Results of TC Understanding and preventing radicalization among youth 

Alarmed by the ongoing presence of extremist movements in the EU, Foundation "Solidarity Works" and its international partner consortium of youth organizations gathered active young people, youth workers, activists, teachers, and psychologists. from European and neighboring countries to discuss radicalization and extremism which continuously threaten democracies and endanger the well-being of young people.

Twenty-two participants from the partner countries including North Macedonia, the UK, Slovenia, Azerbaijan, Italy, Bulgaria, and Serbia took part in the 8-day training course in the village of Drugan in West Bulgaria. The project took place from the 20th until the 27th of March. The training course aimed to promote the active participation of youth in the prevention of extremism phenomena and develop practical approaches to combat radicalization through youth work and non-formal education.

To recognize and be able to support youth vulnerable to radicalization, we need to develop sensitivity towards the complexity of individual and social risk factors that enhance susceptibility to radicalization. Financial crises, the polarization of society, the availability of extremist propaganda, and violations of the rights of marginalized social groups are among the most frequent social determinants of radicalization. Unemployment, isolation, family disaffiliation, and difficult life events constitute some of the most common individual vulnerability factors.

Institutions working with youth and their staff need to develop and exchange tools, methods, and good practices that counteract radicalization. In that regard, participants shared research from their home countries which included information about prevalence statistics for radicalization, legal repercussions for perpetrators, state policies, and initiatives by civic society groups and NGOs. An outcome of gathering the information from participating countries was building up a unique set of best practices and recommendations to prevent radicalization among youth. As it was concluded, an indispensable part of the process of combating radicalization is a collaboration between public institutions, and professionals in the field of psychology, social, and youth work to extend the capacity of programs for all of the prevention stakeholders.

During the project, participants met Marian Karagyozov, a Ph.D. researcher at the Institute of Balkan Studies in Bulgaria, who presented some political theories to contextualize the relation of radicalization to political polarization. Chief inspector Minko Pondev from the “National center for sports security" at the National Police of Bulgaria showcased acts of extremism conducted by sports groups and discussed the tools these groups use to recruit supporters, as well as intervention methods to address them. Ivelina Dundakova, a well-respected expert from the Ministry of Internal affairs and Head of the “Regional cooperation and international organizations” Unit, shared her observations and work experiences related to right-wing and religious radicalization.

The program also included a session demonstrating the Theatre of the Oppressed method to experiment with using the tool as a platform for youth to take a proactive role in addressing various social situations. Another workshop involved a role-play, whereby the trainees acted out scenarios and had the opportunity to step into the position of both young people and youth workers, and to reflect on the potential challenges and approaches to ensuring effective support to youth in complex situations that may involve radicalization. To that end, an important insight shared by Slovenian participant Jaka Andrej Vojevec was that youth workers need to carefully examine their biases and continuously educate themselves, to avoid making counterproductive judgments based on prejudice or lack of understanding.

Training participants also had the opportunity to enjoy the beauties of the natural landscape and cultural sights of the Radomir municipality through a visit to the Zemen Monastery, including its UNESCO-protected 14th-century orthodox church, a local dairy factory, as well as the lakes of Stefanovo, and Dolna Dikanya.