The recent electoral rally that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held in Sarajevo highlighted the difficulties of today's Bosnia Herzegovina and the contradictions of Europe

24/05/2018 -  Ahmed Burić Sarajevo

Regardless of how the story will remember – if it does – the electoral rally held by Erdoğan on Sunday, May 20th in Sarajevo, one thing is certain: there are (at least) two Europes. The first is the one which includes the territory of the European Union. The other Europe, not belonging to the Union, is still a disputed territory.

Fishing in the murky waters of populism, Erdoğan managed to take full advantage of the fact that the two "empires" intertwine in Bosnia. The European Union does not want to and cannot solve the problems of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the latter cannot escape alone from the trap in which it ended up due to poor governance and the persistence of an unsustainable system.

With this in mind – and hiding some of his weaknesses – the Turkish president organised a rally in Sarajevo, titled "With the love of the first day – from Europe to the world". This was an important pre-election event for his own Party of Justice and Development, addressed to the Turkish diaspora, an opportunity to tell Europe that "our fathers were European too", and – at the same time – a chance to urge members of the diaspora not to renounce their faith and their language, but to fight to enter the parliaments of the countries in which they live to prevent the enemies of Turkey from doing the same. These are rather generic messages, but very clear to those to whom they are addressed.

The Sarajevo rally could also be defined as a small dress rehearsal of life presidency. By deciding to hold early elections, scheduled for June 24th, Erdoğan accelerated Turkey's move to the new presidential system, approved by the 2017 referendum.

The list of presidents "for life" is headed by Russian tsar Vladimir Putin, for some time Erdoğan's greatest friend. Also Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić aspires to govern for life, and so does Bakir Izetbegović, one of the few Bosniak politicians present at last Sunday's rally in Sarajevo.

Izetbegović too will soon have to face the challenge of the political elections scheduled for next November, accompanied by several issues: the crisis of his party, the chaos reigning at the top of the state, his wife Sebija's political ambitions – supported by nobody outside their family circle. Erdoğan invited the Izetbegovićs – family friends and guests at his daughter's wedding – on the stage of the Zetra Olympic palace.

Rallies of this kind never have a single meaning and must never be interpreted in a single key, such as "Erdoğan has come to save Bakir and keep him in power". Bosnia and Herzegovina's public opinion has always been inclined to make considerations of this kind, simply because we like to think that we are more important than we actually are. In fact, the rally had been banned in Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands, and Erdoğan practically had no choice but to hold it in Bosnia.

Sarajevo, Europe's non-Europe, is the ideal terrain where Erdoğan can demonstrate what he is capable of and how far his appetites go. At the 2017 constitutional referendum, the "yes" won especially thanks to the votes of the Turks of Germany, the most numerous among the public present at the Sarajevo rally.

The rally has provoked mixed reactions in the local population: while some Bosniaks look favourably at Izetbegović's servility to the new "sultan", as many call the Turkish president, most do not want a neo-Ottoman regime to be established in the region, both for historical reasons and because Turkey today invests irrelevant capital in Bosnia – it is only the 11th foreign investor, which contradicts its paternalistic attitude towards Bosnia.

Yet, this did not prevent Erdoğan from announcing that Turkey will finance the construction of a highway between Belgrade and Sarajevo. Anyone who makes those wild mountains more easily passable will be considered a friend. What the price to pay will be for Erdoğan's rally in Sarajevo, which ended in "triumph" with a song that hailed "Recep Tayyip Erdoğan", we will know with the results of the elections in Turkey – or in November, after the ballots in Sarajevo.

There is no doubt that the highest price for events like this will be paid by Bosnia and Herzegovina, that with the current leadership and political system will never be able to join the European family. Perhaps it will have to embrace the different scenario offered by Turkey, with the blessing of Russia and the more or less tacit approval of Western Europe, that will not let Erdoğan propagate his political ideas on the EU territory, but is unfazed when he does so in Sarajevo.

Between the EU and Turkey, Bosnia can only wait for the situation in the region to normalise. And moves like Erdoğan's do not help at all.

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