Liberal approaches to counter youth radicalisation

On the 29th of April 2017, the Ralf Dahrendorf Roundtable (RDR) ‘Radical Generation’ was hosted in Poznań, Poland. The event was organised by the European Liberal Forum (ELF), in cooperation with VVD International and the Polish liberal party Nowoczesna. The topic of the RDR was youth radicalisation and the subsequent support of youth for extremist political parties. Over 30 young Polish liberals attended the event, most of whom are members of the youth movement of Nowoczesna.

The reason to organise the RDR ‘Radical Generation’ was twofold. First and foremost, in recent years, we have observed a process of political radicalisation of some youth in Poland and in the European Union (EU) as a whole. These young Europeans support extreme movements and parties whose ideas are far removed from liberal and democratic values. Hence, this observation should be a matter of discussion. Second, this trend – if not halted – puts severe pressure on the cohesion of the EU. Therefore, there was, and still is, an urgent need to critically engage with an upcoming ‘radical generation’.

Such a discussion was offered by means of a RDR in Poznán. The goal of the panel discussion was to broaden the participants views on what radicalisation could entail, to increase their knowledge about various forms of radicalisation and to introduce young liberals to tools that can be used in dealing with radicalised youth.

In order to achieve this objective a panel of experts, who all come from diverse backgrounds and fields of expertise, came to Poznán to share their views and to exchange ideas with the audience. The panel consisted of Kevin Tammearu (LYMEC), Joanna Grabarczyk (HejtStop) and Kamran Ullah (VVD). In general, the panel members discussed root causes of youth radicalisation and ways to engage with increasing support for extremist political parties among Europe’s newest generation. The discussion was moderated by Adam Kądziela, President of Nowoczesna’s youth movement.

During the opening pitches, the panel members shared their perspective on youth radicalisation in their respective countries and in Europe as a whole. Kevin Tammearu primarily discussed why some members of our youngest generation are attracted to parties at the edges of the political spectrum. Mr. Tammearu argued that the most important cause for radicalisation among youth across Europe is a lack of belonging and opportunity. Consequently, liberals should offer business opportunities and promote entrepreneurship in order to make sure young creative minds become full members of society and, likely, are no longer attracted to radical political thought.

In the second pitch, Joanna Grabarczyk presented the matter of radicalisation of youth online. According to available data, a wave of hate speech and hate crimes is rising in Poland. Every year, police and prosecutors issue more and more reports about online hate crimes committed by the youngest generation of the internet users. In recent years the most targeted groups were Muslims, followed by the LGBTI community, Jews and Ukrainians. Consequently, Mrs. Grabarczyk argued that there is an urgent need to raise widespread awareness about these problems and to tackle them effectively. Therefore, Mrs. Grabarczyk also presented the main principals of her work with government agencies and social media companies, such as Facebook, that are related to counter speech and removal of hate speech.

Lastly, Kamran Ullah used his opening pitch to offer a diverse view on who could be identified as ‘radical’ youth. He argued that in the Netherlands, in contrast with other European countries, there are currently three groups that could fit within the overarching concept. First, there are those who support the radical Islam and terrorist movements such as Islamic State in Iraq al al-Sham (ISIS). The second group are Dutch-Turkish citizens who took to the streets earlier this year after the failed coup attend in Turkey to support the Turkish government and who subsequently attacked Dutch journalists. Third, there are Dutch youth who are against temporarily sheltering refugees from the Middle East and North-Africa and who have disrupted citizens’ meetings when discussing this topic.

According to Mr. Ullah, it is important to acknowledge that these groups are different from each other, from other ‘radical’ groups in some European countries and are expressing themselves in distinct forms. Hence, the real challenge is to understand the various forms of ‘radicalisation’, subsequently to accept that these are present in society and eventually to offer these groups tailor-made alternatives in order to convince them to engage again in non-radical politics.

Following the above pitches, the audience and the panel members engaged in a Q&A session. Participants asked for clarifications, inquired about the panel members’ opinion regarding local or national examples of radicalised youth and offered some counter positions.

To conclude, the RDR offered a setting for a fruitful discussion about such an important and complex subjects as youth radicalisation. We therefore consider the RDR ‘Radical Generation’ as having succeeded in providing an opportunity for young liberals to reflect on one of the most important aspect of the current political landscape in Europe. Not only were insights offered that are derived from multiple national contexts and backgrounds, there was also plenty of room for an informed and critical discussion. Undoubtedly, this has contributed to the understanding of the process of youth radicalisation in Europe amongst both the audience and panellists. We are therefore looking forward to see how the participants will use what was discussed in Poznán in their future political and civic careers.