Almost every Muslim majority state or region in the Balkans is now home to schools and so-called ‘charitable institutions’ associated with the Fethullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO). From Bosnia and Albania to parts of Macedonia (aka FYROM) and the Serbian province of Kosovo and Metohija, FETO’s presence is widely known and unlike some terrorist groups operates in the open, typically taking advantage of the poor economic status of the Balkan states and regions they have adopted as bases for their operations and indoctrination centres.
So far – so typical when it comes to an international terrorist organisation preying on the economic misfortunes of populations who can be easily taken advantage of by any apparently sympathetic international group with cash to spare.
But when one realises that the United States has an inordinate influence over the governments of Albania, Macedonia, the occupier regime in Kosovo and Metohija and Bosnia, combined with the fact that FETO’s leader Fethullah Gulen remains comfortably asylumed in the US while employees of US consulates in Turkey have been arrested and charged with being FETO members, a very different picture begins to emerge.
Traditionally the Balkans were a fighting group between Ottoman Turkey and Tsarsit Russia. The former often drew its support from the Sunni Muslims of the Balkans while the latter drew its support from the Orthodox Christians of the Balkans. Towards the end of the 19th century, Austria also began to re-encroach into the northern part of the Balkans where they tended to ally with anyone opposed to pro-Russian Orthodox peoples, but with a specific emphasis on the Roman Catholic populations of the northern Balkans.
Today, some historians recognise old trends re-emerging, but there are key differences vis-a-vis the 19th and early 20th centuries. The most crucial tend is that prior to the First World War, the United States did not factor into European or near European geopolitics, where now the US very much does so. The other difference is that where Ottoman Turkey and Tsarist Russia were rivals and while certainly after the 1940s, the USSR and the Republic of Turkey were much the same in a new context, today, Russia and Turkey are partners.
Today, Russia has no real ambitions in the Balkans other than to engage in various trade agreements on a case by case business where there is a willing and able partner. Most of the Orthodox nations of the Balkans remain willing to do business with Russia and since Serbia remains outside of the EU, Belgrade in particular is not only willing but also able to strike trade deals with Russia.
While European and American liberals like to fret about a non-existent Russian threat to the Balkans, many in pan-Slavic and pan-Orthodox professional and social media like to overplay the “threat” of Turkish ambitions in the region. At the end of the day, neither Turkey nor Russia are going to “invade” nor “annex” anything in the Balkans, but just as patriotic Serbs can celebrate Victory Day on the 9th of May with their Slavic brothers in Russia and Greek bishops celebrate the Divine Liturgy with their Russian counterparts, so too can Muslims of the Balkans celebrate Turkish and Sunni Muslim festivals with Turkish dignitaries. There is nothing unusual or negative about either of these things.
However, when one sees Albania erecting statues to George Bush, Tony Blair and Bill and Hillary Clinton, something far from normal is occurring. While the Balkans has a history of being a place where Orthodoxy and Sunni Islam share a similar historic space, the same can’t be said of sharing a historic space with the United States.
While Albania and the ethnic Albanians on Serbian territory continue to celebrate all things American and British and while the US Embassy in Skopje is essentially more important in terms of policy making than the national legislature, it becomes clear that the US has a disproportional influence in small Balkan states and regions and moreover, it is one that cannot be justified due to historic political, cultural and religious fraternity.
Bosnia has always been something of a special case because while Bosnia has its strong share of US influences, others ranging from Saudi Arabia to Saudi Arabia’s enemy Turkey have also become important factors in Bosnia since the 1990s. Even Shi’a Iran attempted to influence Bosnia briefly in the 1990s before rapidly realising that Bosnia is too far removed from anything Iranian or Shi’a for the Islamic Republic to have any role in the Balkan state’s future.
Thus, while Albania and the ethnic Albanian regime in occupied Kosovo and Metohija row among themselves when Ankara criticises them for harbouring FETO members, Bosnia should have been far more compliant with Turkey in a similar circumstance.
In reality, while the Pristina regime “controversially” cooperated with Turkey in respect of extraditing wanted FETO terrorists, Bosnia has done the opposite. A court in Sarajevo has just outright rejected Ankara’s extradition request for a Turkish national working in Bosnia believed to be a FETO member. For a country where posters of Turkish President Erdogan are almost as popular as posters of Elvis Presley were in 1950s America, the court’s decision is indicative of the US waging its FETO hybrid war against Turkey in the Balkans.
The failed Turkish coup of 2016 which Ankara continues to blame on US orchestrated FETO members (something the US has only ever half heartedly denied), appears to have been a dry run for a wider hybrid war against Turkey in which the US is using FETO to weaken the Turkish government internally while also using the presence of FETO in other Muslim countries to try and weaken Ankara’s influence among poor Muslim states who have historic pro-Turkish sympathies to varying degrees.
At the same time, the US continues to use the secular terrorist group PKK and its partners YPG to provoke Turkey along its southern and south eastern borders. This shouldn’t be surprising as this method is similar to the one the US has used to provoke anti-Russian extremism in Ukraine, the Baltic States, Moldova and the Caucasus. These same methods of funding and politically aiding ant-Russian Federation and anti-ethnic Russian radicals and spreading a hateful anti-Russian narrative among populations made naive through poverty, is now being used by the US against Turkey. Where the US used Takfiri groups hardened in the Afghan war to attack Russia’s Muslim regions, and where the US used those with neo-fascist/ultra nationalist leanings to attack traditionally Russian or multi-cultural regions with a strong Russian minority in order to diminish Moscow’s cultural, economic and political influence on Russia’s western borderlands, something following the same playbook is now being done in order to weaken Turkey. What Takfiri jihadists were to the US aims for Chechnya and Dagestan and what the neo-Nazis in Kiev and Riga remain for the US in terms of Russia’s western frontiers, now FETO and the PKK are the same in respect of the US designs against Turkey.
As 21st century partners, Russia and Turkey are uniquely placed to bring both peace and prosperity to the Balkans. The US apparently realises this and is doing all it can to alienate both Turkey and Russia from their fraternal Balkan friends as a result. The only clear solution is for Russia and Turkey to intensify their partnership in order to save mainland Europe’s last developing region from US initiated social and political collapse.