Barcelona, Spain, November 2019 – There are many different kinds of polarisation and, in cities, opinions can diverge on a whole range of issues: this is one of the main conclusions the partners of the Efus-led BRIDGE project, which seeks to “build resilience to reduce polarisation and growing extremism”, agreed on during a meeting in Barcelona (ES) on 14-15 November. The event combined a seminar and a coordination meeting, the second one since the start of the project (January 2019 – December 2020).
> Polarisation audits in the partner cities
The results of the polarisation audits conducted in the project’s 13 partner cities* were presented on the first day. The audits were done with the methodological tool provided by the project’s experts. These are: the German NGO Ufuq.de, which promotes pluralism and social cohesion through social education, prevention and research; the Spanish think tank Real Instituto Elcano, which promotes democracy and peaceful coexistence through the study of international relations; Markus Pausch, professor at the Department of Social Work and Social Innovation at the University of Applied Sciences of Salzburg (AT); Tim Chapman, visiting lecturer at Ulster University (Northern Ireland) and a specialist in restorative justice, and Dr Eolene Boyd-MacMillan, Senior Research Associate, Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge. Efus also brought its expertise in this field.
These local audits, which identify the issues on which opinions are polarised in the partner cities, will serve as a basis to design the pilot projects that will be carried out in the project’s second phase. There are four broad themes on which opinions are sharply divided: secularism / religion; migrants recently arrived from the Middle East and Africa / local residents; police / population, and extremist / moderate groups.
> Multiple polarisation in an era of uncertainty
On the second day, there was a seminar on polarisation, which was introduced by Prof. Markus Pausch. In his presentation titled “Multiple polarisation in an era of uncertainty” he stressed there are various kinds of polarisation in society today, as there has been throughout history.
One should distinguish between ‘benign’ polarisation, which can result in more democracy in society, and ‘pernicious’ polarisation, which paves the way to repressive, authoritarian regimes. Similarly, one should distinguish between bottom-up and top-down polarisation, examples of the former being the Arab Spring and the Yellow Vest movement in France, and of the latter Brexit in the UK and the conflict in Eastern Ukraine (were pro-Russia armed groups are fighting the government). Pr Pausch said that “inclusive democracy can prevent pernicious polarisation, or at least transform it into a benign form.”
> Mitigating polarisation at the local level
The project partners then worked in small groups on the following questions: What can you do in your locality to prevent polarisation from happening or increasing? What local networks and partnerships and what capacities and skills do you need to reinforce in order to do so? What is your objective, your vision for your city/region?
Following this discussion, the partners concluded that the lack of social cohesion is one of the main factors of polarisation in their local territory. Furthermore, they agreed that the main objectives of their pilot projects are to strengthen social cohesion and to stop or at least mitigate violence that can stem from the lack of social cohesion and the resulting social divisions.
> The project’s next steps
In the upcoming months, the partner cities will design and implement their pilot projects. At the end of this phase, they will produce a series of recommendations and webinars aimed at helping all interested European local authorities to detect and reduce local phenomena of polarisation.
* Brussels (BE), Departmental council of Val d’Oise (FR), Düsseldorf (DE), Government of Catalonia (ES), Genk (BE), Igoumenitsa (GR), Leuven (BE), Reggio Emilia (IT), Region of Umbria (IT), Rotterdam (NL), Terrassa (ES), Stuttgart (DE), Vaulx-en-Velin (FR)
Contact at Efus: Moritz Konradi, Programme Manager (email@example.com)
and Eszter Karácsony, Programme Manager (firstname.lastname@example.org)