From 23rd to 30th of August Armenian Progressive Youth NGO together with International Youth to Youth Initiative from Lithuania hosted the international training course “Extremism? No, Thanks!” aimed at looking deeper into the issues of extremism, migration, discrimination, nationalism, intolerance and intercultural misunderstandings. It brought together youth workers and youth activists from Armenia, Belarus, Croatia, Czech Republic, Italy, Georgia, Macedonia Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Russian Federation, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine and United Kingdom in Yerevan to discuss and understand the causes of extremism and where they develop. Taking into account the ongoing extremist movements, raising xenophobia and Islamophobia in Europe, the gathering of active young people, youth workers and activists is highly important to tackle questions of multicultural society, interreligious and intercultural dialogue as well as to think about some practical tools how to fight discrimination and combat extremism.
Saida Ibrahimava, one of the trainers and co-founders of Youth to Youth Initiative, reflects on some of the core parts of the project, “The training course became for me a crucial point where I have finally connected my professional development as a youth worker with academic background focused on youth radicalization and the ways and means of de-radicalization. This course was supposed to inspire youth workers across Europe and neighboring countries to start actions preventing violence and countering extremism, building peace and sustainable dialogue. It was designed to equip one with practical knowledge on how to eradicate radicalism through youth initiatives and the power of narrative. Based on real case studies, simulations and personal experience sharing, we tried to rediscover the topic and learn different practices and methods that could foster change and make a difference in our diverse communities and cosmopolitan world. I sincerely hope we managed to deliver the message and inspire all participants for action.
The training included, among others, a workshop on discrimination and types of oppression, as well as cultural influences from Armenia, such as a excursion to different picturesque places in Armenia. The participants have also had an opportunity of having traditional dinner in an Armenian family and got to try Armenian traditional food.
The participant Ambra Aielli from Italy, shared her impressions of the training course with us telling that she felt that the idea behind the training course was to work with the concept of extremism in a critical way and offer us, as youth workers and human beings, the tools to tackle this issue in our professional and daily life “I am a teacher, well, I hope that this will become my permanent job, therefore I think it’s essential to be able to promote integration and intercultural dialogue in school. I think education is the best and most effective tool we have to prevent the rise of extremism, and unfortunately I feel that the educational system of my country doesn’t really offer the possibility to work in this way”, she says.
Roman Melnyk, 25 years old from Ukraine, has described the project not as a very theoretical training but rather a training of an organic understanding of how social tensions, injustice and other factors create a growing ground for developing extremism. He says, that in his opinion extremism is a monopoly on truth and privileges and at the same time a lack of education.
Another participant, Tania Kebak, 25 years old from Moldova, explains that she has learned that we can not relate all kinds of extremism to Islamic extremist groups, extremism is more than that, we daily experience extremist situations.
Duje Jakovcevic, 27 years old from Croatia, adds that for him extremism means a narrow-minded, intolerant and exclusive approach to certain social or political concerns. He also points out that the topic of extremism is very important to him because he lives in a society which is defined by experiences of nationalism, especially since the breakup of Yugoslavia, and recent economic hardships have exacerbated this tension, thus created a potential for radicalization. – ”And that is a problem that he interacts with on a daily basis. Not only in my home country, but all across Europe and the Western world, right-wing extremism is on the rise and it is a phenomena that affects me whether I like or not”, he says.
Anna Razmakhina, our project participant from Belarus, also works as a teacher, and likewise emphasizes the key role of education: “Many young
people I work with these days are not used to any sort of critical thinking or forming their own point of view by studying different sources. In my work I try to break through these tendencies. And English classes is actually a great tool. “According to me”, she says, “no other subject allows the teacher to elaborate on topics that would actually not just raise their motivation to learn the academic material, but develop them as humans, broaden their outlook and expose to new experiences, let them meet exciting people. As I see it, the more a person learns about the world, the less stereotypical mind set he/she has, which is a great deal in building a non-violent, tolerant and simply kind society”. Anna Razmakhnina, also points out that the training course brought together over 30 people from all over Europe and the immense diversity of their experiences, opinions, characters and live stories. So it was also about getting to know people who are so different from you.
Overall, meeting people from so many different backgrounds was very useful in order to gain knowledge about different outlooks and perspectives regarding the same problem, Duje Jakovcevic says. Ambra Aielli also mentions that one of the highlights of the training course was the possibility to meet inspiring people who can push her to commit more and accomplish more in social activism.