The first round of PAVE publications on field research results is now online on the PAVE website.
The Working Paper 5 by Ramadan Ilazi, Ardit Orana, Teuta Avdimetaj, Bledar Feta, Ana Krstinovska, Yorgos Christidis and Ioannis Armakolas is a joint publication of the Kosovo Centre for Security Studies (KCSS) and ELIAMEP.
This joint working paper investigates the dynamics of offline and online (de)radicalization in two Balkan countries: Kosovo and North Macedonia.
More specifically, the paper analyses online and offline factors in (de)radicalization, studying the respective roles of: (1) online narratives disseminated primarily through social media platforms, and (2) peer-group socialisation dynamics in the two countries.
Additionally, this paper seeks to provide a deeper understanding of the factors that have shaped trends and developments in the two countries with respect to ethno-political and religious radicalisation.
You can read the Working Paper here.
Field work research
The findings of this paper draw on six focus group discussions and 61 semi-structured interviews conducted during 2021 in North Macedonia and Kosovo.
The field work research was conducted in two field sites or municipalities per country. ELIAMEP’s team led the research in North Macedonia, KCSS the research in Kosovo.
The key findings with respect to the drivers fuelling radicalisation in NMK are based on the data gathered by the ELIAMEP research team at the selected field sites.
ELIAMEP’s South-East Europe Programme team—Ioannis Armakolas, Yorgos Christidis, Bledar Feta and Julianne Funk–conducted research in the municipalities of Tetovo and Kumanovo with the support of the ZIP Institute.
Specifically, the team organised two focus group discussions in each municipality and conducted 29 semi-structured interviews with civil society activists/members, politicians, religious community leaders, public servants (in the police, education, social work and departments of social security), journalists and other media professionals, academics and other experts.
For the analysis, the team adopted a comparative research method with a cross-municipal study that included desk research and an interpretative approach to fieldwork data. While they were analysing the fieldwork data, the research team also conducted an analysis of online content with the help of Ana Krstinovska, a local expert. In total, the team analysed 61 Facebook pages, groups and YouTube channels, 29 of them in the Macedonian language and 32 in Albanian.
In Kosovo, the KCSS team chose the municipality of Podujeva and the municipalities of Mitrovica South and North as field sites.
The four field sites were selected on the basis of their being sufficiently similar—in terms, for example, of their socio-economic indicators–to enable a comparative analysis, while exhibiting different levels of radicalisation. Specifically, based on manifestation levels of radicalisation, one of the two field sites per country was considered to be more resilient to ethno-political and religious radicalisation, the other more vulnerable. The research then examines the factors which make one area resilient and the other vulnerable to radicalisation, with the comparative insights being incorporated into the paper.
The researchers also analysed official documents, existing research, and online content. This included an analysis of the online content of social media on inter alia Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
- Communities in both North Macedonia and Kosovo perceive ethno-political radicalisation as posing a greater risk to societal peace than 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, traditional media channels (such as the regular evening news and TV debates) remain highly influential in shaping public opinion, and can often inadvertently contribute to radicalisation.
- In both North Macedonia and Kosovo, instances of the national media discussing an issue of public interest from the perspective of all the communities involved remain the exception. Although governments in both countries have adopted a securitised response to radicalisation, they lack the know-how and understanding to deal effectively with online radicalisation.
- In both countries, civil society plays a crucial role in fostering community resilience to ethno-political and religious radicalisation.
- Government anti-radicalisation policies and deradicalisation campaigns must be decentralised to give greater competence and authority to municipalities. There should be greater cooperation and coordination between central government, local government and civil society.
- In both countries, education, including media literacy, is seen as a pillar of community resilience, while the lack of good programmes for developing critical thinking skills among schoolchildren is regarded as a key factor in vulnerability to radicalisation.
- Religious leaders are respected and viewed as essential in countering radicalisation and violent extremism. Imams and priests have an important responsibility to promote resilience to radicalisation by becoming positive examples for the community; the municipality of Ferizaj provides an example of this in action. However, in the NMK, religious leaders have not fully understood their role in the community. They lack knowledge about 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 viewed in both Kosovo and North Macedonia as a key factor in community vulnerability.
- Local leaders’ initiatives for countering elements in radicalisation are usually ignored by the international community and the central government, who favour the more elaborate project proposals submitted by well-established think tanks. The government and the international community should increase their support for grassroots NGOs and community leaders.
- The international community has a role to play in building resilience by exerting pressure on local authorities. However, international actors tend to misidentify the different types of extremism, misreading its forms in a way that fits their own agendas. As a result, the tools intended to combat radicalisation are misapplied.
The last section of the policy paper outlines key recommendations for governments, civil society and the international community in both North Macedonia and Kosovo. The recommendations rely on the findings and understanding of the problems under investigation which the ELIAMEP and KCSS research teams reached through desk research, the discourse analysis of online and offline content, and fieldwork research conducted in both countries.