Virtual Launch of the Western Balkans Regional Hub


Strong Cities launched its new Western Balkans Regional Hub through a series of online roundtables with local and national government representatives, civil society and multilateral stakeholders to begin to better understand and thus address the extremism and hate prevention needs of cities.

In early November, the Strong Cities Network (SCN) held four virtual roundtables – in English, Albanian, BCSM (Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian and Montenegrin), and Macedonian – to officially launch the new Western Balkans Regional Hub. The roundtables gathered more than 60 municipal officials, civil society practitioners, and representatives from the international community. This included some 15 mayors, deputy mayors and other local officials from municipalities in the region.

The events provided a platform for the SCN Management Unit to share its vision for the hub and for local officials and practitioners to offer their views on how the hub can best address local challenges, needs, realities and dynamics and on which thematic issues the hub should focus. Discussions mostly centred on improving national-local cooperation (NLC), building effective multi-stakeholder frameworks and encouraging more meaningful engagement between local governments and young people so as to lead to more youth civic participation.

National-Local Cooperation

Participants highlighted the overlooked role of cities in violence prevention, stressing the need for more bottom-up approaches. They characterised this lack of city involvement in national prevention frameworks as a missed opportunity for municipalities to contribute their unique insights into community-level issues and how global, inter-related threats manifest themselves in at the local level. Discussions centred on the need for city perspectives to be involved in the development and updating of national frameworks to prevent and counter violent extremism in the Western Balkans, as well as more resources for city-led activities to support the implementation of those frameworks. The Western Balkans Regional Hub will position itself in the as an impartial facilitator to improve national-local cooperation and address this gap.

Multi-Stakeholder Cooperation

Learning from the success of the multi-stakeholder prevention models developed and operationalised by the municipalities of Kumanovo and Čair, North Macedonia, with SCN support, participants highlighted the importance of structured coordination frameworks at the municipal level that involve local institutions and relevant local stakeholders from a variety of disciplines to ensure a comprehensive whole-of-society response. Representatives from the municipality of Kumanovo specifically underscored the important role their Community Action Team has played in both understanding local threats and creating a unified front in addressing them. Catalysing and strengthening similar local prevention models across the region are top priorities for the Regional Hub.

Youth Engagement

Participants recognised engagement with, and empowerment of, youth as key components in building effective community resilience to extremist and hate-motivated violence. They were particularly keen on finding out more about SCN’s youth pillar, Young Cities, including good practices and lessons learned from that work. The Mayor of the municipality of Čair reflected on the important role Young Cities has played in elevating youth voices, and helping the municipality better work with youth. Representatives from the Municipality of Tuzla, Bosnia & Herzegovina, also shared their perspectives on establishing their youth council and the importance of systematised youth perspectives in decision making. The discussion reinforced Strong Cities’ mission to recognise and amplify youth voices and to create inclusive institutions that serve youth populations in order to strengthen trust between youth and government, incentivise young people to becomes prevention partners and reduce youth radicalisation that can lead to violence.

Synergies

To ensure relevant and effective engagement, the Western Balkan Regional Hub will also build on existing multilateral and civil society-led local initiatives and networks. This will enable the Hub to involve city stakeholders in important national and regional initiatives to prevent and counter extremism, hate and polarisation, contributing to addressing existing gaps and identifying potential synergies. In this regard the Regional Hub will continue to value the active participation of representatives from the OSCE, IOM, RCC, GCERF and NDI during the virtual roundtables and looks forward to partnering with them on localising violence prevention efforts. It also looks forward to entering into dialogue with the international donor community and national governments to underline the pressing need for more support and funding at the local level to ensure sustainability of efforts, and long-term results.

Next Steps

The virtual launch roundtables were the first in a series of steps taken by the SCN Western Balkans Regional Hub towards catalysing city-led efforts in prevention and response to the volatile, integrated threat environment in the region.

The Hub will operationalise its key functions to ensure it can consistently service interested units of local self-government in the region. To inform its approach it will initially focus on conducting a City Needs Assessment and Mapping which will outline the state of play and key challenges across the Western Balkans in line with the Hub’s priorities. The Regional Hub, by design, derives its mandate based on the needs of member cities in the region, and this mapping will help set a forward agenda with concrete priorities and themes that are most relevant and pertinent to its cities and partners.

The Hub team will also be operationalising a Help Desk geared towards assisting cities in understanding the threat landscape, the relevant regional, national and local actors, and introducing them to existing policies, programs and structures that cities have created or leveraged to address local challenges. It will also introduce them to models and good practices championed by cities and local partners across the SCN membership and beyond.

Thereafter, the Hub will circulate an application form for cities to access resources from the Technical Support Fund. The Fund is designed to provide financial support to municipalities for small initiatives with large impact. These will co-designed and implemented with the Regional Hub and in line with the needs of the municipality and SCN’s mandate.

Finally, the Hub will convene select cities and partners at its first Regional Workshop in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina in February 2023 where it will facilitate in-depth discussions on city needs, and ways in which the Regional Hub can best support and amplify city-led violence prevention efforts, which respecting the core principle of “Do No Harm”.


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