Above: the Mayor of Kumanovo, Maksim Dimitrievski, signs a Memorandum of Understanding with the SCN, with the CAT handbook for pilot city of Kumanovo.
Author: Besim Dogani
Local Prevention Coordinator, Kumanovo
Author: Nayla Joy-Zein
In 2017, the Strong Cities Network (SCN) launched an innovative and radical experiment in the Middle East – to bring local community actors together to drive efforts to help prevent violent extremism (PVE).
This novel approach proved enormously successful, with six of these Local Prevention Networks (LPNs) launched across Lebanon and Jordan, with representatives including school teachers, religious leaders, youth workers and city employees.
In just two years, these networks have been instrumental in invigorating close collaboration between national and local governments, and galvanising the creation of new projects, such as the opening of Lebanon’s first Office for Youth Affairs in Tripoli, and working with religious leaders to deliver sermons on PVE issues.
We are proud to announce that this model is being expanded to the Western Balkans in the North Macedonian city of Kumanovo.
Kumanovo is the second largest municipality in North Macedonia. Located in the north-eastern of the country, it sits at an important passage through to the Serbian and Bulgarian borders. Over recent years, the city has seen a number of worrying trends, including an increase in the number of violent attacks, community polarisation, terrorist recruitment and radicalisation, and foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) travelling to Iraq and Syria. Kumanovo requested support from the SCN to help tackle these challenges and strengthen its P/CVE efforts, resulting in the city being selected as the pilot to expand the LPN model to North Macedonia.
Kumanovo, the second largest municipality in North Macedonia, has seen a number of worrying trends in recent years.
The SCN developed a Community Action Team reference document for the launch in September
The city celebrated the establishment of its own version of an LPN known as the Community Action Team (CAT) in September 2019, under the patronage of Mayor Maksim Dimitrievski. Operating under the existing Local Prevention Council, an umbrella committee tasked with all matters related to local prevention efforts across a range of harms, the CAT will be responsible for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE) across the city.
The local population is composed of various ethnic groups including Macedonians, Albanians, Serbs and Roma communities, which reflects the multi-ethnic nature of the country writ large.
Čair (Skopje) was one of the first SCN members in the Western Balkans, while Gostivar and Kičevo joined through subsequent engagement. The two projects are fully complimentary and all share the same goal, to create the necessary structures for local government to set and own the delivery of P/CVE in partnership with the community it serves.
Additionally, the SCN has been supporting the coordination between the municipality and the National Committee for Countering Violent Extremism and Counter-Terrorism (NCCVECT) to ensure effective national-local coordination on these topics.
This made Kumanovo an ideal pilot city for SCN programming as it will ensure that the structures developed can be applied at a larger level, while also ensuring that no single community feels targeted and stigmatised on the basis of their religious and/or ethnic background.
The SCN will be delivering frequent bespoke training to CAT members locally, while also working with the team to deliver on the Local Action Plan, currently being designed, which is aimed at building local resilience to prevent radicalisation and recruitment.
To support the CAT’s efforts, we are proud to be have Veton Latifi join the team as a Local Prevention Coordinator working in partnership with Besim Dogani working as a Regional Prevention Coordinator to scale and support our other members across the country and the region writ large. Both join us with a plethora of community and local government experience.
CAT Training Workshop
Following the official launch, CAT members appointed by the city took part in a four-day PVE action-planning workshop to get a better understanding of the threat of violent extremism and different prevention approaches, and to develop a strategic local plan based on their local knowledge and expertise, to be implemented by the CAT. Moreover, it also provided the opportunity for this broad range of stakeholders to get to know each other, build working relationships and appreciate what each actor uniquely brings to this multi-actor forum.
Different sessions included topics such as PVE in Education, reintegration of FTFs, and the establishment of local coordination mechanisms in other cities in North Macedonia and the Middle East before members took to determining which things they should prioritise for their local area.
SCN Manager Simeon Dukic presents at the four-day PVE action planning workshop to help develop a local strategy.
The CAT members preliminarily agreed on three main Strategic Goals such as Strengthening the Local Institutional Capacity of the Community Action Team and Relevant Stakeholders, Strengthening the capacity of the local community and Creating a platform for Youth Involvement. For every strategic goal, the CAT members came up with several activities that will most likely become a part of the finalised action plan which they will finalise over the coming weeks.
Our Partners in the Region
To ensure the city is able to connect, compliment and learn from other efforts in North Macedonia, the SCN has focused on ensuring connectivity to some key partners in its establishment of CAT.
For instance, similar work is being conducted in different parts of North Macedonia by our partner, Centre for Common Ground (CCG). Inspired by hearing the approach of Lebanese and Jordanian municipalities in implementing the LPN model at the SCN Aarhus Summit in 2017, CCG have established CATs akin to the LPN model in Čair (Skopje), Gostivar and Kičevo – all of which are SCN members.