Cologne, Germany, May 2021 – Efus and DEFUS took part in the 26th German Prevention Congress, which was held on 10 and 11 May in a hybrid format in the City of Cologne and online, gathering over 800 participants, academic experts, practitioners, policy makers and representatives of police, national, federal, state and local authorities. This year’s Congress was entitled “Prevention provides orientation – planning, training, exchanging” and addressed a wide array of prevention fields, approaches and topics, with a particular focus on the role of prevention in times of crisis and thus the importance of lifelong education and training.
Efus and DEFUS contributed with two sessions focussing on local authorities’ strategies and initiatives to reinforce social cohesion, strengthen citizen participation and help reduce tensions, polarisation and hardened conflicts at the local level. Furthermore, Julia Rettig, Programme Manager at Efus, presented the recently-concluded BRIDGE project (Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level) and its main outcomes, such as concrete tools, practices and recommendations on how to assess, prevent and mitigate polarisation at the local level.
How to organise peaceful communal life in times of increasing tensions
Christian Kromberg, Deputy Mayor of the City of Essen and President of the German-European Forum for Urban Security (DEFUS), and Anna Rau, Deputy Director of DEFUS, invited participants to a presentation on how cities can organise peaceful communal life in times of increasing societal polarisation and sharpened conflicts. Recent terror attacks from right-wing extremists in Germany, growing discrimination and racism against diverse groups of society and increasing socio-economic inequality pose a major threat to a peaceful, inclusive and democratic way of life in our cities.
Anna Rau pointed out recent examples of German cities faced with rising tensions and escalating conflicts, such as a violent anti-Covid protests, riots of youngsters, an increasing number of violent attacks against elected officials at the local level as well a number of conflicting interests of users in public space that tend to cause increasing tensions among different groups of society.
Christian Kromberg presented the case of a right-wing extremist group that organises weekly “marches” in a district of Essen, causing insecurity and tensions in the local population.
Cities’ approaches to address rising tensions and polarisation
In light of these challenges, the speakers emphasised the central role of local authorities in mitigating and preventing escalating conflicts and polarisation. As the level of governance closest to citizens on the ground, local authorities have a crucial role to play in fostering social cohesion and acting as guardians of peaceful and democratic communal life while balancing freedom and security. Including all citizens and groups of society and thus embracing diversity is the cornerstone of any local policy.
The speakers presented concrete strategies that cities put in place to tackle societal polarisation and tensions. Some, like Essen and Mannheim, involve local stakeholders and civil society to collectively elaborate declarations to promote peaceful and inclusive communal life embracing diversity in their cities.
To tackle the challenge of right-wing extremism, the city of Essen is implementing a project focusing on de-radicalisation through sports, online initiatives and support for families. The project is based on a multi-stakeholder approach and involves police and law enforcement agencies as well as municipal actors and a variety of local stakeholders from sports clubs, culture and civil society initiatives.
Anna Rau presented Guiding principles (“Leitgedanken”) to prevent polarisation and anti-democratic tendencies at the local level, a document that DEFUS member cities elaborated in 2018. Among these principles are the following:
- The prevention of group-based enmity and violent extremism has to be supported and promoted by elected officials, mayors and municipalities’ executive staff in order to be effective.
- Local authorities have to tackle increasing economic and social inequalities and promote fair and just cities. Inequalities can incite and amplify prejudice and hostility and constitute a breeding ground for polarisation and violence.
Concluding the session, Christian Kromberg emphasised that “within DEFUS, we will enhance our efforts to promote anti-discrimination and anti-racism initiatives and we will continue to provide trainings for our municipalities on this topic. We consider this as one of our most important missions.”
> For more information on the BRIDGE project, see our article on the final conference.
> The BRIDGE final publication will be soon available in English and French. It is a handbook featuring concrete tools and actions to mitigate polarisation as well as recommendations for local authorities.