Much-loved Soaps Polish Turkey’s Image in Balkans

Under former prime minister Ahmet Davutaglu, Turkish foreign policy shifted towards its current "zero problems with neighbours" policy, and to win-win policies that allow Ankara to spread its influence politically, economically and culturally.

The boom in Turkish soap operas throughout the Balkans during this time provides a good example of this influence.

Over the past decade, almost every television outlet in the Balkans has broadcasted at least one Turkish soap opera. Researcher Mehmet Huseyin Bilgin says Turkey was the second highest global exporter of TV series in 2014, including soap operas - behind only the United States.

In countries like North Macedonia, Turkish soap operas are the second most consumed content on TV, following the main news shows. In Montenegro, they have largely replaced Latin American competitors on the market. Their popularity also shows no sign of fading.

Although many of these soap operas have no direct link to Turkish officialdom, the government in Ankara shows its appreciation for them by helping to disseminate this product.

In many cases, the government offers programmes to local TV stations in the region for free, as is the case with Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The shows are broadcast in all regional languages, exposing local households to an idealized depiction of Turkish life and helping to create a positive image of Turkey that resonates in parts of the Balkans thanks to a shared cultural history.

The Fall of Leaves, released in the Balkans in 2010, reinforced the image of traditional family structures as it followed the Tekin family and its patriarch, Ali Riza, as they transition from a small village to life in Istanbul.

Other shows glorify the history of the former Ottoman...

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