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Civic Actors in War and Peace

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— 3 minutes reading time

On 9 – 10 November 2022, the Strong Cities Network co-organised the 6th International Civic Actors in War and Peace Conference together with Partners for Democratic Change Slovakia (PDCS) and the European Observatory for Online Hate (EOOH), with generous support from the US Embassy in Slovakia.

Attended by more than 120 participants from 19 countries, the conference provided an opportunity for local and national representatives, civil society organisations, researchers and youth groups to discuss the most pressing challenges to peace and security in Europe and exchange good practices to prevent and respond to hate, extremism and polarisation in online and offline communities, in wartime and peace.

Participants discussed key issues related to peace and security, with a particular focus on the Ukraine-Russia conflict and its impacts on communities across Europe, including supporting refugees and the rise in scale and scope of extremist networks and hateful online narratives. These challenges continue to evolve and manifest differently in different cities, resulting in the emergence of unique and tailored responses and good practices in each.

Bratislava, for example, was able to mobilise resources, commit to preventative efforts and, through teamwork, implement an action plan in record time to welcome, house and otherwise support Ukrainian refugees. This, despite the sudden arrival of refugees in the city at the outset of the crisis. More details on Bratislava’s response can be found in Strong Cities’ report on City Consultations: Slovakia – Challenges, Needs and Priorities of Bratislava and Žilina.

During the conference, Strong Cities hosted a panel discussion in which local government representatives from Kristiansand (Norway), Bratislava (Slovakia) and Kumanovo (North Macedonia), shared their experiences and the various multi-agency frameworks they deployed for preventing and responding to similar challenges in different contexts.

Martin Kralovic, Security Advisor to the Mayor of Bratislava, shared the efforts being made by the city to build trust between police and local communities, balancing enforcement and prevention, to build up the community’s resilience to violence and enhance public safety at night in the city. He shared key initiatives being taken by municipal police including introducing de-escalation trainings for officers, a multi-actor “night-help” pilot project undertaken between August-September 2022 and better coordination between state police and municipal police.

Aleksandar Krstevski, Head of Culture, Sports, Social and Child Protections for the municipality of Kumanovo, underscored the value his city places in gathering evidence before designing programmes based on clear coordination, partnership and a division of responsibilities among local agencies. He outlined how the city developed and is operationalising a local prevention network — the Community Action Team (CAT), which Strong Cities supported – to catalyse multi-actor collaboration and action, whose mandate is partly informed by the results of the city’s Strong Cities-led community resilience study.

Kim Gronert, Advisor on Intercultural Dialogue for the city of Kristiansand, shared how the city is integrating P/CVE efforts into local crime prevention structures, including how key resources were being devoted to address the needs of vulnerable groups, minorities and youth by mainstreaming the role of different frontline practitioners in prevention.

The three panellists agreed that challenges to social cohesion and community resilience to extremism are fast evolving. The recent rise of hate towards LGBTQI+ communities was particularly emphasised in each context, with much of the discussion centred on the tragic attack which took place in Bratislava on the 12 October 2022. They further agreed that more defined mandates for municipalities, more opportunities for city-city and peer learning and better and more resources were needed to adequately address challenges related to extremism and hate in their communities.

Opportunities for the exchange of good practices such as this workshop and others that Strong Cities facilitates are crucial to building the capacities of local government in P/CVE. The Network will continue to engage cities across Europe, especially in Central Europe, where it plans to conduct city consultations with cities in Poland and Hungary in 2023, to better understand: the localised and common threats facing cities in each country; the effectiveness of existing structures, policies and programmes that address extremism, hate and polarisation; as well as the key resource needs and capacity gaps that need to be addressed.