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On 25thApril 2018, The Egmont Institute organized a Conference on the role of Western Balkans in countering the terrorism in Europe. The event gathered Agron Sojati, Assistant to the Prime Minister of Albania and National Coordinator for Countering Violent Extremism and Peter Neumann, Professor of Security Studies at the War Studies Department and Director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, King’s College London as well as Jamie Shea, Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges, NATO. The event was opened and moderated by Thomas Renard, Senior Research Fellow at the Egmont Institute.

Violent extremism and radicalism recently enshrine the most serious threats to peace and security around the world. As a consequence, security and the fight against terrorism have been in the center of foreign policy programs of Europe. Thus, the strengthening of the cooperation between Europe’s partners has never been so essential to prevent and fight violent extremism. The Western Balkans appear as a key actor. Albania, as one of the first countries to respond to the challenges issued violent extremism, is playing an active role as part of the coalition in counterterrorism. Therefore, and thanks to its national strategy against violent extremism and its efficient support in countering terrorism, Albania was at the center of this conference.

The conference aimed at a holistic approach to violent extremism and radicalism by analyzing its every root. Violent extremism is a seed watered by several actors. First of all, radicalism and violent extremism have been studied through a social prism. The lack of economic opportunities begetting a high rate of unemployment (around 44% for under 25) can lead, in fine, to radicalism. Undoubtedly, most of the young population has no perspective of future. Therefore, the actions of the Countering Violent Extremism Center (CVE) has been presented with a special focus given to the education field. As a matter of fact, teachers are the first interface of radicalism and extremism. As they are the first who can react, training for teachers were implemented for now with around 3000 teachers in 1500 schools). Understanding radicalism and extremism is not merely about security aspects but also social aspects by realizing the difficulties raised by the post-soviet period.

Violent extremism and radicalism can take many forms. Indeed, the classical form of radicalism may be transcended. As such, it has been noted that jihad has a lot of interactions with organized crimes. As a matter of fact, and due to the lack of transparency, the Western Balkans are a major route to terrorist transit and an area of contacts. It should be underestimated how interlinked populations are. If we postulate the need of European Islam, it might already be found in the Western Balkans. This vision has to be preserved from other foreign influence. Moreover, the cooperation within the Balkans as well as with Europe needs to be reinforced through coordination to gain efficiency.

The population of the Western Balkans is looking for the West and Europe must work to maintain its influence. Despite the “big project” of the European Union gathering almost 22 of NGOs in the area, it is still the duty of Europe to give hope to the Western Balkans of a better future and for a rebuilt trust with the government. The summit of Sofia is the first step towards this future.

Ludivine Plenchette

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