Lack of Economic Opportunity, Democracy, and Rule of Law Creates Vulnerability to Violent Extremism in Albania

The lack of socio-economic opportunities, the state of democracy, the functioning of the rule of law, and perceived marginalization are leaving some Albanians vulnerable to violent extremism.

This is according to the latest report by the Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM) on violent extremism in Albania 2021, published on Wednesday. It presents an assessment of violent extremism drivers and examines political, nationalist, and religious extremism.

The report notes that more than six years have passed since 144 Albanians departed for Syria and Iraq. While the acute threat has been averted via the strengthening of legal frameworks, violent extremism still remains present in the country. The report seeks to ascertain what the state of play is following the first assessment in 2015, and the implementation of various improvements, reforms, and actions.

IDM noted “substantial improvements” in a variety of drivers that may trigger people to be radicalized. These include the respecting of citizens’ rights and freedoms, institutions operating in an abuse-free manner, good job opportunities for well-educated Albanians, a decrease in those accepting illegal economic activity, and a lower level of inciting of or engagement in armed conflicts abroad. Furthermore, public awareness around violent extremism has been strengthened as has the public willingness to accept those that left, back into the community.

Despite these improvements, some are still vulnerable to violent extremism.

The report notes: “Young, unemployed, or isolated individuals might be particularly susceptible to violent extremist groups. Albanians with low levels of education are more likely to accept illegal economic activity to make ends meet or to support violent means to achieve political change and protect their values, rights, or freedoms.”

These issues allow violent extremist groups to position themselves as a viable alternative or solution to the perceived immoral or unjust governing elites.

Almost half of Albanians believe that religion could be a solution or at least address corruption and impunity. They believe that religious countries have less corrupt governments and that Albania would be less corrupt if more joined their religion.

But it’s not just religious extremism that is posing a threat. A 2018 report from IDM found that Albanians are concerned about political extremism. 27.3% of those surveyed said they were more concerned with political extremist groups or individuals operating in their community.

Sadly, many respondents believe that law enforcement agencies are tougher on Albanian Muslims than those of other religions. They also think the EU is unfair to Muslim societies and individuals.

Considering the recent repatriation of some Albanian nationals from Syria and the potential future repatriation of others, IDM recommends strengthening efforts to prevent violent extremism from flourishing in the country. The support of the general population and receiving communities are particularly important in these cases.

The IDM report identified a number of priority actions that should be implemented to help those who return and prevent more radicalization.

  • An action-based, tailored strategy is required in order to address context-specific issues for vulnerable communities, in lieu of an ideological-based strategy that focuses on religion only. A comprehensive P/CVE strategy should reflect all forms of violent extremism and should be guided on the principles of community resilience and inclusive dialogue. 
  • Strengthening civic space in Albania is crucial in inciting citizens to participate in decision-making. Civic education initiatives, combined with the respective legislation amendments, are more likely to yield positive outcomes that lead to fostering accountability while enabling marginalized communities to engage in a safe space, where they can address their frustrated expectations and discontent with the state of affairs.  
  • A whole-of-government approach is required to enhance the legitimacy of central and local institutions, strengthening the rule of law and increasing efforts in impeding criminal and informal economy, as well as endemic corruption. Strengthening capacity-building of local government institutions, in particular is of utmost emergency, in order to sustainably improve their performance in service delivery.
  • Although religious tolerance is a fundamental value in Albanian society, P/CVE stakeholders, educational institutions, and civil society should increase their efforts in addressing the root causes and effects of stereotypes, prejudice, and societal discrimination based on ideological grounds. A strategic communication agenda is needed to cultivate a culture of respect for human rights that enables society to provide supportive social networks. 
  • Empowering religious communities, by further including them in the prevention and reintegration strategies implemented by the CVE Centre and line ministries is instrumental in facilitating the reintegration of returnees, by preparing and urging local clerics to assume an active role as religious re-educators. Increasing the credibility religious communities hold, their ideas and values – require an assessment of institutional challenges that local religious authorities encounter, inhibiting them from playing a more significant role in prevention efforts.

But the report also revealed a variety of other concerning trends. For example, 84.4% of respondents said there were many young people in the area where they live who have called prey to gambling, alcohol, drugs, or dangerous behavior. This was an increase of some 4 percentage points from 2018. Over a quarter said there were individuals or groups in their local area that incite political extremism, 7.6% said national extremism was rife, and 12.1% said religious extremism was present.

More than half said their religion wasn’t well represented in politics and state institutions. Around 63% said that the main source of income in their area was legal work and around 30.9% said it was illegal work. Unfortunately, the majority said that state and social-economic assistance wasn’t provided in a professional or abuse-free manner.

A staggering 83.8% said that in their area, many households and individuals do not have enough economic support to fulfill their basic needs. Around half said that religious groups offer economic privileges to those who practice their religion.