Radicalisation – Rebellion in Extreme Form

Although radicalisation is stereotypically associated with certain groups, it can affect almost everyone. Since extremism contributes to the destruction of the social fabric, it is critical we counteract problems before they fester. But first, we must be able to diagnose them!

Experts analysing social trends are sounding the alarm about a disturbing increase in the popularity of radical views and behaviour in recent years. This occurs in different environments, takes different forms and is demonstrated by different signals, but all manifestations are united by hatred and often violence, which in turn poses a serious threat to democratic societies.

The fight against this phenomenon must also be multidimensional. On the one hand, it is necessary to ensure the safety of people exposed to attacks by radicalised groups by mitigating the threats and prosecuting individuals who commit crimes. However, preventing radicalisation is equally important and offers greater benefits.

A key component of prevention is education. A society that can diagnose the process of radicalisation faster and understands the early warning signals can also stop its development more efficiently or even eliminate it.

For many years, the Polish Platform for Homeland Security has been actively involved in projects aimed at providing appropriate tools to combat radicalisation, and is currently launching special training for institutions and practitioners on the risks arising from the development of extremism. To mark this occasion, we asked our trainer, Stanisław Czerczak, to explain what radicalisation is and how it affects our social environment.

Rebellion in Extreme Form

Stanisław Czerczak is a member of one of the working groups of the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN), and founder of the CODEX Foundation, which helps young people leave racist and other extremist movements. He is also a rehabilitated former member of neo-fascist hooligans. For over a dozen years, he has been working with young people at risk of radicalisation. As he explains:

Radicalisation is a multi-faceted process in which a person or group adopts a strong verbal and non-verbal violent ideology or world-view and rejects the standpoint accepted by a democratic society. It is a denial of basic democratic values, as well as a growing tendency to violence in order to impose the adopted ideology on other community members. Radicalised people hold extreme views that are not acknowledged by a democratic society. This, in turn, leads them to take radical steps. An external symptom may be a specific style of dress, displaying emblems or preaching extreme slogans and participating in acts of violence. To be radical is to be a rebel at its extreme.

Unfortunately, in recent years, we have seen an increase in the radicalisation of Polish society. The research from the March 2023 report “Faces of Polish Radicalisation”[1] prepared by the Social Dialogue Committee of the Polish Chamber of Commerce (Polish: Komitet Dialogu Społecznego Krajowej Izby Gospodarczej) shows that more than two-thirds of respondents believe that Poland is divided into two camps, and more people increasingly hold extreme views. Also, the reports of the National Police Headquarters show multiple increases in crimes related to the promotion of fascist ideology, hatred and xenophobia over the last years[2]. What kind of people might be affected by this problem?

Chart 1. Publicly promoting a fascist or other totalitarian state system or inciting hatred on the basis of national, ethnic, racial or religious differences or because of non-denomination (Article 256 of the Polish Penal Code).
Chart 2. Publicly insulting a group of people or a particular person because of their national, ethnic, racial or religious affiliation or because of their non-denominational nature, or for such reasons, violation of the bodily integrity of another person (Article 257 of the Polish Penal Code).

The Whole Cross-section of Society

Society typically feels more comfortable when processes they’re afraid of take place in environments and spaces stereotypically seen as “suspected”. However, as Czerczak assures, in the case of radicalisation, we cannot indicate the simple boundaries behind which it takes place. Extreme views are the domain of both young and old, men and women, regardless of education, wealth or social class. Thus, people with no criminal records, seasoned criminals serving sentences, those already released from prison, immigrants, as well as your ‘average national citizen’ can be radicalised.

This is because the process of radicalisation is extremely complex. It consists of many factors. For this reason, it is impossible to clearly define a social group exposed to extreme influences. Each of the previously mentioned groups may be immune to them, until enough factors occur to create a fertile ground for radicalisation. This applies to both the emotional sphere of a person and external circumstances, such as, for example, social pressure for material success. Consider the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’.

It’s worth mentioning the significant role the internet plays in the process of radicalisation- especially social media, which reinforces individuals with extreme views and encourages connections into larger groups.

Moreover, the algorithms that control the selection of content displayed on these websites tends to present materials similar to those already viewed by a given user. As a result, it may give the impression that their views have more supporters than they really do. The echo chamber supports the sense of self-confidence and the increase in visible symptoms of radicalisation in real life, which in Poland can be observed, for example, at some football stadiums and in certain cities where fan groups are particularly active.

Extremist attitudes can often be seen in groups of football hooligans.

A Sense of Superiority and Belonging

The popularity of extremist movements does not only result from ideas that currently respond to the ills of society. Stanisław Czerczak, who experienced it personally, describes the influence of these groups as follows:

Entangled in extremist movements, there are very often perpetrators and victims of persecution and crime. Extreme organisations allow them to find a deeper meaning and sense of life. They evoke a sense of superiority and belonging for their members. These groups often function like sects and have military tendencies. Hence, the consequences of radicalisation of an individual affect the family and people from the close environment, e.g. a block of flats, a housing estate or a group in social media.

In a broader context, radical movements are a threat to democratic societies. In an extreme form, they lead to violence and acts of terror aimed at selected enemies, who are other members of society. Radicalisation almost always brings an increase in hatred, violence and contempt. What’s worse, extreme attitudes aimed at one of the social groups can trigger a reaction in the form of an equally extreme defensive response. Unfortunately, the polarisation and radicalisation of political views in Poland is another obstacle to combating this phenomenon. It not only divides families but also hinders cooperation and building bonds in a civil society.

Radical movements are united by hatred and often violence, which in turn poses a serious threat to democratic societies.

Countering Radicalisation

However, this does not mean that we cannot counter extremist movements. On the contrary! Specific initiatives are possible on many levels. In the Polish Platform for Homeland Security, we have a rich portfolio of initiatives whose common theme is counteracting radicalisation.

If you are interested in developing and evaluating preventive actions based on evidence-based approaches in this area, we encourage you to check out the tools created within the INDEED project. If you want to find out what are the recommendations for cooperation between the services and the non-governmental sector in the field of preventing radicalisation in the judicial system, be sure to visit the MIRAD project website. Whereas multi-sectoral cooperation in preventing extremism and ensuring the effective integration of refugees and asylum seekers is the goal of the IN2PREV project.

We also help raise awareness about the process of radicalisation and detect its signals among practitioners, who can notice the emergence of extreme attitudes in their communities and react to them appropriately to stop further development.

PPHS offers special training in this field conducted by the aforementioned Stanisław Czerczak, who has devoted most of his adult life to counteracting discrimination, intolerance and hatred. If you are interested in joining the Polish course, please find the details through this page.

[1]https://wiez.pl/projekt/twarze-polskiej-radikalizacja/

[2]Marzena Kordaczuk-Wąs Diagnoza zagrożenia radykalizacją oraz potrzeb dotyczących kluczowych aspektów programu profilaktycznego opartego na dowodach, Warsaw 2023, p. 11.

Lukasz Kielban

Senior Communication Specialist
Polish Platform for Homeland Security

Stanislaw Czerczak

Expert on radicalisation
and extremism prevention