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Preventing and Addressing Violent Extremism through Community Resilience in the Balkans and MENA

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - PAVE (Preventing and Addressing Violent Extremism through Community Resilience in the Balkans and MENA)

Reporting period: 2020-02-01 to 2021-01-31

The EU research project PAVE (Preventing and Addressing Violent Extremism through Community Resilience in the Western Balkans and the MENA) aims to tackle the global issue of radicalisation by examining its root causes and driving factors. Based on a comparative assessment of local communities with features of vulnerability or resilience to violent extremism across seven case study countries, the 13 international partner institutions will develop concrete policy recommendations to inform citizens and stakeholders within and beyond the regions under study and will develop innovative training tools to support agents of community resilience.
In the light of an increase in radicalism and violent extremism in Europe and worldwide, there is a growing need for a common political strategy and effective prevention measures. It seems especially relevant to look into the local, regional and national contexts and transnational dynamics of violent extremism in the European neighbourhood and to draw concrete lessons for the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy and the expanding scope of its external engagement.
Despite the challenging circumstances posed by the year 2020, the project has made significant progress and achieved the set aims for the first year. In light of the upcoming data collection phase to advance the knowledge on violent extremism in the MENA and the Balkans, the PAVE partners put significant efforts in this reporting period to lay the necessary groundwork. This included the identification of the current gaps of knowledge to be addressed, the building of a common understanding of the phenomena researched and developing seven methodologically and ethically sound country case studies based on solid field site selections.
We have thus several main results that will carry the project forward. We published three thematic studies on the state of the art of knowledge on cumulative extremisms, the interface between state and religious institutions and online and offline (de)radicalization. The three reports were then synthesized into an overall theoretical framework for the project, which reviews existing knowledge on the drivers of vulnerability and resilience to ideological, ethnic, sectarian, political or religious radicalisation across the three thematic clusters. It also outlines areas for further research, which will be examined through the empirical research in seven countries in the next reporting period. Based on this groundwork, a preliminary policy brief presented some of the main policy insights.
The research design and the methodology for the case studies for the three cluster were agreed upon and compiled into our report on fieldwork plans and field sites selection. Another achievement of the first year were the granting of all necessary ethical approvals, with only one significant delay envisioned as result of the Covid-19 circumstances
Further, in all seven research countries, national and local-level stakeholders have been engaged to contribute to the project. Some of the partners managed to conduct stakeholder committee meetings, despite the severe restrictions set for in-person meetings, while others conducted the meeting online or had to shift to individual meetings with identified stakeholder committee members. The stakeholder meetings aimed to inform the framing of the research and confirm the validity of the proposed focus and methodology for the fieldwork.
PAVE also started to create general awareness by producing communication materials such as an animated clip and a newsletter, both can be found on the website (incl. a subscription link for the latter). Importantly, to foster partnerships and to use synergies of already existing initiatives, contact was made with the Coordinators of the H2020 PREVEX and CONNEKT projects.
While the phenomenon of violent extremism has received increased attention from the research community within and beyond the EU, preventive strategies have been neglected as an object of study, and most analysis so far has been directed towards its transnational effects (such as the phenomenon of foreign fighters) and securitised counter-terrorism approaches. When it comes to examining the various ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors of radicalisation and violent extremism, scholars have predominantly adopted a macro-level perspective (e.g. structural drivers) or a micro-level perspective (e.g. profiling radicalised individuals). There is, however, a significant knowledge gap regarding the impact of socio-political interactions at the meso-level, which PAVE will address.
As we are starting into our second year and the second reporting period, we will conduct the fieldwork to gather the empirical data that will allow us to fill some of these knowledge gaps and advance the state of the art. By generating new knowledge about the role of local communities in fuelling and/or preventing radicalisation dynamics, we will provide valuable insights into the tools and mechanisms that EU and other stakeholders can use in addressing factors and contexts of violent extremisms.
Based on this research, the interdisciplinary research team will develop innovative training tools and guidelines to support agents of community resilience (including religious leaders, mayors, educators, civil society organisations, women and youth), and will support mutual learning on best practices engaging stakeholders, community leaders, policy-makers and the wider public in the EU, MENA and Western Balkans.
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