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City Spotlight: City of Novi Pazar, Serbia

Situated within the Sandžak region of Serbia, Novi Pazar holds a prominent geographic position on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Kosovo. Throughout its history, Novi Pazar has nurtured ethnic, religious and cultural diversity through collaborative initiatives between the local government and civil society that celebrate and preserve diversity while fostering a common identity among residents.

Novi Pazar has been a member of Strong Cities since 2015 and has participated in several Western Balkans Regional Hub activities, including an initiative to develop and operationalise a local safety council in Danilovgrad (Montenegro).

What is the local government concerned about?

Novi Pazar was a key recruitment location for the estimated 70 foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) that left Serbia to join Salafi-jihadi groups in the Middle East. Further, the 2011 attack on the US Embassy in Sarajevo was conducted by a 23-year-old male from Novi Pazar. Even though the recruitment of FTFs has ceased since the collapse of the so-called caliphate, city officials remain concerned about local manifestations of extremism, with groups propagating ideologies that discourage active political engagement, erode trust in democracy and undermine social cohesion. Youth, which make up nearly half of the city’s population, are particularly vulnerable to these groups because they suffer from high unemployment rates and are generally distrustful of authorities. As a result of these challenges, perceptions about Novi Pazar are generally negative across Serbia, with people often associating it with Islamist extremism and as a regional transit hub for smuggling and other illicit activities. The challenge is compounded by neglect of the Sandžak Region by the national government, as well as a stagnant economy and high unemployment levels, all of which contributes to general feelings of insecurity and disenfranchisement amongst the local population.

Another challenge Agadir is facing relates to the preservation and safeguarding of the Amazigh culture. Preserving Amazigh identity necessitates more than just acknowledgment; it requires active support from the community and authorities, ensuring that this vibrant culture continues to thrive amidst the pressures of globalisation.

How is the local government responding?

Serbian law prescribes the establishment of Local Security Councils (LSC) — multidisciplinary teams mandated to strengthen public security — in all municipalities as a statutory responsibility. Novi Pazar remains one of the few cities that has a fully functional LSC, which is composed of Municipal Council representatives, local police, local prison and judiciary and prosecution officials. Civil society, academic institutions and representatives of religious institutions attend and contribute to LSC activities on an ad-hoc basis. In 2016, the LSC developed a local action plan (2016-2020) for security with support from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The plan sought to address gender-based violence, youth grievances and other drivers that may enhance vulnerability to radicalisation and recruitment to violence. Moreover, in 2017 the LSC adopted a communications strategy that outlines responsibilities and procedures for internal communication and strengthening its outreach and credibility in communities. In 2022, the LSC, in cooperation with DAMAD, a local civil society organisation, also developed a guide for its members on its mandate and jurisdiction, modus operandi and member responsibilities. This has helped the LSC respond more effectively in times of crises, for example during the COVID-19 pandemic, where each LSC member – as a result of the guide – had a predefined set of responsibilities to build their response around. build their response around.

Rather than renewing the plan following its expiration in 2020, the local government included a security module within the City’s broader Sustainable Development Plan (2021-2030). As part of this module, and in cooperation MONITOR, a local civil society organisation, the LSC is consulting residents, the academic community, civil society, the media and security institutions to identify local needs, strengthen trust and build a foundation for community-based partnerships that can support the Development Plan’s implementation.

Further, the LSC has a partnership with UrbanIn, through which it has hosted youth exchanges and initiatives with youth to counter extremist and hate-based narratives. The LSC and the City of Novi Pazar, in cooperation with the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, have also launched a programme to raise awareness and strengthen capacities of parents and educators to prevent radicalisation.

As a part of its broader approach to youth engagement, the City of Novi Pazar also hosts workshops and networking opportunities for young people, focused on their economic development and employability and strengthening their leadership and communication skills thorough sports. Further, in 2019, the City of Novi Pazar partnered with the OSCE to open a Youth Club dedicated to supporting youth at risk of or already engaging in anti-social behaviour with counselling and other rehabilitative services. The City has also partnered with the Council of Europe to build the capacities of young people to tackle discrimination, including through hosting a public workshop on hate speech online as part of the Council of Europe’s Block the Hatred. Share the Love! initiative, which raises awareness and supports local campaigns against online hate.

What’s next?

Novi Pazar has taken important steps to address threats to social cohesion. However, the lack of dedicated resources (including through the City’s or central government’s budget) for LSC activities or civil society-led prevention efforts creates challenges with sustaining and scaling its efforts. The City must instead rely on sporadic international donor support. Beyond the need to secure more consistent resources to support the LSC and City’s broader prevention efforts, city officials have shared that they seek to:

  • Develop a new action plan aligned with the Ministry of Interior’s guidelines for local prevention of extremism, hate and polarisation;
  • Build the capacities of individual LSC members to develop, implement and deliver local prevention initiatives.
  • Facilitate regional and global engagement among peers to exchange best practices in preventing extremism, hate and polarisation at the local level;
  • Strengthen trust between local institutions and youth to combat extremist narratives;
  • Implement inter- and intrareligious dialogue aimed at celebrating the diverse religious and ethnic composition of Novi Pazar, while also safeguarding inter-community cohesion.

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