Flowers instead of grenades? Deradicalizing Austrian youth

While in Austria we have little experience with radical Islamists, we are experts in dealing with right-wing extremism. No wonder Austria joined a major, European-level counter-radicalization project.

Christine Tragler
Christine Tragler Der Standard, Austria
Source: Der Standard
Flowers
instead of grenades? Deradicalizing Austrian youth - NewsMavens
Banksy. Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

A Salzburg-based counseling center has become the go to source for research on and analysis of right wing extremism.

"In Austria, there is a long-standing problem with violent right-wing extremists,” explains Markus Pausch, a political scientist from the Social Work study program at the Salzburg University of Applied Sciences.

Radicalization is defined here as the development of a violent and anti-democratic attitude, regardless of which ideological background it stems from.

"We want to analyze these processes scientifically in order to develop and evaluate practical solutions for preventing extremism," Pausch declares.

The Salzburg University of Applied Sciences and youth representatives of the city are the Austrian partners in PRACTICIES (Partnership against Violent Radicalization in the Cities).

This international project is set up to “mobilize networks of European cities and experts to better understand the human roots of violent radicalization and to build concrete tools and prevention practices” -- the official brochure reads. Under its auspices, more than 25 institutions and organizations from several European countries (e.g. France, Austria, Spain, Belgium, Greece, Italy and Portugal) accompanied by Tunisia came together to fight radicalization.

The Salzburg university cooperates closely with representatives from Nice and Toulouse to explore various aspects of early prevention. 

Prevention seems to be the best solution for Austria right now because so far, in this country, we can speak mainly of potential danger. According to estimates from the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism, about 150 Islamists are willing to commit crimes in Austria.

"People are less and less afraid that many Austrians will choose to leave for jihad," concludes Verena Fabris, head of the counseling center in Salzburg. "There is, however, an increase in calls for right-wing extremism.”

What strategies are effective in fighting radical tendencies? How can you crack the codes used by recruiters?  Banky's famous graffiti in the West Bank suggests, “Give them flowers instead of grenades”, an image often used to represent the re-radicalization project. Karin Krichmayr’s piece in Der Standard is an excellent introduction to the subject.

Details from the story:

  • The counseling center against extremism was founded in Salzburg, in December 2014. Since then, it registered 1439 first calls and provided 115 families and caregivers with personal adivice and care.
  • Cases of suspected Islamist terrorism continue to account for the largest share of the calls, at 44%. In many cases, however, the suspicion is not substantiated. Verena Fabris, head of the counseling center, admits that often they have to deal with youthful provocations or erroneously interpreted religious practices.  
  • In 4% of the cases the reason for contacting the center was right-wing extremist behavior, in 4.6% accompanied by racist statements. In about 10 to 15 cases a year, the police and the legal system have to intervene, Fabris explains.
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