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Polish and Greek claims to Berlin exceed one trillion euros

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The issue of paying compensation to European countries, which fell victim to the Nazi aggression, is gradually becoming one of the gravest on the EU agenda. The compensation issue is high on the agenda of Polish and Greek politicians, including the presidents of Poland and Greece. Although these countries do not openly reveal their hostile feelings towards Germany, it is clear that the current differences within the European Union have been triggered by the idea of collecting hundreds of billions of euros in “underpaid” reparations. The attempt on the part of the leadership of these countries to charge the “underpaid” funds to Germany is clearly intended to win over Polish and Greek people, who put the blame for all their troubles on Germany.

Such accusations are not groundless. Since 2014 it is Germany that has played a key role in the “European troika” (European Central Bank, European Commission and the IMF), which restricted Greece’s budgetary spending on social welfare, explaining such moves by the need to maintain a normal balance of payments in Greece. In Poland, the Law and Justice Party, as well as a significant numbert of the media, are expressing discontent over threats from the European Commission supported by Germany to begin the procedure of imposing sanctions on Poland under Article 7 of the European Union Treaty for attempting to change the composition of the country’s Supreme Court. Such sanctions are so far not fraught with economic pressure on Poland from the EU, but in the near future could deprive Warsaw of the right to vote in the European Council. The European Council (not to be confused with the Council of Europe) is an important body that passes decisions on pan-European policy that directly affects the well-being of citizens of Poland.

The German government refuses to take Poland and Greece’s “reparation” claims seriously. The question that arise is to what extent these claims hinge on the law and to what extent they are the result of emotional reaction to the truly horrific losses and destructions inflicted by the Wehrmacht and other security structures of Nazi Germany? The Polish president, Andrzej Duda, who recently delivered a most vivid speech on this topic, has not yet provided any legal grounds to justify Polish claims to Germany regarding the damage caused to Poland during the war. Meanwhile, the Polish side is claiming significant sums: the PAP agency reports citing a document of the Polish Sejm that landed at the disposal of journalists that Poland has a reason to demand $ 48.8 billion in reparations from Germany. According to the Hamburg magazine Der Spiegel, if you follow the logic of  calculations by “experts” of the Law and Justice Party, Polish claims can grow to 840 billion euros.

As he spoke on the issue of reparations, President Duda, known for his blunt statements against Russia, did not go farther than giving an emotional recount of  well-known historical facts: “Reparation is not a closed issue,” said Duda in an interview with the newspaper Bild am Sonntag. – “A group of our experts is working on this in the Polish Parliament. Members of the Sejm will hold a debate to decide on our next moves. Let me remind you that Warsaw was razed to the ground. And research by our experts shows that we never received compensation for this. ”

Greece’s claims also amount to hundreds of billions. However,  Greek experts, unlike their Polish colleagues, have already presented detailed calculations to this effect. According to the EU-Observer, an Internet resource close to the E,uropean Commission, a group of Greek parliamentarians from different factions has prepared a report which requires Germany to pay 299 billion euros in compensation for several years of German occupation of the Greek territories.

Kostas Douzinas, a representative of the ruling Syriza Party, said in an interview with The Guardian: “This is an emotional issue that continues to trigger a strong public outcry in our country, and as representatives of the government, we are determined to bring it up for consideration.”  Mr Douzinas, who worked for many years as a law professor at Birkbeck (University of London), remarks that until recently Greece did not raise the issue of compensation because it had been under the EU’s “financial umbrella”, receiving, first of all, from Germany, substantial subsidies to clear its huge 178 billion dollar debt. Now, according to Dousinas, it’s time things got settled between Athens and Berlin and Greece has no intention of giving up on it.

In accordance with inquiries conducted by Greek MPs, Athens’ reparations claims consist of two parts. Firstly, they include the damage caused by German troops and authorities during the occupation of Greece by the Third Reich in 1941-1944. This damage is estimated at 288 billion euros. Secondly, Greece demands reparation for a “loan”, which Hitler literally knocked out of Greece in 1943, forcing the Greek State Bank into paying Germany 476 million Reich marks from the bank’s foreign exchange reserves. Greece estimates this damage at 11 billion euros. Thus, the total amount of Greece’s claims to Berlin is 299 billion euros. The Greek authorities chose not to charge compensation for human losses: the total number of Greek citizens who died of starvation and deprivation caused by the war is estimated at 400 thousand. A particularly emotional point is that Greece’s Jewish community was exterminated almost completely during the war.

The answer to Warsaw’s claims from the German lawyers also consists of several elements. Firstly, Berlin says that in 1953 the government of the pro-Soviet Polish People’s Republic (PPR), refused further reparation claims against Germany. Secondly, Berlin claims that Warsaw and Athens simply missed their chance. According to Germany, the last opportunity to raise this issue for Poland and Greece was in 1990, when negotiations were held on the formula “two plus four” on the reunification of the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic. At that moment, Warsaw’s efforts were concentrated on preserving the border along the Oder and Neisse Rivers, while Greece hoped to improve its positions due to what turned out to be far from “golden” European integration. For these reasons, Warsaw and Athens did not utter a single word about their complaints at the time.

Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for the German government, said: “The federal government has no reason to doubt the legitimacy of Germany’s refusal to pay reparations to Poland in 1953.” But by claiming this the German leadership could fall into a trap they set up for themselves. The fact is that for many years after the Communists left Poland in 1989, the allies of the EU and Germany in Poland said that the regime in the Polish People’s Republic was “illegal “,” occupational”, that it did not meet the needs of the Polish people, etc. Such rhetoric came handy to deprive former leaders of the Polish People’s Republic, former representatives of the judicial and security structures of the Socialist period of pensions. (To defend themselves these people logically argued that they did not breach the laws of Poland, that judging a person on the basis of AFTER laws is illegal as the law has no back power.) Back then, Germany had nothing against such an interpretation of Poland’s post-war history – moreover, it strongly supported it, even though this interpretation was at odds with the “eastern policy” of Chancellor Willy Brandt of the early 1970s, which aimed at recognizing the established regimes in Poland and the GDR.

Now, not only Poland, but also Russia, could tell Berlin about the inconsistency of its position on the legality of Poland. As it turns out, Germany considers the PPR to be a legitimate entity when it finds it beneficial and refuses to do so whenever it has an opportunity to settle scores with opponents of the times of the Cold War.

But as life shows, lenders have a better memory than debtors. So, it looks like the most significant part of the talks on this thorny issue lies ahead.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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Europe

Enlarge views – Europe is en/large enough

Audrey Beaulieu

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The first July day of 2020 in Vienna sow marking the anniversary of Nuremberg Trials with the conference “From the Victory Day to Corona Disarray: 75 years of Europe’s Collective Security and Human Rights System – Legacy of Antifascism for the Common Pan-European Future”. Organised by the Modern Diplomacy Media Platform, International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES), European Perspectives Scientific Journal, and Culture for Peace Action Platform, with the support of the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna that hosted the event in its prestigious historical premises, the highly anticipated and successful gathering, was probably one of the very few real events in Europe, past the lockdown.

The conference gathered over twenty high ranking speakers and audience physically in the venue while many others attended online. The day was filled by three panels focusing on the legacy of WWII, Nuremberg Trials, the European Human Rights Charter and their relevance in the 21st century; on the importance of culture for peace and culture of peace – culture, science, arts, sports – as a way to reinforce a collective identity in Europe; on the importance of accelerating on universalism and pan-European Multilateralism while integrating further the Euro-MED within Europe, or as the Romano Prodi EU Commission coined it back in 2000s – “from Morocco to Russia – everything but the institutions”.

(For the full account of speakers and side events, see: and the full conference video is available.

The event sought to leverage on the anniversary of Nuremberg to highlight that the future of Europe lies in its pan-continental union based on shared values but adapted to the context of 21st century. Indeed, if Nuremberg and the early Union were a moment to reaffirm political and human rights after the carnage of WWII, the disarray caused by C-19 is a wake-up call for a new EU to become more aware of and effective on the crisis of socio-economic rights and its closest southern and eastern neighbourhood.

At the moment the EU lacks the necessary leadership that dragged it outside of WWII almost eighty years ago and that nowadays needs to overcome the differences that prevent the continent to achieve a fully integrated, comprehensive socio-economic agenda.

On that matter, Lamberto Zannier, OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities and, the previous OSCE Secretary-General (2011-2017), delivered highly anticipated address.

In his highly absorbing speech, the well-known European diplomat highlighted the milestones in the history of the European continent’s security system in recent decades and told how, in his opinion, the European Union, its partners and neighbours could overcome confrontation and other negative moments that have become obvious in recent years.

“In the 1980s, the NATO and the Warsaw Pact held negotiations that were considered a good form of dialog between the two enemies. But in the years that followed we have not really moved an inch. We were talking, but we were not communicating… In late 1980s, in the CSCE there was a new starting point, the Charter of Paris for a New Europe, a new vision of a new Europe for stability.

The key point in this debate is how will NATO relate to Russia in the future. In the first half of the 1990s, there were those who were thinking that we need to build a new relationship with Russia as a first step and then we can really develop relations on the basis of that. But, of course, the agendas did not really match. On the NATO side, the Americans were repositioning themselves on their global agenda as the only remaining superpower projecting stability through the promotion of democratic institutions. And they promoted a rather conservative view of what NATO should be.

On the Russian side, there was a big internal debate. Russians still saw NATO as the former enemy, and so they were saying that there was no need for NATO today. But others, especially the leadership, were willing to open a discussion, but the discussion about the future of NATO itself. They were basically saying that they would consider joining NATO, but then NATO would have to change.

It would have to turn into a collective security instrument, into something similar to what the OSCE is today. This failed because there was no way to reconcile the two sides. This failure which led to NATOs progressive expansion was seen by Russia as aggressive, as a development that was a threat to Russia. In response, Russia started to establish its own area of influence.

[…] From the late 1990s, the division between Europe and the Russian community has been expanding. The UN Security Council was divided on the Kosovo issue. We managed to pass a decision, but that took quite an effort. Then we had crisis in and around Ukraine and the Crimea. Every step seemed to increase the distance between the sides and to bring more geopolitics on the table.

[…] Today we face the situation where we have a lot of potential instability and we lost the tools that would allow us to address these problems.

By early of 2000s we started facing global challenges which kept unfolding last 20 years (terrorism, transnational organized crime, climate change, migration crisis, demographic crisis): countries react on them by closing up. We have seen on the migration crisis, EU entered the crisis itself, lack of common policy, lack of solidarity. The pandemic has also led to the real renationalization, closure of boarders, everybody is looking for itself. It’s fully understandable, but global problems need global solutions. It’s very difficult to work on global strategies and sustainable development we very need today, geopolitical divisions make it impossible. The renationalization of the policy leads to progressive disinvestment of countries on multilateral framework. In OSCE for instance we have a shrinking budget all the time, we need to cut back all the time as a result mainly of the lack of interest of countries to invest in the frameworks like this. We need to stick together, to address challenges that affect us all… “

Closing his note, High Commissioner invited all to think, reconsider and recalibrate: “What can we do? Creating coalitions, involving youth because they great interest to make things work, we must involve young people in everything we do. Secondly, we must start talking about the need to invest in the effective multilateralism.”

While the diversity of speakers and panels led to a multifaceted picture, panellists agreed, from a political viewpoint, on the need for more EU integration but also pan-European cooperation, a better balance between state and markets that could put the state again in charge of socio-economic affairs in order to compensate market failures; greater involvement of the Union for the Mediterranean in the implementation of EU policies, and the overcoming of Washington Consensus, among other things.

From a strategic perspective, two important points emerged: Firstly, a more viable EU Foreign Policy needs to resolve tensions that still create mistrust between the West and Russia, with a particular attention to frozen conflicts. Secondly, it is essential that European states reaffirm a long-term, forward-thinking policy agenda that can prepare them for future strategic challenges.

Having all that in mind, the four implementing partners along with many participants have decided to turn this event into a lasting process, tentatively named – Vienna Process: Common Future – One Europe. This initiative was largely welcomed as the right foundational step towards a longer-term projection that seeks to establish a permanent forum of periodic gatherings as a space for reflection on the common future by guarding the fundamentals of our European past and common future.

As the closing statement notes: “past the Brexit the EU Europe becomes smaller and more fragile, while the non-EU Europe grows more detached and disenfran-chised”. A clear intent of the organisers and participants is to reverse that trend.  

To this end, the partners have already announced the follow up event in Geneva for early October to honour the 75th anniversary of the San Francisco Conference. Similar call for a conference comes from Barcelona, Spain which was a birth place of the EU’s Barcelona Process on the strategic Euro-MED dialogue.

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Origins of Future discussed – Vienna Process launched

Zeno Leoni

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image credit: IFIMES

The first July day of 2020 in Vienna sow marking the anniversary of Nuremberg Trials with the conference “From the Victory Day to Corona Disarray: 75 years of Europe’s Collective Security and Human Rights System – Legacy of Antifascism for the Common Pan-European Future”. This was probably the first conference in Europe of large magnitude after the lockdown. It gathered numerous speakers and audience physically in the venue while many others attended online.


The conference was organised by four partners; the International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES), Modern Diplomacy, European Perspectives, and Culture for Peace, with the support of the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna that hosted the event in a prestigious historical setting.


The day was filled by three panels focusing on the legacy of WWII, Nuremberg Trials, the European Human Rights Charter and their relevance in the 21st century; on the importance of culture for peace and culture of peace – culture, science, arts, sports – as a way to reinforce a collective identity in Europe; on the importance of accelerating on universalism and pan-European Multilateralism while integrating further the Euro-MED within Europe, or as the Prodi EU Commissioned coined it back in 2000s – “from Morocco to Russia – everything but the institutions”. The event was sealed with traditional central European music and famous Viennese delicatessens.


Among 20-some speakers were: Austrian President (a.D) and current co-chair of the Ban Ki-moon center; the European Commission Vice-President; former Secretary-General of the OECD and Canadian Economy minister (under PM Trudeau); former EU Commissioner and Alpbach Forum President; former OSCE Secretary General and current OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorites; Austria’s most know Human Rights expert; Editor-at-Large of the Washington-based the Hill; Secretary General of the Union for the Mediterranean; Honourable Justice Constitutional Court President, and many more thinkers and practitioners from the UK, Germany, Italy and Australia as well as the leading international organisations from Vienna and beyond.

Media partners were diplomatic magazines of several countries, and the academic partners included over 25 universities from all 5 continents, numerous institutes and 2 international organisations. A day-long event was also Live-streamed, that enabled audiences from Chile to Far East and from Canada to Australia to be engaged with panellists in the plenary and via zoom.(the entire conference proceedings are available: https://www.facebook.com/DiplomaticAcademyVienna )

The event sought to leverage on the anniversary of Nuremberg to highlight that the future of Europe lies in its pan-continental union based on shared values but adapted to the context of 21st century. Indeed, if Nuremberg and the early Union were a moment to reaffirm political and human rights after the carnage of WWII, the disarray caused by C-19 is a wake-up call for a new EU to become more aware of and effective on the crisis of socio-economic rights and its closest southern and eastern neighbourhood.

From a political viewpoint, while the diversity of speakers and panels led to a multifaceted picture, panellists agreed on the need for more EU integration, a better balance between state and markets that could put the state again in charge of socio-economic affairs in order to compensate market failures; greater involvement of the Union for the Mediterranean in the implementation of EU policies, and the overcoming of Washington Consensus, among other things.


From a strategic perspective, two important points emerged. On the one hand, the EU in order to develop a more productive foreign policy agenda needs to resolve tensions that still create mistrust between the West and Russia, with particular attention to frozen conflicts. On the other hand, it is essential that European countries go back to a more long-term, forward-thinking policy agenda that can prepare its members for the strategic challenges of the future.

Above all, at the moment the EU lacks the necessary leadership that dragged it outside of WWII almost eighty years ago and that nowadays needs to overcome the differences that prevent the continent to achieve a fully integrated, comprehensive socio-economic agenda.

In order to make the gathering more meaningful, the four implementing partners along with many participants have decided to turn this event into a lasting process. It is tentatively named – Vienna Process: Common Future – One Europe. This initiative was largely welcomed as the right foundational step towards a longer-term projection that seeks to establish a permanent forum of periodic gatherings as a space for reflection on the common future by guarding the fundamentals of our European past.

As stated in the closing statement: “past the Brexit the EU Europe becomes smaller and more fragile, while the non-EU Europe grows more detached and disenfranchised”. The prone wish of the organisers and participants is to reverse that trend.

To this end, the partners have already announced the follow up event in Geneva for early October to honour the 75th anniversary of the San Francisco Conference. Similar call for a conference comes from Barcelona, Spain which was a birth place of the EU’s Barcelona Process on the strategic Euro-MED dialogue.

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Turkey in the Balkans: A march westward

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The Balkan Region is becoming attractive for a wide spectrum of foreign players – from Beijing to Washington, and from Brussels to Riyadh. Also, it presents considerable interest for Ankara.

For Turkey, the Balkan Region is important historically, culturally, politically and economically, playing the role of a “bridge” into Europe. In addition, the Turkic-Islamic foreign policy paradigm stimulates Ankara into action: nearly 17 million or more than one third of the population of Turkey are Muslims, while Recep Tayyip Erdogan is positioning himself as the main “advocate” of Islamic world. Significantly,  his authority as a patron of  the Balkan umma is on the rise.

Muslims make up the majority of the population in Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sanjak (in Serbia), in Macedonia and Montenegro the proportion of Muslims is 33% and 17% accordingly. Moreover, the peninsula is home to some 1.5 million Balkan Turks, even despite the fact that many of them emigrated to Turkey and that Turkey and Greece carried out an exchange of population after the Second World War.

Ankara began to demonstrate an ever increasing interest in the Balkan Region after the disintegration of Yugoslavia, but what gave the Balkan direction a new impetus was the arrival in 2009 of Ahmet Davutoglu, who announced that Turkey would assume the role of mediator between the EU and countries of the region, thereby contributing to rapprochement and integration of the  latter into Euro-Atlantic structures.

Since then the Turkish-Balkan foreign economic ties and military and political cooperation have demonstrated progressive growth.  Countries of the region have become involved in NATO programs and have reformed their armed forces in accordance with NATO standards. Since 1995 Ankara has been taking part in all NATO operations in the Balkans and has dispatched its servicemen to serve with international security forces in Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. And it has no intention to stop – Turkish military schools provide classes in Serbian, Croatian and Albanian.

In recent years many experts have noticed Turkey’s “soft force”, and the  Balkan Region is no exception. The Balkans have become a venue for dozens of educational, healthcare and cultural projects, with Turkey financing humanitarian campaigns and investing hefty sums in educational and medical projects, and in infrastructural and energy facilities. Under development is a plan to publish history textbooks in tandem with Albania, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to the Internet edition Balkan Insight, the popularity of Turkish soap operas in the Balkans boosts Turkey’s authority, simultaneously making it possible for Turkey to “re-write history”.

Unlike in the 1990s, when Ankara’s policy in the Balkans was oriented, first of all, at ethnically and religiously close countries and groups, now, Turkey is set on “covering” all countries of the peninsula. For Turkey, the main partners are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Rumania, and “second level” counteragents are Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Serbia. Incidentally, the significance of the latter has been growing steadily in the eyes of Turkish diplomats.

Erdogan, who visited Belgrade in October last year, has described Serbia as “a key country for peace and stability in the Balkans”. Cooperation with Serbia, he said, has reached an “ideal” level.

The opponents include Bulgaria (to a less extent) and Greece – countries where anti-Turkish moods are strong. Particularly, Greece. According to the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet, Ankara and Athens “have conflicting views on a number of points”, including the land border, the Aegean Sea, Cyprus and the entire East Mediterranean, where the natural gas – rich continental shelf and marine borders are still issues under discussion. The dispute over developed and prospected gas reserves narrowly escaped spilling into an open confrontation: Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos threatened to “take up arms” in an interview broadcast by the Greek TV channel Star. His Turkish counterpart replied accordingly: «… we are persistent and resolute when it comes to protection of our interests and our rights, and we have the power needed for it». However, both sides softened their rhetoric soon afterwards.

In the Balkan Region Turkey has to compete, first of all, with the European Union, which looks at the region, not without grounds, as a “natural” zone of its interests. This competition becomes more intense as relations between Ankara and Brussels get cooler. 

The Euro-Atlantic direction currently dominates foreign policies of nearly all Balkan countries, despite the fact that the happy expectations of expanding cooperation with the West rarely come true. «European solidarity does not exist», – the Serbian president announced sadly as he declared a state of emergency in connection with the coronavirus pandemic.  Nevertheless, Bulgaria, Rumania, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and North  Macedonia joined NATO; Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, and Croatia are members of the EU, Serbia and Montenegro are holding talks on their joining united Europe, and Albania and North Macedonia have received a green light to do so from Brussels.

However, EU officials acknowledge that they have so many internal problems that they cannot take in new members.

But the EU persists with its activity as, in the opinion of a whole number of western analysts, hopes of countries of the region for membership in the EU is all but the only factor that contains a new “Balkan explosion”. In addition, Europe is concerned about the growing activity of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the region. In 2017 Austria’s Defense Minister Hans-Peter Doskozil expressed concern over the “slow Islamization of the Balkans”. Also, the EU is doing its utmost to reduce the influence of Russia and China.

Washington demonstrates complete agreement with Brussels. In May 2018 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, addressing the International Affairs Committee of  the House of Representatives, said that Russia (and also Turkey) were as he put it involved in “destabilizing the situation” in the Balkans. Hence the build-up of American military presence (US military bases are located on the territories of three countries of the region) and the involvement of Balkan states in NATO programs. Though, according to an official statement of the State Department, the US policy in the Balkans pursues the one and only  purpose of “assisting the states of the region in their efforts to strengthen peace, establish stability and create conditions for progressive development”. But the Balkans remember the Yugoslav crisis and the role of NATO in the aggressive destruction of this state.

Given the situation, friction with Ankara pushes Washington into building its own military infrastructure with the support of Rumania, where elements of the US missile defense shield are deployed, and Bulgaria, where four American military bases are located. Two years ago the United States announced the creation of several more bases on the peninsula, primarily in Greece.

At present, the Balkan Region presents an important chapter of the Russian foreign policy. A number of countries, first of all, Serbia, continue to request Russian presence. According to the author of the report “Where do Balkans go? New cooperation paradigm for Russia” (2018) at the Valdai Club, Russia ought to exert efforts to expand  the range of partners in this region, simultaneously fostering cooperation with external players. One instance of such cooperation  could be an extension of the Turkish Stream into Europe.

As for Turkey, this region is of importance within the framework of “neo-Ottomanism”, which envisages the spread of economic, cultural and political influence to former territories of the Ottoman Empire. Even though this doctrine has not been declared at the official level,  it de facto constitutes the ideological basis of the country’s foreign policy.

In the 1990s, on the peak of euphoria at the appearance of a whole number of Turkic states, Turkey proclaimed the creation of a “Turkic world” a major point of its foreign policy agenda. In the opinion of the country’s political elites, leadership in this “world” would boost Turkey’s value on the international scene and would thus facilitate its joining the European Union. Now, the agenda has become more ambitious: as part of this ideology, Turkey positions itself as an equal partner to  entire Europe and deems presence in the Balkans vital.

The “Turkic world” did not come into being for many reasons – it received no support from the West, and Turkey lacked the resources and influence to translate it into life unassisted. Likewise, the West does not need Pax Ottomana in any form, while efforts to create it may in the long run  prove too heavy a burden for the Turkish economy.  

From our partner International Affairs

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