Kosovar Centre for Security Studies and the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy
PAVE Project - European Union Horizon 2020
Ramadan Ilazi, Ardit Orana, Teuta Avdimetaj, Bledar Feta, Ana Krstinovska, Yorgos Christidis and Ioannis Armakolas
This paper examines factors of community vulnerability and community resilience to religiously inspired and ethno-political radicalisation in the Western Balkans, with a focus on Kosovo and North Macedonia. In the context of this paper, radicalisation is understood first and foremost as a process that involves a cognitive trajectory, and is influenced by different dynamics and factors whereby an individual incrementally adopts extremist ideas, views or interpretations. This paper discusses online and offline (de)radicalisation patterns by examining the respective roles of online narratives disseminated primarily through social media platforms and peer-group socialisation dynamics in Kosovo and North Macedonia.
Specifically, this paper seeks to provide a deeper understanding of the factors that have shaped trends and developments in both countries with respect to ethno-political and religious radicalisation. The findings of this paper draw from six focus group discussions and 61 semi-structured interviews conducted during 2021 in Kosovo and North Macedonia. The field research included two field sites or municipalities per country, with KCSS leading the research in Kosovo and ELIAMEP leading the research in North Macedonia. The field sites were selected on the basis of their sharing sufficient similarities to enable a comparative analysis, such as similar socio-economic indicators, while exhibiting different levels of radicalisation. Specifically, based on manifestation levels of radicalisation, one selected field site per country was considered as more resilient whereas the other was considered more vulnerable to ethno-political and religious radicalisation. Accordingly, the research examines the factors which make one area resilient and the other area vulnerable to radicalisation, with the comparative insights being incorporated throughout the paper. In Kosovo, the municipality of Podujeva and the municipalities of Mitrovica South and North were chosen as field sites. In North Macedonia, the municipality of Tetovo and the municipality of Kumanovo were selected. In addition to this, the researchers analysed official documents, existing research and online content. This included an analysis of the online content of social media such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Some of the main findings from this paper concerning online and offline (de)radicalisation are: Communities in both Kosovo and North Macedonia perceive that ethno-political radicalisation poses a higher risk for societal peace compared to religiously inspired radicalisation. However, they are not mutually exclusive and religious identity is utilised by ethno-political radical discourses to strengthen a sense of “othering”. Online media are a potent mechanism for radicalisation; however, the traditional media channels such as the regular evening news and TV debates remain highly influential in shaping public opinion, often inadvertently contributing to radicalisation.
Both in Kosovo and in North Macedonia, cases of national media discussing an issue of public interest from the perspective of all communities remain rare. Although governments in both countries have adopted a securitised response to radicalisation, they lack the know-how and understanding to deal effectively with online (de)radicalisation. Civil society in both countries plays a crucial role in fostering community resilience to ethnopolitical and religious radicalisation. Government policies against radicalisation and campaigns for deradicalisation must be decentralised in order to give more competence and authority to municipalities. There should be greater cooperation and coordination between central government, local government and civil society. In both Kosovo and North Macedonia, education, including media literacy, is seen as a pillar for community resilience while the lack of good programmes for developing critical thinking skills among school students is regarded as a major factor of vulnerability to radicalisation. 6 Online and offline (de)radicalisation in the Balkans Religious leaders are respected and seen as essential to countering radicalisation and violent extremism. Imams and priests have an important responsibility in promoting resilience to radicalisation by becoming positive examples for the community, as in the municipality of Ferizaj; however, in the case of NMK, religious leaders have not fully understood their role in the community. They lack knowledge on how to deal with radicalisation and issues related to extremism.
The unregulated online media environment, which allows unverified content to be disseminated, including hate speech, is seen in both Kosovo and North Macedonia as a key factor of community vulnerability. Initiatives by local religious leaders to counter radicalisation elements are usually ignored by the international community and government in favour of the more elaborate project proposals submitted by well-established think tanks. The government and the international community should increase their support to grassroots NGOs and community leaders. The international community plays a role in building resilience by exerting pressure on local authorities; however, international actors tend to mistake the types of extremism by misreading its forms in a way that fits their own agendas, resulting in a misapplication of tools to combat radicalisation. This paper is organised into six main sections. The next section provides a country background for Kosovo and North Macedonia and a profile of the selected field sites in both countries. The third section starts with the analysis of the fieldwork data on community vulnerability to radicalisation in the Western Balkans, while section four examines the factors of community resilience. Section five discusses gender dynamics in relation to offline and online (de)radicalisation. Section six provides a synthesis of the analysis from Kosovo and North Macedonia, and section seven outlines key recommendationsfor governments, civil society and the international community. The section and the information on Kosovo were prepared by KCSS; for North Macedonia they were produced by the ELIAMEP research team.
This paper is published in the framework of PAVE Project supported by European Union Horizon2020 research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement 870769. This publication is part of WP5 of the PAVE project, led by Kosovar Centre for Security Studies, the authors are solely responsible for its content, it does not represent the opinion of the European Commission and the Commission is not responsible for any use that might be made of data appearing therein.