Kosovo: A Young Democracy Grapples with Violent Extremism

  • Lucas Jensen

On Monday, Kosovars around the world will celebrate the 12th anniversary of Kosovo’s declaration of independence. This young democracy has proven resilient in the face of numerous regional threats. However, with the highest per capita number of Islamist returning foreign fighters in Europe, Kosovar society must tackle the threat of violent extremism. IRI is committed to working with our partners on the ground in Kosovo to strengthen policy responses to this challenge and the country’s resilience to violent extremism.

Since declaring independence in 2008, Kosovo has made progress on its democratic journey: developing a multiparty system and a constitutional and legal framework. These institutions are being tested by the task of reintegrating approximately 242 Kosovo nationals who have returned from fighting with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and, if left unintegrated, could remain radicalized. Kosovar authorities are now challenged with justly prosecuting returnees while also devising pathways for their eventual return to society.

The security of Kosovo’s democracy is vital to the regional stability of the Western Balkans and Europe as a whole. IRI and the US Department of State’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) partnered with national and local leaders to strengthen the region’s resilience to violent extremism, which has been a threat to both regional security and further democratic development.

In December 2019, CSO, IRI and the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior hosted the second annual Western Balkans Resilience Forum in Sofia, Bulgaria, gathering both governmental and non-governmental actors from around the region to discuss strategies for reintegrating returning foreign fighters. Kosovo’s Minister of Interior Ekrem Mustafa discussed the government’s management of the issue, noting that religious communities and civil society groups have played an integral role in countering violent extremism.

The Forum provided participants with opportunities to connect across country and sectoral lines through breakout sessions that fostered frank discussion of strategies and tactics to strengthen the region’s resilience to radicalization. This allowed Kosovar actors to share best practices and glean lessons learned from the experiences of colleagues from around the region.

In addition to hosting these public forums, IRI has also conducted public opinion research on radicalization and supported the work of local partners to analyze the CVE processes in Kosovo. IRI supported research by the Pristina-based Kosovo Centre for Security Studies (KCSS) on the reintegration process for returnees from Syria and Iraq. Previously, IRI also conducted focus groups to understand the local drivers behind increased vulnerability to violent extremism in four Kosovar municipalities that saw significant numbers of citizens join the ranks of ISIS.  

IRI recognizes that a stable, democratic Kosovo is vital to the overall security and growth of the Western Balkans. As Kosovo marks its independence, IRI joins the country in celebrating the continuation of the country’s journey to democracy, and looks ahead to a future that is prosperous, stable and free from violent extremism.

Up ArrowTop