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UNITED Prague Conference Report: Day III

The morning of Day III (Sunday 9 April) of the UNITED conference “Rewind Radicalisation: Building up strategies against extremism” began with a panel discussion “Beneath the Surface” on the theoretical background to radicalisation. The first speaker was Zsofi Deak of Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung e.V. Prague office, the local partner of UNITED in preparing the conference, who talked about work they do in Central Europe to promote democracy. This includes monitoring of municipalities controlled by the far-right Jobbik party in Hungary, as well as other monitoring and reporting activities, and regular events focusing on populism in Europe.

Next, Mircea Toma of Active Watch Romania talked about his organisation, which began in the 1990s to monitor media reactions to discrimination of Roma people in Romania. Later they began to actively challenge stereotypes, e.g. by showing how Roma people are keen to study and gain useful skills, contrary to popular stereotypes in Romania. As a psychologist, Mircea talked about the link between psychotherapy and the addressing of stereotypes and populist narratives in society.

Johannes Baldauf of Amadeu Antonio Stiftung talking about the work they do in monitoring hate crimes against refugees in Germany. He talked about how many of the perpetrators of racist attacks are often not affiliated with traditional far-right groups, but are often radicalised through social media propaganda, which perpetuates a narrative of crisis surrounding multiculturalism and migration. He also talked about how radical groups take advantage of people’s need to be respected and recognised.

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The next speaker was Nuria Millan Iniesta of International Institute for Nonviolent Action NOVACT, who talked about the failure of deradicalisation policies in European countries. This includes the curbing of civil liberties with little positive effect for security, which can often even be counter-productive. She went on to talk about the work that NOVACT has done in monitoring violent extremism by founding the Opev Observatory to Prevent Extremist Violence (https://www.opev.org/) and creating a Plan of Action with 9 goals and 127 actions to unite different organisations from the Euro-Mediterranean region working against violent extremism.

The final speaker was Gubaz Koberidze of Human Rights Association Georgia, who talked about the work of the Council of Europe’s No Hate Speech Movement campaign. He talked about the dilemma between tackling hate speech and protecting freedom of expression. As hate speech often leads to hate crime, initiatives like the No Hate Speech Movement are important in countering radicalisation and the increasing acceptability of hate speech.

The “Beneath the Surface” panel was followed with parallel working groups led by some of the panellists that went deeper into the topics. In one of the working groups, participants brainstormed on the dangers of hate speech. Aggression, intolerance, bullying, racism, prejudice, fear were words that popped up first when talking about this issue. Gubaz Koberidze of Human Rights Association lead the workshop about the No Hate speech movement as one of the ways to fight radicalisation and helped explain the phenomenon through a video made by the No Hate Ninjas from Portugal. Although everyone agreed that it is impossible to know where to draw the line between freedom of speech and hate speech, we also agreed that the appropriate answer is dialogue. And the Hate Speech Watch had exactly that in mind when designing the “We CAN” manual, a tool designed to help us reply to hate speech in the most effective way.

 

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Another of the working groups, led by Nuria Millan Iniesta of NOVACT looked at the experience of the OPEV observatory that her organisation formed, bringing together a range of organisations to monitor radicalisation in the Euro-Mediterranean region. Participants in this working group discussed different factors to be taken into account when creating a European Action Plan for such an initiative, and isolated the main issues that it should focus on. They then came up with a range of ideas to tackle these key issues, looking at society-facing and state-facing measures. Society-facing measures included building community resilience by building identity, building trust between schools and civil society organisations, and shadow monitoring; state-facing measures included bringing youth into the political agenda, mandatory policies for public workers and constant communication with civil society organisations.

The workshop on practical approaches to radicalism, facilitated by Johannes Baldauf from the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, focused on the potentials and limits of online deradicalisation strategies. Social media plays a crucial role in spreading racist hate speech and can serve as a “echo chamber” for far right ideology, but it also offers opportunities to reach out to and directly engage with those spreading hateful messages. Participants discussed various online strategies. A project of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation directly contacts youths (who share and like hateful speech in social media) and engages them in online discussions on Facebook with the aim to open up their mind for different perspectives/narratives (e.g. on migration/refugees). Other useful online tools and examples are targeted advertisement (e.g. ads promoting counter/alternative narratives on far right pages/channels on YouTube/Facebook), search engine optimization or the Facebook initiative #ichbinhier (#hereIam) which uses counter speech to contradict hate speech in comment sections of online newspapers.

Participants agreed on the need to professionally analyse mechanisms, concepts and terminology of social media/the digital space. We have to better understand the way social media is used to spread racist hate speech to develop effective counter strategies. However, it was also pointed out that online interventions are not enough. Peer-to-peer projects, the involvement of family or the community and emotion-based messages have to be included in any comprehensive approach to reduce the level of hate speech/hate crime, in particular amongst youths.

The final of the four working groups was facilitated by Mircea Toma of Active Watch. This group discussed the psychological reasons behind radicalisation, including the influence of the media and political rhetoric on forming stereotypes among the general public, which can later lead to discrimination, hate speech and hate crimes. Participants discussed issues such as the fact that anti-migrant sentiments in Europe tend to be most pronounced in countries like Hungary, Poland and Czechia which actually receive relatively few refugees, and how the rise of ethno-centric politics and media reflects the fear of others as well as the idea that European traditions and culture are under attack. There was also a lot of input about Roma issues, and how fake reports in the media often lead to spike in anti-Roma discrimination. The session concluded with thoughts on how such psychological manipulation can be countered, including by working with teachers, using positive approaches such as sports against racism, and connecting positive emotions with important issues.

This was followed by the beginning of the “Rewind Your Mind” parallel working groups. Over the next three days, participants would work in groups to come up with strategies for tackling extremism from different perspectives, working with Media, Advocacy, Education, Community Organising and Campaigning. For more information, see the report on days IV-V.

In the next plenary session, UNITED’s Jonathan Karstadt gave an overview of UNITED’s campaigning, including an introduction to the three annual campaign highlights (the European Action Week Against Racism, the International Day Against Fascism and Antisemitism, and the World Refugee Day), as well as introducing how participants could get involved in the campaigns themselves. He was joined by Klara Ertl of TEJO – Esperanto Youth Network, who talked about UNITED’s Fatal Policies of Fortress Europe campaign, and the List of Deaths, which she has been working on as a volunteer at the UNITED secretariat.

The day concluded with Political Cafes, informal discussions organised by the participants, with topics including the impact of hate speech and the use of violence by left-wing radicals. Other participants took part in a movie evening, where they watched a short film inspired by the UNITED List of Deaths, as well as a longer film about the lives of Roma women living in Czechia. Simultaneously, an open discussion was facilitated by UNITED’s Balint Josa about the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, where participants could find out more information about the Forum, and discuss potential projects to be initiated by the Forum’s new Working Group on Migration, which was established in 2016 by several organisations, including UNITED.


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This conference is prepared by:

* Antikomplex, Czech Republic
* Bulgarian Red Cross – Refugees & Migrant Service
* EFSYN – Efimerida ton Sintakton, Greece
* Human Rights Association, Georgia
* Norsensus Mediaforum, Norway
* UNITED for Intercultural Action

In cooperation with:

* Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung e.V.
* Prague Spring II Network

This conference has been made possible with the financial support of:

* The European Youth Foundation of the Council of Europe
* The Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union

The information contained herein does not necessarily reflect the position nor the opinion of our sponsors. Sponsors are not to be held responsible for any use that may be made of it.