Hollanda Araştırma Enstitüsü  -  Nederlands Instituut in Turkije

Connecting Thrace: Cross-Border Cooperation in the Bulgarian-Turkish Border Region

Robert Feller (University of Groningen)

The statute of Mimar Sinan and Selimiye Mosque in Edirne 

In 1990, the EU launched its first cross-border cooperation (CBC) programs with the aim to improve socio-economic cohesion between regions. The idea was that CBC would not only contribute to development in the border regions - which are generally characterized by high unemployment and a relatively low gross domestic product (GDP), but also that, by working together over national borders, mutual understanding would increase and borders would be less felt by the involved populations. Econometric studies show that CBC can indeed improve the socio-economic situation in border regions, but only under certain circumstances. Three defining factors have been distinguished: the extent of cooperation tradition, whether the actors involved have the same objectives, and whether the cooperating regions have adequately been decentralized and possess the administrative capacity and civil society to implement the projects and funds.

EU-financed CBC in the Bulgarian-Turkish border region started in 2003 and seeing that this region used to be a coherent whole with the name of Thrace during the Ottoman Empire era, it might be expected that successful cooperation should be rather easily achieved. After all, for almost four hundred years, different peoples were united within this one empire and were living and trading with each other and speaking each others languages. Putting this hypothesis to the test, this Master thesis sets out to analyze the state of cross-border cooperation in the Bulgarian-Turkish border region by looking at the aforementioned three factors. What I argue is that the promotion of nationalist narratives, the refusal to decentralize, the relatively weak civil societies and several diverging aims between the two countries all inhibit successful cooperation.

This Master thesis has been written during my time in Istanbul and while being a fellow at the NIT. As a fellow, you are triggered and stimulated to think more - and also differently - about your own research and work. At the same time, it has allowed me to perform field research and to talk to relevant actors, which all confirmed the conclusions that started to form as the research proceeded. During my research, I received great assistance from the NIT team, particularly from Dr. Fokke Gerritsen and Dr. Ülker Sözen, for which I am very grateful.