Addressing Ethnopolitical Radicalization [...]

Addressing Ethnopolitical Radicalization for Societal Peace in Kosovo

Research indicates that new forms of radicalization and violent extremism are emerging in various contexts due to the lasting impact of the brutal wars of the 1990s in the Balkans. These include ethno-political and ethno-religious extremists, which are intertwined with different types of nationalism and nationalistic sentiments.

These developments are directly linked to polarization and ultimately lead to divided societies, as seen in Kosovo. As divisions deepen and tensions rise, political leaders exploit the opportunity to rally people around causes that mobilize them quickly and effectively. This leads to a rise in populism, which manipulates and instrumentalizes ethno-political identities and divisions. For instance, the border demarcation with Montenegro from 2016 to 2018 and the establishment of the Community/Association of Serb-majority Municipalities illustrate this phenomenon, with both political and non-political actors using nationalist-populist rhetoric to gain power. Although these populist figures do not organize or explicitly call for violence against minority groups, their tactics and narratives legitimize violence by portraying minorities as threats to the majority population.

In this unstable and socially polarized environment, the media and social media platforms are particularly vulnerable to this phenomenon due to their lack of regulation and poor editorial practices. Strong ties between state actors and extremist organizations can worsen a climate of radicalized opinions by bringing them into mainstream public discourse, as seen in Serbia since the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) took power. The normalization of extremist discourse as well as absorption of extremist’s organization into its political nomenclature has become a modus operandi of leading political party in Serbia, replicated through its puppet political structure into Kosovo Serb pollical framework. This trend has profoundly affected the dynamics of ethnic relations in Kosovo, as it has led to the usurpation of ownership over community interests, the exacerbation of antagonistic dynamics, and the erosion of reconciliatory efforts.

One underlying cause of ethnic tensions, polarization, increased nationalism, and populism is lack of a process of dealing with the past and lack of genuine reconciliation efforts This failure is not limited to strained relations between ethnic groups. Alongside these institutional failures, persistent war narratives and competitive interpretations of past events intensify the differences and animosity between Kosovo Albanians and Kosovo Serbs, increasing polarization. This can lead to competitive victimization between groups, adding to ethnic tensions. All of this culminates in cumulative radicalization, characterized by the opening of a space for collective radicalization and a tendency towards extremism, including the potential for individual or collective violence. In Kosovo, we see a specific type of radicalization that can be described as cumulative or interactive, occurring in reference to an outgroup. Through polarizing loops, opposing extremist narratives are strengthened in antagonism and mutually reinforce each other.

The EU’s dialogue for the normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia, started in 2011, is not producing reconciliation potential, but rather has become itself a process that generates polarization and division by being  abused by domestic leaders in Kosovo and Serbia.  The absence of normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia is a significant source of instability and tension in the Western Balkans. In addition, political forces use the unresolved issues to increase polarisation between Kosovo Albanians and Kosovo Serbs, fuelling cumulative radicalisation on ethno-political grounds.

The dissemination of online content via social networks like Facebook is challenging to control due to the variety of tools available, such as video content, messaging, closed community groups, and networking features. Additionally, the global nature of religious affiliations and their exploitation by ethnopolitical radical agents make societies more vulnerable to online radicalization, both ethno-political and religious, due to the difficulty in controlling the origins and dissemination channels of radical online content.

In order to prevent ethno-political radicalization in Kosovo, we need rational political leaders, that speak in a language that fosters and promotes multiethnic Kosovo.  This involves promoting policies and rhetoric that emphasize common interests and shared identities. But we also, need stronger editorial standards for media and social media platforms in order to prevent the normalization of extremist discourse. Increase support for civil society organizations that work towards reconciliation and counter-radicalization, such as the RCT programs is crucial.

In conclusion, societal polarization in Kosovo is exacerbated by political leaders who exploit these divisions for their gain, using populist tactics that legitimize violence against minority groups by portraying them as threats. The unregulated nature of some media and social media platforms facilitates the spread of radical ideologies. The failure of post-conflict reconciliation processes has led to persistent ethnic tensions, increased nationalism, and populism. War narratives and competitive interpretations of past events intensify animosity between Kosovo Albanians and Kosovo Serbs, leading to cumulative radicalization.



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