Gentiola Madhi / 5 Feb 2021
The political rise of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has brought about a shift in the foreign relations that Turkey has with the Western Balkans. His focus has been on forging closer personal ties with the local political elites and on the so-called ‘personal diplomacy’. This paper focuses on the formation of personal relations between leaders of Albania and Kosovo with the Turkish President and its coexistence with traditional interstate relations.
This paper focuses on the forging of personal relations between leaders of Albania and Kosovo with the Turkish President and its coexistence with traditional interstate relations. In particular, it deals with President Erdoğan’s approach to shifting from interstate institutional relations towards the predominance and favouring of one-to-one personal relations with country leaders, as an alternative means to blur the line between foreign and domestic affairs. Such a shift in the cases of Albania and Kosovo is deemed risky, with a negative impact on their democratization perspectives and fuelling of ad hoc practices in the state administrative procedures.
The paper analyses the two sets of friendship bonds between the leaders on the basis of three dimensions, namely: (i) manifestation of personal friendship in the public realm; (ii) Turkey’s religious agenda abroad; and, (iii) Turkey’s extraterritorial requests against Gülen movement supporters. The first dimension reflects on the leaders’ attempts to ‘idealize’ their relationship and convey to the public opinion the image of ‘friends’ through the media, whereas the other two dimensions are strictly linked to the two main priorities of the Turkish agenda in the Balkans. The ambivalence of Turkey’s religious soft power and its attempt to export its domestic conflict in Albania and Kosovo, are deemed essential for understanding the extent to which this personalisation of relations is of a strategic and transactional nature.
The research draws on a triangulation of sources in order to address the limits deriving from the personal and subjective nature of the relationship between the leaders, the unavailability of diversified sources of information as well as general lack of transparency and accountability over the leaders’ shift from official to informal tete-à-tete meetings, thereby ignoring the official procedures that trace the decision-making process.
The results show that the brokered sets of friendship have been promoted on the basis of a temporary congruence of interests and calculated political benefits, missing therefore a structural basis for an institutionalisation at the state level. In the case of Albania, Prime Minister Rama has adopted an ambivalent approach vis-à-vis Turkey’s agenda, and his concessions to the Turkish requests has been duly rewarded. Whereas, in the case of Kosovo, Thaçi’s friendship with Erdoğan has resulted less balanced in terms of mutual empowerment. The satisfaction of Turkish requests has resulted in an exploitation of Kosovo’s domestic vulnerabilities in favour of the Turkish corrosive agenda.