Countering Radicalization in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Speeches Shim

Jasmin Pjevic and co-participants in USAID’s community workshop in Brčko, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Jasmin Pjevic, center, and coparticipants in USAID’s community workshop in Brčko, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Salih Ibrahimbegović, community liaison for USAID Preventing Violent Extremism program
Community workshops reduce vulnerability to extremist ideologies
“After this workshop, I will be someone who will not take immediate or rash decisions or actions.”

Before he was 30 years old, Jasmin Pjevic had already been through three marriages and a short stay in prison when he was invited to join a community workshop for at-risk youth. Some of the stories and opinions he shared shocked the other members of the group.

During the first sessions of the workshop, his responses and reactions were often cold and rough, displaying a constricted, black-and-white view of others. At times, he spoke about his disdain for life and people. The workshop facilitator described his world view as “worrying.”

Pjevic is from Brčko district in northern Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), a community that suffers from poverty, poor infrastructure and limited opportunities, especially for youth. Disenfranchisement, coupled with unresolved legacies from the 1992-1995 war, creates fertile ground for the proliferation of extremist ideologies in BiH youth. Young people may be drawn to join extremist groups as foreign fighters, ostensibly fueled by religious ideology, but often driven in part by social, economic and political marginalization.

The roots of extremism are planted across the Western Balkans, and informal radical extremist organizations continue to evolve. A relatively high number of BiH citizens proportionate to the population have left the country to become foreign fighters in ongoing conflicts, showing that local youth are at risk of being radicalized. 

USAID set out to break the cycle of violence through a community engagement and resiliency program, Preventing Violent Extremism in BiH. Through this program, USAID works with young people, parents and communities to teach them how to recognize signs of radicalization and extremist messages to prevent radicalization from ever taking root. The project also helps youth resolve conflicts and overcome obstacles in their own lives.

In the project’s MovieEQ workshop in Brčko, experienced teams of psychologists worked with Pjevic and others to reduce their risk of instability and increase their resilience to radical views. They taught them to recognize and validate a wider range of viewpoints and values in themselves and others by building upon shared values while applying new critical thinking skills to the extremist messages they heard.

Jasmin Pjevic, center, participating in USAID activity in Brčko, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Jasmin Pjevic, center, and other participants in a USAID workshop in Brčko, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Salih Ibrahimbegović, community liaison for USAID Preventing Violent Extremism program

Pjevic’s experience with the workshop was a powerful one. As he got to know the group and the project’s community liaisons throughout the four-day workshop, he became more open, listening carefully to what his peers had to say and gaining insights. By the end of the course, he revealed that he had made mistakes in judging other people, and that his eyes had been opened. His worldview became more nuanced, and he committed himself to a more stable lifestyle.

“Participation in the MovieEQ course helped me a lot to think about myself, but also to reflect on others,” Pjevic said. “After this workshop, I will be someone who will not take immediate or rash decisions or actions. A person needs to hear someone else’s view before making a decision.”

Since the workshop, Pjevic has stayed in close contact with one of the community liaisons. He says he is looking for opportunities and life paths he had never before considered.

Pjevic is one of 1,300 youth in 15 at-risk municipalities targeted for assistance by USAID’s Preventing Violent Extremism program designed to help communities disrupt the radicalization process in its early stages.

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Last updated: July 12, 2021

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