“Prevention is better than the cure” : we take this saying very seriously.
The CEAR project aims at mitigating extremism and radicalisation through the active engagement of local communities in France, Hungary, Portugal, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Poland, Sweden and Romania. To do so, project partners are supporting local NGOs and activists in the implementation of specific initiatives to prevent and counter violent extremism (P/CVE) targeting the members of their own communities.
In addition to this, reading about successful stories of P/CVE initiatives carried out by others front-line practitioners can provide useful tips and interesting insights on how to achieve such a challenging objective.
In this regard, we had the opportunity and the privilege to interview expert Luca Guglielminetti in order to collect successful stories of prevention of violent extremism and learn more about his work within this field.
We truly believe that Mr. Guglielminetti’s words and commitment in the prevention of violent extremism can spark off further actions and projects that will contribute to the social well-being, with a special focus on youth. We welcome all interested parties to have a read at his inspiring testimony:
How did you start to develop an interest in the field of the prevention of violent extremism?
Exactly ten years ago. In September 2011, the Directorate-General Migration and Home Affairs of the European Commission started to plan the creation of a Radicalisation Awareness Network and I was asked to join the project in that initial phase. At that time, I was involved in the European Network of Associations of Victims of Terrorism and in addition to this, I was working as consultant for the Italian Association of Victims of Terrorism (AIVITER). Given that, I suggested, among others, to include a specific working group involving the victims of terrorism into the future Network of P/CVE practitioners.
Have you ever been involved in implementing a P/CVE project? What was the purpose of the project?
Well, I have been involved in several projects aimed at implementing P/CVE activities.
The first European and local projects that I designed and managed from 2012 onwards were focused on primary prevention. These projects had their origin from the previous activity I had already carried out with AIVITER by creating a specific working group dealing with local schools in order to facilitate the encounter between students and victims of terrorism and discuss political violence as well as the history of terrorism in Italy. Basically, the aim was to improve the critical thinking skills of the students in light of the new propaganda spread by violent extremism.
We had the opportunity to collaborate with a local school in order to carry out project activities and work with teachers and students aged 15-16 by analysing the use of force as a mean to achieve political purposes. Initially, we fostered the debate and assessed student’s perceptions and opinions about that issue. Some students were in favour of using violence to achieve political goals.
As emerged from the final outputs (videos, songs, …) created by the groups of students and from the final feedback, no student supported the use of violence for political goals anymore. Good results were achieved then.
In addition to this, “Exit Europe”, the last EU project I recently participated in, was focused on carrying out exit strategies and facilitating social reintegration of extremists though the engagement of civil society organisations. The project derives from the consideration that there is an existing gap between Northern and Southern countries within Europe when it comes to deal with P/CVE. Northern countries have activated several prevention programmes without relying on EU funds and the State itself promote P/CVE activities by investing part of its budget on that issue. So, the idea was to train and thus, create groups of specialised practitioners in Italy as well in the other partner countries and then, deal with potential clients at local level to facilitate their “rehabilitation”.
We created an excellent working group in Turin by establishing a network of different practitioners working side by side and relying on each other.
In general, what kind of behavioural change is expected to be achieved in the audience?
The main objective is not to change people’s minds but rather to intervene on their behavioural aspects. An individual gives up violence when he or she is brought back into a positive social network where he or she can establish healthy relationships. Family is of paramount importance but it is extremely difficult to intervene within that framework, you cannot “impose” certain changes to family members. By contrast, it is much easier to help him or her make friends at school or through sport and many others recreational activities.
Special attention should be given to social rehabilitation which is the most important element, but ideological change, if occurs, comes on a later stage.
Having a radical idea can be allowed, but you shouldn’t rely on violence to assert your own opinion. During a seminar a professor once said: “we need more radical students”. In this respect, being radical could just mean having strong critical faculties.
As a mean of example, over the course of the Exit Europe project we dealt with a far-right extremist, promoting violent ideas and inciting people to violence, who had been intercepted by the Postal Police and then arrested. This young self-radicalised guy gave up school and developed a strong far-right ideology, also writing and sharing his own manifesto online.
Our group of trained experts, managed to establish a trusting relationship with that guy and persuaded him to return to school and attend a summer camp. Once abandoned his negative online activism, he became involved into positive social activities which allowed him to re-establish various relationships with his peers. He is still conservative, but the key factor was the recovery of a positive dimension of sociability.
What are the key factors for the development of a successful P/CVE initiative?
A multiagency integrated approach is fundamental.Prevention of terrorism works pretty well here in Italy but those who deal with this issue shouldn’t be the same people implementing activities against radicalisation. Civil society organisations and local authorities should be involved since they have often achieved good results in this field. The engagement of civil society is crucial and it needs to play a key role.
Additionally, preventing and countering violent extremism involves more than surveillance and security. It lacks (in Italy) a “soft approach” who conceives social deviance and delinquency as aspects of the “general public health” to be addressed and countered preventively. Thus, we need to intervene before the development of deviant or criminal behaviours, rather than before the commission of a crime.
Civil society-based initiatives are the most effective and their engagement is key when it comes to establish a trusting relationship with your clients.
How do you think the State can support the development of these initiatives and the training of activists?
It’s really hard to ensure the sustainability of these initiatives, hence they are just pilot activities and do not become a public policy. In Italy, there are plenty of best practices and excellent projects in all areas, from social inclusion to culture and integration etc. but structured policies are still missing. So, practices do not turn into policies.
The relevant competences existing at local level get lost and decision-makers are often unable to make the most out of them.
On the other hand, many activities and relevant tasks are delegated to the Third Sector whose action is constrained by public or private funds, with all the social implications and ensuing problems. To sum up, the relevant authorities need to institutionalise best practices and successful strategies originating from the civil society in order to guarantee the sustainability of such initiatives.
About the project
CEAR – Community Engagement Against Radicalisation is funded by Internal Security Fund – Police 2018 (AG-CT-RAD).
- Lusófona University (Portugal, coordinator)
- University of Uppsala (Sweden)
- TechSoup (Poland)
- Active Citizens Partnership (Greece)
- Verein MultiKulturell (Austria)
- CESIE (Italy)
- Peace Action, Training and Research Institute of Romania (Romania)
- Center for Social Innovation Cyprus (Cyprus)
- Syrien ne Bouge Agissons (France)
- Subjective Values Foundation (Hungary)
- Centre d’action et de prévention contre la radicalisation des indivdus (France)
For further information
Contact Guido Savasta: firstname.lastname@example.org.
 From 2001 to 2016, Luca Guglielminetti worked as a consultant for the Italian Association of Victims of Terrorism (AIVITER) and since the academic year 2018/19 he works as a lecturer at the Master’s Degree in Prevention and Counter Radicalisation, Terrorism and for Integration and International Security Policies (“Marte”) at the University of Bergamo. In May 2021, he was appointed Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) Ambassador for Italy. Mr. Guglielminetti’s collaboration with RAN dates back to its foundation, in 2011, when the European Commission decided to set up a network of front-line practitioners engaged in preventing and countering violent extremism. He has also collaborated in different P/CVE initiatives including CEAR as an external expert from May to July 2021.