arrow-circle arrow-down-basicarrow-down arrow-left-small arrow-left arrow-right-small arrow-right arrow-up arrow closefacebooklinkedinsearch twittervideo-icon

City Spotlight: Kumanovo, North Macedonia

Kumanovo is the largest municipality in North Macedonia, with a growing population of over 105,000 people. It is a multiethnic city situated in the northeast of the country, close to the Serbian border.

The Municipality became a member of Strong Cities in 2016 and was supported by the Network to build a Community Action Team (CAT), a multi-actor working group with the responsibility to address hate and extremism through monitoring local threat and risk dynamics and implementing programmes accordingly. With support from Strong Cities, CAT members benefited from capacity building, including through participation in two Strong Cities exchanges in Skopje and Elbasan in 2019 and 2021, respectively. Strong Cities additionally supported the CAT to map community resilience, evaluated the CAT’s impact and sustainability and helped the Municipality host a countrywide exchange between different CATs across North Macedonia. The Municipality of Kumanovo currently sits on Strong Cities’ International Steering Committee.

What is the local government concerned about?

The Municipality has experienced significant challenges related to hate, extremism and polarisation in recent years. Extremist groups have tapped into historical grievances between the Municipality’s two main ethnic groups – Albanians and Macedonians – to further divide them, including along religious lines, with most of the Municipality’s Albanian community being Muslim, and most of the Macedonian community being Orthodox Christian. This has escalated to violence – for example, Kumanovo was the site of inter-ethnic clashes during the country’s seven-month insurgency in 2001 between the militant group Albanian National Liberation Army and Macedonian security forces. Additionally, in 2015, an armed clash between militants and police in the Divo Naselje neighbourhood of Kumanovo resulted in the death of eight police officers, an additional 37 that were wounded, as well as the death of ten militants. The lack of consensus around what caused these clashes has, in turn, been exploited by political figures who have accused one another of being involved and inciting violence.

Further, in September 2020, police arrested three citizens who had returned from having travelled to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS, and were in possession of weapons, ammunition and explosives and were plotting to commit an attack in the city. Later that year, an additional eight men were arrested in Kumanovo on similar charges. While Kumanovo remains resilient and is implementing a homegrown local response through its CAT, which is informed by global good practices, threats of hate and extremism remain high.

How is the local government responding?

The Municipality, led by Mayor Maksim Dimitrievski, has prioritised investments in local prevention infrastructure and programmes. This includes the establishment of the Strong Cities-supported CAT, engaging with international partners for peer learning, as well as the below activities:

Maksim Dimitrievski, Mayor of Kumanovo, North Macedonia

Allocating Municipal Budget Funds Bolstering Local Prevention

Kumanovo is one of the few municipalities in North Macedonia that allocates funds specifically for local prevention efforts, including to support community-based prevention programmes. For instance, the Municipality financially and administratively supports a local civil society organisation, Centre for Intercultural Dialogue, to run a Youth Centre, which provides young people with a dedicated space to engage on civic initiatives and skills development, building their resilience against harmful groups and narratives.  

The Municipality has also created a Youth Office to address the lack of trust between youth and local institutions and provide the Municipality further insight into youth priorities, ensuring these inform policy and programming.

Capacity Building

With support from Strong Cities, the Municipality arranged trainings for CAT members on the prevention of extremism and hate speech, local action planning and civic education. CAT members also organised capacity building seminars for various community-based practitioners, including four two-day workshops on detecting early signs of radicalisation to violence for sociologists, educators and psychologists from elementary and high schools in Kumanovo. To further enhance its prevention capacities, the Municipality additionally hosted a national exchange of experiences and good practices among CATs from across the country, gathering local leaders and practitioners to share knowledge, experiences, and insights. The Municipality plans to continue building the capacities of its CAT members, particularly in the field of youth engagement, research and data collection, and communication, but requires donor support and additional peer-learning opportunities to do so at scale.

National-Local Cooperation (NLC)

Mayor Dimitrievski and local government practitioners have worked closely with the National Committee for Countering Violent Extremism and Counterterrorism (NCCVECT). For example, representatives from the Municipality have taken part in NCCVECT-organised activities and events that raise awareness of the National Counter-Terrorism Strategy, seeking to facilitate its implementation at the local level by ensuring the Municipality’s prevention efforts align with its priorities. At the above-mentioned countrywide exchange between CATs, the National CVE Coordinator, Zlatko Apostolovski, commended the Municipality’s dedication to implementing the National Strategy, especially in operationalising a whole-of-society approach through the establishment of its CAT and community-based investments, as well as the Municipality’s efforts to rehabilitate and reintegrate returnees from conflict zones. In addition, to facilitate and sustain NLC on prevention, the CAT includes members of law enforcement, which is under the purview of the Ministry of Interior.

Opening Session of the Strong Cities workshop – Local Multi-Stakeholder Prevention Models: National Exchange of Experiences and Good Practices Between Community Action Teams In North Macedonia

What’s next?

The Municipality seeks to continue building the capacities of the CAT and other relevant municipal entities focused on prevention, particularly to engage young people and to conduct ongoing local needs’ mappings, building on the Community Resilience Study previously conducted with Strong Cities. It will also focus on generating funds for CAT and other community-based programming to supplement the modest budget the Municipality already allocates for prevention. This programming would be directed towards interethnic and interreligious dialogue initiatives, youth engagement, and empowerment of women and girls in prevention. Sustained and institutionalised NLC is also a need that the Municipality has identified in order to overcome the Municipality’s historical reliance on personal relationships to facilitate cooperation with relevant national agencies.

Is your city a Strong City?

Strong Cities membership is open to local authorities at the city, municipal or other subnational level. Membership is free of charge.