Extension Strategies of Iranian Cultural Hegemony in Balkan Countries

Extension Strategies of Iranian Cultural Hegemony in Balkan Countries
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Since the installation of the Islamic system in Iran, there has been a tendency for interference in other parts of the world. Theorists and state and cultural leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran during this period have developed various ideas and concepts to justify their expansionist policies. Iran has always targeted Islamic states and regions, including the countries of the Western Balkans. While the idea of intervention in other countries of the world was articulated within the theory of "exporting the Islamic revolution of Iran". It was first thrown out by the leader of the Islamic Revolution of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, who said:

“From what we say that our revolution should be exported to every country, it should not be misunderstood that we want to conquer other countries of the world. We want what happened in Iran and this awakening here, which is the Iranians distanced themselves from the world superpowers, the same to be realized by the people and other countries of the world. The meaning of exporting the revolution is for all peoples to wake up and save themselves from the violence and oppression in which they find themselves.”1.

On this idea of the head of the Islamic Revolution was constructed the theory of exportation of the Islamic revolution of Iran, which according to the scholar Ruh Ramazani is defined as follows: “ Exporting the revolution in a short period of time is a mechanism to protect the Islamic Republic and maintain its security, especially in the Persian Gulf region, while in the longer term, it is a mechanism to finally establish a world system under the umbrella of Islamic justice”2. On this idea, among Iranian ideologues and rulers, developed policies and various, often contradictory, narratives were constructed in relation to the content and ways of exporting the Islamic revolution to other countries.

Iran was aware that the Balkan region is populated by a large number of Muslims. Thus, it saw the Balkans as ideal for its strategic plans, extending its cultural, political, economic, and military influence. The scope of Iran is the extension of its cultural hegemony by opening institutes, associations, schools, and other kinds of institutions. Iranian Cultural Centers in the region of Western Balkan, in order to extend their influence in society, have used several strategies.

In the course of time, they have opened several organizations and educational-cultural centers through which they would spread the discourse of Islamist ideology as well as the Iranian narrative of Shiite Islam. Among these organizations has been the World Center of Islamic Sciences (Markaz-e Jahani-ye Olum-e Eslami), Organization of madrasas abroad (Sazman-e Madares-e Kharej az Keshvar), Islamic culture and Relations Organization (Sazman-e Farhang va Ertebatat-e Eslami), Al-Mustafa International University, etc.… In addition to providing higher education of Islamic knowledge for non-Iranian students, these centers in many countries of the world have also opened their representative offices where they have organized educational, cultural, and Islamic knowledge activities. These organizations also opened their offices in the Western Balkans region. Using these organizations, Iran in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia has opened scientific and research institutes, high schools, published scientific books and journals and managed to send a number of students to Iran to study in various departments, especially students attending school for Islamic sciences in the city of Qom.

It is also worth noting that the target of Iranian influence in the Western Balkans is the tekkes and sects of these countries, which have operated for centuries, especially the Bektashi sect. They have tried interpreting the events and concepts of the Balkan sects from the perspective of the Shiite narrative. Furthermore, when it comes to the heritage of Sufi culture, Iranian cultural representatives in the Balkans try to impose the Shiite point of view. Through the construction of such a narrative, also not taking into account the cultural heritage of the Ottoman Empire in Western Balkan, the Iranians make efforts to use the Persian creativity of the Balkans to create cultural ties and proximity between Iran and the Balkan countries.

There can be no talk of any significant success from all these strategies and cultural activities of the Iranians in the Balkan region. We can say that of all the countries in the Western Balkans region, such as Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia and Bosnia, Iran has achieved the greatest success in Bosnia and Herzegovina. As for other states, all attempts to extend their cultural hegemony and the reasons why they have succeeded or not in these countries have been mentioned in previous articles. Although Iran has not succeeded in these Balkan countries, it should be borne in mind that cultural investments expand slowly and can leave deep traces as well as can give answers at a time of subsequent.

1 Rohullah Khomeini, Sahife-ye Noor (Majmua Vasaya-ye Imam Khomeyni r.h.. Tehran: Entesharat-e Vezarat-e Farhang va Ershad-e Islami, (Vol 13. p. 127).
2 R.K. Ramazani, Independence without Freedom: Iran’s Foreign Policy. University of Virginia Press, 2013. P. 54.