface of the book catalogued by Yaşar Aydemir and Abdulkadir Hayber published in 2007. This part should be questioned as to why those authorities in the National and University Library and elsewhere asked to pay an ‘astronomical’ sum for the right to copy the first and last page of each Ottoman-Turkish manuscript. The same thing goes for the issue of why it should be ‘impossible’ to digitize the entire collection, since this act could lessen future burdens [of the library]… libraries housing manuscripts around the world benefit tremendously from doing so. In addition, this would have brought a higher profile and higher degree of financial assistance to the Macedonian libraries.

CD: If the digitizing, reselling and promoting of Islamic manuscripts is something that can be not only profitable but also an ideological and cultural tool in this long-disputed region, should there not be an agreed mechanism before anything begins in regards to profit-sharing, and how this whole process might be most responsibly managed and used in any future attempts to market the country and its diverse culture patrimony, to avoid any unnecessary disputes or bad feelings? After all, as we have seen with the recent complaining from Bulgarian about Macedonian Orthodox Christian manuscripts, disputes can easily arise in this region over historic items.

MI: Of course, this is a very significant point- in fact, the most crucial point. As I explained earlier in my proposal, although it should not be restricted to one proposal, the issue should be studied well to come up with the most suitable framework, whereby it will not cause any further problems or misunderstandings in the future.

CD: Finally, going into the year 2013, do you expect any developments on your project? Is there any new source of funding, sponsorship or support from bodies internal or external towards achieving your goals?

MI: I have tried to make this highly significant task [known] to various institutions, foundations and government agencies both locally and internationally but I have yet to receive their proper and official feedback, and hopefully positive results.

CD:  Thank you very much for talking with us, and good luck.

MI: I would like to thank for highlighting this important and long-neglected task by conducting this interview. Best wishes.


Looking for More Publications?

Find articles in the Central And Eastern European Online Library (CEEOL)

Buy articles and e-books for Amazon Kindle

Kosovo after Supervised Independence: Interview with Petrit Selimi Editor’s note: September marked the end of the four-year period of supervised independence that followed Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence. The transition was met with fanfare by Kosovo Albanians, with trepidation by Serbs, and with some amount of relief from the oft-beleaguered international overseers charged with overcoming the many challenges of Kosovo state-building and multi-ethnic relations.

In this new interview, Director Chris Deliso gets the insights of Petrit Selimi, the Deputy Foreign Minister in Prishtina and an active participant in outreach efforts of a government that is trying to move Kosovo forward towards modernization and greater acceptance by international bodies and countries that have thus far not recognized its independence. The wide-ranging interview covers not only these topics but broader issues of political, social, economic and other factors affecting the lives of everyday people and what they might mean for the future.

Petrit Selimi is not the most typical of Balkan diplomats. He was a youth activist before the war of 1999 and, after studying social anthropology in Oslo, he was among a new wave of young Kosovans who launched several diverse civic initiatives. A decade ago, Selimi opened a small comic-strips shop and café, still popular among both artists and politicians. He convinced a Western telecom operator to bring the American performer 50Cent to Prishtina, and organized the star’s concert in a memorable night that put Kosovo on MTV a year before the declaration of independence.

At the same time, he wrote for a host of publications, and was one of the founders and publishers of a daily newspaper called Express. In the whirlwind of post-independence transition, Selimi was picked by Kosovo PM Hashim Thaci as Deputy Foreign Minister of the government created after the 2010 elections. There, he currently works with Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj, a prominent member of Kosovo’s post-war academia. Traces of Selimi’s past engagement remain in his new position, in the form of public diplomacy as a favorite tool; this has included establishing partnerships with the Aspen Institute, the European Council of Foreign Relations and even ecumenical organizations and art galleries. We talked with Selimi on the margins of the Aspen Institute’s recent conference on security in SE Europe, in Durres, Albania.

Strategic Diplomatic Goals

Chris Deliso: Could you give us a short recap of diplomatic achievements your government has made during 2012, including new recognitions by foreign states, and what led to these decisions?

Petrit Selimi: There are still a few intense months to go in 2012, but I hope to be able to report a very intensive and successful year for Kosovo’s diplomacy.

The Prime Minister had official visits with Prime Ministers or heads of royal families of Norway, Sweden, Austria, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Hungary, most of our neighbors and many more, while the MFA has quadrupled the number of bilateral agreements from all walks of life with over 90 countries.

According to Deputy Minister Selimi, the Kosovo MFA has “launched a massive public diplomacy effort, and we have worked with top foreign policy institutions to facilitate a greater understanding of Kosovo in the global processes, and vice versa.”

The Kosovar passport is acknowledged as an official document by over 150 countries, including China. And President Jahjaga is among the few heads of state to have met President Obama three times in over a year. She is currently organizing a global gathering of women dedicated to women empowerment, with [former US Secretary of State Madeleine] Albright as a keynote speaker.

Minister Hoxhaj has also had a record number of visits, and cooperation agreements and recognitions have not abated. It has been a great experience seeing him in action. Deputy Prime Minister Pacolli has also contributed, particularly with Kosovo’s increased interaction with all of Africa.

Further, our Europe Minister, Vlora Citaku can report on several big milestones reached on Kosovo’s long path to EU membership. Never forget that this is the year we received both a visa roadmap, as well as the Feasibility Study for an SAA. In dialogue, Kosovo has proven to be an exporter of peace, and a reliable partner in efforts to implement the Copenhagen criteria for the Balkans. This has included good-neighborly relations.

Kosovo sports and culture had a great year, adding power to our fight for a place under the sun. The MFA launched a massive public diplomacy effort, and we have worked with top foreign policy institutions to facilitate a greater understanding of Kosovo in the global processes, and vice versa. So all in all, I was proud to have made a small contribution to this enormous team effort.

CD: You have said that in 2012-13 the Kosovo government plans to put new focus on the EU member states that currently do not recognize it to change their policy. Can you describe what tactics you will be using, if they are different for different countries, and to what degree of success you estimate you will have by this time next year?

PS: I’ll have to go into this one a bit in depth. We have met all our ambassadors abroad, and the Minister has brought in some top experts, even statisticians, since we needed to understand where are the gaps and what are the priorities.

A new strategic approach was thus initiated, and Minister Hoxhaj has increased the portfolio of geographic coverage. Listen- Kosovo is independent because it’s a principled cause. We can get confused in the noise, especially in this Internet age, of relativization of the wars and the principles. The people of Kosovo had an undeniable right to choose where they wanted to live after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, as well as after the Second World War, and at both times were snubbed and forced into relationships of constant ill-treatment by the successive Belgrade regimes. We declared independence after every path was researched and every rock was turned.

The peaceful movement was harassed by Milosevic, and the armed resistance was crushed by a cruel and inhuman genocidal attempt. Serbia lost every right to Kosovo, and sovereignty was granted to the UN, until a UN envoy could propose a solution.

Then, [Former Finnish President Martii] Ahtisaari – who has high credentials in peace-making – came up with a plan based on the principles of the Contact Group, which included Russia. It gave Kosovo independence, conditioning it with a long list of reforms to be implemented, not least of which was the protection of the Serbian minority. Serbia said it would object to this declaration of independence legally, and it lost heavily in a landmark decision from the International Court of Justice.

Kosovo is already a member of two UN Bretton Woods institutions, namely the World Bank and IMF. We are the least-indebted country in all of Europe, and in 2011 we had the third-highest growth rate in Europe, after Turkey and Estonia. So why would countries not recognize Kosovo?

We must just explain the context, and we have to alleviate fears that were either inflamed by Serbia, or which are a genuine part of the internal debate in some countries. The European Commission declared, a day after the coordinated Declaration of Independence, that Kosovo’s independence is a “sui generis” case due to a truly unique set of legal circumstances, with references to Rambouillet documents, UN resolutions and the history of crime in Kosovo.

When we tell the real story, backed up by records from the Hague, by the documents and evidence, we don’t need to come up with any tactics, to lie to anyone or to spin a PR narrative. We will have over half of UN members formally recognizing Kosovo as a sovereign state soon. Later we will have two-thirds, and then three-fourths. We will be a part of weather maps and sporting events. We will be in the Olympics- and we will win medals in the Olympics. We will take our seat in the UN, because we are a successful UN story.

CD:  Turkey is an important actor in the Balkans, but seems to be less active in Kosovo in certain areas, such as education. Is there any reason for this? In general, to what extent and in what ways is the Erdogan government helping Kosovo abroad- whether in terms of political support, economic assistance, or other means of building connections?

PS: We have a very long relationship with Turkey. [Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet] Davutoğlu remarked some weeks ago that over 25 Ottoman Prime Ministers were Albanian. There are tens of thousands of family ties and an old connection between the two countries. It wasn’t always easy to define the relationship in the past – there were many painful moments too, but now it’s a really close connection.

Today, Turkey is responsible for 300 million euros of FDI over the last year or so, while the total value of contracted works has surpassed one billion euros since independence. Turkey does have a presence in Kosovo’s health care and private education. The Turkish republic has also provided essential support in diplomatic lobbying, as a member of the International Steering Group, and on a bilateral basis.

CD: What is Kosovo’s relationship with the African states? Is this something you see as being useful in future? I understand that there are certain food processing companies run by ethnic Albanians in the Balkans, for example, that use certain vegetable oils from these countries. Do you see any specific economic or other benefits from African countries, or are relations with them more or less being done to get more recognitions?

PS: We’ve had a good majority of the last 15-20 recognitions from Africa. And we have had real movement there, as more African countries get the proper information and engage us bilaterally. We have had many visits.

Several African countries that had been fully behind the Serbian interpretation have now visited Kosovo, and promptly recognized, basing their decision on seeing the facts, and following documents such as the ICJ opinion and the UN General Assembly resolution on dialogue. The Organization of the Islamic Conferences has also invited all of its members to recognize Kosovo, which strengthen the multilateral dimension.

CD: In addition to the above, what would you consider to be Kosovo’s top strategic diplomatic goals for the next two years? And how will a possible eventual integration with Albania be managed in this light?

PS: Our top strategic goals are to enmesh Kosovo in the web of [international’ connections so that our independence confirms our place as a true component of the regional and European family of nations. Progress in EU integration, progress in NATO relations, membership in an increased number of multilateral agreements, and good-neighborly relations are the immediate objectives.

Improving Kosovo’s overall image and making sure our message is clear, via public diplomacy efforts, is also essential for more recognitions and more investments. I don’t think Kosovo has to re-invent the wheel- we must just heed the good advice of the many friends we have been lucky to gather since our liberation efforts began. As for uniting with Albania, though there are some circles that seek that solution, it’s clear and beyond doubt that the focus of the entire mainstream of Kosovo society and politics is EU integrations. We will cherish increased trade, cultural and human links with all our neighbors.

Political Pressures and Unresolved Issues

CD: The issue of the Serbian-majority north of Kosovo is constantly brought up in every discussion of Kosovo’s unresolved issues by local and foreign observers. Strictly from the political angle, how does the stand-off benefit the Kosovo Albanian political parties currently in the opposition, in trying to put pressure on your government to be tough on the Serbs? Are they winning points on this issue among the public at large, or increasing their base? If so, has this pressure forced the Thaci government to make certain concessions in other areas or on other issues?

PS: I will be honest – there are parties in opposition, even among the so-called ‘liberal’ circles, who argue that the Kosovo government must use force and “return the north back to the fold.” Some of it is nationalism of the worst kind, some of it is just frustration with over a decade of blockades by illegal parallel structures, and some of it is just plain partisan politicking,.

Nevertheless, it’s clear that a problem that has existed for 14 years can’t be solved in 14 days. No amount of force can solve political challenges of this type. Serbs in the north are citizens of Kosovo. According to Ahtisaari, they are entitled to very wide decentralization and the power to run the health and education system, local policing, etcetera.

We have used robust power to establish a presence at the border posts, in order to implement measures of reciprocity. KFOR and EULEX help to keep the clarity of the Kosovo as a single legal zone. The EU is mandated by the UN General Assembly to facilitate dialogue on non-status issues. Kosovo must be confident, and the Thaci government is very much so, in believing that nothing bad comes out of dialogue, out of discussions, out of increased outreach.

After all, we have proved that animosities can be reduced in the southern enclaves, and we can reach this aim in the north as well. The people there are also tired of criminals, as you may have seen from the last episodes of Serbian B92 TV series on the hundreds of millions of euros that have disappeared in the north.

CD: People are constantly bringing up all sorts of creative solutions and conjectures for how to ‘solve’ the problem of the north. What I wonder is whether time will actually take care of the problem- if you look at cases like Northern Ireland or Northern Cyprus, or Abkhazia, these are stalemate situations that have been managed peacefully. Why not follow the same approach in Kosovo? For the past few years have shown beyond doubt that whenever KP or KFOR goes in with force, they are met by force. It does not seem likely that this will change. So is it more a chronic issue of pride among the Albanians to take the north, or something else? What should be done?

PS: The northern municipalities are six times smaller than Abkhazia, and seven times smaller than Northern Cyprus. Lichtenstein has more inhabitants [than the north]. So we have to keep a realistic perspective.

Three problems in the north can be solved: EU and members states have conditioned Serbia’s EU path with full closure of illegal security apparatus, which have been operating in violation of UNSCR 1244 for nine years, and against the Kosovo constitution for another five years. Another condition for Serbia was to allow EULEX to operate without hindrance and to establish a system of European integrated border management with Kosovo. These are now sine qua non for Serbia.

A second challenge is ensuring democratic representation, which can be arranged easily and we have the good will to enable such a process without meddling in the local landscape, as we have shown with the OSCE facilitation of the Serbian elections in Mitrovica for dual citizens. The third problem is economic, and herein lie the alpha and omega of integration. If people see a profit in turning to Prishtina for services, this will be a natural progression. However, as I have said, we must solve the two initial problems first- crime and parallel structures, and the lack of legitimate interlocutors.

CD: Another issue about the northern municipalities is that there is an ethnic Albanian minority in various parts of it, which seem to get along without problems. On the other hand, there were another two elderly Serb returnees in the south who were murdered just a few months ago. I don’t know the exact figures, but I would estimate that since 1999 few if any of the many murders of Serb civilians have been solved. So the Serbs would argue that while they cannot live safely in areas with an Albanian majority, an Albanian minority can generally safely in areas where there is a Serb (or any other) majority. What do you have to say about these issues?

PS: I don’t think you have the correct information. There are numerous incidents in northern municipalities [against Albanians]. Over 10 killings in the last few years were committed in the area. Radical Serbs have killed or maimed other Serbs who work for the Kosovo government, including sitting MP’s in the Kosovo parliament, such as Petar Miletic. Radicals have bombed and burned Kosovo-Albanian property. Hundreds of attacks are recorded against NATO forces and EULEX. These are well documented attacks, which add to the tension.

All of the most wanted criminals of Serbia and Kosovo are hiding in the north. Neo-Nazi Serbian football hooligans are also based there. These are facts known by our own security service, but also from KFOR data and Serbian reports too. In the south, on the other hand, one now can find a progress not seen in the last 10 years. Serbs are participating [with the state] at the municipal and central levels, economic benefits are slowly trickling down- too slowly, one might add, but still progress is being marked. Investments in skiing tourism in the very south, and investments in mining in the north, will bring even more ethnically Serbian] people closer to Kosovo’s legal framework.

CD: I had an interesting conversation with a Pentagon official who disagreed with the possibility that Kosovo might solve its problems with neighbors, and appear less of a threat, if it were to just declare neutrality as a state policy. But this military official said that after analysis they were sure that with the paramilitary tradition among Albanians, there were no way that this would work, and that without a properly overseen army paramilitaries would emerge anyway. What do you have to see about this assertion, and about the concept in general?

PS: I think Albanians don’t have a more paramilitary tradition than any of our neighbors. We also cannot declare neutrality, as the political consensus among all parties is NATO membership for Kosovo. At the MFA, we are dedicated to Euro-Atlantic integration, as this constitutes the backbone of our foreign policy. Neither can any “paramilitaries emerge,” as the Kosovo police is more than sufficient for our internal security apparatus.

The [Kosovo Security Forces] is also undergoing a positive evolution, following the close cooperation and support of NATO countries. The KSF has also entered into a productive state-partnership program with the Iowa National Guard.

So I must say that I have a problem with the general concept of ‘feisty Albanians in their little clans, always ready to take up arms.’ It follows a somewhat old narrative, one never really reflective of the real life of the wretched and oppressed inhabitants of these lands. That being said, Kosovo is becoming rapidly a modern and sustainable state – in some respects far more advanced then even our supporters expected – as was proven by the decision of the ISG to end the supervised period of independence.

CD: To what extent is youth unemployment causing frustration among ordinary citizens that can reflected in violent means or protests, or support the opposition? Are there any concrete steps your government is making to fix this problem, whether through work assistance or job training programs?

PS: This is the crux of the current conundrum. We have the lowest debt in Europe, and registered the biggest growth in the Euro-zone, but we are in the midst of a region that is going through painful economic crisis. Our economic model is essentially Keynesian, and that was supported by the ability to increase the tax base by eliminating gray economy. But we will soon reach the limits of efficiency.

This is why we need more FDI, in direct but friendly competition with our neighbors. We at the MFA are working to increase the overall promotion of investment opportunities. Luckily, we still haven’t privatized our crown jewels, such as the telecom, mining or energy generation sectors. This means we can sustain a prolonged cycle of investments to reach an increased numbers of employment and substantial growth of the middle class.

The government is thus engaged in directly investing in infrastructure project that enhance competitiveness, including major highways. We have built a major artery to the Adriatic coast eight months ahead of schedule, with zero cents of debt. We are also facilitating investors in critical industries. Education is essential in this forthcoming phase.

CD: A few months ago, there were unconfirmed reports that certain Syrian opposition militant groups were receiving training or at least some kind of support within Kosovo itself. Is this true? If so, what kind of details can you provide?

PS: There were no unconfirmed reports, just complete fabrications. The only time Kosovo officials ever met any Syrians was in a single meeting between the MFA and two members of a Syrian liberal civil society diaspora [group]. They came as part of a tour to Europe supported by the Open Society Foundation, so there was no militant element to this visit.

Unfortunately, a spin put forth by a Serbian tabloid took on a life on its own in this era of Internet reporting. I will repeat it again though, just for the record: Kosovo doesn’t train any militants. We are committed to the EU’s joint foreign policy with regards to events in the Middle East, and always in close coordination with the [position of the] USA.

Religion and Governance

CD: In May, you held an event marking the 1700th anniversary of Byzantine Emperor Constantine the Great’s conversion to Orthodox Christianity. This was somewhat creative, in any case, it was not one of the Balkan anniversaries that we had put on the calendar. And as far as I understand the pitch was to 1700 years of “monotheism” in the Balkans, which would presumably include Islam as well. So can you tell us who came up with this idea to celebrate such an event, and present it in this way?

PS: Well, Kosovo is a very diverse country in terms of religion, and this is our collective wealth. The vast majority of people declare themselves Sunni Muslims, but you have a very dynamic Catholic community, an old Orthodox and Byzantine heritage, a famous and tradition-rich Sufi community, and traces of a Jewish presence. The Sunni Islam is also rooted in local traditions and practices.

Saint Paul the Apostle passed through our lands on his third mission. Constantine was also from Dardania, and he was critical for the major shift from polytheism to monotheism. So, I’m not surprised that Kosovo would host meetings, workshops and projects dedicated to cherishing this richness. We must help the inter-faith dialogue to alleviate any fears about the important role that the Serbian Orthodox Church plays in our religious and societal landscape. The MFA of Kosovo has indeed supported several important initiates in this regards.

CD: Related to this was the visit to Prishtina in May of UNESCO representatives and Tony Blair, in his new incarnation as an inter-faith dialogue expert. So can you comment on this diplomatic dilemma, how your government handles these different outside parties who of course have their own interests, and goals, and whether you see an intensification or suppression of these kind of activities in future? In short, what is best for Kosovo’s long-term interests in this regard?

PS: The MFA and Ministry of Education are cooperating with the Tony Blair Faith Foundation to openly discuss the ideas of religion in a time of globalization. We must not shy away from debating and supporting critical thinking in today’s world. Mr Blair has played a very positive role in fostering the tolerance agenda. He is an icon of Kosovo liberation and we are proud to be able to work with his Foundation. UNESCO on the other hand was [in Kosovo on] a private visit. We have welcomed hundreds of guests from around the world this year. This has helped improved understanding.

CD: You have made a point of noting that Prizren is a case of co-existence wherein you have Serbian Orthodox, Albanian Catholic, and Albanian and Turkish Muslim houses of worship all in close proximity. Do you think this is more or less a historical accident, or something that can be replicated in other parts of Kosovo? Also, there is still (or at least was) some form of KFOR protection for the Serbian church. Is there still a concern that it will be attacked if that protection is removed?

PS: Most of the churches are now being protected by the local police. There are no attacks on churches, except for theft and occasional vandalism- nothing more serious than theft and vandalism of churches in Serbia. Prizren is a symbol of tolerance because the vast majority of the population is tolerant. It’s an old Albanian city, but it has a centuries-old Serbian, Turkish, Jewish, Roma and Gorani heritage also. It is also one of the cities which luckily escaped the full brute force of the Serbian military offensive of 1998-99. Cities such as Peja or Gjakova, and regions such as Drenica, were hit very hard and lost thousands of members from different families. Reconciliation will go slower there, especially in the absence of any sign of regret from the present Serbian government.

CD: We have good information that on the local level mayors and other municipal officials are in some cases coming under pressure from Islamic leaders and interests. Do you have any comments?


PS: Kosovo is a secular state. As many Westerners note, one sees fewer hijabs in Prishtina than in any other European city. The overwhelming majority of people in our society is respectful of other faiths, but are not particularly religious. Some of the best mojitos in Balkans are made in Prishtina bars.

I have not heard of problems in municipalities but I know that in a few mosques, less than one percent of the total [number of mosques], the state has had to intervene to expel figures unwanted by the local community due to extremist discourse. I don’t think we should sugar-coat the reality. Kosovo must dispel some of the prejudices. In the most dangerous form, these prejudices have inspired [people like] Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik, who mentions Kosovo as an Islamic threat over 80 times in his vile “manifesto.” In a more benign manner, they still instill a dose of unhealthy skepticism. Islam in Kosovo has always been a force of tolerance and love. The wars and conflicts in the modern Balkans were ethnic and political, not religious. Framing the conflict in religious terms is intentionally done by some circles.

CD: What is the role of the Vatican in Kosovo currently? We understand there is a nuncio appointed by no information about how active he is, whether there any plans for developing a clergy so that one day there might be a Kosovar cardinal, etcetera.

PS: The Holy See has always been with the people of Kosovo. We have frequently been in the prayers and thoughts of Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI has a proven track record as an instigator of dialogue and peaceful resolution. And Mother Theresa’s father comes from Prizren.

Many cardinals came for the inauguration of the works on the  new cathedral built in the centre of the capital. And the Community of St Eggidio has been an early facilitator of dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia. So there are multiple and strong bonds between the Holy See and Kosovo. These will only strengthen over time.

Good Housekeeping and Infrastructure

CD: One achievement of which you are most proud is the completion of the highway linking Kosovo with Albania, done by Bechtel, which you have said finally gives Kosovo a ‘port’ with the city of Durres. Have you been able to assess yet any changes in volume of imports or exports due to this more rapid connection? Are there any other quantifiable indicators of the economic benefit of this impressive bit of engineering?

PS: It’s easy arithmetic – Kosovo citizens previously needed over eight hours of driving time to arrive at Podgorica, and more than six hours to reach Tirana. The geographic distances are not that great, but there were no major road arteries connecting Kosovo with neighboring states.

The new highway to the Adriatic connects the Kosovo borders with Serbia and Albania, and continues via the longest tunnel in the Balkans to the fork where one can choose to continue to Montenegro or to southern Albania. The highway was constructed in record time by US giant Bechtel. And we have not taken a cent in credit for its construction.

And so, nowadays the travel time to Montenegro and Albania has been cut by half- four hours to Montenegro,  and four hours to Tirana. Multiply that by 650,000 border crossings on this new highway during last 12 months. Need I say more? Plus, both Macedonians and inhabitants of southern Serbia are now using this new link to reach Montenegro.

CD: Any visitor to Kosovo immediately notices the main roadways ringed by gas stations, stacked materials for construction, random small motels, and other structures that make it look essentially like some sprawling industrial zone.

Two questions arise from this. The first is whether there is or could there be any sort of aesthetic development plan – on a national or municipal level, or both – that would make Kosovo look less like an industrial zone and more attractive?

PS: It’s funny you asked me that. In my past life I loved studies of urban anthropology. The gas stations in Kosovo, some resembling Star Trek buildings, the others more like Victorian houses, I called them Gas Vegas in a lecture I had in Zagreb and Amsterdam. They leave quite an impact on the physical and urban landscape. I wish our mayors were more updated regarding the latest methodology and best practices in urban planning- alas, this is not yet happening. Yet there is some charm in the grit of Kosovo. Prishtina is ugly, but full of surprises.

CD: The second, more pragmatic question concerns the industrial sprawl so close to the roadside, particularly in the case of the Prishtina-Skopje road. You have said that the government plans to build a modern highway on this route next year. Will the existing structures that block the widening process be relocated? Is the land owned by the state or private individuals? How problematic will the construction process be because of these factors?

PS: The Kosovo government is now considering the second highway project to Skopje, an important trade artery and connection to Greece. Highway plans are well underway. I think a portion of it may be built in different trajectories, because the cost of land in some of these urban zones is prohibitively high. The Ministries of Transport and Finance are hammering out the last details, always in consultation with the IMF. These rounds of investment cycles in road infrastructure were essential for us to even have a chance at a competitive free economy.

CD: Finally, in your opinion what sort of infrastructure is most urgently needed for the modernization of Kosovo and to increase its viability as a business destination? Is the government working on any such projects in a concerted way and what are the prioritizing?

PS: Personally, I think energy generation is an urgent and fundamental need. We have increased energy usage, and we will increase it further, but no new plants have been built since the 1970’s. We sit on coal, which is a dirty word in some circles, but then again new capacities in coal energy will speed up closure of the old 1950’s plants, which are the cause of 80% of particle pollution. So we need to provide long-term solution for energy independence.

Looking for More Publications?

Find articles in the Central And Eastern European Online Library (CEEOL)

Buy articles and e-books for Amazon Kindle

Where Turkey Stands with the EU Today: Interview with Ambassador Selim Yenel

By Maria-Antoaneta Neag

Ambassador Selim Yenel, leader of the Permanent Delegation of Turkey to the EU, recently defended Turkey’s interests in the EU during several meetings at the European Parliament, allowing contributor Maria-Antoaneta Neag the opportunity to survey the ambassador on the latest developments in the EU-Turkey dialogue, as well as Turkey’s enhanced role in regional security.


 With an academic background in political science and a long diplomatic career in the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Selim Yenel was assigned to posts in Paris (Third Secretary and Second Secretary at the Permanent Representation of Turkey to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), Kabul (First Secretary at the Turkish Embassy), New York (First Secretary and Counsellor at the Permanent Representation of Turkey to the United Nations) and Brussels (Counsellor and First Counsellor at the Permanent Delegation of Turkey to the European Economic Community).

“Turkey does not want to rebuild any empire” in the Balkans, stated Ambassador Yenel, adding that “if the economic and social situation in these countries improves, it will serve everyone’s interest.”

He was also the Turkish Ambassador to Austria from 2005-2009 and, after a short period back in Ankara, has served since December 2011 at Turkey’s Permanent Representation to the EU in Brussels.

Symbolic Resistance and Stereotypes against Turkey

 EU public opinion is generally restrained, or opposed outright to Turkish membership. The degrees of intensity here differ from one Member State to another, and take into account national political agendas. Among the reasons set forward by politicians are Turkey’s poor record on human rights, its controversial borders, its migration potential and the fact that Turkey is allegedly outside Europe’s geographic, cultural and symbolic borders. Given this general attitude, is Turkey undertaking any current initiatives aimed to changing these stereotypes, and making a better case for the country’s added value to the EU?

The Ambassador emphasized that this is “a country-to-country undertaking and in this sense leadership is essential. If all parties from the political scene of a country are against Turkey, inevitably the public opinion in that country will be against Turkey as well. This was the case in Austria, where I served as an Ambassador.”

Turkey has a strategy for the other sort of countries, too. “Regarding the remaining critics, we are trying to do our homework and tangible improvements can already be spotted. There are several laws that will be passed during the summer addressing some key problems.”

Commenting on the issue of Islam being perceived as a threat to the EU, he mentioned that many European politicians argue that EU is a Christian-led project: “all EU countries have Muslim minorities, but this is the key word: minorities.”

Asked whether Turkish lobbyists, associations, businessmen or Turkish living abroad are helpful in the EU efforts, Mr. Yenel mentioned that while Turkish citizens who live abroad and did not integrate in their host country do not serve Turkey’s EU interests, there are some lobbyists and Turkish associations that sometimes have proven helpful at improving Turkey’s image.

Proficient Turkish Representatives in the EU

 Turkish representatives in Brussels are very well educated and prepared to confront the challenges of the EU perspective. However, many politicians fear that average Turkish citizens have not shown they possess the same abilities and understanding of EU topics.

The Ambassador replied that in every MS there is a gap between ‘normal’ citizens and European decision-makers. There are numerous technicalities involved, he underscored, and this makes it difficult to explain the EU’s decisions to the EU. Even though the Euro-sceptics are growing in number throughout Europe, Turkish citizens continue to see the EU’s achievements as appealing, though these are actually “usually taken for granted by EU citizens,” attested Ambassador Yenel, who also mentioned his concern at the rise of xenophobia and nationalism within EU.

Turkey- Too Big a Country for the EU?

 Under the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty, from 2014/2017, a system known as ‘double majority voting’ will be introduced in the Council. For a legislative proposal to go through, the support of two types of majority will be needed: 55% of EU countries (minimum 15) and at least 65% of the EU population. Since Turkey has such a numerous population, under this new system, it can have a good position for achieving the requisite majorities, thus promoting its interests. Is this looming provision one of the reasons explaining some MS’ reticence towards accepting Turkey as a MS?

The Ambassador replied that this is not a concerning issue. When a country will accede to the EU, the figures in the “European architecture” will have to change. If it becomes an EU member, Turkey will most probably receive the same number of MEPs and votes as Germany. Unfortunately, big countries like Germany and France are not willing to share their power and this may be a cause of concern for Turkey.

For this reason, it is important that “the Turkish relationships with Germany and France are the first ones to be assessed,” the ambassador stated. Turkey had some difficulties with France during Sarkozy’s presidency, but the political changes following the elections make it high time for the dialogue to advance, added the ambassador.

What Next?

Despite the fact that Turkey is showing good economic results in a time of crisis, and that it has started some long-awaited reforms, it remains highly criticized by the EU, mainly over freedom of press and minorities-related issues. Given the situation, an important question concerns which issues Turkey should work on most thoroughly, and how the EU could assist the process to progress in a more efficient way? The ambassador sought to point out some examples of positive developments achieved by Turkey due to the EU perspective.

For Ambassador Yenel, the new EU Commission-launched “positive agenda”, that foresees joint progress by both the Commission and Turkey on the chapters that have been blocked so far, is a positive sign. (The Commission came up with this idea to revive Turkey’s EU momentum).

Enhancing the EU’s institutional coherence (in light of existing divergent opinions between the Commission, Parliament and Council) can be useful in the actual advancement of the EU dialogue and enlargement strategies in general, the ambassador also mentioned. He noted too that the EU has no more economic concerns regarding Turkey. However, he conceded that Turkey’s business success, the trade volume between Turkey and EU or the economic aspect in general does not really have an influence on the EU’s agenda.

Turkey – a Hazardous Adventure for the EU?

Another cause of concern expressed by some countries is Turkey’s foreign policy, and in particular its difficult relations with Cyprus and Israel. Moreover, the EU is apprehensive about having such powerful neighbors at its borders (i.e. Syria, Iran and Iraq).

“It’s not the EU that will have to defend the borders- the Turks will be the ones living here and not any other Member State citizens,” noted the ambassador when asked about the issue. “So we will be facing them. The EU has no reason to fear, as Turkey is already NATO’s border as well.”

Commenting further on Turkey’s relationship with its neighbors, he mentioned that a couple of years back, Turkey was trying to be a mediator between Syria and Israel. They have always tried to keep a good relationship with Israel, he added. On Cyprus, the ambassador explained that Turkey is proactively seeking a solution for the island, and that the Republic of Cyprus is not considered an enemy.

The United Nations finds itself at a standstill here, as EU member states failed to properly voice their positions, and no action has thus been taken on Syria, out of fears of Russia or Iran who have different standpoints. This in turn complicates Turkey’s position vis-à-vis the countries still favoring the regime in Syria.

In addressing this issue, Mr. Yenel emphasized that this situation can change and that Russian or Iranian policy positions might also experience shifts in the future based on the developments on the ground in Syria. Turkey is cautious, and seeks to avoid conflict, he added. Even in the context of the recent Turkish warplane downing without prior warning by Syrian forces, Turkey refrained from retaliation or any military action whatsoever, concluded the ambassador.

New Natural Resources

 As reported in January 2012, considerable reserves of natural gas have been discovered off of Cyprus. According to the US Geological Survey, there are 122 trillion cubic feet of gas, almost double the reserves of all EU countries combined.

Addressing this, Ambassador Yenel first underlined the need for accurate estimation. “We don’t really know how much gas there is. However, if the Greek Cypriots will start the exploitation, you can be sure you’ll see the Turkish Cypriot drilling ships right next to them.”

This discovery of gas in the Levantine Basin will thus quite possibly have an effect on Turkish policies. “Any discovery of natural resources in the area has to be shared by both Greek and Turkish Cypriots,” maintained Yenel.

Neo-Ottoman Demography

 Visa liberalisation is one of the most sensitive topics for Turkey. Visa dialogues have been advancing with Russia and other Eastern Partnership countries and even with the oft-controversial case of Kosovo. The migration potential issue has been often raised by the countries opposing a a straightforward visa approach for Turkey.

“Turkey does not want to rebuild any empire,” attested Ambassador Yenel, when asked about public speculation that Turkey wishes to rebuild the Ottoman Empire by means of a demographic surge. “That was in the past. The EU fears possible waves of migrants from Turkey, but experience shows that with the new economic developments in Turkey, more and more Turkish citizens living abroad are deciding to come back and look for their opportunities at home. In the past, the EU similarly feared the Eastern European migrants’ invasion, but the reality on the ground showed that this was not the case.”

In the interview, the ambassador also expressed his disappointment regarding the long waiting period for the visa liberalization roadmap. The EU has justified this delay by the lack of a readmission agreement. “Turkey waited for the Council’s decision to give the Commission the mandate to negotiate and sign with Turkey the readmission agreement,” he pointed out. “Following the signing of this agreement on 21 June 2012, the green light was given for opening a comprehensive visa dialogue which may lead to the liberalisation of visas in the Schengen area in the years to come,” he revealed.

Turkey’s Presence in the Western Balkans

 Both Turkey and Russia have a special interest in the Western Balkans. Turkey has a special affinity with the Balkans, dating from the Ottoman times. However, the ambassador stressed that “there is no competition concerning EU accession. Turkey wants to play a special role in the Balkans. Important investments have been done in the Western Balkans and other countries, such as Romania.”

Reaffirming the country’s vision of itself as an enabler of wider growth, the ambassador added that “Turkey’s policy in this sense is that if the economic and social situation in these countries improves, it will serve everyone’s interest.”

When Patience is a Virtue

 Concluding the interview, Ambassador Yenel was asked how long he anticipates that Turkey will have to wait to receive a coherent answer from the EU, and a provisional target accession date. Moreover, in the best-case scenario – one in which Turkey fulfils the remaining commitments with regard to the EU aquis – it becomes important to predict what message the EU might send to Turkey.

“Turkey is still patient and will continue to work hard to achieve the EU’s requested benchmarks,” stated the ambassador. “The moment when all concerns will be addressed will be a victory for Turkey.” Nevertheless, he concluded that the EU’s feedback for Turkey, when that moment arrives, remains unknown for now.

Looking for More Publications?

Find articles in the Central And Eastern European Online Library (CEEOL)

Buy articles and e-books for Amazon Kindle

The Future of EU Enlargement in the Western Balkans: Interview with Eduard Kukan Editor’s Note: As Chairman of the European Parliament’s Delegation for relations with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo and Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Eduard Kukan is a prominent voice when it comes to Western Balkans-related issues.

In the context of the latest positive developments concerning Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, which also have consequences for the rest of the neighboring countries, this exclusive interview with Chairman Kukan by’s Maria-Antoaneta Neag gathers insightful views on the actual meaning of the upcoming enlargement process and future trends in the region. 

High Stakes

Maria-Antoaneta Neag: Since both the Commission and Council made positive recommendations regarding some Western Balkan countries, can we say that the era of enlargement fatigue is over? After Croatia will become an EU member next year, how long until the next country will join? Are your bets on a country in the region or rather on Iceland? What timeframe should we envisage until the following enlargement?

“Macedonia has a very strong position given the verdict of the International Court of Justice,” says Chairman Kukan, adding that “there is no logic to continue this kind of situation related to the name issue.”

Eduard Kukan: Personally, I am very glad that there is possible movement regarding the Western Balkan region concerning European integration. I think that those countries that received positive responses from the Council in December 2011, meaning both Serbia and Montenegro, deserved that decision and I firmly believe that in June 2012, Montenegro is going to start the accession negotiations.

So far, it was fair that EU institutions recognized the progress which countries achieved and objectively, I think the Montenegrins have fulfilled everything they have been asked for and today there are no grounds for any further postponement of the starting of the formal negotiations.

Things are moving well; the same goes for Serbia, but in its case it will be more complicated given the internal political developments: elections, all the related events which are going to take place, Kosovo etc. Montenegro does not have these problems, meaning that things could go much faster.

Even Bosnia and Herzegovina recently made some good steps, although it’s still lagging behind the other Western Balkan countries.

Concerning the timeframe and which country will join the EU next, I think it’s going to be Iceland; that is if they still insist they want to become a member of the European Union, because I know that right now, the opinion polls show that the mood of the citizens is changing. It should be in their interest as well to become an EU member and, given the nature of the country, society etc., it’s only normal to expect that accession negotiations will take a much shorter time than for the countries in the Balkan region.

Turning to the Balkans, I think that the next country from the region to join the EU will be Montenegro.

MN: How optimistic are you regarding the future of EU?

EK: I am realistically optimistic. When speaking to colleagues from the Western Balkans, I always tell them time is important but it’s not the most important thing. It’s better to be ready for the membership, to be full-fledged member which is not going to make problems to its partners and to the EU when it will become a member.

Realistically, it will take another 7-8 years until the next enlargement. It is important that after the accession of Croatia, the frame of enlargement is kept. It is in the interest of the EU, as well as of the institutions and all those people devoted to the enlargement process, that they follow something and should not get used to sitting back. That’s why we need to start the accession negotiations also for Montenegro, as already planed.

MN:  Will EU “survive” until the complete Western Balkans’ enlargement?

EK: I believe so, as shown by these recent positive developments in the Western Balkans. I wouldn’t say that the enlargement fatigue is over, even though I have never actually believed that there is such thing as enlargement fatigue. I think this phenomenon was exaggerated by many colleagues. The EU is facing a very difficult situation, but in 7-8 years, all these difficulties will be resolved and things will change for the better. Given that timeframe, the accession of the Western Balkans together will not endanger the functioning of the European Union.

How Deadlocks Could Be Addressed

MN: Kosovo gained a lot after the last round of negotiations with Serbia. Among other things, regardless of the fact that a few EU countries still do not officially recognized Kosovo as an independent state entity, it is now able to represent itself in diplomatic meetings of the Western Balkan states and have a name with an asterisk containing a footnote (i.e., Kosovo*), which makes reference to Resolution 1244 of the United Nations Security Council of 1999 (as Serbia demanded) and to a ruling by the International Court of Justice from 2010 (as Kosovo wished).  Could this precedent be an option for solving the Macedonia name issue?

EK: Kosovo is a completely different case. Macedonia is a different issue. I am glad that this kind of agreement was reached by Serbia and Kosovo. I don’t think that the two situations should be compared because doing so will be very artificial. However, some inspiration could be found in the solution of the Kosovo issue compared to Macedonia.

MN: In these times of crisis that severely affected Greece, which was bailed out several times already, is this name debate which affects the future development of a Western Balkan country justified? How would you see the way forward out of this deadlock?

EK: This situation is not justified. It’s ridiculous that this kind of issue, developing for such a long time, is preventing the EU perspective of a country which got the positive progress report for the third consecutive time. This is the only remaining issue that prevents Macedonia from moving forward. It is unjust, but this is the political reality which we are facing.

Personally, I’m glad that Macedonians still believe in their European future, that they are still doing a lot in order to continue with the all necessary reforms concerning the future EU membership.

Especially, I am glad that, under these circumstances, the European Commission came up with something which is giving some hope, which is giving something to Macedonia: the high level accession dialogue which was started by Commissioner Füle and PM Gruevski.

I know there are still three more rounds planned already. There’s a timetable for that and will continue because this is really something tangible they are getting. All the issues that they are going to discuss, i.e. the chapters 23 and 24, will be positively affecting the process of formal accession negotiations.

Going back to your question, I’m only supporting Macedonia’s faster progress towards the EU. The last resolution of the European Parliament is speaking about the starting of the accession negotiations “without further delay“, which was also recommended by the Commissioner and upheld very much by the EP with an overwhelming majority, and I think they really deserve that.

It is also in the interest of Greece. I am aware of the sophisticated arguments that Greek colleagues are using; although some of them are good arguments, they are artificially created. I believe that we should really look to the future.

The problem is more complicated because of the situation in which Greece is finding itself- without a proper government, with a unity government which is going to be there only temporarily thus making it more difficult to adopt substantial, serious decisions. Let’s hope that with a new government, Greece is going to take this issue seriously- and the same we expect from Macedonia.

Macedonia has a very strong position given the verdict of the International Court of Justice, which supported its case. Given all these facts together, there is no logic to continue this kind of situation related to the name issue.

MN: As Chairman of the European Parliament’s Delegation for relations with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo and AFET member, you have been very active on latest developments regarding Macedonia. What should Macedonia do in practical terms? How should Macedonia plan its future strategy?

EK: I think they should be broadminded in accepting compromise proposals for the name, with a geographical reference like Upper or Northern, some adjective maybe… I don’t want to criticize Macedonia; I am trying to help them as much as possible. But, if there is a Greek proposal, Macedonia should be broadminded in trying to accept it. However, first they have to receive a proposal!


MN: Can Kosovo’s EU perspective be envisaged? What kind of dialogue should the EU have with Kosovo, as several MS still didn’t recognize it as a state entity?

I think that Kosovo is developing well. We are all glad that agreements on the IBM (Integrated Border Management) and the representation of Kosovo in regional relations were concluded. It is important to implement and materialize them, because it will be still a very difficult environment (considering, for instance, the situation in the North of Kosovo, the upcoming elections in Serbia etc., which complicate the general state of affairs). It will be a test for both how ready they are to implement the agreed solution on these two issues.

Nobody, not even those five “non-recognizers” – to call them in short – are against the European future of Kosovo. A couple of days ago, we had a meeting with Baroness Ashton and she informed us about all these issues.  When questioned why she is not more active against the five “non-recognizers”, Lady Ashton answered that this is a decision that each MS is responsible to take.

She mentioned that when these issues are being discussed – concerning the feasibility studies, the visa liberalization for Kosovo – all these five countries do not create any problems, on the contrary, they are very cooperative.

I think that the main message for Kosovo is that they should fulfill the necessary criteria for Europe and, sooner or later, when they’ll show concrete results and progress, everybody will recognize that.

I’m from one of those countries who didn’t recognize the independence of Kosovo and I know that at least my country is very closely developing relations with Kosovo and Serbia, and concrete results by both partners will affect Slovakia much more serious than any resolution of the European Parliament containing an appeal to recognize Kosovo.

Electoral Trends

MN: Elections will soon take place in Serbia. Considering the latest achievements in the EU dialogue, will the current government pass the electoral test? Did you notice any other political force or leader emerge as a credible counter-candidate for Tadić?

EK: It’s very tricky to bet on results. It is really difficult to give any credible tips on how the elections are going to end and what kind of government we shall see in Serbia after the elections.

The most important thing is that the new government of Serbia will continue to work towards Europe, as it was done by the previous government.  President Tadić proved several times that he really managed to go forward with the European agenda. We know him: he has been tested and we know what to expect from him.

The elections are the real expression of the will of the population. I could only hope that all the work undergone so far by Serbia’s government concerning the reforms, the fulfillment of the criteria will not be wasted. We all hope that the country will continue along the same way after the elections.

Russia: A Cause for Concern?

MN: In view of Tadić’s recent statements regarding Serbia’s close ties with Russia, how do you see their future relationship with Russia and the ex-Soviet satellites? Should this be a cause of concern for the EU?

EK: It’s not the only case when Serbia’s relations with Russia are being mentioned. We know that there are some politicians from smaller parties now who even say that Russia is the alternative to the EU. The way Serbia develops its relations with Russia will be followed much more closely. Serbia is a candidate country and we should follow this aspect very carefully and they should be aware of that. We expect them to behave as an EU candidate country.

There’s nothing wrong in developing relations with Russia. We all have relations with Russia, economic, trade-related relations, etc. All Western democracies, including the United States, have relations with Russia. Basically, the issues surrounding the future direction of the country should be very clear and in that respect any movement towards Russia will be followed and assessed.

MN: How do you see Serbia’s relations with Turkey, as the latter has invested a lot in the Western Balkans?

EK: I have very definite opinion about that. Turkey is a very big, important country. Its influence in the Western Balkans is growing, they are very active. I think that the European Union should try to find as many ways of cooperation with Turkey as possible and not to compete, block or try to stop the relations or influence of Turkey. This kind of approach will be good for Turkey, for the Western Balkans and for the EU. No unnecessary competition or blocking would be wise, so let’s cooperate!


MN: Bosnia and Herzegovina made small steps towards political normality and resuming a constructive dialogue with the EU. Will this compromise last? How will Republika Sprska adapt to these new political developments?

EK: We are again all glad that, after a very long time, it was possible to achieve these small steps. They are concrete steps and if they manage to find a solution to the Sejdić and Finci v. BiH case, then the Stabilization and Association Agreement can be signed; there were two conditions, they fulfilled them, but it is disturbing that the constitutional change challenge remained.

Solving this would be another concrete example that they can do things together. I would say that I’m a little bit optimistic about the continuity of this positive trend in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I think that the European Commission is doing a really good job for the country.

The dialogue on the reform of the judiciary in Republika Sprska, which was suggested by Commissioner Füle, has started and these discussions are going to continue. I think that they will change into a more cooperative approach to Republika Sprska and Milorad Dodić.

Sometimes, the bad image of Republika Sprska is not reflecting the reality and it’s being exaggerated and treated with a negative approach. The politicians of the country used enough time to come to the conclusion that there are no reasonable arguments not to go ahead faster on the European way.

MN: As a final question, do you believe that the presence of the international community and EU in the region has an added value? Which countries have benefited more of this presence?

EK: The presence of the international community and the European Union is definitely positive. It is even becoming more pragmatic, in order to help with the necessary things for the countries in the region. The dialogue in the last couple of years has been intensifying. Within the European institutions there is an understanding about what is really necessary for those countries in order to help them to get closer to the EU.

I wouldn’t like to single out which countries were helped or assisted more compared to others. I think that the situation must be analyzed in each individual country. The European institutions, especially the Parliament, are always supporting enlargement and gently pushing the Commission to move faster.

For each country the Commission is trying to introduce some – maybe even new – instruments to support the faster integration: the high level accession dialogue with Macedonia, the structured dialogue on the reform of the judiciary with Republika Sprska etc. I know that the Commission is very active in Albania concerning the overcoming of the stalemate that took a very long time, and there are some positive signs from Tirana as well. Regarding BiH, much more attention has been given to the country by Baroness Ashton and Commissioner Füle. The same goes for Serbia.

In conclusion, I think that the activities of the European institutions are helpful for the countries in the region and I am glad that this is the case. I am very much supporting the future inclusion of the whole region in the European Union. Without this we cannot speak about Europe being one and whole.

2004-2009 Back Archives