Austria warns of growing influence of Riyadh, Ankara in western Balkans

Austria’s Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz has warned about the growing influence of Turkey and Saudi Arabia in the Western Balkans, urging the European Union (EU) to take a more active role in the region.
Austria’s Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz

In an interview with Handelsblatt, Kurz said the EU and NATO face competition for influence in the region from Turkey and Saudi Arabia, in addition to Russia.

“In Sarajevo and Pristina, for example, women are paid to wear the full veil in public in order to change the street scene,” he said, accusing Saudi clerics of trying to introduce stricter forms of Islam to Bosnia after the dissolution of Yugoslavia.

“We cannot look on and do nothing”, he added.

The Austrian foreign minister noted that when Turkey is considered, the Balkans present both an “emotional and a rational attraction.”

The article also explained that besides cultural legacy and Muslim minorities left behind Turkish rule in the region, one could notice substantial Turkish mining investments in Kosovo.

It also pointed to Turkey’s airline cooperation with Albania and new free trade agreement with Bosnia are evidences of Ankara’s extensive economic agenda in the region.

Kurz said a faster EU integration process for WB countries is needed to keep Turkey and other foreign countries’ influence controlled.

He emphasized that despite EU’s numerous problems, including Brexit, refugee crisis and terrorism, the Western Balkans should not be neglected.

“We must continue playing an active role in this crucial region, offering a credible EU perspective,” he added.