Dr. Valery Perry is an Independent Consultant/Senior Associate Democratization Policy Council, in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Valery Perry has worked in Bosnia and Herzegovina since the late 1990s, conducting research and working for organizations including the NATO Stabilization Force (SFOR), the European Center for Minority Issues (ECMI) and several NGOs. She worked at the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo from 2004 – 2011, as Deputy Director of the Education Department, and Deputy Director of the Human Dimension Department. She worked as Chief of Party for the Public International Law and Policy Group (PILPG) in Sarajevo, implementing a project to increase civil society engagement in constitutional reform processes in BiH. She has worked as a regional consultant for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the UN Development Program, IMPAQ International and other organizations, is an assistant professor of conflict analysis and resolution at the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology, and a Senior Associate in the Democratization Policy Council. She recently completed a study for the Regional Cooperation Council on efforts to prevent and counter violent extremism in seven countries in the Balkans and Turkey. Valery received a B.A. from the University of Rochester, an M.A. from Indiana University’s Russian and East European Institute, and a Ph.D. from George Mason University’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. Valery has published numerous articles and book chapters, has spoken at conferences and policy events in the United States and throughout Europe, and has testified at the U.S. Congress on policy issues in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 2015, Ashgate published a book she co-edited with Soeren Keil, entitled, Statebuilding and Democratization in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
- How does the delay in the process of European integration of the Balkan region affect the growth of violent religious extremism?
I would urge you to frame this issue differently. Any country aspiring to European integration should be 100% focused on making the reforms needed to achieve membership. Such reforms will improve the economic, social and political position of the country and its citizens, and at the same time make the country eligible for EU or NATO membership. Integration doesn’t lead to a reformed society, but reforms can lead to integration.
Therefore, if a country’s leaders are committed to Euro-Atlantic integration, then they should be adopting and implementing legislation and reforms to improve the country and the lives of its citizens, ensure effective governance and the rule of law and take steps to more effectively counter violent extremism. These processes can happen independent of any external incentives, but would then pay off with EU and NATO membership.
- According to national and international reports on Kosovo, the country suffers from high levels of corruption, organized crime and nepotism, lack of the rule of law, a high unemployment rate and a low rate of economic development. Do you think the low prospect for positive development of the country affects the potential for radicalization of young people?
Studies of the drivers of radicalization consistently show that the drivers are multiple and complex. There is no one simple explanation for what contributes to the radicalization of an individual. There is no single “profile.” However, a number of recent studies – globally and in the region – have begun to identify some of the many potential contributing factors. Corruption and the related sense of a lack of justice and accountability have been identified as contributing factors. In addition, corruption and state capture can have an impact on investment and economic development, thereby limiting educational and professional prospects and potential among young people.
While lack of a future perspective among young people can contribute to radicalization, it is neither correct nor helpful to attribute too primary or singular a role to one’s socio-economic situation or prospects. There are many millions of people suffering from severe poverty and oppression who are not radicalizing. One’s economic environment is only one of many possible contributing factors.
- Do you think that Kosovo’s leadership has the political will to combat religious extremism, given that public institutions (universities, dormitories, schools and prisons) are affected by the phenomenon of radicalism?
This is a question that can only be definitively answered with time. The government of Kosovo has adopted a strategy and action plan to counter violent extremism, and these documents are just beginning to be implemented. Earlier this year when I was speaking with stakeholders in Kosovo about this issue, many respondents noted that they have greater confidence that repressive countermeasures by the police or security bodies will receive more support, resources and success than will “soft” preventive reforms related to improving social welfare, education and psycho-social support programs. Preventive measures need the same status and attention as classic counter-terrorism and policing strategies if long-term risks are to be mitigated.
Consistent independent monitoring of the implementation of CVE plans by independent analysts and researchers will be critical in contributing to an objective assessment of their effectiveness over the short- and long-term.
- What method of teaching would help to prevent violent extremism in educational institutions? Moreover, what age range among youth is most affected and therefore must be included in CVE educational programs? Lastly, in your professional opinion, do you think that high-schools in Kosovo should include a special subject to better inform students about extremism, anti-Semitism and radicalism?
Education is not a magic wand that will prevent radical thinking. Certain individuals in every society may gravitate towards extremist worldviews and communities for a variety of reasons. However, weak educational systems do not provide young people with a strong sense of future perspective or possibility, and they don’t successfully inoculate young people against the temptations of extremist recruitment.
Curricula and teaching methods that emphasize critical thinking, multiperspectivity and media literacy are necessary to ensure young people can rationally think, question and analyze the world around them. Civic education is critical so that young people understand the roles and responsibilities of citizens and government leaders in a democratic society. Religious education can help young people to understand rather than fear different religions. Doctrinal religious instruction should at a minimum avoid painting a picture of “the other” as wrong, or something to be feared. An understanding of individual human rights and progressive values is also needed.
It is possible to begin working with children at an early age. For example, a pilot project teaching basic concepts of democracy and human rights to pre-schoolers in Sarajevo was initially greeted with skepticism by some adults who thought the children were too young. However, they were then impressed with the students’ ability to grasp these concepts and apply them at that early age.
Unfortunately, political trends globally (consider for example, Brexit, the US presidential election campaign and election, and some European countries’ responses to the refugee crisis) have revealed that much ground has been lost in terms of promoting and maintaining liberal democratic values. Such values and principles require education and constant vigilance to be maintained, and cannot be taken for granted. Anywhere.
- Would the fight against extremism and terrorism be more effective if Kosovo was a member of Interpol and Europol?
Effective, complete and streamlined communications and coordination between and among law enforcement agencies is required for effective counter-terror activities. Barriers to information sharing, or, even worse, parallel or non-harmonized databases and information systems, simply create more opportunities for potential security failures.
- Lastly, due to your respected professional opinion on the Western Balkans region, please provide any thoughts or suggestions you have for the state of Kosovo on how to better fight against extremism?
Regional research that I conducted in 2016 (see report at http://www.rcc.int/pubs/38/initiatives-to-preventcounter-violent-extremism-in-south-east-europe-a-survey-of-regional-issues-initiatives-and-opportunities) reveals that there are similar challenges and opportunities throughout the region. However, governments and communities at all levels each have their own very specific challenges. Each society needs to have an open discussion on the best ways to ensure and enforce the accountability of public officials; on the most effective ways to fight corruption and the official abuse of power; on the appropriate role of religion in public life in secular societies; on the allocation of budgetary resources on police and security organs vs. on education and social welfare support. These are all very difficult public policy issues, and I am troubled by trends I see in the region (I live in Sarajevo), but also in my own country, the US. It has often been said that the quality of any country’s leadership reflects its citizens, and that people get the leaders they deserve. Supporting more active and responsible citizenship is a first step towards more effective and truly accountable and representative governance, which itself is necessary to reduce the risks of the adoption of extremist worldviews and radicalization in any form.