By Mieczysław P. Boduszyński for Gulf State Analytics
Despite a history of Cold War relations, post-Cold War ties between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and the Western Balkans initially came into being in a mostly negative context. In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it was discovered that the participation of thousands of foreign mujahedeen in the 1990s Bosnian war – supported by various Saudi Islamic charities in particular – had become a liability for the small and impoverished Bosnia and Herzegovina. Still recovering from the war and dependent upon Western support in the age of the U.S.-led “global war on terror,” Bosnian leaders quickly closed fourteen Saudi-funded charities and arrested dozens of foreign residents deemed to have terrorist ties. Similarly, other Balkan countries with plurality Muslim populations but Euro-Atlantic aspirations distanced themselves from the Middle East, fearing problematic entanglements that could diminish their standing in the eyes of Washington and Brussels and complicate their principal foreign policy goal – NATO and the European Union membership.
More than a decade later, ultra conservative forms of Islam imported to the Balkans by Gulf foundations and by clerics have generated much controversy in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina. At the same time, ties between the Gulf and the Balkans have developed beyond Islam and Islamic charities to include substantial economic investments and partnerships, most prominently between the UAE and Serbia. Additionally, efforts to establish long-term instruments of influence are evidenced by the establishment of an Al Jazeera Balkans station in Sarajevo by the Qatari state-owned media giant. These new forms of Gulf engagement transcend religious affinities. They are based, instead, on geopolitical and economic interests.
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