The municipality of Gjilan/Gnjilane (referred to as Gjilan from here on) in south-east Kosovo is home to a population of just over 90,000, comprised of over ten different ethnicities. Despite its reputation for relatively good ethnic relations in comparison with surrounding regions, Gjilan still suffers from cultural tensions and socioeconomic challenges. One of the challenges facing the region is poverty and unemployment.
Since the end of the Cold War, Gjilan has suffered economic decline as the manufacturing base built up during the socialist era that made Gjilan one of the wealthiest cities in the country, has all but disappeared. As a result, many residents have been forced to turn back to subsistence agriculture, and many more have struggled to find any kind of work. The city’s difficulty in attracting private investment as well as endemic corruption have both contributed to a severe development trap and lack of social and economic opportunities.
The greatest challenge regarding P/CVE comes from the return of foreign terrorist fighters from Syria and the propagation of Salafist teachings in the early 2000s following the end of the Kosovo War in 1999. It is feared that the nature of cities like Gjilan being marginalised and socioeconomically deprived makes them particularly vulnerable to militant Islamism. It has been argued that the lack of cooperation between local and national governments also makes these remote areas all the more attractive to extremists as hubs for recruitment and trafficking.
Gjilan has responded to these challenges by partaking in the drafting of the National Strategy on Prevention of Violent Extremism and Radicalisation which Leads to Terrorism that was launched in 2015. In particular, Gjilan was selected to be the pilot city for the establishment of a Referral Mechanism according to the National Action Plan, which aims to improve the coordination between local and national government efforts to tackle violent extremism and support vulnerable individuals. Gjilan became a member of SCN in 2016 and is a member of the Refugees and Internal Displacement and Public Private Partnerships working groups.
The greatest extremist threat to Kosovo comes from jihadist groups and returning foreign fighters, however there is also a degree of threat from Albanian nationalism. The threat from militant Islam originated from the return of imams from the Middle East having been educated in Salafi jihadist Islamism.
This differs greatly from the moderate Hanafi interpretation of Islam traditionally taught in Kosovo. In total, approximately 300 individuals left to fight in Syria and more than 200 returned as of 2019 These returning individuals pose a potential threat to the safety and security of the country. The policies designed to combat the issue of extremism have evolved in both focus and application over the past decade.
Law enforcement agencies have been identifying and monitoring people suspected of harbouring extremist views since the war ended in 1999, and up until 2014 the Government focused primarily on counter–terrorism responses rather than preventing/countering violent extremism, including arrests, shutting down of illegally operating mosques and organisations tied to extremist activity.
The adoption of the National Strategy on Prevention of Violent Extremism and Radicalisation which Leads to Terrorism by the Government signalled a move towards the inclusion of preventive activities in measures when dealing with violent extremist groups. The Action Plan accompanying the National Strategy will run until 2020, and is envisioned to be a flexible document, responsive to ongoing implementation experiences.
The National Strategy lays out the context of Kosovo’s struggle with violent extremism and the push and pull factors contributing to the challenge it poses. The four key objectives of the Strategy are the early identification of causes, factors and targeted groups, the prevention of violent extremism and radicalisation, intervention and finally deradicalisation and reintegration of radicalised persons. The Security Council Secretariat is the body responsible for monitoring implementation of the strategy, alongside ministry representatives, NGOs and religious communities.
The President of the Republic of Kosovo and the Assembly of Kosovo are two of the key offices that lead CVE efforts in the country. The police and intelligence agency and government ministries, particularly those of the Interior, Justice and Education, are also vital actors in leading policy proposals and implementation in Kosovo.  There are a number of non-governmental bodies, however, that are also central to CVE efforts. These include the Kosovo Islamic Association, Kosovar Centre for Security Studies and the Institute for Security and Integration. Kosovo is also a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.
Gjilan has been nationally recognised as a particularly vulnerable city in Kosovo due to its significant socioeconomic decline over the past two decades, and its difficulties in tackling violent extremism. For example, one of the most prominent radical imams in Kosovo, Zekirja Qazimi, preached at an illegal mosque and organised youth camps and sermons in Gjilan and the surrounding municipalities.
As a result of Gjilan’s vulnerability, the city was selected as a pilot for the National Strategy’s Referral Mechanism. The mechanism is made of individuals with the following backgrounds: social-welfare workers, teachers, parents, psychologists and Islamic community representatives, with the goal of early detection of young people at risk for radicalisation. If community leaders suspect that an individual may be in need of support, the mechanism will determine the best support options available and reach out to them.
The programme is supported by the UNDP Kosovo Safety and Security Programme. Since it was established in 2015, the pilot project has upgraded by acquiring a formal structure and greater cooperation with national level actors, all complemented by standard guidelines for local level partners in order to ensure the mechanism works as efficiently and effectively as possible.
The next step will be to implement the mechanism in other municipalities where the threat from violent extremism is also high. It is hoped that this improvement in coordination between national and local actors, and the particularly focus on Gjilan as a vulnerable community will help solve its potential susceptibility to violent extremism.
 The Development Trap at the Heart of the Balkans: A Socioeconomic Portrait of Gjilan, Kumanovo and Presevo, European Stability Initiative (2005) https://www.esiweb.org/index.php?lang=en&id=156&document_ID=86
 Initiatives to Prevent/Counter Violent Extremism in South East Europe: A Survey of Regional Issues Initiatives and Opportunities, Regional Cooperation Council (2016) http://www.allianceforpeacebuilding.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/RCC-CVE-Case-Study-final.pdf p. 34.
 National Strategy on Prevention of Violent Extremism and Radicalisation Leading to Terrorism (2015-2020) http://www.kryeministri-ks.net/repository/docs/STRATEGY_parandalim_-_ENG.pdf
 Initiatives to Prevent/Counter Violent Extremism in South East Europe, p. 36.
 Haziri receives confirmation of Gjilan's admission to Strong Cities Network in London (2016) https://www.botasot.info/kosova/531001/haziri-merr-konfirmimin-per-pranimin-e-gjilanit-ne-strong-cities-network-ne-londer/
 Public Pulse Analysis on: Prevention of Violent Extremism in Kosovo, UNDP and USAID (2017) http://www.ks.undp.org/content/dam/kosovo/docs/publicpulse/PPPVE/PublicPulse-English-FINAL-PRESS.pdf p. 13.
 Initiatives to Prevent/Counter Violent Extremism in South East Europe, p. 35.
 Ibid, p. 36.
 R. Jakupi and G. Kraja, Accounting for the Difference: Vulnerability and Resilience to Violent Extremism in Kosovo, Berghof Foundation and KCSS (2018) https://www.berghof-foundation.org/fileadmin/redaktion/Publications/Other_Resources/WB_PVE/CTR_CaseStudy3Kosovo_e.pdf
 F. Qehaja et al., Mapping the state of play of institutional and community involvement in countering violent extremism in Kosovo, The Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers (2017) p. 7
 A. Speckhard and A. Shajkovci, Drivers of Radicalization and Violent Extremism in Kosovo: Women’s Roles in Supporting, Preventing & Fighting Violent Extremism, International Centre for the Study of Violent Extremism (2017) http://www.icsve.org/research-reports/drivers-of-radicalization-and-violent-extremism-in-kosovo-womens-roles-in-supporting-preventing-fighting-violent-extremism/
 R. Jakupi and G. Kraja, Accounting for the Difference, p. 11
 Initiatives to Prevent/Counter Violent Extremism in South East Europe, p. 36
 First Line’s Workshop in Kosovo, Recommendations agreed to develop a National P/CVE coordination mechanism mirrored at local level, Western Balkan Counter Terrorism Initiative (2017) http://wbcti.wb-iisg.com/blog/2017/07/08/first-line-projects-worshop-in-kosovo-recommendations-agreed-to-develop-a-national-pcve-coordination-mechanism-mirrored-at-local-level/