The ninth MAN Conference on men and gender equality was opened on 13 June at the Belgrade Youth Center, organized by the Centre E8, with the support of CARE International Balkans, the Austrian Development Agency, the Oak Foundation and the OSCE Mission to Serbia. The central theme of this year’s Conference was the extremism, that is, the understanding and prevention of violent extremism.
The first day of the Conference was marked by the opening and introductory speeches, the cocktail and Centre E8’s play “How do I explain this to my son?” directed by Vojislav Arsić that deals with the topic of extremism in our and other societies and problematizes this phenomenon from the angle of youth and is part of the Program Y+ which deals with the prevention of extremism, within the Young Men Initiative Program. During the opening ceremony, we could hear the introductory speeches of Vojislav Arsić (Director of Centre E8), Sumka Bučan (Regional Director of CARE International Balkans), Joseph Mellot (Deputy Head of the OSCE Mission to Serbia) and Zoran Pajić, actor.
The second day of the Conference, 14 June, was marked by speeches of speakers who, for years, through their academic, educational, youth and research work have dealt with extremism and designing effective solutions for its suppression and prevention. The second day of the Conference was opened by Branko Birač from the Centre E8, who focused on the long-standing work on violence prevention within the Young Men Initiative, as well as on the new Program Y+, which tackled problems of extremism and radicalization among young people.
Sociologist and international gender expert Prof. Marina Hughson, PhD, in her presentation “The Construction of Political Masculinities: Top Down and Bottom Up” highlighted from the sociological perspective the emergence of political masculinities and specific types of patriarchy that produced and reproduced gender roles. Hughson has underlined the connection between war, masculinity, and extremist behavior.
Myassa Kraitt, from the organization bOJA from Vienna, in her presentation “Extremism? What does it have to do with me?” highlighted the problem of young people at risk who, due to insufficient social integration, were recruited into extremist groups. She emphasized that extremism was always spoken of as the extremism of “others”, the poor and the unprivileged, and never as the extremism of the elite, using the current examples of Austrian everyday life as an illustration.
Marija Srdić, from the Anti-Fascist Coalition and the Center for Support to Women, presented the results of the research of the Anti-Fascist Coalition on the extreme right in Serbia during the presentation “Extremism in Serbia – A View from a Gender Perspective”. The research mapped the policies of 23 extreme right-wing organizations, their political agendas, as well as a value system based on xenophobia, nationalism and traditionalism.
Serani Siegel from the Gender Department of the OSCE Headquarters in Vienna also participated in the Conference using the live video link and she presented the results of the latest research on the safety and welfare of women in Serbia. Siegel stressed that the psychological problems caused by violence also led to the radicalization of women. She also underlined that the results of the research showed women’s lack of trust in institutions, which often resulted in non-reporting of violence.
Luka Božović from the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights emphasized the importance of non-formal education of young people in the fight against violent extremism during his presentation “Until I met Irfan or how to prevent extremism”. He also spoke about the efforts of the Helsinki Committee to bring young people closer to the institutions, as well as efforts made to sensitize institutions to the needs of young people, with the aim of preventing extremist behavior.
Predrag Petrović, Executive Director of the Belgrade Center for Security Policy, highlighted the deficiencies of the education system and the lack of critical thinking, as well as the crisis of democracy and the growth of populism, during his presentation “Initiators of (violent) extremism among young people in Serbia”. Petrović thinks that these are the main factors that make young people more vulnerable to the recruitment mechanisms of extremist groups, along with poverty and high unemployment rate.
After the twenty-minute presentations, there was a moderated panel discussion with speakers and questions of the audience. Speakers have agreed that one of the effective ways of fighting against extremism was continuous education, as well as drawing the attention of relevant institutions to burning issues, because they were mostly passive observers of the process. The end of the Conference has opened many questions with a unanimous message that we must actively engage in the issue of extremism and violence in the future.