The Balkans has become the latest region in Europe to crack down on extreme Islamist groups, following the likes of Belgium and the United Kingdom in conducting operations to halt the spread of radical ideology.  However, the issues may be embedded deeper within the cultural DNA of the region; issues that brute force cannot solve on its own.

With the growing number of ISIS recruits flocking from Europe to Iraq and Syria, multiple nations in the Balkans have followed suit in stepping up efforts to curb radical recruitment. Internal political conflicts, corruption and high levels of unemployment following the decades after the split up of Yugoslavia have contributed to an atmosphere of ‘hopelessness’ for youths living in the region.

Kosovo, a mostly Muslim territory that declared greater autonomy and independence from Serbia in 2008, has endured an epidemic of political crises and corruption scandals. Blerim Latifi, an expert of religious issues at the University of Pristina, told Agence France-Presse (AFP): ‘A very important factor is the lack of economic opportunities for youths in Kosovo, which opens the way for brainwashing by opaque groups’. Frustration with the political structures are contributing factors, forcing some youths to seek ulterior platforms that allow them to voice their dissatisfaction.

It is an emotional factor that radical groups seek to exploit.

The economic and political difficulties go beyond Kosovo’s borders, with Bosnia also yielding high levels of discontent among the younger population.

Back in August, the International Business Times reported that a high level member of the Salafi movement in Bosnia and Herzegovina, was appealing to young Muslims to join ISIS. Gianluca Mezzofiore’s article alleged that Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) have become frustrated with the political and economic direction that their country has taken. As a result these young groups have become targets of radical movements that aim to exploit the heightened emotional tension for their own gains.

Of course the reasoning behind the motives of Balkan Muslims flocking to the Middle East cannot be concluded via observations orchestrated over the last few years. Decades of cultural, political and economic conflicts have defined the identities of multiple nationalities. This has forced minority groups within the region to have differing perspectives, ideals and beliefs of the wider world.

Bosniaks are still frustrated by the results of the Dayton Peace Agreement that brought an end to the Bosnian War. It recognized Serbian entities such as the Republica Srpska in the country, not to mention the discontent among Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats. Albania and Serbia are still locked in a drawn out political standoff over Kosovo. If you add this to the other internal problems that many Balkan nations have encountered or continue to face, then it is partially clear that tackling Isis recruitment in a conventional manner will not be enough.

The fight is more than taking out the network’s centres of radical recruitment. It is a cultural conflict that needs to also be tackled at an educational level. It is all well and true to wipe out and imprison those who wish to amass others to a radical cause, but that only removes the problem temporarily.

If the seeds are still out there, then the ideas and views will continue to sprout. A crackdown on suspects may lead to a downward spiral of extremists in the region, but it also has the potentiality to cause division and isolation. It is an issue that must be addressed delicately and with urgency.

 

References:

Salafi Leader ‘Appeals To Youths To Join ISIS’ – http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/bosnia-salafi-leader-appeals-youths-join-isis-1462241

Balkans launch fight against jihadist recruitment – http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140929/balkans-launch-fight-against-jihadist-recruitment