The state of Bulgaria (България, transliterated: Balgaria, pronounced bəlˈgarija), international transliteration Bălgarija, officially the Republic of Bulgaria (Република България, Republika Balgaria, pronounced ) forms part of the Balkans in south-eastern Europe. It borders five other countries: Romania to the north (mostly along the River Danube), Serbia and the Republic of Macedonia to the west, and Greece and Turkey to the south. The Black Sea defines the extent of the country to the east.
Bulgaria comprises the classical regions of Moesia, Thrace, and Macedonia. Old European culture within the territory of present-day Bulgaria started to produce golden artifacts by the fifth millennium BC.
The country preserves the traditions (in ethnic name, language and alphabet) of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/681 1018), which at times covered most of the Balkans and spread its alphabet, literature and culture among the Slavic and other peoples of Eastern Europe. Centuries later, with the decline of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185 1396/1422), the country came under Ottoman rule for nearly five centuries. The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 led to the re-establishment of a Bulgarian state as a constitutional monarchy in 1878, with the Treaty of San Stefano marking the birth of the Third Bulgarian State. After World War II, in 1945 Bulgaria became a communist state and part of the Eastern Bloc, lead by Todor Jivkov (from 1956 to 1989), who presided for 33 years. In 1990, after the Revolutions of 1989, the Communist party gave up its monopoly on power and Bulgaria transitioned to democracy and free-market capitalism.
Currently Bulgaria functions as a parliamentary democracy under a unitary constitutional republic. A member of the European Union since 2007 and of NATO since 2004, it has a population of approximately 7.6 million.
Geographically and in terms of climate, Bulgaria features notable diversity with the landscape ranging from the Alpine snow-capped peaks in Rila, Pirin and the Balkan Mountains to the mild and sunny Black Sea coast; from the typically continental Danubian Plain (ancient Moesia) in the north to the strong Mediterranean climatic influence in the valleys of Macedonia and in the lowlands in the southernmost parts of Thrace.
Phytogeographically, Bulgaria straddles the Illyrian and Euxinian provinces of the Circumboreal region within the Boreal kingdom. According to the WWF and to the European Environment Agency's Digital Map of European Ecological Regions, the territory of Bulgaria subdivides into two main ecoregions: the Balkan mixed forests and Rhodope montane mixed forests. However, small parts of four other ecoregions also occur on Bulgarian territory.
Bulgaria comprises portions of the regions known in classical times as Moesia, Thrace, and Macedonia. The mountainous southwest of the country has two alpine ranges — Rila and Pirin — and further east stand the lower but more extensive Rhodope Mountains. The Rila range includes the highest peak of the Balkan Peninsula, Musala, at 2,925 meters (9,596 ft); the long range of the Balkan mountains runs west-east through the middle of the country, north of the famous Rose Valley. Hilly country and plains lie in the southeast, along the Black Sea coast in the east, and along Bulgaria's main river, the Danube in the north.
Bulgaria has a dense network of about 540 rivers, but with the notable exception of the Danube, most have short lengths and low water-level.
Most rivers flow through mountainous areas; fewer in the Danubian Plain, Upper Thracian Plain and especially Dobrudzha. Two catchment basins exist: the Black Sea (57% of the territory and 42% of the rivers) and the Aegean Sea (43% of the territory and 58% of the rivers) basins. The longest river located solely in Bulgarian territory, the Iskar, has a length of 368 km. Other major rivers include the Struma and the Maritsa River in the south.
Rila and Pirin feature around 260 glacial lakes; the country also has several large lakes on the Black Sea coast and more than 2,200 dam lakes. Many mineral springs exist, located mainly in the south-western and central parts of the country along the faults between the mountains.
The Bulgarian word for spa, баня, transliterated as banya, appears in some of the names of more than 50 spa towns and resorts including Sapareva Banya, Hisarya, Sandanski, Bankya, Varshets, Pavel Banya, Devin, Velingrad and many others.
Bulgaria's larger cities include:
Prehistoric cultures in the Bulgarian lands include the Neolithic Hamangia culture and Vinča culture (6th to 3rd millennia BC), the eneolithic Varna culture (5th millennium BC; see also Varna Necropolis), and the Bronze Age Ezero culture. The Karanovo chronology serves as a gauge for the prehistory of the wider Balkans region.
The Thracians, the earliest known identifiable people to inhabit the present-day territory of Bulgaria, have left traceable marks among all the Balkan region despite its tumultuous history of many conquests. The Panagyuriste treasure ranks as one of the most splendid achievements of the Thracian culture.
The Thracians lived divided into numerous separate tribes until King Teres united most of them around 500 BC in the Odrysian kingdom, which peaked under the kings Sitalces and Cotys I (383-359 BC). In 188 BC the Romans invaded Thrace, and warfare continued until 45 AD when Rome finally conquered the region. The conquerors quickly Romanised the population. By the time the Slavs arrived, the Thracians had already lost their indigenous identity and had dwindled in number following frequent invasions.
The Slavs emerged from their original homeland (location not definitively established: see Slavic peoples) in the early 6th century and spread to most of the eastern Central Europe, Eastern Europe and the Balkans, forming in the process three main branches — the West Slavs, the East Slavs and the South Slavs. The eastern South Slavs became part of the ancestors of the modern Bulgarians. They assimilated what remained of the Thracians. Modern Bulgarians derive much of their culture, language and self-determination from these early immigrants.
In 632, the Bulgars, an ancient civilisation/nation that formed numerous kingdoms throughout Eurasia and stemmed from a largely enigmatic socio-cultural lineage (theorised as of either Aryan or Turkic descent), originally from Central Asia, formed under the leadership of Khan Kubrat an independent state called Great Bulgaria, situated between the lower course of the Danube to the west, the Black Sea and the Azov Sea to the south, the Kuban River to the east, and the Donets River to the north.
Pressure from the Khazars led to the subjugation of Great Bulgaria in the second half of the 7th century. Some of the Bulgars from that territory later migrated to the northeast to form a new state called Volga Bulgaria (around the confluence of the Volga and Kama Rivers), which lasted until the 13th century.
Kubrat’s successor, Khan Asparuh, migrated with some of the Bulgar tribes to the lower courses of the rivers Danube, Dniester and Dniepr (known as Ongal), and conquered Moesia and Scythia Minor (Dobrudzha) from the Byzantine Empire, expanding his new khanate further into the Balkan Peninsula. A peace treaty with Byzantium in 681 and the establishment of the Bulgar capital of Pliska south of the Danube mark the beginning of the First Bulgarian Empire. At the same time one of Asparuh's brothers, Kuber, settled with another Bulgar group in present-day Macedonia.
During the siege of Constantinople in 717-718 the Bulgars honoured their treaty with the Byzantines by sending troops to help the populace of the imperial city. In the decisive battle the Bulgarians killed 30,000 to 60,000 Arabs. Contemporaries across the continent called the Bulgarian Emperor Tervel the Saviour of Europe.
The influence and territorial expansion of Bulgaria increased further during the rule of Khan Krum, who in 811 won a decisive victory against the Byzantine army led by Nicephorus I in the Battle of Pliska.
In 864, Bulgaria accepted Eastern Orthodox Christianity.
Bulgaria became a major European power in the ninth and the tenth centuries, while fighting with the Byzantine Empire for the control of the Balkans. This happened under the rule (852–889) of Boris I. During his reign, the Cyrillic alphabet originated in Preslav and Ohrid, adapted from the Glagolitic alphabet invented by the monks Saints Cyril and Methodius.
The Cyrillic alphabet became the basis for further cultural development. Centuries later, this alphabet, along with the Old Bulgarian language, fostered the intellectual written language (lingua franca) for Eastern Europe, known as Church Slavonic. The greatest territorial extension of the Bulgarian Empire — covering most of the Balkans — occurred under Simeon I, the first Bulgarian Tsar (Emperor), son of Boris I.
However, Simeon's greatest achievement consisted of Bulgaria developing a rich, unique Christian Slavonic culture, which became an example for the other Slavonic peoples in Eastern Europe and ensured the continued existence of the Bulgarian nation regardless of the centrifugal forces that threatened to tear it into pieces throughout its long and war-ridden history.
Following a decline in the mid-tenth century (worn out by wars with Croatia, by frequent Serbian rebellions sponsored by Byzantine gold, and by disastrous Magyar and Pecheneg invasions), Bulgaria collapsed in the face of an assault of the Rus' in 969-971.
The Byzantines then began campaigns to conquer Bulgaria. In 971, they seized the capital Preslav and captured Emperor Boris II. Resistance continued under Tsar Samuil in the western Bulgarian lands for nearly half a century. The country managed to recover and defeated the Byzantines in several major battles taking the control of the most of the Balkans and in 991 invaded the Serbian state. However, the Byzantines led by Basil II (Basil the Bulgar-Slayer) destroyed the Bulgarian state in 1018 after their victory at Kleidion.
In the first decade after the establishment of Byzantine rule, no evidence remains of any major attempt at resistance or any uprising of the Bulgarian population or nobility. Given the existence of such irreconcilable opponents to Byzantium as Krakra, Nikulitsa, Dragash and others, such apparent passivity seems difficult to explain. Some historians explain this fact by concessions that Basil II granted the Bulgarian nobility in order to gain their obedience. In the first place, Basil II guaranteed the indivisibility of Bulgaria in its former geographic borders and did not abolish officially the local rule of the Bulgarian nobility that now became part of Byzantine aristocracy as archons or strategs. Second, special charters (royal decrees) of Basil II recognised the autocephaly of the Bulgarian Archbishopric of Ohrid and set up its boundaries, dioceses, property and other privileges.
The people of Bulgaria challenged Byzantine rule several times in the 11th and then again later in the early 12th century. The biggest uprising occurred under the leadership of Peter II Delyan, (proclaimed Emperor of Bulgaria in Belgrade in 1040). In the mid to late 11th century, the Normans, fresh from their recent conquests in southern Italy and Sicily, landed in the Balkans and began advancing against the Byzantine Empire. It took the Byzantines until 1185 before the Normans were driven out but until then they posed a constant threat to Byzantine Bulgaria. In 1091 another invasion came in the form of the Pechenegs. However, these too were crushed at Levounion and again in c. 1120 by the Byzantine Empire. After that, the Hungarians made an attempt to increase their influence beyond the Danube river; John Comnenus' campaigns along the Danube eventually drove back the Hungarians as well by c.1140. It would be another 45 years before Bulgaria would attain independence. Until that time, Bulgarian nobles ruled the province in the name of the Byzantine Empire until a rebellion by Ivan Asen I and Peter IV of Bulgaria led to the establishment of the Second Bulgarian Empire.
From 1185, the Second Bulgarian Empire once again established Bulgaria as an important power in the Balkans for two more centuries with its capital based in Veliko Turnovo and under the Asen dynasty. Kaloyan, the third of the Asen monarchs, extended his dominions to Belgrade, Nish and Skopie (Uskub); he acknowledged the spiritual supremacy of the pope, and received the royal crown from a papal legate. The greatest of all Bulgarian rulers was Ivan Asen II (1218-1241), a man of humane and enlightened character. After a series of victorious campaigns he established his sway over Albania, Epirus, Macedonia and Thrace, and governed his wide dominions with justice, wisdom and moderation. In his time the nation attained a prosperity hitherto unknown: commerce, the arts and literature flourished; Veliko Turnovo, the capital, was enlarged and embellished; and great numbers of churches and monasteries were founded or endowed. The dynasty of the Asens became extinct in 1257, and as a result of the Tatar invasions (beginning in the later 13th century), of internal conflicts and of the constant attacks from the Byzantines and the Hungarians, the power of the country declined until the end of the 13th century. From 1300, under Emperor Theodore Svetoslav Bulgaria regained its strength, but by the end of the fourteenth century the country had disintegrated into several feudal principalities, which the Ottoman Empire eventually conquered.
During the 13th and 14th centuries, Bulgarian culture was in the ascendance. The architecture of the Tarnovo Artistic School and the painting of the Tarnovo Artistic School produced some splendid achievements. Emperor Ivan Alexander won a reputation as a great maecenas and patron of culture.
During the second half of the 14th century Bulgaria became an Ottoman vassalage. Ottoman Sultan Bayezid I annexed Bulgaria following his victory against a crusade at the Battle of Nicopolis in 1396. The Turks crushed a Polish-Hungarian crusade under the command of Władysław III of Poland to free the Balkans in 1444 in the battle of Varna.
The five centuries of Ottoman rule featured violence and oppression. The Ottomans decimated the Bulgarian population, which lost most of its cultural relics. Turkish authorities destroyed most of the medieval Bulgarian fortresses in order to prevent rebellions. Large towns and the areas where Ottoman power predominated remained severely depopulated until the nineteenth century.
The new authorities dismantled Bulgarian institutions at anything above the village or communal level, and merged the separate Bulgarian Church into the Orthodox Patriarchate in Constantinople (Istanbul) (although a small, semi-independent Bulgarian Church did survive until 1767). The new system of land-tenure imposed by the Turks functioned to provide the Ottoman army with cavalry troops: the sipahi or landlord had to provide a number of men proportionate to the amount of land he held, while maintained economically by his tenants, or rayahs.
The Christian subjects of the Sultan had to endure a number of disabilities; they usually paid more taxes than Moslems, they lacked legal equality with Moslems, they could not carry arms, their clothes could not rival those of Moslems in color, nor could their churches tower as high as mosques. The new rulers made few attempts to enforce conversion to Islam, and relatively few Bulgarians felt attracted to the new ruling faith by the legal privileges its adherents enjoyed. Those who did convert, the Pomaks, retained their native language, dress and customs, and lived primarily in the Rhodope mountains.
The Ottoman system started to decline by the 17th century, and at the end of the 18th had all but collapsed. Central government weakened over the decades, and this had allowed a number of local Ottoman feudals to establish personal ascendancy over separate regions. These local ayans employed armed retainers and having established their authority frequently imposed new and far more arduous tenancies on the peasantry under their control. During the last two decades of the 18th and first decades of the 19th centuries the Balkan Peninsula dissolved into virtual anarchy, a period known in Bulgarian as the kurdjaliistvo after the armed bands of Turks or kurdjalii who plagued the area at this time. In many regions thousands of peasants fled from the countryside either to local towns or more probably to the hills or forests; some even fled beyond the Danube to Moldova, Wallachia or Southern Russia.
In the 18th and especially during the 19th century, conditions improved in certain areas. Some towns — such as Gabrovo, Tryavna, Karlovo, Koprivshtitsa, Lovech, Skopie — prospered. The Bulgarian peasants actually possessed their land, although it officially belonged to the sultan. The 19th century also brought improved communications, transportation and trade. The first factory in the Bulgarian lands opened in Sliven in 1834, and the first railway system started running (between Rousse and Varna) in 1865.
Throughout the five Ottoman centuries Bulgarian people organized many attempts to re-establish their own state. The National awakening of Bulgaria became one of the key factors in the struggle for liberation. In the 19th century there came into existence the Bulgarian Revolutionary Central Committee and the Internal Revolutionary Organisation led by liberal revolutionaries such as Vasil Levski, Hristo Botev, Lyuben Karavelov and many others. In 1876, the April uprising broke out: the largest and best-organized Bulgarian rebellion against the Ottoman Empire. However, the Ottoman authorities crushed it.
Following the Russo-Turkish War, 1877-1878 (when Russian soldiers together with a Romanian expeditionary force and volunteer Bulgarian troops defeated the Ottoman armies), the Treaty of San Stefano (3 March 1878), set up an autonomous Bulgarian principality. The Western Great Powers immediately rejected the treaty: they became aware that a large Slavic country in the Balkans might serve Russian interests. This led to the Treaty of Berlin (1878) which provided for an autonomous Bulgarian principality comprising Moesia and the region of Sofia. Alexander, Prince of Battenberg, took up the position of Bulgaria's first Prince. Most of Thrace became part of the autonomous region of Eastern Rumelia, whereas the rest of Thrace and all of Macedonia returned to the sovereignty of the Ottomans. After the Serbo-Bulgarian War and unification with Eastern Rumelia in 1885, the Bulgarian principality proclaimed itself a fully independent kingdom on 5 October (22 September O.S.), 1908, during the reign of Ferdinand I of Bulgaria.
Ferdinand, a prince from the ducal family of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, became the Bulgarian Prince after Alexander von Battenberg abdicated in 1886 following a coup d'état staged by pro-Russian army-officers. (Although the counter-coup coordinated by Stefan Stambolov succeeded, Prince Alexander decided not to remain the Bulgarian ruler without the approval of Alexander III of Russia.) The struggle for liberation of the Bulgarians in the Adrianople Vilayet and in Macedonia continued throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, culminating with the Ilinden-Preobrazhenie Uprising organised by the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization in 1903.
In 1912 and 1913, Bulgaria became involved in the Balkan Wars, first entering into conflict alongside Greece, Serbia and Montenegro against the Ottoman Empire. The First Balkan War (1912-1913) proved a success for the Bulgarian army, but a conflict over the division of Macedonia arose amongst the victorious allies. The Second Balkan War (1913) pitted Bulgaria against Greece and Serbia, joined by Romania and Turkey. After its defeat in the Second Balkan War, Bulgaria lost considerable territory conquered in the first war, as well as Southern Dobrudzha and parts of the region of Macedonia.
During World War I, Bulgaria found itself fighting on the losing side as a result of its alliance with the Central Powers. Defeat in 1918 led to new territorial losses (the Western Outlands to Serbia, Western Thrace to Greece and the re-conquered Southern Dobrudzha to Romania). The Balkan Wars and World War I led to the influx of over 250,000 Bulgarian refugees from Macedonia, Eastern and Western Thrace and Southern Dobrudzha.
In September 1918, Tsar Ferdinand abdicated in favour of his son Boris III in order to head off revolutionary tendencies. Under the Treaty of Neuilly (November 1919), Bulgaria ceded its Aegean coastline to Greece, recognized the existence of Yugoslavia, ceded nearly all of its Macedonian territory to that new state, and had to give Dobrudzha back to the Romanians. The country had to reduce its army to 20,000 men, and to pay reparations exceeding $400 million. Bulgarians generally refer to the results of the treaty as the "Second National Catastrophe".
Elections in March 1920 gave the Agrarians a large majority, and Aleksandar Stamboliyski formed Bulgaria's first peasant government. He faced huge social problems, but succeeded in carrying out many reforms, although opposition from the middle and upper classes, the landlords and the officers of the army remained powerful. In March 1923 Stamboliyski signed an agreement with the Kingdom of Yugoslavia recognising the new border and agreeing to suppress Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO), which favoured a war to regain Macedonia from Bulgaria. This triggered a nationalist reaction, and the Bulgarian coup d'état of 9 June 1923 eventually resulted in Stamboliykski's assassination. A right-wing government under Aleksandar Tsankov took power, backed by the army and the VMRO, which waged a White terror against the Agrarians and the Communists. In 1926 the Tsar persuaded Tsankov to resign, a more moderate government under Andrey Lyapchev took office and an amnesty was proclaimed, although the Communists remained banned. A popular alliance including the re-organised Agrarians won elections in 1931 under the name Popular Bloc.
In May 1934, another coup took place, removing the Popular Bloc from power and establishing an authoritarian military régime headed by Kimon Georgiev. A year later Tsar Boris managed to remove the military régime from power, restoring a form of parliamentary rule (without the re-establishment of the political parties) and under his own strict control. The Tsar's regime proclaimed neutrality, but gradually Bulgaria gravitated into alliance with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.
In September 1944, the Soviet army entered Bulgaria, enabling the Bulgarian Communists (the Bulgarian Workers Party) to seize power and establish a communist state. In 1944, Bulgaria's forces turned against the country's former ally, Germany. The 450,000-man army in 1944 dwindled to 130,000 by 1945.
After World War II, Bulgaria fell within the Soviet sphere of influence. It became a People's Republic in 1946 and one of the USSR's staunchest allies. In the late 1970s, it began normalizing relations with Greece. The People's Republic ended in 1989 as many Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, as well as the Soviet Union itself, began to collapse. Opposition forces removed the Bulgarian Communist leader Todor Zhivkov and his right-hand man Milko Balev from power on 10 November 1989.
The anti-Communist Union of Democratic Forces took office, and between 1992 and 1994 carried through the privatization of land and industry, but faced massive unemployment and economic difficulties. The reaction against economic reform allowed BSP to take office again in 1995, but by 1996 the BSP government had also encountered difficulties, and in the presidential elections of that year the UDF's Petar Stoyanov was elected. In 1997, the BSP government collapsed and the UDF came to power. Unemployment, however, remained high and the electorate became increasingly dissatisfied with both parties.
Relations with Turkey began to normalise in the 1990s.
On 17 June 2001, Simeon II, the son of Tsar Boris III and the former Head of state (as Tsar of Bulgaria from 1943 to 1946), won a narrow victory in democratic elections. The king's party — National Movement Simeon II ("NMSII") — won 120 out of 240 seats in Parliament and overturned the two pre-existing political parties. Simeon's popularity declined during his four-year rule as Prime Minister, and the BSP won the elections in 2005, but could not form a single-party government and had to seek a coalition.
Since 1989, Bulgaria has held multi-party elections and privatized its economy, but economic difficulties and a tide of corruption have led over 800,000 Bulgarians, most of them qualified professionals, to emigrate in a "brain drain". Since a reform package introduced in 1997, the economy has returned to growth. Bulgaria became a member of NATO in 2004 and of the European Union in 2007.
Bulgaria joined NATO on 29 March 2004 and signed the European Union Treaty of Accession on 25 April 2005. It became a full member of the European Union on 1 January 2007. The country had joined the United Nations in 1955, and became a founding member of OSCE in 1995. As a Consultative Party to the Antarctic Treaty, Bulgaria takes part in the administration of the territories situated south of 60° south latitude.
Georgi Parvanov, the President of Bulgaria since 22 January 2002, won re-election on 29 October 2006 and began his second term in office in January 2007. (Bulgarian voters directly elect their presidents for a five-year term with the right to one re-election.) The president serves as the head of state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. He also chairs the Consultative Council for National Security. While unable to initiate legislation other than Constitutional amendments, the President can return a bill for further debate, although the parliament can override the President's veto by vote of a majority of all MPs.
Since 17 August 2005 Sergey Stanishev as Prime Minister has chaired the Council of Ministers, the principal body of the executive branch, which presently consists of 20 ministers. The Prime Minister — usually nominated by the largest parliamentary group — receives the mandate of the President to form a cabinet.
The current governmental coalition comprises the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), National Movement Simeon II (NMSII) and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (representing mainly the Turkish minority).
The Bulgarian unicameral parliament, the National Assembly or Narodno Sabranie (Народно събрание), consists of 240 deputies, each elected for four-year terms by popular vote. The votes go to parties or to coalition-lists of candidates for each of the 28 administrative divisions. A party or coalition must win a minimum of 4% of the vote in order to enter parliament. Parliament has the responsibility for enactment of laws, approval of the budget, scheduling of presidential elections, selection and dismissal of the Prime Minister and other ministers, declaration of war, deployment of troops outside of Bulgaria, and ratification of international treaties and agreements.
The Bulgarian judicial system consists of regional, district and appeal courts, as well as a Supreme Court of Cassation. In addition, Bulgaria has a Supreme Administrative Court and a system of military courts. A qualified majority of two-thirds of the membership of the Supreme Judicial Council elects the Presidents of the Supreme Court of Cassation and of the Supreme Administrative Court, as well as the Prosecutor General, from among its members; the President of the Republic then appoints those elected. The Supreme Judicial Council has charge of the self-administration and organization of the Judiciary.
The Constitutional Court supervises the review of the constitutionality of laws and statutes brought before it, as well as the compliance of these laws with international treaties that the Government has signed. Parliament elects the twelve members of the Constitutional Court by a two-thirds majority: the members serve for a nine-year term.
The territory of the Republic of Bulgaria subdivides into provinces and municipalities. In all, Bulgaria has 28 provinces, each headed by a provincial governor appointed by the government. In addition, the country includes 263 municipalities.
The military of Bulgaria consists of three services: the Bulgarian land forces, the Bulgarian Navy and the Bulgarian Air Force. The armed forces have as their patron saint Sveti Georgi (St. George), and Bulgarians celebrate his feast day, 6 May nationally as Valour and Army Day. Despite active participation in all major European wars since the end of the nineteenth century, Bulgarian forces have never lost a flag.
Bulgaria first became a major military power in Europe under Khan Krum and Tsar Simeon I, in a series of wars with the Byzantine Empire for control of the Balkan Peninsula, in the late ninth century. By the use of approximately 12,000 heavy cavalry in tactics resembling those of feudal knights, Simeon I's forces reached as far as the Byzantine capital, Constantinople, in AD 896 . A formal peace treaty lasted until 912, when both sides became engaged in a war which ended with several major defeats of the Byzantines, including one of the bloodiest battles in the Middle Ages at Anchialus in AD 917. Bulgaria again became a significant military power under the rule of the Asen dynasty in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. During the rule of Tsar Kaloyan (1197-1207) Bulgaria became the first European country to defeat the Crusader knights.
After declaring total independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1908, Bulgaria has functioned as a minor European power, frequently included in plans and wars of the Great Powers. In 1912, the Bulgarian forces invented the world's first aircraft-dropped bombs and soon after became the first military in the world to utilize aviation bombardment, in the siege of Odrin. Thus the Bulgarian Air Force, inheritor of one of the oldest traditions of powered aircraft combat in the world, became an early innovator in aviation military technology and in air-to-surface attack strategies/tactics.
Following a series of reductions beginning in 1989, the active troops of Bulgaria's army number just 68,450 today. Reserve forces include 303,000 soldiers and officers. "PLAN 2004", an effort to modernize Bulgaria's armed forces, aims to better meet the perceived military needs of NATO and the European Union.
Bulgarian military personnel have participated in international missions in Cambodia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2008 Bulgaria completely abolished compulsory military service. Bulgaria's naval and air forces became fully professional in 2006, with the land-forces scheduled to follow suit in 2008. Bulgaria's Special Forces have conducted missions with the SAS, Delta Force, KSK, and the Spetsnaz of Russia.
In April 2006 Bulgaria and the United States of America signed a defence-cooperation agreement providing for the development of the Bulgarian air bases at Bezmer (near Yambol) and Graf Ignatievo (near Plovdiv), the Novo Selo training-range (near Sliven), and a logistics centre in Aytos as joint US-Bulgarian military facilities. Bulgaria's navy comprises mainly Soviet-era ships, and three submarines. With of coastline, Bulgaria does not regard assault by sea as a major risk. In the course of recent modernization efforts, Bulgaria purchased a new frigate from Belgium, and the navy seems likely to acquire four Gowind corvettes from the French company DCN. Bulgaria's air forces also use a large amount of Soviet equipment. Plans to acquire transport and attack helicopters are underway, in addition to a major overhaul on old Soviet weapon systems. Military spending accounts for nearly 2.6% of Bulgaria's GDP.
Between 1987 and 1999 Bulgaria consisted of nine provinces (oblasti, singular oblast); since 1999, it has consisted of twenty-eight. All take their names from their respective capital cities:
The provinces subdivide into 264 municipalities.
Bulgaria became a member of the European Union in 2007; the World Bank classifies it as an "upper-middle-income economy". Bulgaria has experienced rapid economic growth in recent years. The country continues to rank as the second-poorest member state of the EU, but standards of living have started to rise.
Due to high-profile allegations of corruption, and an apparent lack of willingness to tackle high-level corruption, the European Union has partly frozen EU funds of about €450 million and may freeze more if Bulgarian authorities do not show solid progress in fighting corruption and in speeding up reforms.
Bulgaria has tamed its inflation since the deep economic crisis in 1996-1997, but latest figures show an increase in the inflation-rate to 12.5% for 2007. Unemployment declined from more than 17% in the mid 1990s to nearly 7% in 2007, but the unemployment-rate in some rural areas continues in high double-digits. Bulgaria's inflation means that the country's adoption of the Euro might not take place until the year 2013-2014.
Bulgaria's economy contracted dramatically after 1987 with the dissolution of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON), with which the Bulgarian economy had integrated closely. The standard-of-living fell by about 40%, but it regained pre-1990 levels in June 2004. United Nations sanctions against Yugoslavia and Iraq took a heavy toll on the Bulgarian economy. The first signs of recovery emerged in 1994 when the GDP grew and inflation fell. During the government of Zhan Videnov's cabinet in 1996, the economy collapsed due to lack of international economic support and an unstable banking system. Since 1997, the country has been on the path to recovery, with GDP growing at a 4%–5% rate, increasing FDI, macroeconomic stability and European Union membership.
The former NMSII government elected in 2001 pledged to maintain the fundamental economic policy-objectives adopted by its predecessor in 1997, specifically: retaining the Currency Board, implementing sound financial policies, accelerating privatisation, and pursuing structural reforms. Economic forecasts for 2005 and 2006 predicted continued growth for the economy. Economists predicted annual year-on-year GDP growth for 2005 and 2006 of 5.3% and 6.0% respectively. Forecasters expected industrial output in 2005 to rise by 11.9% from the previous year, and by 15.2% in 2006. Unemployment for 2005 was projected at 11.5%, 9% for 2006 and 7.25% for 2007. As of 2006 the GDP structure is: agriculture 8.0%; industry 26.1%; services 65.9%.
Production of the most important crops (according to the FAO) in 2006 (in '000 tons) amounted to: wheat 3301.9; sunflower 1196.6; maize 1587.8; grapes 266.2; tobacco 42.0; tomatoes 213.0; barley 546.3; potatoes 386.1; peppers 156.7; cucumbers 61.5; cherries 18.2; watermelons 136.0; cabbage 72.7; apples 26.1; plums 18.0; strawberries 8.8.
Industry plays a key role in the Bulgarian economy. Although Bulgaria lacks large reserves of oil and gas, it produces significant quantities of electricity. Bulgaria formerly ranked as the most important exporter of electricity in the region due to the Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant, which has a total capacity of , but after the closure of its first four blocks, exports of electricity declined and the country lost its leading position as an energy-supplier for the Balkans. However, the two most modern blocks of the power plant, blocks 5 and 6, continue to run and to provide power. Construction has started on a second plant, the Belene Nuclear Power Plant with a projected capacity of . Plans exist for a $1.4bn project for construction of an additional for the Maritza Iztok 1 Thermal Power Plant (see Energy in Bulgaria).
Ferrous metallurgy has major importance. Much of the production of steel and pig iron takes place in Kremikovtsi and Pernik, with a third metallurgical base in Debelt. In production of steel and steel products per capita the country heads the Balkans. Recently the fate of Kremikovtsi steel factories has come under debate, because of serious pollution of the capital, Sofia.
The largest refineries for lead and zinc operate in Plovdiv (the biggest refinery between Italy and the Ural mountains), Kardzhali and Novi Iskar; for copper in Pirdop and Eliseina; for aluminium in Shumen. In production of many metals per capita, Bulgaria ranks first in South Eastern Europe.
About 14% of the total industrial production relates to machine-building, and 24% of the people work in this field. Its importance has decreased since 1989.
Electronics and electric equipment-production have developed to a high degree. The largest centres include Sofia, Plovdiv and the surrounding area, Botevgrad, Stara Zagora, Varna, Pravets and many other cities. These plants produce household appliances, computers, CDs, telephones, medical and scientific equipment.
Many factories producing transportation equipment currently do not operate at full capacity. Plants produce trains (Burgas, Dryanovo), trams (Sofia), trolleys (Dupnitsa), buses (Botevgrad), trucks (Shumen), motor trucks (Plovdiv, Lom, Sofia, Lovech). Lovech has an automotive assembly plant. Rousse serves as the main centre for agricultural machinery. Most Bulgarian shipbuilding takes place in Varna, Burgas and Rousse. Bulgarian arms production mainly operates in central Bulgaria (Kazanlak, Sopot, Karlovo).
Foreigners seeking additional homes have recently boosted the Bulgarian properties market. Buyers come from across Europe, but mostly from the United Kingdom, encouraged by relatively cheap property-prices and the country's easy accessibility via air-travel.
Telecommunications has become one of the growing industries in the country. Three GSM mobile-telephone operators — Globul, Mobiltel and Vivatel — provide almost 100% coverage each. They have a network of service-centers throughout the country. Bulgarians made use of some 10 million cellular phones as of 2006. Mobikom provides the only NMT 450 mobile-phone service. Bulgarians in towns can access the Internet, and recently most villages have acquired fast connectivity and VoIP; BTK offers DSL connection in larger cities. Bulgaria had about 298,781 Internet hosts as of 2007.
Bulgaria supplied many scientific and research instruments for the Soviet space-program, and also sent two men into space: Georgi Ivanov on Soyuz 33 (1979) and Alexander Alexandrov on Soyuz TM-5 (1988). Bulgaria became one of the first European countries to develop serial production of personal computers (Pravetz series 8) in the beginning of the 1980s, and has experience in pharmaceutical research and development.
Asen Yordanov (1896-1967), the founder of aeronautical engineering in Bulgaria, worked as an aviator, engineer and inventor; he also contributed to the development of aviation in the United States. He played a significant role in U.S. aircraft development and took part in many other projects.
U.S. chemist Carl Djerassi, who developed the first oral contraceptive pill (OCP), has Bulgarian ancestry.
The Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, the leading scientific institution in the country, employs most of Bulgaria's researchers working in its numerous branches.
Bulgaria hosts two major astronomical observatories: the Rozhen Observatory, the largest in Southeastern Europe, and the Belogradchik Observatory with three telescopes; as well as several "public astronomical observatories" with planetaria, focused on educationnal and outreach activities.
Bulgaria occupies a unique and strategically important geographic location. Since ancient times, the country has served as a major crossroads between Europe, Asia and Africa. Five of the ten Trans-European corridors run through its territory. Bulgaria's roads have a total length of , of them paved and of them motorways. Several motorways are planned, under construction or partially built: Trakiya motorway, Hemus motorway, Cherno More motorway, Struma motorway, Maritza motorway and Lyulin motorway. Other planned motorways await finalisation of their routes. They include a link between the capital Sofia and Vidin, a link between the Struma and Trakiya motorways south of Rila Mountain, a link between Rousse and Veliko Tarnovo, and the Sofia ringroad. Many roads have recently undergone reconstruction. Bulgaria has of railway track, more than 60% electrified. A €360,000,000 project exists for the modernisation and electrification of the Plovdiv-Kapitan Andreevo railway.
Air transportation has developed relatively comprehensively. Bulgaria has five official international airports — at Sofia, Burgas, Varna, Plovdiv and Gorna Oryahovitsa. Massive investment plans exist for the first three. Important domestic airports include those of Vidin, Pleven, Silistra, Targovishte, Stara Zagora, Kardzhali, Haskovo and Sliven. After the fall of communism in 1989, most of them are not used as the importance of domestic flights declined. There are many military airports and agricultural airfields. 128 of the 213 airports in Bulgaria are paved. The ports of Varna and Burgas are by far the most important and have the largest turnover. Other than Burgas, Sozopol, Nesebar and Pomorie are big fishing ports. The largest ports on the Danube River are Rousse and Lom which serves the capital. The cities and many smaller towns have well-organised public transport systems, using buses, trolleys (in about 20 cities) and trams (in Sofia). The Sofia Metro in the capital has three planned lines with total length of about and 52 stations, but much currently remains uncompleted.
According to the 2001 census, Bulgaria's population consists mainly of ethnic Bulgarian (83.9%), with two sizable minorities, Turks (9.4%) and Roma (4.7%). Of the remaining 2.0%, 0.9% comprises some 40 smaller minorities, most prominently in numbers the Russians, Armenians, Vlachs, Jews, Crimean Tatars and Sarakatsani (historically known also as Karakachans). 1.1% of the population did not declare their ethnicity in the latest census in 2001.
96.3% of the population speak Bulgarian as their mother tongue. Bulgarian, a member of the Slavic language group, remains the only official language, but numbers of speakers of other languages (such as Turkish and Romany) correspond closely to ethnic proportions.
The country has a Roma population estimated at between 200,000 and 450,000.
Most Bulgarians (82.6%) belong, at least nominally, to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, the national Eastern Orthodox Church. Other religious denominations include Islam (12.2%), various Protestant denominations (0.8%) and Roman Catholicism (0.5%); with other denominations, atheists and undeclared totalling approximately 4.1%.
In recent years Bulgaria has had one of the slowest population growth-rates in the world. Negative population growth has occurred since the early 1990s, due to economic collapse and high emigration. In 1989 the population comprised 9,009,018 people, in 2001 7,950,000 and in 2008 7,640,000. Now Bulgaria faces a severe demographic crisis: the population has a fertility-rate of 1.4 children per woman as of 2007, with a predicted rate of 1.7 by the end of 2050. The fertility-rate will need to reach 2.2 to restore natural growth in population.
Bulgaria functioned as the hub of Slavic Europe during much of the Middle Ages, exerting considerable literary and cultural influence over the Eastern Orthodox Slavic world by means of the Preslav and Ohrid Literary Schools. Bulgaria also gave the world the Cyrillic alphabet, the second most-widely used alphabet in the world, which originated in these two schools in the tenth century AD.
A number of ancient civilizations, most notably the Thracians, Greeks, Romans, Slavs, and Bulgars, have left their mark on the culture, history and heritage of Bulgaria. The country has nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites:
Note also the Varna Necropolis, a 3500-3200BC burial-site, purportedly containing the oldest examples of worked gold in the world.
Bulgaria's contribution to humanity continued throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with individuals such as John Atanasoff — a United States citizen of Bulgarian descent, regarded as the father of the digital computer. A number of noted opera-singers (Nicolai Ghiaurov, Boris Christoff, Raina Kabaivanska, Ghena Dimitrova), Anna Veleva, harpist Anna-Maria Ravnopolska-Dean and successful artists (Christo Yavashev, Pascin, Vladimir Dimitrov) popularized the culture of Bulgaria abroad.
One of the best internationally-known artists, Valya Balkanska sang the song Izlel e Delyu Haydutin, part of the Voyager Golden Record selection of music included in the two Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977. The Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir also known as Mystery of Bulgarian voices has also attained a considerable degree of fame.
In the northern-hemisphere winter, Samokov, Borovets, Bansko and Pamporovo become well-attended ski-resorts. Summer resorts exist on the Black Sea at Sozopol, Nessebur, Golden Sands, Sunny Beach, Sveti Vlas, Albena, Saints Constantine and Helena and many others. Spa resorts such as Bankya, Hisarya, Sandanski, Velingrad, Varshets and many others attract visitors throughout the year. Bulgaria has started to become an attractive tourist destination because of the quality of the resorts and prices below those found in Western Europe.
Bulgaria has enjoyed a substantial growth in income from international tourism over the past decade. Beach-resorts attract tourists from Germany, Romania, Russia, Scandinavia, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. The ski-resorts have become a favourite destination for British and Irish tourists.
Bulgaria now attracts close to 7 million visitors yearly. Tourism in Bulgaria makes a major contribution towards the country's annual economic growth of 6% to 6.5%.
Football has become by far the most popular sport in Bulgaria. Many Bulgarian fans closely follow the top Bulgarian league, the Bulgarian "A" Professional Football Group; as well as the leagues of other European countries. The Bulgaria national football team achieved its greatest success with a fourth-place finish at the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the United States.
Dimitar Berbatov currently ranks as the most popular Bulgarian footballer. Georgi Asparuhov-Gundi (1943-1971), also became extremely popular at home and abroad, having had offers from clubs in Italy and Portugal, and having won the Bulgarian football player №1 award for the twentieth century. Hristo Stoichkov has arguably become the best-known Bulgarian footballer of all time. His career peaked between 1992 and 1995, while he played for FC Barcelona, winning the Ballon d'Or in 1994. Additionally, he featured in the FIFA 100 rankings. Three Bulgarians have won the European top scorers' Golden Boot award: Stoichkov,Georgi Slavkov and Petar Jekov.
PFC Levski Sofia (25 times champion of Bulgaria and 26 times National Cup holder) , PFC CSKA Sofia (champion of Bulgaria 31 times (as of 2008), National cup holder 13 times, European Cup semi-finalist 2 times, Cup Winners' Cup semi-finalist),PFC Botev Plovdiv (officially the oldest football- and sports-club in Bulgaria ,2 times champion of Bulgaria and 2 times National Cup holder) PFC Slavia Sofia (8 times football champion of Bulgaria and 12 times holder of the National Cup, Cup Winners' Cup semi-finalist) have become the most successful Bulgarian football-clubs. Other popular clubs include PFC Lokomotiv Sofia, PFC Litex Lovech, PFC Cherno More Varna and PFC Lokomotiv Plovdiv. PFC Levski Sofia became the first Bulgarian team to participate in the modern UEFA Champions League group stage, having achieved this by qualifying for the 2006/2007 competition.
Apart from football, Bulgaria boasts great achievements in a great variety of other sports. Maria Gigova and Maria Petrova have each held a record of three world-titles in rhythmic gymnastics. Other famous gymnasts include Simona Peycheva and Neshka Robeva (a highly successful coach as well). Yordan Yovtchev ranks as the most famous Bulgarian competitor in Artistic Gymnastics. Bulgarians also dominate in weightlifting, with around 1,000 gold medals in different competitions, although cases of doping have occurred among Bulgarian weightlifters, which led to the expulsion of the entire Bulgarian team from the 2000 Summer Olympics, and their voluntary withdrawal from the 1988 Summer Olympics. Stefan Botev, Nickolai Peshalov, Demir Demirev and Yoto Yotov figure among the most distinguished weightlifters. In wrestling, Boyan Radev, Serafim Barzakov, Armen Nazarian, Plamen Slavov, Kiril Sirakov and Sergey Moreyko rank as world-class wrestlers. Dan Kolov became a wrestling legend in the early 20th century after leaving for United States.
Bulgarians have made many significant achievements in athletics. Stefka Kostadinova, who still holds the women's high jump world record, jumped 209 centimetres at the 1987 World Championships in Athletics in Rome to clinch the coveted title. Presently, Bulgaria takes pride in its sprinters, especially Ivet Lalova and Tezdzhan Naimova.
Volleyball recently experienced a big resurgence. The Bulgarian national volleyball team, one of the strongest teams in Europe, currently ranks fourth in the FIVB ranklist. At the 2006 Volleyball World Championship this team won the bronze medal.
Chess has achieved great popularity. One of the top chess-masters and a former world champion, Veselin Topalov, plays for Bulgaria. At the end of 2005, both men's and women's world chess-champions came from Bulgaria, as well as the junior world champion.
Bulgarians have also achieved major successes in tennis. The Maleeva sisters: Katerina, Manuela and Magdalena, have each reached the top ten in world rankings, and became the only set of three sisters ranked in the top ten at the same time. Bulgaria has other well-known tennis players such as Tsvetana Pironkova, Sesil Karatancheva and Grigor Dimitrov, who in 2008 became the Wimbledon junior champion.
Bulgaria also has strengths in shooting sports. Maria Grozdeva and Tanyu Kiriakov have won Olympic gold medals, and Ekaterina Dafovska won the Olympic gold in biathlon in the 1998 Winter Olympic Games.
The country has strong traditions in amateur boxing and in martial-arts competitions. Bulgaria has achieved major success with its judo and karate teams in European and World championships. Kaloyan Stefanov Mahlyanov, best known as Kotoōshū Katsunori, has become well-known worldwide for his sumo prowess.
Most citizens of Bulgaria have associations — at least nominally — with the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. Founded in 870 AD under the Patriarchate of Constantinople (from which it obtained its first primate, its clergy and theological texts), the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has had autocephalous status since 927. The Orthodox Church re-established the Bulgarian Patriarchate in Sofia in the 1950s after the promulgation of the Bulgarian Exarchate in 1870. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church, as the independent national church of Bulgaria (like the other national branches of Eastern Orthodoxy in their respective countries) plays a role as an inseparable element of Bulgarian national consciousness. The Church became subordinate within the Patriarchate of Constantinople, twice during the periods of Byzantine (1018 – 1185) and Ottoman (1396 – 1878) domination but has been revived every time as a symbol of Bulgarian statehood without breaking away from the Orthodox dogma. In 2001, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church had 6,552,000 members in Bulgaria (82.6% of the population). However, many people raised during the 45 years of communist rule are not religious, even though they may formally be members of the Church.
Despite the dominant position of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in Bulgarian cultural life, a number of Bulgarian citizens belong to other religious denominations, most notably Islam, Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.
Islam came to Bulgaria at the end of the fourteenth century after the conquest of the country by the Ottomans. It gradually gained ground throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries through the introduction of Turkish colonists and the conversion of native Bulgarians. One Islamic sect, Ahmadiyya, faces problems in Bulgaria. Some officials have moved against Ahmadis on the grounds that other countries - such as Pakistan - also attack the religious freedom of Ahmadis, who are considered to be heretical by many Muslims.
In the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries, missionaries from Rome converted Bulgarian Paulicians in the districts of Plovdiv and Svishtov to Roman Catholicism. Today their descendants form the bulk of Bulgarian Catholics, whose number stood at 44,000 in 2001.
Missionaries from the United States introduced Protestantism into Bulgarian territory in 1857. Missionary work continued throughout the second half of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century. In 2001 Bulgaria had some 42,000 Protestants.
According to the most recent Eurostat "Eurobarometer" poll, in 2005, 40% of Bulgarian citizens responded that "they believe there is a God", while 40% answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force", 13% that "they do not believe there is a God, spirit, nor life force", and 6% did not answer.