Policy-Papers

Tackling Radicalisation Risks in the Balkans: Multi-level Complexities and Policy Solutions

19 April 2024

The European Union (EU)’s approach to addressing radicalisation, violent extremism (VE) and terrorism has been set down in the ”Counter-Terrorism Strategy” (2005) and the ”European Agenda on Security” (2015).1 In responding to related risks, the EU has strived to bring member states as well as Western Balkan candidate countries to devise coordinated national- and local-level policies for preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) (Musolino, 2021). EU institutions have emphasised the need to develop strategies, tools, programmes and networks. The EU-established Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) has evolved into a principal entity enhancing knowledge and competences and raising awareness about preventing and countering radicalisation across the EU. RAN’s ”soft approach” moves beyond the security paradigm and focuses on comprehending radicalisation, exchanging information and building capacity of professionals. Such a holistic approach to P/CVE is also directly needed in the Western Balkans. Countries in this region are seen as especially vulnerable to radicalisation and extremism, which could pave the way to VE (Yakova and Bogdanova, 2022).

EU counter-terrorism (CT) and P/CVE efforts in the Western Balkans have been framed under the Integrative Internal Security Governance (IISG) process, which aims to step up cooperation between the EU and countries in the region on security issues. A central part of the IISG is the Western Balkans Counter-Terrorism Initiative (WBCTi) seeking to offer a coherent and consistent response to terrorism and VE threats coming from the region. EU priorities in the region have been stipulated in the Joint Action Plan on Counter-Terrorism for the Western Balkans (European Union, 2018). The pursuit of these goals is underpinned by cooperation mechanisms such as the Regional Network of National Coordinators for CT and P/CVE of the Western Balkan Six (RNNC). The RNCC follows the example of RAN and is supported by the EU regional Counter-Terrorism/Security expert. This policy brief concurs with the objectives and strategies outlined in the Joint Action Plan, in particular the need for a “whole-of-society” approach to P/CVE to tackle the root causes of radicalisation and build resilient societies.

Tackling radicalisation and extremism risks in the Balkans through P/CVE requires a rigorous understanding of the underlying drivers of radicalisation. Increasingly, policy stakeholders are taking into account the critical impact of such triggers on vulnerability to radicalisation (Anzil et al., 2022). However, considerable gaps remain in terms of enhancing knowledge about how the drivers play out, and translating this knowledge into policy action. Building upon the findings of comprehensive crosscountry research, this policy brief examines the main factors of radicalisation in four Balkan countries – Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Kosovo, and North Macedonia. The key drivers are political grievances, religion, transnational dynamics, digital literacy, and economic deprivation, and may be seen to operate at three levels: a) macro (national/state); b) meso (community) and c) micro (individual) (Communale, 2023). Respectively, they have been empirically analysed at each of these levels through interviews, focus groups and (non-representative) surveys. Looking into the complex interlinkages of the factors of radicalisation across the three levels provides valuable policy insights.

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