On November 28, 2016, REACH Institute in cooperation with German organization Cultures Interactive (CI) organized final roundtable of the international project “European Fair Skills”.
The general focus of the project was on how to prevent group hatred and violent extremism via informal education with the component of youth culture. At the end of the two-year project, a one-day roundtable was organized, focused on how to facilitate disengagement and exit processes, based on experiences from Germany EXIT practitioners and representatives of Radicalization Awareness Network (RAN).
The event was divided into two parts. While in the first part basic findings, conclusions and experiences from the “European Fair Skills” project were presented by project coordinators, the second part was dealing with experiences and practices of exit practitioners from Germany and their potential in Slovak context. Full program of the event can be seen HERE.
I. European Fair Skills Conclusions
The main aim of the European Fair Skills project was to transfer the informal education methodology by Cultures Interactive and with the help of CI trainers to test it in Slovak conditions. During the first phase of the project, train-the-trainer principle was applied, i.e. three practitioners from Slovakia were trained to use CI methodology, while the second phrase involved direct usage of the methods in real life.
The discussion during the round table emphasized several very important challenges in this regard. Firstly, one of the main priorities still remains the necessity to build the “common identity”, due to the fact that the constant fragmentation and constant “us vs. them” division is observable in Slovak society. This is also accompanied to the great extent by the necessity to find the right language of communication with political opponents that would prevent further radicalization.
Prevention remains to be crucial persistent challenge as well. Participants agreed that many strategies and methodical manuals are only reaction to what is happening, but the prevention aspect is still insufficient. This is however rather long-term challenge which requires a change in approach to the education and awareness-rising as well as in the perception of the issue.
Third very important point of the discussion is very relevant also for the second part of the workshop and is related to the necessity of inclusion of whole family, community and also municipality to the educational and awareness-raising programs. Not only school is determining opinions and perceptions of the children and therefore it needs to be taken into the account, should the impact be long-term and permanent. It might also be useful and helpful to look closer at successful mobilization strategies of right-wing extremist groups and learn from them. This would mean also more focus on small and often politically overlooked communities and investment to local activities and authorities.
II. EXIT / Disengagement Workshop
Exit program can be characterized first and foremost as complex social service, assistance and support provided to members of violent extremist movements after expressing the motivation to interrupt the social ties and start a new life. Exit programs have long-term tradition in several European countries, such as Germany, Norway, Sweden, etc.
Exit strategies are built on the assumption that the most common reason for entering the violent extremist movement is related to the need to find recognition, affiliation, sense of belonging and meaning of life, but also space for self-realization and self-expression (which might be in some cases accompanied also by family reasons and following the WWII legacy). Working methods of exit practitioners, presented during the roundtable by representatives of two EXIT organizations from Germany, Sebastian Jende and Stefan Sass, contain responses to such situations.
As our guests from Germany emphasized based on their long-term experiences, the crucial condition for success is finding own motivation and following own decision. If such element is not present, Exit practitioners do not continue with the process. Its success is subsequently conditional upon three criteria: (1) rupture of all contacts with violent extremist scene; (2) rejection of the ideology and (3) no criminal activity. Based on the experiences from Germany, the ideology can be one of the most tricky aspects of the process and at the same time also one of the most common reasons of unsuccessful exits.
Based on the discussion, several lessons learned are important and decisive for Slovakia and define basic recommendations for possible future EXIT projects in our context:
- EXIT as a network of social services. It is crucial to develop a network of external contacts that might be useful for diverse requirements related to individual cases of EXITers (i.e. psychotherapists, job searching consultants or tattoo removals, etc.) but also a network of multipliers at first. Based on German experiences, only minor percentage of potential clients is targeted via passive communication channels (such as webpage or social media). Substantially more important is network of schools, youth organizations, social workers or municipalities, i.e. those who are most likely to come to a direct contact with potential EXITer. It is therefore necessary to educate them about what to do and who to contact as well as to raise the awareness of options they have if necessary.
- Addressing “social dependencies”. It is necessary to develop complex approach which would prevent simple replacement of one social dependency by the different one in advance. Given the social nature of the problem it is necessary for social workers to stay in the position of assistants or advisors in the process of dealing with bureaucracy or job searching. Such external network of support should have an ambition to learn independency in social life.
- Subcultures can be the way. Individually, subcultures might be a solution of looking for substitution of the abovementioned feelings of solidarity and self-expression.
- The role of the “formers” in EXIT programs. One of the crucial questions discussed was the method of work with formers and their life stories in the process of deradicalization and disengagement. The debate about this topic continues – on one hand, such life story can serve as positive example for others, on the other hand the pedagogical expertise is even more important element given the uniqueness of the situation..
The roundtable was co-financed by Prevention of and Fight against Crime Program of the European Union and Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic.