Public authorities in Europe and elsewhere need to engage with young people and take their feeling of being excluded from economic, social and political life seriously if they want to tackle urban violence effectively, writes Scott Weber.
Scott Weber is the president of Interpeace.
Dozens of cars ablaze in the streets of Gothenburg. The images, relayed widely last week by the country’s media, have shocked and sometimes aroused a cold anger in the Swedish political class.
These events follow other similar episodes, including those observed in 2013 in some of the Stockholm neighbourhoods where unemployment pushed 10% – more than twice the national average.
In the suburbs of other European countries, such acts are more regular still, serving as a reminder that the issue of youth violence is not limited to developing countries. It is European. Global.
How can these types of demonstrations be remedied, and repetitions prevented? Solutions exist in Sweden, just as they do elsewhere, but the issue will not be resolved through hard security alone.
Efforts in other states have repeatedly proven this, and the United Nations is currently examining precisely this question. The “Youth, Peace and Security” report, published a few months ago, should be released in its longer form by the end of the year.
For the first time, young people around the world – including in Sweden – have been listened to and their concerns accounted for in developing recommendations for the international community.
Despite the wide variety of contexts youth find themselves in, a resounding common message emerged about young people’s exclusion from economic, social and political life, and the frustration, distress and sometimes violent attitudes this exclusion fuels.
The challenge now for authorities is to engage directly with young people and enable them to raise their concerns, rather than attempting to develop and apply a panacea, imposed from above, without understanding their realities. In the Swedish consultations for the UN report, some young people underlined the risk of those with moderate views or no history of misdemeanours being drawn into violence as a result of their stigmatisation by society.
Yet the disconnect can be repaired. Discussion sessions, organised between young people and Swedish politicians or police officers, have yielded significant potential for mitigating misunderstandings and strengthening relationships: nearly half of the participants said after the first meeting that they had more confidence in the authorities after taking part in the dialogue.
Military units or armed police can extinguish fires in the short term, but without a different kind of engagement, the situation will continue to smoulder. To say that this problem can only be resolved by placing disadvantaged youth at the centre of the discussion is not naïve, it is pragmatic and based on evidence.
Dialogue must be sustained – from Gothenburg to Bamako.