Exchanging good practices in community-embedded prevention of group hate and violent right-wing extremism – in Central and Eastern Europe
European Fair Skills (EFS) is a project that was implemented by the German NGO Cultures Interactive (CI) in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia in 2015/16. The key inspiration for EFS was to support the prevention of group hatred and right-wing extremism in Central and Eastern Europe. EFS rests on a close long-term cooperation with colleagues from the NGOs Ratolest and Eruditio Publica (CZ), Kontiki Szakképző and Foresee Institute (HU), as well as REACH – Research and Education Institute and Centre for Community Organizing (SK).
In Central and Eastern European countries, intervention programmes on deradicalisation and the prevention of violent extremism, hate crimes, and group-focused enmity are still rare. Yet, the threat is increasing – across the region. First-line local practitioners dealing with young people (social and youth work, schools, prison staff/probation officers, police, etc.) often feel helpless and lack effective and sustainable tools when facing these issues; especially if powerful extreme right-wing organisations exist and actively recruit adolescents, and if the local community is affected by nationalist and anti-human rights populist movements.
Moreover, the regional (youth) mainstream is increasingly becoming polarised and antagonistic, especially towards the Roma population and refugees. Here, practitioners of youth work feel isolated, sometimes even threatened in the community. In order to act sustainably against all forms of group hatred, a holistic community-embedded approach is required as well as customised strategies and methods for different local actors.
Since 2007 CI has developed and tested numerous community-embedded concepts for specific target groups, including workshops with young people, professional training courses, and coaching for education professionals, (local) civil society, political actors, and local authorities.
For the first time in 2005 and 2006, CI was able to gain experience in transferring their concept to a Central European country in the form of a hip hop workshop in the Czech Republic. Since then the CI team has worked with colleagues in Central and Eastern European countries on many levels dozens of times – in and beyond the context of the Radicalisation Awareness Network. Already the 2005/6 endeavour to transfer the youth culture concept to other countries revealed three things: 1) CI’s youth culture concept is capable of being transferred to other countries. The development of youth cultures is always shaped by international trends. For this reason, pedagogical teams with members from different countries are able to work well together. 2) In Central Europe, there is also a high demand for addressing ideologies regarding inequality and structurally inherent dynamics of exclusion that are common among the population. These ideologies are the basis for anti-democratic and often racist movements. They can – as the past 10 years have clearly shown – contribute to the growing popularity of extreme right-wing and populist parties. 3) Preventive measures against extremism and populism in Central and Eastern European countries, if at all existent, focus primarily on formal, argumentative, and historical education, as was, and to some degree still is, the case in Germany. There are few opportunities for non-formal, participative and civic education that focus on the interests and the everyday life of the participants and that also appeal to those adolescents who are generally very difficult to reach – and who have experienced a great deal of exclusion themselves or actively participate in excluding others.
Central and Eastern European colleagues showed great interest in CI’s concept for civic education that focuses on youth cultures. Also CI has been involved in the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) of the European Commission since 2011, which gave CI the opportunity to regularly meet with colleagues from Central and Eastern Europe who are working on establishing prevention projects and non-formal, low-threshold civic education programmes to combat the difficult conditions that are prevalent in their home countries.
Against this backdrop, CI implemented the two year European Fair Skills project in cooperation with its NGO partners in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia. The aim of the project was to transfer, test, and modify a number of CI’s good practice concepts. Furthermore, project partner Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) further developed and contributed additional methods for disengagement mentorship from its recent Exit to Enter federal model project, which led to the establishment of the German Association of Exit Practitioners (BAG Ausstieg zum Einstieg). The FES also promotes international networking on deradicalisation and the prevention of violent extremism.
During this process of international transfer and discussion, the EFS project pursued several objectives:
Over the course of the European Fair Skills project, a series of related activities aimed at establishing and supporting local structures for prevention work took place in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia.
These activities included training for local project coordinators who were then called on to approach potential youth culture trainers and other stakeholders to establish a local or national network of prevention with a focus on youth culture. These people were trained as Fair Skills trainers for youth culture work focusing on human rights education in train-the-trainer courses, including social and community work, low-threshold and non-formal civic education, and youth culture work in the fields of hip hop, skateboarding, graffiti, YouTubing, and social circus, media, and experiential education programmes. Together, the participants worked on possible strategies for their countries and regions and discussed suitable workshop settings.
Furthermore, the project offered professional training for youth and social workers, educators, teachers, police and offender counselling staff, etc. in the three Central and Eastern European partner countries. The LocalDerad training courses are based on CI’s action and intervention plans for preventing group hatred and right-wing extremism in youth and community work (cf. the “Hako_reJu” concept on the CI website). In addition to establishing an awareness for group hatred, this training programme focuses on exercises in which the participants reflect on their own attitudes and on practical role plays about dealing with difficult situations and remarks that occur in the professional fields of the participating youth workers.
In the last phase of the project, the freshly trained youth culture trainers are given the opportunity to work, under supervision, directly with adolescents. For instance, in Slovakia, hip hop played a central role. A civic educator from Bratislava, who is also a rapper, was able to combine his aspirations in youth culture with his ambition for promoting civic education among young people. With support from a CI youth culture trainer, he was immediately able to motivate other local hip hoppers to take part in human rights education programmes for youth in Slovakia, thus disseminating new concepts for youth work. Hungarian colleagues combined youth culture and circus education – an approach that was already effectively implemented in non-formal education by the Hungarian trainers and is known as “social circus” – and incorporated the workshops into an existing alternative school for socially disadvantaged and vulnerable youth. At two participating drop-in clubs in the Czech Republic, young people could take advantage of a wide variety of cultural activities for youth, ranging from band workshops, DJing, rap, to digital music production, and street art. One of the groups designed a new logo for their youth club using spray paints and stencils and another group produced a song that was published on the Internet.
In the youth workshops, the regional facilitators used the activities and concepts they learned in the Fair Skills training programmes and the LocalDerad workshops, but adapted them to fit their individual settings and target groups and added their own methodical concepts. This allowed all three partner countries to develop different kinds of non-formal civic education programmes for youth in a variety of settings such as youth centres, schools, or cultural centres. The programmes aimed at promoting an awareness for human rights and rethinking prejudiced mindsets.
In order to identify and formulate indicators that can help to evaluate how well its concepts could be transferred to other national settings, CI developed a “(self-) evaluation tool for quality assurance”. This tool was developed in cooperation with the EFS associate partner Phineo Association and the EU FP7 research project Impact Europe, whose goal is to design strategies to evaluate activities for preventing violent extremism. The key indicators for a successful transfer of CI’s youth culture concept are whether and to what degree the intervention…
… was an open process with an exploratory character that allowed the young people to shape and influence the activities as much as possible – i.e. facilitators did not set an agenda or define topics for discussion,
… was based on voluntary engagement and building trust (beyond or in addition to any referral procedures) and thus was able to offer a safe space and confidential atmosphere for discussions,
… took a narrative form and was therefore based on the exchange not only of thoughts and opinions but also of individual and personal experiences,
… also included biographical elements, family history, gender identity issues, and experiences involving struggles, power, and peer relations into the narrative,
… was able to focus on the development of emotional intelligence,
… took place within a group setting and thus benefited from the group’s potential for social learning,
… applied advanced methods of non-formal, low-threshold civic education,
… combined supportive/accepting and confrontational modes of interaction,
… also incorporated external issues, i.e. included representatives from the community, civil society, or even the family.
While these criteria only partially applied to individual training participants and therefore needed to be adapted for different situations, they generally proved helpful for initiating a process of reflective self-evaluation on past interventions.
In each of the three Central and Eastern European partner countries, the project was accompanied by local roundtables, which included not only the target group but also representatives from governmental and non-governmental institutions on local, regional, and national levels, specialists from a variety of fields, and representatives of local media. The practitioners met with these representatives and discussed the requirements and problems of the region with regard to group hatred and violent extremism – in some cases for the first time – and determined possible measures for prevention and intervention.
The national round tables helped to promote local networks and collaborations between relevant stakeholders, who were informed of the youth workshops and training programmes so that they could support their integration into educational and youth welfare programmes. Thus, additional programmes are likely to be offered after the completion of the project. These programmes should be able to be implemented with limited resources.
Both the LocalDerad training programmes and the round tables showed the importance of and the challenges faced by human rights education within a societal and institutional environment in which nationalistic, xenophobic, and anti-human rights attitudes are often overlooked or are even promoted. It is also common for these countries to join the worldwide trend towards Islamophobia, especially countries like Hungary, Slovakia, or the Czech Republic, where there are very few, small Muslim communities that are well integrated into the local culture and Islam is therefore very foreign to most of the population. The biased emphasis on the threat by so-called Islamist terrorism, which can also be found in the rhetoric of the EU, is systematically exploited by (mostly right-wing populist) political parties in Central and Eastern European countries in order to incite rigid and inhumane refugee policies and racist views.
It is therefore that much more important to support local youth work practitioners in directly approaching young people with specific and alarming issues: increasingly evident hatred and violence towards Roma, sexual minorities, and other fringe groups or towards refugees (who were largely absent in the project regions). This extensive societal problem is reflected in the passivity of the police and in right-wing militias who freely patrol public transportation, at times armed, and harass foreign-looking people. Furthermore, teachers report that adolescents encourage anti-democratic and anti-EU positions in the classroom and voice nationalistic ideologies, thereby putting additional pressure on friends and family members, relationships that are already heavily affected by the high degree of societal polarisation.
The mood in the courses was therefore hopeful and thankful as the participants who work with young people were relieved and glad to openly discuss these issues and talk about their personal experiences with other professionals. The different groups of Central and Eastern European colleagues all felt that they were not alone in their belief in human rights – and that there are opportunities and techniques for them to apply this stance in various everyday and work situations and to promote it among adolescents.
The creation of local networks was accompanied by the continued efforts of all EFS partners (including the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and the European Forum for Urban Security) to present this concept at international fora and apply for additional financing for the project with which the cooperation could be continued and tested in other Central and Eastern European countries. The project also aims to shape current EU policies and programmes, and particularly the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) of the European Commission. Here, EFS would like to ensure that the requirements and situations in these countries with regard to group hatred and violent extremism are taken into consideration, as these factors were persistently misunderstood and underestimated until now.