Jacek Purski

This description of Jacek Purski's work was prepared when Jacek Purski was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2017 .

Introduction

Jacek is reducing the risk of extremist threats and crime from within communities by equipping teachers, parents, police officers and social workers, with the necessary know-how and skills to identify and reverse the radicalization process affecting youth in Poland.

L'idée nouvelle

The feeling of safety is prized in every community and is a form of social capital that we all care about. Despite simplistic media coverage, the majority of the security risks are internal and are increasingly the result of a highly radicalized segment of the community. Jacek, based on his 15 years of experience of monitoring racist and neo-fascist incidents in Poland, understood the process of radicalization and he has developed an educational process to counter it, and thus raise the public safety.

The process of radicalization is a complex phenomenon of individuals or groups becoming intolerant with regard to basic democratic values like equality and diversity, as well as a rising propensity towards using force as a means to reach political goals that negate and/or undermine democracy. The individual goes through the stages of radicalization that can lead towards the terrorist act and sidestepping inhibitory mechanisms. This process is similar for all extremisms: Islamists, far right extremists, as well as for some ultra left movements.

In response to the radicalization process posing a threat to public safety, Jacek has created an educational strategy that allows members of the community to ensure that young persons from their community will not be radicalized. This does not mean increase of surveillance nor control. All the more, it does not mean arming civilians with firearms, but arming them with knowledge, awareness and sensitivity for early manifestations of radicalization.

The unique process designed by Jacek’s Institute of Public Safety Awareness starts from identification of key actors. Jacek decided to start the process with wholesale partners - school communities (principals, teachers, parents, pupils) and police officers in the first place. In the next steps of the process designed by Jacek, it is other members of the “ local early prevention teams,” as he calls them, such as local government officials and social workers.

Jacek and his team provide those groups with special trainings combining physical security know-how with knowledge about radicalization process. This is followed by distribution of educational materials that serve as guidelines for further actions and is backed up by building of a support network of the “local early prevention teams.” This effort is supported by a well-planned media relations campaign.
As an effect of Jacek’s and his team’s work, the role of each member of a society shifts from a potential victim to an active builder of common trust and cooperation for the public safety.

Le problème

In a survey from 2017, when asked about the threats to public safety 38% of Poles pointed to the terrorist attacks. When asked of what they were afraid of, 37% of Poles mentioned the “flow of refugees”. And yet, in Poland there was no terrorist attack since the 1930s. In 2016 the refugee status or other form of legal protection to a foreigner was granted to 390 persons, mostly Russian citizens of Chechen nationality and Ukrainians. Even if those threats do not appear very realistic, citizens are afraid. And the media and political parties keep fueling this anxiety to build their political capital. In this very moment, when the society is frightened by the migration crisis, we observe a severe rise of populism and what is more alarming, rise of extremism.

The migration crisis, economic problems, bad situation of the young people on the labor market, the resulting feeling of exclusion and lack of perspectives – are the main reasons for growing popularity of extremism in Europe. The radicalization processes are filled with various content such as the one provided by extremist Islam (e.g. in France since 2015 the number of Islamic radicals has doubled, 20% of them are underaged) or the one provided by extremist nationalists. Xenophobic and neo-fascist slogans are gaining in popularity. 52% of Poles noticed an escalation of nationalist attitudes. The number of crimes against people of Arabic descent living in Poland has tripled. The Polish Commissioner for Human Rights informs that we experience a drastic shift in the characteristics of the so called hate-crimes - before they included mainly hate speech, trolling and invectives, nowadays there are more and more about physical assaults on foreigners.

As many experts have proven, radicalization is not a characteristic of ‘irrational madmen’ but a process which combines with certain emotions and attitudes and which can develop in a variety of individuals. Radicalization process is similar for all kinds extremisms no matter what ideology stands behind them. Finally it leads to violence, acts of terror and turmoil and it threatens the security of the society. Most of the leaders of radical movements know perfectly well all the stages and psychological mechanisms which allow for acquisition of a dissatisfied person and converting him or her into an extremist.

It is mostly young people who join the extremist movements. Adolescence is a crucial period in a life of a human being – it is a time of looking for identity, time of insecurity, alienation and vulnerability to opinions of other people and a need of belonging. This is why adolescents often join gangs, and become followers of fashion or of pop groups. Belonging to a group helps to alleviate their sense of loneliness and strengthens their identity. The sense of identity and purpose can be so intoxicating that it may make a person subconsciously prepared to disengage their empathy.

According to Buijs et al., age is the most definitive characteristic of radicalizing Muslims in the west. Although extremists are usually young men in their early twenties, there is a trend towards radicalization at an even younger age. The leaders of extremist organizations strengthen the fears and offer the young a simple and a hard-shell vision of the world. This allows channeling of their frustrations and fears. Thanks to their knowledge of youth cultural codes, such as music, clothes, street art, they manage to make attractive and desired products. Symbols of intolerance, and calling for violence proliferate through fashion, music, clubs and sport events.

There is a large disproportion between knowledge of the dynamics of radicalization processes of the extremist movements’ leaders and that of educators and teachers, who have no access to training in this area. In the pedagogy curriculums at universities or teaching training centers there are no compulsory classes related to the subject. None of the Polish pedagogical universities offers a course or at least lectures on radicalization. The Radicalization Awareness Network (RAN), established by the European Commission, highlights the key role teachers and educators play in the process of counteracting radicalization. It is the teachers that have the greatest chance to identify and take care of the potential victims of the radicalization process. However, they do not always have a sufficient understanding of radicalization, do not understand the warning signs, or know what to do in response.

Most of the members of our societies are convinced, that extremist views are a radical but still political attitude that somehow has a right to exist in the mainstream narrative. Too often the cases of speech of hatred and extreme behavior are underestimated and considered socially innocuous. This is often the case, for example, in "stadium culture" and the racist, chauvinistic behavior of hooligans. The Polish authorities do not collect data on the number of notifications of hate crimes. Lack of reaction causes the intensification of the phenomenon and threatens public safety. Therefore – RAN, sociologists and social activists - point out that policemen are the most important group who can effectively fight extremism alongside with teachers and educators. However, this is not possible without providing them with professional knowledge with regard to the identification, classification and prosecution of hate crimes. Policemen must know not only the relevant laws but also the specificities, symbols and ideologies of particular extremist groups. There is still more knowledge about early stages of radicalization needed among Polish Policeman according to official Polish National Police and yet the Polish government has just (2017) cut the budget for this kind of training materials for the Polish Police.

La stratégie

In response to the radicalization process posing a threat to the public safety, Jacek has created an educational strategy that allows members of the community to ensure that their peers and especially that young people from their community will not be radicalized. This does not mean increase of surveillance nor control, but building awareness and sensitivity for early manifestations of radicalization and giving them tools to help those in danger of being radicalized.
After 15 years of working against racism and neo-fascism Jacek understood, that to eliminate the tragic consequences of those ideologies, actions needed to be taken at the very early stages of the radicalization process – before the young people become racists or neo-fascists. Jacek’s insight is that understanding the process of radicalization and threats behind is crucial – and that the answer to that dangerous process needs to be a process as well.

This is why he identified they key representatives of every society, who need to change their roles from controlling and reacting post-factum, towards noticing early signs of radicalization and actively incising the matter of public safety.

Based on his deep insight and knowledge, Jacek decided that he must first focus on school communities (principals, teachers, administrators, parents and pupils), because young people are especially vulnerable to radicalization. His second target group is the police officers, who have the ability to concentrate on prevention rather than acting after a tragic event takes place. Those two groups: school communities (not only teachers, but also administration workers, janitors, cleaners) and police officers thanks to Jacek, and his team, take part in a transformative experience provided by various experts and a diverse set of exercises.

For Jacek it was clear that he himself did not have enough knowledge in all areas that needed to be addressed. People needed to know the steps of the radicalization process, but they also need to feel strong enough to be able to become the whistleblowers in their communities, they need to understand the psychology behind the process and they need to believe that stopping this process is possible. This is why Jacek’s team is composed of former special forces officers (who teach basic rules of personal safety), psychologists and inverted neo-fascists who by their example give additional credibility to Jacek’s approach.

Thanks to Jacek and his method that involves transfer of knowledge, skills, tools and networking with other “local early prevention teams”, teachers and educators, who have a daily contact with kids become change agents who not only teach, but are able to notice the symptoms of radicalization and are equipped to react. As a result of the transformational process the empowered citizens become the local radicalization whistleblowers but also the guardians of the most vulnerable members of their community.
Jacek has already equipped many schools all over Poland with the necessary know-how, skills and systems – over 12 500 kids are now in premises where teachers know how to protect them from radicalization at a very early stage. His team, which is constantly developing, is now replicating the approach in the next 30 schools which translates to around 30 000 pupils. The effects are stunning - 98% of teachers admit that the content provided by Jacek’s Institute is relevant for their work and 90% of teachers declare they have already changed their practices towards early signs of radicalization in their schools.

By teaching the police about the early radicalization signs but also the possible “soft” interventions, Jacek changes the role of the police and creates a true mindshift. Jacek’s team has trained hundreds of police officers. The have trained all police officers specializing in “hate crimes” in Poland – 500 persons, in order to make them cooperate with teachers and other local actors so that safety becomes a common effort in their communities. Every third police officer trained by Jacek reported that he/she used the know-how gained in his/her operations.
In addition, Jacek prepares educational materials that facilitate further work of teachers and police officers. Jacek has also created educational materials that were distributed amongst 100 000 police officers in Poland as a source of know-how on radicalization process, symbols and tactics. This way the police force becomes a support for the teachers who play the role of local radicalization whistleblowers. The police officers were recommended by their superiors to have the material always with them. Materials for teachers are being currently prepared to form a manual. Jacek aim is, that they will be available in every school.

The next stage of the process is nurturing and animating the network of the “local early prevention teams” equipped to spot and react to radicalization of any kind at the earliest possible stage so that young people are protected from getting involved in violent extremism and acts of terrorism. This network created by connecting of the existing actors is aimed at liberating them from being locked in their individual contexts and making them aware of the synergy effect they can create together. The network is on its way to become an active, self-learning team-of-teams implementing the new perception of safety in local communities. According to Jacek it should be fully operational by 2023. As a support structure for the network, Jacek and his Institute train all Polish local government officers for equal treatment and protection of human rights every year, ensuring that the seeds of system change are planted also in the local administration.

To facilitate each stage of public safety educational process Jacek, and several members of his team are continuously present in the media. They comment current situation, by sharing their attitude toward public safety. Likewise they share their knowledge and their approach to anti-radicalization and public safety broadly in social media.
In addition, to become independent from Polish political pressures and to be able to scale his approach broadly, Jacek is an active member of the Radicalization Awareness Network (RAN) – a European network of practitioners working on the prevention of radicalization and supporting the creation of relevant policies at the level of the European Commission.
Jacek aims to spread the network to all the countries where it may help people feel safer and better together as according to him reacting to early signs of radicalization builds safer local communities for all.

La personne

Jacek as a teenager was a member of the young hardcore/punk music scene. Because of the music that he listened to he became a target for the neo-fascist skinheads who were active in violent behaviors in Polish cities those years (1990.). It was then for the very first time that Jacek was confronted with radicalized youth. And from that moment he got involved in the topic of radicalization, extremists, ideologically motivated violence and an active social work to combat these ideologies.
At the age of 19, Jacek encountered an anti-racist association called “Never Again” (in reference to Holocaust) and started his 15 years long cooperation with the association and a magazine published by them. Jacek wanted to be a journalist, but that has immediately changed, when he got to know “Never Again” – he became an activist.

Jacek worked closely with the founder and president of “Never Again”, Marcin Kornak, who was Jacek’s mentor. For years Jacek was a coordinator of a “Let’s Kick Racism out of the Stadiums” program where he has sharpened his social entrepreneurial approach as its leader and creator. During the period of intense preparation for Euro 2012 which took place in Poland and Ukraine, Jacek managed to convince FIFA and UEFA to extort Polish Football Association for urgent steps against racism and neo-fascism at Polish stadiums. Jacek was the one who gave training in this topic to the employees and activists of the Polish Football Association. Under Jacek’s guidance a booklet was published and distributed amongst Polish Football Association members, referees and sport journalists about racist symbols. Taking advantage of Euro 2012, Jacek and “Never Again” Association were able to reach European level of their actions.
During the intense work for the “Never Again” Association, Jacek became a well-known face of anti-racism/ anti-fascism movement in Poland. His personal data: name, phone number and home address were published at the infamous Redwatch list, which targets “enemies of White race” and “communists to be eliminated”. On the list there are several journalists, teachers, NGO activists, politicians who oppose neo-fascists. Jacek received life threats. Several times he found feces at his doormat. This is when he realized that radicalization is not really an ideological issue, but it is a truly safety related issue and it had to be stopped.