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Nineteen municipalities across Albania receive basic training in tackling root causes to prevent radicalization and violent extremism.

By Robert Korkuti and Diamanta Vito

Municipalities today are facing new challenges that include not only public health, social welfare, infrastructure and the environment, but human security as well. Building the capacity to handle unexpected situations, municipalities must have the ability to mobilize their citizens, local business, and institutions for flexible response to both natural and man-made issues affecting their communities.

One of these issues is the phenomenon of radicalization and violent extremism. Awareness-raising and human capacity development to address the causes of radicalization and violent extremism at both the national and local levels are integral pillars of PLGP’s WPS agenda.

In collaboration with the Coordination Center against Violent Extremism and following the structure and content of the Guide “For effective municipalities, active communities and safer citizens,” twenty training sessions have been held so far in Bulqiza, Cerrik, Librazhd, Dibra, Pogradec, Kamza, Tirana (2), Durres, Kavaja, Vora, Shkodra, Fier, Lushnja, Patos, Berat, Kuçova, and Bilisht. Due to the Covid-19 situation, Elbasan and Vlora trainings were conducted virtually.

These training sessions were attended by 530 local officials and key stakeholders. Recognizing that P/CVE affects both women and men, 54 percent of attendees were women and girls.

The main objective of these sessions is to raise awareness and disseminate information to prevent radicalization and violent extremism, as well as to present the uniquely localized push and pull factors that influence the radicalization of citizens. Once identified, the functions and responsibilities of municipalities related to this area and any local mechanisms that serve prevention are also delineated and presented as tools for staff.

“It is very important to prevent radicalization and violent extremism in order to have safe communities. Municipalities should be committed to addressing the causes of this phenomenon by providing appropriate services to citizens, with a specific focus on vulnerable communities,” said Ms. Konomi, the Deputy Mayor of Berat.

It is impossible for local governments to prevent violent extremism alone. An effective approach to prevention is an integrated, inclusive, cross-sectoral one, as the multidimensional nature of the drivers of violent extremism requires planning and responsive interventions. Based on this principle, participation in the training provided included not only municipal employees but also representatives from the Prefecture, State Police, Health and Education sectors, media, civil society organizations, and several religious communities.

“We should not leave this phenomenon vague. The distance with the citizens in the rural areas has increased a lot and these citizens in remote areas are living under economic and social pressure,” said Mr. Arben Gjuraj, the Deputy Mayor of Shkodra.

The training sessions were interactive, stimulating participants to actively participate in discussions and teamwork based on the specific local challenges of each municipality. Based on post-training assessments, approximately 58 percent of participants attended training on this topic for the first time, clearly showing the value of these types of awareness-raising sessions. Participants in all trainings agreed that the best way to prevent radicalization and violent extremism and the key to safer communities is having consistent and ongoing cooperation between local actors, as well as conducting integrated inter-institutional interventions including cooperation with civil society.

Improving the public safety related services that the municipality provides to citizens was another of the issues which was widely addressed during the trainings. These include increasing the effectiveness of municipal police, ensuring the well-being of community relations, mediating conflict resolution in the community, and preventing administrative offenses. The trainees were empowered with legal and technical knowledge to further improve these services in their respective communities.

 Another issue addressed in the training was identification of risk factors and support for citizens at risk of engaging in violent extremism. By engaging with presented case studies, participants (organized in working groups) discussed the reasons for radicalization of citizens, the indicators of radicalization, and the ways in which support can be provided to them.

Particular emphasis was given to presentations and discussions on the role of municipalities in the various mechanisms operating locally such as: the Referral Mechanism against Domestic Violence, the Mechanism Against Trafficking in Human Beings, the Mechanism for Children at Risk, and the Schools as Community Centers Initiative. The Local Safety Councils, created in recent years in many municipalities, are another example of municipal engagement- increasing the cooperation with the State Police following the implementation of the philosophy and practice of Community Policing.

Lastly, participants discussed actions municipalities should undertake to reinforce local actors as they build community cohesion and increase the attention given to the rights and needs of women and girls. Local political will and concrete actions towards gender equality play a crucial role in creating more equitable societies, strengthening feelings of belonging and countering the strategy of division employed by many radical groups.

Ms. Eriselda Stefa, deputy mayor of Lushnja acknowledged the need local officials have to increase capacities and inter-institutional cooperation to better prevent citizen’s radicalization. “We recognize the importance the municipal police and inspectorates have in maintaining public order and safety,” she added, “and we are taking actions to promote peaceful and resilient communities.” Strong communities–those with lower cases of marginalization and exclusion as well as increased opportunities for social and economic services–are better able to address the push and pull factors that lead to radicalization and extremism.

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