The Bulgarian National Policy General Directorate (BGP) is one of the six LEAs that make part of the CounteR Project’s consortium. In an interview, BGP’s Chief Inspector Pondev explains that minority populations at risk of being radicalised, negative attitudes towards migrants, and post-COVID consolidation of extreme Conservative views are among the challenges that Bulgaria faces in terms of radicalisation prevention.
Chief Inspector Pondev, what are BGP’s mission, priorities and scope of work?
The National Police General Directorate engages in detection, protection, and crime investigation functions. In addition, our prerogatives include investigation of crimes, information sharing and awareness-raising, crime control, preventive measures, and administrative penal activities. BGP also provides administrative services to citizens, as defined by law. Our Directorate is in charge of overseeing the activities of the regional-level directorates of the Bulgarian Ministry of the Interior – most importantly, in the domains of prevention, curbing and detection of crimes and any other action, targeted against the social order.
Which activities of the CounteR Project is BGP involved in, and how?
BGP’s contribution to the project is mainly focused on its capacity as an end-user. In this regard, the National Police participates in defining the requirements of the national-level LEAs based on the previous practice and specific case studies. In addition, our experts provide a contribution for the final application – as we know, this activity is of utmost importance to CounteR’s successful implementation and marketing strategy. BGP will also actively participate in the planned field demonstrations and tests of the platform, thus ensuring that this integrated solution will be put into practical use at the national level.
How will the CounteR solution be beneficial for BGP’s future work?
Our Directorate will analyse and use the results of the project and integrate them into its specialised areas of activity. We also foresee the organization of additional activities for spreading the knowledge and experience of the CounteR Project, in order to more effectively curb radicalising movements and radical propaganda in Bulgaria.
What is the situation with online and offline radicalisation in Bulgaria?
Radicalisation is a global process that seriously affects Bulgarian society as well. For years, in certain regions – specifically in Southern Bulgaria, inhabited by compact Turkish-speaking Roma population, the activation of extreme pro-Islamist organisations and the attraction of representatives of the Roma ethnic group to an extreme Islamist ideology have been observed. The main factors facilitating the radicalisation of members of this community are the low standard of living, as well as the lack of education and social perspective. In the context of the global migration processes, the increased traffic of migrants from Asia and Africa through Bulgaria led to an increase in negative attitudes among Bulgarians towards people from these regions. Social media has seen an escalation of hate speech and scepticism, blaming Europe for not being able to successfully manage the problems related to migrants from Africa, the Middle East and other problematic regions. We can also observe a tendency of consolidation among people with more conservative to extreme ideological positions – they tend to organise themselves more actively for expressing their views by for example conducting mass demonstrations, marches, pilgrimages, protests, and others. The COVID-19 pandemic and the state-imposed health prevention measures have led to an increase in the influence of the Internet media on the views and behaviour of large segments of the population, the youth in particular. The limited “real-life” social interactions between people, which are getting replaced by a virtual reality and lockdowns, have led to an exacerbation of the people’s need for connecting and identifying with significant supra-personal ideas and concepts: and, of course, this situation serves as a fertile ground for all types of extreme organisations to flourish.
What does the BGP do in order to curb the spread of radicalisation and prevent these worrying trends?
The National Police General Directorate is actively engaged in the prevention and investigation of such types of illegal activities. We use various analytical techniques and other relevant policing methods. Our institution puts a serious focus on prevention through organising information seminars and public awareness-raising campaigns, targeted specifically to vulnerable groups and individuals.
The CounteR Project aims at offering innovative technological solutions and instruments that would facilitate the work of the LEAs in detection and prevention of radicalisation. What is the importance of embracing new technologies for the Bulgarian National Police?
The use of modern technology by law offenders must receive its adequate technological response by law enforcement agencies. In this sense, the Bulgarian Police makes no exception to this trend. In order to investigate, counteract and protect people and groups from radicalisation threats, the policing institutions such as BGP should have modern and technologically adequate tools, as well as well-trained personnel.
How is BGP’s participation in the CounteR Project contributing to its personnel gaining more experience and skills? How would CounteR make their work more effective?
Our participation in the CounteR project fosters the experience of the Bulgarian police in the field of adopting new tools for identifying extremist content. This will undoubtedly lead to a more effective approach in countering radicalisation and will also help to refine the methods applied in preventive work. BGP’s participation in the project will also improve the level and scope of cooperation with partner organisations – LEAs, NGOs, and the academia at the transnational level. We believe that the introduction of new technologies in the Bulgarian police is of primary importance. The CounteR project is a perfect example in this regard, especially when the CounteR solution is put into operation. The application will enable a faster communication between services, timelier response of front-line officers, and – ultimately – will lead to detecting and preventing of a higher number of cases of radicalisation. Let me give you a broader example. During the summer tourist season, a large part of the Bulgarian “guest workers” return to Bulgaria. These persons have not been in their home country for almost 11 months and therefore were not under our control – in other words, we do not know what is happening to them, because they have been abroad. For such persons, the colleagues in the other country would have entered into the system data of the type – possibly radicalised, or participated in radical groups, or showing radical inclinations, etc. So, when the person enters Bulgaria and is checked, the Bulgarian police will see all the data about him and will be able to decide what measures to take against him during his stay in the country. In parallel, the Bulgarian police will also enter relevant data for this person and for other persons in the platform during their stay in our country. All partners will be able to draw data from the platform and update it on an ongoing basis.
What other European projects does BGP participate in?
As a major law-enforcement body in Bulgaria, BGP is actively engaged in the implementation of international projects, EU-funded ones in particular, as both the leading organisation and as a partner. Under the EU’s Internal Security Fund, BGP works on a project for reducing the levels of corruption among the patrol and traffic police through the introduction of video surveillance in the police vehicles. We are also engaged in a project on capacity building for the police to counter illegal waste trafficking. Under the Norwegian Financial Mechanism’s Home Affairs Programme, BGP implements a project on improving the capacity of the police and forensic activities, dealing with material evidence in pre-trial investigation. We have three more projects in our Home Affairs Programme’s portfolio: improving the efficiency of the police in the field of domestic and gender-based violence; improving the coordination and dialogue between the police and the Roma communities; and corruption prevention in general – the latter project is led by the Home Security Directorate and BGP is a partner. Notably, we are thrilled to share with you about a brand new investment project, entitled “Improving the Quality and Sustainability of the Security Services”. The project has been included in Bulgaria’s Recovery and Resilience Plan and is managed by the Interior Ministry’s Directorate on Information and Communication Systems and the National Police Directorate.
The Bulgarian National Police General Directorate (BGP) is a national specialised operative, security and control structure for prevention, investigation and detection of crimes and for the protection of public order. BGP’s officers collect, process and utilise crime-related data; collaborate with other state institutions and organisations; and partner with the civil society sector. Notably, BGP organises, coordinates and controls the activity of the Interior Ministry’s regional directorates on prevention, detection and investigation of crimes and anti-social acts.
Chief Inspector Minko Pondev
Since 2018, Chief Inspector Minko Pondev is the Head of the National Football Information Point (NFIP) within Bulgaria’s National Police General Directorate (NPGD). He brings solid expertise and management experience in the domain of national and international exchange of police information, intelligence, and risk assessments. Chief Inspector Pondev has graduated from specialised professional courses by CEPOL and Interpol in countering violent extremism and terrorism, and safety and security management for major international sporting events. At NPGD, Chief Inspector Pondev works in the domains of international cooperation, police investigations, and prevention of sports hooliganism. In 2007, he graduated the Academy of Bulgaria’s Ministry of the Interior. Chief Inspector Pondev was born in Sofia, Bulgaria