March 16, 2017
On March 3, 2017, over 30 students participated in a workshop on Developing a Counter Narrative to Violent Extremism in Kosovo at RIT Kosovo™ (A.U.K). The participants are active in the RIT Kosovo™ (A.U.K) S’Bashku (Together) initiative in the Spring 2017 P2P Facebook Global Digital Challenge on how to conduct effective CVE (countering violent extremism) and PVE (preventing violent extremism) campaigns in Kosovo. Its purpose was to review what we know and what we need to learn about violent extremism, and to develop strategies of developing counter narratives in social media and via focus groups.
The facilitators of this workshop were Dr. Mark Baskin from RIT Kosovo™ (A.U.K), Dr. Florian Qehaja and Rudine Jakupi from the Kosovo Center for Security Studies (KCSS), Shukrije Gashi from Partners Kosova, Garentina Kraja from RIT Kosovo™ (A.U.K) and advisor to the former President of Kosovo, and Edona Maloku-Berdyna from RIT Kosovo™ (A.U.K).
Florian Qehaja and Rudine Jakupi emphasized the importance of addressing violent extremism for it is a more general phenomenon in the region that extends beyond Kosovo. Currently, 60-70 people from Kosovo remain in Iraq and Syria while over 100 others have returned. Based on KCSS surveys and in-depth interviews, they explored factors that lead individuals to opt for violent extremism, including ideological motivation, the absence of opportunities for employment, low levels of trust in public institutions, and the absence of critical thinking in the educational system and personal motives such as trauma or personal isolation.
The second session of the workshop explored the use of focus groups as a tool for research and outreach. Edona Maloku-Berdyna outlined the organization of focus groups in research. Social scientists generally select groups of 6-10 people that can be balanced along gender, place of origin, socio-economic status, and other cleavages that are important to capture. She emphasized that focus groups enable researchers to explore the diverse and subtle beliefs more deeply than survey research does. Shukrije Gashi emphasized the importance of engaging the audience in focus groups. She suggested that when approaching such groups, one should create a “Safe space” which will enable the group members to feel comfortable. Finally, Garentina Kraja shared her experience, and the difficulties the presidency faced when individuals began leaving Kosovo to fight in the Middle East in 2013.
Students drew three lessons in developing an effective counter-narrative to violent extremism:
- Build a big tent: remain open to building broadly based communities interested in peace and tolerance that include people returning from fighting in the Middle East as well as those who may be inclined to engage in violent radicalism;
- Develop an alternative vision: it is important to build a broader narrative that inspires loyalty to democratic values and to Kosovo’s society and government; and
- Strengthen constructive social capital: focus groups provide windows into understanding how different people think and they can help shape a culture of cooperation, tolerance and support for an open, democratic system.
There is much to do - and this workshop was an important step in building the capacity of students in the S’Bashku Initiative to strengthen the program’s social media presence in the region and engage in focus groups throughout Kosovo.