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Front-line actors utilizing a Guide to address causes of radicalization and violent extremism

In the same manner that the central government develops national policies and coordinates programs at the national level, local government is the hub for providing vital services to citizens, laying the foundation for democracy in action and serving as the primary interface between the state and its citizens. Among the many services citizens require from local officials, security-related activities are of primary importance. Civil protection, community relationship-building, the prevention of corruption, and dispute resolution are among the functions a municipality must provide.

Violent extremism (VE) and radicalization provide a fundamental challenge for Albania’s local governments. Although VE is a national and even global challenge, because of the immediate physical threat posed to citizens and the fact that it challenges democratic values within communities, the local level is often the most critical battleground. Current practitioners face far more complex threats of violent extremism and radicalization than those previously faced and therefore require far-sighted and better-coordinated interventions.

To assist municipalities as they work to prevent the spread of VE, the PLGP, in cooperation with the Coordination Center for CVE, prepared the Guide: “For Effective Municipalities, Active Communities, and Safer Citizens”. The Guide brings issues related to P/CVE to the attention of municipal officials, citizens, communities, and civil society actors and provides reflections and recommendations to better address the variety of factors that lead to radicalization and violent extremism within the Albanian context.

The Guide takes P/CVE efforts out of the theoretical realm and provides practical applications to readers. It is organized around four thematic chapters: Effective Municipalities, More Active Communities, More Secure Citizens, and Monitoring and Evaluation. Twenty-two sub-chapters contain the relevant Albanian legal framework (laws and bylaws), as well as recommendations for improvements informed by international best practices. For those reporting cases of suspected radicalization or VE, there is a useful, clearly delineated table which shows the currently-overlapping legal mechanisms for addressing issues along with information on the local actors who are assigned to implement them (including their contact information). A complete subchapter is dedicated to empowering municipalities through partnerships, particularly through 6 mechanisms generated and officialized at the local level by the central government including: the referral mechanism for domestic violence, the community policing structure, Local Safety Council roles and responsibilities, the referral mechanism for countering human trafficking, the referral mechanism for children at risk, and the Schools as Community Centers initiative. These mechanisms enable municipalities to better respond to citizens’ needs for safety and security and help prevent radicalization and violent extremism.

Security measures are not the only focus of the Guide. The PLGP also recognizes that more engaged citizens reflect a more resilient community overall. The chapter, “Active Communities”, addresses community structure initiatives, citizen advisory panels (CAPs), youth boards (YBs), and civil society organizations which can work together to provide platforms for citizen engagement and advocacy. Communities which are supported by their municipalities and which feel interconnected with other communities, create a cultural and local identity for the city. Creating community spirit improves overall quality of life. These elements work collaboratively to stimulate civic participation in the planning and decision-making processes. Conversely, a lack of these characteristics encourages social isolation and can create opportunities for radicalization.

A cross-section of the whole of society must be present to prevent VE. Women and girls are a crucial piece of this puzzle, as outlined in United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) 1325. The PLGP recognizes the key role that can be played by women and girls as peace builders and the unique insights they have in recognizing the early signs of radicalization among those in their communities. In the same vein, religious leaders, teachers, and those representing marginalized groups such as the Roma and Egyptian communities must all be involved and considered when planning community-based interventions.

Following the structure and content of the Guide “For Effective Municipalities, Active Communities, and Safer Citizens”, the PLGP conducted training sessions with our WPS-partner municipalities of Librazhd, Dibra, Pogradec, and Kamza, in cooperation with the Coordination Center for CVE from April to May 2019. Over 100 local officials, including representatives from municipalities, prefectures, local police, and civil society attended these interactive trainings, which encouraged dynamic participation in discussions based on specific local concerns. In conclusion, the training participants agreed that the best way forward to prevent radicalization and violent extremism is to maintain lines of communication among local stakeholders and to implement integrated, cross-institutional interventions in cooperation with civil society, increasing the resiliency and safety of communities.

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