Dagfinn Høybråten, Secretary General
In the wake of the attack at Krudttønden in Copenhagen in 2015, the Ministers for Nordic Co-operation launched a separate co-operation programme for the integration of refugees. Three years after it was launched, I’m incredibly pleased to see what the programme has achieved.
Our interdisciplinary initiative has a strategic focus on social marginalisation, extremism, and religious discrimination. The programme aims to fight radicalisation and violent extremism by way of preventative intervention, the most important of which is the “Nordic Safe Cities” (NSC) network, established in 2016. The goal was to create cities that are safe, inclusive, and tolerant by, for example, sharing experiences and building up expertise that support preventative efforts in Nordic cities.
Under NSC, three Nordic conferences were held in 2016 focusing on key topics in the prevention of radicalisation and extremism: safe urban spaces and local communities; safe online activity; and supporting the role of the family and public institutions in preventative efforts and the mobilisation of young people. Based on the input of the network, a manual was produced outlining principles for effective efforts in the prevention of radicalisation and extremism.
In 2017 the network grew to encompass a total of 30 cities and 400 politicians, experts, and researchers from around the Nordic Region in a raft of different activities. All activities within the NSC network emphasise active participation and the sharing of experiences. These experiences and the recommendations that follow are then communicated to those municipalities that are not part of the network.
NSC is resolute and does not shy away from problem areas. Quite the opposite, in fact. Major conferences have taken place in key problem areas, such as Mjølnerparken in Copenhagen, where discussions centred around how to create safe and socially sustainable residential areas. Extremism was the theme when it was Borlänge’s turn to play host. Borlänge is a Swedish municipality that has long struggled with being at the heart of the far-right Nordic resistance movement. During the conference, we saw the fine balance between freedom of expression and the need to protect individuals against threats and hate speech.
“Preventing and fighting extremism and radicalisation will continue to be high on the agenda of Nordic co-operation,” said Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen when he met his Nordic colleagues in Helsinki in October 2017. It is reassuring to know that the Nordic prime ministers want integration efforts to be a key area for co-operation in the future.
It is also pleasing to see that Nordic Safe Cities has attracted international attention, resulting in invitations from Melbourne, Montreal, and Brussels. When Swedish researcher on extremism Magnus Ranstorp spoke to EU mayors in March, he specifically cited Nordic Safe Cities as an example of how the EU should approach efforts this area.
Although international attention is nice, we must never forget that life is lived locally. And so the measures we implement must be local. With this in mind and in collaboration with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue in the UK, the network has developed a scheme to help mobilise young people in efforts to prevent discrimination, prejudice, and exclusion, and thus help to make our cities safer. Larvik in Norway was the first city to complete this two-day workshop. Around 70 young people aged 15 to 21 designed local activities and campaigns to be carried out in 2018 to help mobilise young people in Larvik in these efforts. They call their project “KomInn”, which roughly translates as “come on in” in English. In 2018 it is hoped that several other NSC cities will mobilise their young people through this scheme.
In addition, and in co-operation with Faith Associates in the UK, NSC has initiated a programme to support religious dialogue between cities and religious organisations. One of the objectives is to facilitate dialogue with mosques in order to help them develop the skills they need to make their engagement with their local communities more positive. Copenhagen is the first city to implement the programme.
On 30 May, the network will convene in Helsinki so that its participants can again share their knowledge and experiences. By way of useful discussions that shed light on real life, the hope is that we will create cities that are safe and enjoyable.