The Vienna Network for Democratic Culture and Prevention deals intensively with the topics extremism, radicalization and devaluation. The aim is to combat any form of group-related depreciation ideologies and antidemocratic attitudes. Furthermore, the network aims to protect young people from stigma and general suspicion. The Vienna Network works highly practical oriented but its activity is based on funded theoretical understanding. The experts network is based both on the Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as on the Child and Youth Services Act, representing a response to the rising extremism among adolescents.
Vienna can rely on the City Government’s extensive administrative team and the support of many organisations, associations and highly committed individuals working on a voluntary basis. To even better harness the expertise, insider knowledge, and other resources thus available, anti-extremism competence centres have been established in all municipal departments working with children, youth and young adults, as well as in all departments of the Vienna School Board and other institutions relevant for the target group.
Networking allows for prompt professional help
The Vienna Network deals with issues involving extremism, derogatory ideologies, radicalisation and its prevention. Networking, exchange and cooperation are basic pillars of its work.
If a young person faces an acute crisis, e.g. a clear risk of falling prey to radical views, isolated efforts cannot be successful. Several of the following institutions are usually involved: schools, other education facilities, social workers, youth support, police, judicial authorities, local public employment service and psychological support providers.
The Vienna Network is subdivided into two organisational units: a Steering Group and the Competence Centres. The Steering Group consists of representatives of the City of Vienna Executive Group for Education, Integration, Youth and Personnel, the Vienna School Board and several municipal departments of the Vienna City Administration. The Competence Centres cover several units within and outside the Vienna City Administration. External members are the police, crime prevention experts, the youth department of the Vienna Public Employment Service (AMS) and the Vienna Employment Promotion Fund (waff)
Key principles of work
The Vienna Network for Democratic Culture and Prevention aims to protect children, youth and young adults from extremist tendencies and groups as well as from stigmatisation and general suspicion, given that both factors are known to massively impair the future perspectives of those affected. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as a general commitment to protecting children and young people represent essential basis for the Network’s efforts and work. In addition to focusing on young people who have already
fallen prey to radical views, the VN must also look at the wider spectrum of phenomena facilitating derogatory tendencies.
The work of the VN is not about group attributions (like “us” and “them”), but about meeting a challenge that concerns all parts of society and therefore needs to be solved together.
Four Pillars as basis of the Network
- Counselling and Care: All Network members are public authorities or organisations working with children and young people. Their staff provide counselling and care to children and youth in various situations and stages of life, and play an important role in preventing radicalisation and extremist tendencies in their day-to-day work.
- Professionalization: All Network members contribute to training courses and similar measures while benefiting from mutual cooperation. The main target group consist in staff members of the individual municipal departments in charge of children’s and youth affairs, as well as social workers, education professionals, future teachers, tutors and educators, psychologists, youth workers, police staff, counsellors, etc. In addition to addressing extremism and radicalisation, the information events, workshops and further training courses are meant to promote awareness of a broad range of issues including religion in general, ethnicity, sexism, gender, violence, antisemitism, homophobia and transphobia, racism, democratic principles, diversity, transcultural competence, etc.
- Exchange and Cooperation: The Network relies strongly on frequent mutual exchange and cooperation between the members to allow for swift and effective intervention as well as comprehensive prevention measures and further training courses. The competence centres hold regular meetings every one or two months but also meet on special occasions. At European level, the Vienna Network cooperates closely with the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN), and its members regularly follow invitations to international congresses and conferences to present the Vienna deradicalization and prevention concept to larger audiences.
- Expertise: From 2014 to 2016, experts from various disciplines held joint work meetings and bilateral talks to identify seven fields of action and 27 solution perspectives. They focused on the following aspects: 1) youth and religious fanaticism; 2) religion; secularisation and establishing processes, and 3) anti-democratic and inhuman tendencies. The results were presented in October 2016 (https://kja.at/site/27-massnahmen-gegen-extremismus/ ).
The Vienna Network has been continuously expanded since its foundation, and continues to react to current developments like the rising polarization of society that has increased the focus on right-wing extremism. Other key areas include media competence, digitalization, gender roles and integration.
As early as in 2016, the Vienna Network drew attention to the issue of returnees (i.e. foreign fighters who joined the Islamic State or other Jihadist groups) and so-called “tolerated persons”. In the view of the new developments, the Vienna Network will focus more on the aspect of promoting democratic culture and on the prevention of derogatory ideologies and extremisms. Democracy and social cohesion form the basis for a healthy society that is less vulnerable to extremist currents and agitation against individual groups.
Synergies between the Vienna Network and TAKEDOWN
Terrorism and the occurrence of violent extremis are topics that do not lose actuality in our times. Beyond identifying deficit scenarios and problem areas, deradicalization also involves recognising potentials and chances in a highly heterogeneous society and finding ways to harness these potentials.
The Vienna Network was initiated in the form of a response to the significant rising number of extremist activities among adolescents. Critical discourse and a productive exchange between theory and practice must be combined with comprehensive long-term research. The VN consists of a group of various magistrate-internal and external bodies and experts dealing with vulnerable children and adolescents exposed to an environment positive for radicalisation and extremism. Through networking, exchange and willingness to cooperate, members can act more quickly and effectively – reflecting among other the main objectives of the project TAKEDOWN.
Irina Scheitz (KJA) and Diana Silvestru (AEI)