Just about everyone knows that there is more than one dimension to the name dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
There is the geopolitical tension between the West and Russia, but there is also the role of Turkey and its continued penetration in the Balkans – using religion as a way in – which should be of particular concern to Western powers.
The construction by Ankara of the Balkans’ biggest mosque in downtown Tirana is the latest example of this approach by Turkey in the region.
The project is moving ahead fast and is expected to be finished by the end of the year.
The Namazgah Mosque aspires to be a major religious center that can host more than 5,000 people at a time, while also comprising a library, a cultural center and a conference hall. Apart from the Quran, people will also be taught the Turkish language.
There is no doubt that funding Muslim schools and organizations, as well as building mosques, are all part of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman agenda.
The Turkish president attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the Tirana mosque in 2015, calling it a “unique symbol of brotherhood between our nations.” The mosque may be located in Albania, but architecturally it resembles those in Istanbul.
In neighboring Kosovo, meanwhile, Turkey has funded the restoration of dozens of religious buildings from the Ottoman period and the construction of more than 20 mosques in the past few years. It is also planning another huge edifice similar to that in Tirana for Pristina.
These initiatives are not merely a sign of Erdogan’s religious sensibilities. They are at the core of an ambitious, long-term plan for promoting Turkey’s role as the champion and protector of all the Muslims in the Balkans, possibly even of all of “our brothers” in the rest of Europe as well.
It is in this context that Erdogan inaugurated a new mosque in Cologne just a few months ago.
Hence the question arises how the Albanians and the other peoples of the Balkans feel about this growing Turkish presence in their countries via the seemingly benevolent path of religion.
Do they welcome it? Are they indifferent? Or are they worried? And in the same context, how do Greece and the European Union as a whole plan to deal with this policy of Turkey?