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Coordinates: 42°45′N 25°30′E / 42.750°N 25.500°E / 42.750; 25.500

Republic of Bulgaria
Република България  (Bulgarian)
Republika Bǎlgariya
Мила Родино  (Bulgarian)
Mila Rodino  (transliteration)
Dear Motherland
Location of  Bulgaria  (dark green)– in Europe  (green & dark grey)– in the European Union  (green)  –  [Legend]
Location of  Bulgaria  (dark green)

– in Europe  (green & dark grey)
– in the European Union  (green)  –  [Legend]

and largest city
42°41′N 23°19′E / 42.683°N 23.317°E / 42.683; 23.317
Official languages Bulgarian
Official script Cyrillic
Ethnic groups (2011) Bulgarians (84.8%), Turks (8.8%), Romani (4.9%), others and undefined (1.5%)
Religion Bulgarian Orthodox Church
Demonym Bulgarian
Government Unitary parliamentary
constitutional republic
Rumen Radev
Boyko Borisov
Legislature National Assembly
3 March 1878[note 1]
• Declaration of Independence from the Ottoman Empire
5 October 1908[note 2]
• Total
110,993.6[1][2][3] km2 (42,854.9 sq mi) (103rd)
• Water (%)
• 31 December 2016 estimate
Decrease 7,101,859[4] (102nd)
• Density
64.9/km2 (168.1/sq mi) (95th)
GDP (PPP) 2017 estimate
• Total
$152.374 billion[5] (76th)
• Per capita
$21,578 (62nd)
GDP (nominal) 2017 estimate
• Total
$55.954 billion[5] (81st)
• Per capita
$7,924 (75th)
Gini (2017) Negative increase 40.2[6]
HDI (2016) Increase 0.794[7]
high · 56th
Currency Lev (BGN)
Time zone EET (UTC+2)
• Summer (DST)
Drives on the right
Calling code +359
ISO 3166 code BG
Internet TLD .bg

Bulgaria (/bʌlˈɡɛəriə, bʊl-/ (About this sound listen); Bulgarian: България, tr. Bǎlgariya), officially the Republic of Bulgaria (Bulgarian: Република България, tr. Republika Bǎlgariya, IPA: [rɛˈpublikɐ bɐɫˈɡarijɐ]), is a country in southeastern Europe. It is bordered by Romania to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, and the Black Sea to the east. The capital and largest city is Sofia; other major cities are Plovdiv, Varna and Burgas. With a territory of 110,994 square kilometres (42,855 sq mi), Bulgaria is Europe's 16th-largest country.

Organised prehistoric cultures began developing on current Bulgarian lands during the Neolithic period, its ancient history saw the presence of the Thracians, Ancient Greeks, Persians, Celts, Romans and others. The emergence of a unified Bulgarian state dates back to the establishment of the First Bulgarian Empire in 681 AD, which dominated most of the Balkans and functioned as a cultural hub for Slavs during the Middle Ages. With the downfall of the Second Bulgarian Empire in 1396, its territories came under Ottoman rule for nearly five centuries, the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78 led to the formation of the Third Bulgarian State. The following years saw several conflicts with its neighbours, which prompted Bulgaria to align with Germany in both world wars; in 1946 it became a one-party socialist state as part of the Soviet-led Eastern Bloc. In December 1989 the ruling Communist Party allowed multi-party elections, which subsequently led to Bulgaria's transition into a democracy and a market-based economy.

Bulgaria's population of 7.2 million people is predominantly urbanised and mainly concentrated in the administrative centres of its 28 provinces. Most commercial and cultural activities are centred to the capital and largest city, Sofia as well as the second and the third largest cities - Plovdiv and Varna, the strongest sectors of the economy are heavy industry, power engineering, and agriculture, all of which rely on local natural resources.

The country's current political structure dates to the adoption of a democratic constitution in 1991. Bulgaria is a unitary parliamentary republic with a high degree of political, administrative, and economic centralisation, it is a member of the European Union, NATO, and the Council of Europe; is a founding state of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE); and has taken a seat at the UN Security Council three times.


The name Bulgaria is derived from Bulgars, an extinct tribe of Turkic origin that established the country. Some historians question the identification of the Bulgars as a Turkic tribe and suggest an Iranian origin,[8][9] their name is not completely understood and difficult to trace back earlier than the 4th century AD,[10] but it is possibly derived from the Proto-Turkic word bulģha ("to mix", "shake", "stir") and its derivative bulgak ("revolt", "disorder").[11] Alternate etymologies include derivation from a compound of Proto-Turkic bel ("five") and gur ("arrow" in the sense of "tribe"), a proposed division within the Utigurs or Onogurs ("ten tribes").[12]


Prehistory and antiquity

Human activity in the lands of modern Bulgaria can be traced back to the Paleolithic. Organised prehistoric societies in Bulgarian lands include the Neolithic Hamangia culture,[13] Vinča culture[14] and the eneolithic Varna culture (fifth millennium BC). The latter is credited with inventing gold working and exploitation,[15][16] some of these first gold smelters produced the coins, weapons and jewellery of the Varna Necropolis treasure, containing the oldest golden jewellery in the world with an approximate age of over 6,000 years.[17] This site also offers insights for understanding the social hierarchy of the earliest European societies.[18][19]

Thracians, one of the three primary ancestral groups of modern Bulgarians,[20] began appearing in the region during the Iron Age.[21] In the late 6th century BC, the Persians conquered most of present-day Bulgaria[22][23][24] and kept it until 479 BC.[24] With influence from the Persians,[25] the bulk of the Thracian tribes were united in the Odrysian kingdom in the 470s BC by king Teres,[26][27][28] but were later subjugated by Alexander the Great and by the Romans in 46 AD.

After the division of the Roman Empire in the 5th century the area fell under Byzantine control. By this time, Christianity had already spread in the region. A small Gothic community in Nicopolis ad Istrum produced the first Germanic language book in the 4th century, the Wulfila Bible.[29][30] The first Christian monastery in Europe was established around the same time by Saint Athanasius in central Bulgaria.[31]

From the 6th century the easternmost South Slavs gradually settled in the region, assimilating the partly Hellenised or Romanised Thracians.[32][33][34]

First Bulgarian Empire

Krum feasting with his nobles after the battle of Pliska, detail from the Manasses chronicle
Khan Krum feasts with his nobles after the battle of Pliska. His servant (far right) brings the wine-filled skull cup of Nicephorus I.

In 680 the Turkic semi-nomadic Bulgar tribes[20] under the leadership of Asparukh moved south across the Danube and settled in the area between the lower Danube and the Balkan, establishing their capital at Pliska.[35][36] A peace treaty with Byzantium in 681 marked the beginning of the First Bulgarian Empire, the Bulgars gradually mixed with the local population, adopting a common language on the basis of the local Slavic dialect.[37]

Succeeding rulers strengthened the Bulgarian state throughout the 8th and 9th centuries. Krum doubled the country's territory, killed Byzantine emperor Nicephorus I in the Battle of Pliska,[38] and introduced the first written code of law. Paganism was abolished in favour of Eastern Orthodox Christianity under Boris I in 864, this conversion was followed by a Byzantine recognition of the Bulgarian church[39] and the adoption of the Cyrillic alphabet developed at Preslav[40] which strengthened central authority and helped fuse the Slavs and Bulgars into a unified people.[41][42] A subsequent cultural golden age began during the 34-year rule of Simeon the Great, who also achieved the largest territorial expansion of the state.[43]

Wars with Magyars and Pechenegs and the spread of the Bogomil heresy weakened Bulgaria after Simeon's death.[44][45] Consecutive Rus' and Byzantine invasions resulted in the seizure of the capital Preslav by the Byzantine army in 971.[46] Under Samuil, Bulgaria briefly recovered from these attacks,[47] but this rise ended when Byzantine emperor Basil II defeated the Bulgarian army at Klyuch in 1014. Samuil died shortly after the battle,[48] and by 1018 the Byzantines had ended the First Bulgarian Empire.[49]

Second Bulgarian Empire

After his conquest of Bulgaria, Basil II prevented revolts and discontent by retaining the rule of the local nobility and by relieving the newly conquered lands of the obligation to pay taxes in gold, allowing them to be paid in kind instead,[50] he also allowed the Bulgarian Patriarchate to retain its autocephalous status and all its dioceses, but reduced it to an archbishopric.[50][51] After his death Byzantine domestic policies changed and a series of unsuccessful rebellions broke out, the largest being led by Peter Delyan; in 1185 Asen dynasty nobles Ivan Asen I and Peter IV organised a major uprising which resulted in the re-establishment of the Bulgarian state. Ivan Asen and Peter laid the foundations of the Second Bulgarian Empire with Tarnovo as the capital.[52]

The walls of Tsarevets fortress in Veliko Tarnovo, the capital of the second empire

Kaloyan, the third of the Asen monarchs, extended his dominion to Belgrade and Ohrid. He acknowledged the spiritual supremacy of the pope and received a royal crown from a papal legate,[53] the empire reached its zenith under Ivan Asen II (1218–1241), when commerce and culture flourished.[53] The strong economic and religious influence of Tarnovo made it a "Third Rome", unlike the already declining Constantinople.[54]

The end of the Asen dynasty in 1257 was followed by significant decline marked by internal conflicts, incessant Byzantine and Hungarian attacks and Mongol suzerainty.[53][55] By the end of the 14th century, factional divisions between the feudal landlords and the spread of Bogomilism had caused the Second Bulgarian Empire to fragment into three separate states—the tsardoms at Vidin and Tarnovo and the Despotate of Dobruja. These rump states continued to be in frequent conflict with the Byzantines, Hungarians, Serbs, Venetians and Genoese. By the late 14th century the Ottoman Turks had started their conquest of Bulgaria and had taken most towns and fortresses south of the Balkan mountains.[53]

Ottoman rule

Map of the 17th century anti-Ottoman uprisings
Anti-Ottoman Bulgarian revolts in the late 17th century

Tarnovo was captured by the Ottomans after a three-month siege in 1393, the Ottomans completed their conquest of Bulgarian lands south of the Danube after the Battle of Nicopolis in 1396, which brought about the fall of the Vidin Tsardom. Bulgarian nobility was subsequently eliminated and the peasantry was enserfed to Ottoman masters,[56] while much of the educated clergy fled to other countries.[57]

Christians were considered an inferior class of people under the Ottoman system. Bulgarians were thus subjected to heavy taxes, their culture was suppressed,[57] and they experienced partial Islamisation.[58] Ottoman authorities established a religious administrative community called the Rum Millet, which governed all Orthodox Christians regardless of their ethnicity.[59] Most of the local population then gradually lost its distinct national consciousness, identifying only by its faith.[60][61] However, the clergy remaining in some isolated monasteries kept their ethnic identity alive, enabling its survival in remote rural areas,[62] and in the militant Catholic community in the northwest of the country.[63]

As the Ottoman Empire began to decline, Habsburg Austria and Russia saw Bulgarian Christians as potential allies, the Austrians first backed an uprising in Tarnovo in 1598, and then a second one in 1686, the Chiprovtsi Uprising in 1688 and Karposh's Rebellion in 1689.[64] The Russian Empire under Catherine the Great also asserted itself as a protector of Christians in Ottoman lands with the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca in 1774.[64]

The Defence of the Eagle's Nest, painting by Alexey Popov from 1893, depicting the Defence of Shipka Pass
The Russo-Bulgarian defence of Shipka Pass

The Western European Enlightenment in the 18th century influenced the initiation of a National awakening of Bulgaria,[56] it restored national consciousness and provided an ideological basis for the liberation struggle, resulting in the 1876 April Uprising. Up to 30,000 Bulgarians were killed as Ottoman authorities put down the rebellion, the massacres prompted the Great Powers to take action.[65] They convened the Constantinople Conference in 1876, but their decisions were rejected by the Ottomans, this allowed the Russian Empire to seek a military solution without risking confrontation with other Great Powers, as had happened in the Crimean War.[65] In 1877 Russia declared war on the Ottomans and defeated them with the help of Bulgarian rebels, particularly during the crucial Battle of Shipka Pass.[66]

Third Bulgarian state

The Treaty of San Stefano was signed on 3 March 1878 by Russia and the Ottoman Empire, and included a provision to set up an autonomous Bulgarian principality roughly on the territories of the Second Bulgarian Empire,[67][68] the other Great Powers immediately rejected the treaty out of fear that such a large country in the Balkans might threaten their interests. It was superseded by the subsequent Treaty of Berlin, signed on 13 July, which provided for a much smaller state comprising Moesia and the region of Sofia, leaving large populations of ethnic Bulgarians outside the new country.[67][69] This significantly contributed to Bulgaria's militaristic foreign affairs approach during the first half of the 20th century.[70]

The Bulgarian principality won a war against Serbia and incorporated the semi-autonomous Ottoman territory of Eastern Rumelia in 1885, proclaiming itself an independent state on 5 October 1908;[71] in the years following independence, Bulgaria increasingly militarised and was often referred to as "the Balkan Prussia".[72][73] It became involved in three consecutive conflicts between 1912 and 1918—two Balkan Wars and World War I, after a disastrous defeat in the Second Balkan War, Bulgaria again found itself fighting on the losing side as a result of its alliance with the Central Powers in World War I. Despite fielding more than a quarter of its population in a 1,200,000-strong army[74][75] and achieving several decisive victories at Doiran and Monastir, the country capitulated in 1918. The war resulted in significant territorial losses and a total of 87,500 soldiers killed.[76] More than 253,000 refugees immigrated to Bulgaria from 1912 to 1929 due to the effects of these wars,[77] placing additional strain on the already ruined national economy.[78]

A portrait of Tsar Boris III
Tsar Boris III

The resulting political unrest led to the establishment of a royal authoritarian dictatorship by Tsar Boris III (1918–1943). Bulgaria entered World War II in 1941 as a member of the Axis but declined to participate in Operation Barbarossa and saved its Jewish population from deportation to concentration camps.[79] The sudden death of Boris III in the summer of 1943 pushed the country into political turmoil as the war turned against Germany and the communist guerrilla movement gained momentum, the government of Bogdan Filov subsequently failed to achieve peace with the Allies. Bulgaria did not comply with Soviet demands to expel German forces from its territory, resulting in a declaration of war and an invasion by the USSR in September 1944,[80] the communist-dominated Fatherland Front took power, ended participation in the Axis and joined the Allied side until the war ended.[81]

Aerial view of the National Palace of Culture
The National Palace of Culture, built under Lyudmila Zhivkova, hosted Bulgaria's EU Council presidency in 2018

The left-wing uprising of 9 September 1944 led to the abolition of monarchic rule, but it was not until 1946 that a one-party people's republic was established.[82] It became a part of the Soviet sphere of influence under the leadership of Georgi Dimitrov (1946–1949), who laid the foundations of a rapidly industrialising Stalinist state which saw repressions and executions of thousands of dissidents.[83][84] By the mid-1950s standards of living rose significantly,[85] while political repressions were lessened.[86] By the 1980s both national and per capita GDPs quadrupled,[87] but the economy remained prone to debt spikes, the most severe taking place in 1960, 1977 and 1980.[88] The Soviet-style planned economy saw some market-oriented policies emerging on an experimental level under Todor Zhivkov (1954–1989),[89] his daughter Lyudmila bolstered national pride by promoting Bulgarian heritage, culture and arts worldwide.[90] In 1984, the government launched an assimilation campaign against the minority ethnic Turks that forced them to adopt Slavic names in an attempt to erase their identity, these policies resulted in the emigration of some 300,000 ethnic Turks to Turkey.[91][92]

The Communist Party gave up its political monopoly on 10 November 1989 under the influence of the Revolutions of 1989. Zhivkov resigned and Bulgaria embarked on a transition to a parliamentary democracy,[93] the first free elections in June 1990 were won by the Communist Party, now rebranded as the Bulgarian Socialist Party.[94] A new constitution that provided for a relatively weak elected president and for a prime minister accountable to the legislature was adopted in July 1991, the new system initially failed to improve living standards or create economic growth—the average quality of life and economic performance remained lower than under communism well into the early 2000s.[95] A 1997 reform package restored economic growth, but living standards continued to suffer,[96] after 2001 economic, political and geopolitical conditions improved greatly,[97] and Bulgaria achieved high Human Development status.[98] It became a member of NATO in 2004[99] and participated in the War in Afghanistan. After several years of reforms it joined the European Union in 2007 despite concerns about government corruption.[100] Bulgaria hosted the 2018 Presidency of the Council of the European Union at the National Palace of Culture in Sofia.[101]


Bulgaria occupies a portion of the eastern Balkan peninsula, bordering five countries—Greece and Turkey to the south, Macedonia and Serbia to the west, and Romania to the north. The land borders have a total length of 1,808 kilometres (1,123 mi), and the coastline has a length of 354 kilometres (220 mi).[102] Its total area of 110,994 square kilometres (42,855 sq mi) ranks it as the world's 105th-largest country.[103][104] Bulgaria's geographic coordinates are 43° N 25° E.[105]

The most notable topographical features are the Danubian Plain, the Balkan Mountains, the Thracian Plain, and the Rhodope Mountains.[102] The southern edge of the Danubian Plain slopes upward into the foothills of the Balkans, while the Danube defines the border with Romania, the Thracian Plain is roughly triangular, beginning southeast of Sofia and broadening as it reaches the Black Sea coast.[102]

Pirin-mountains-Bansko.jpg Oilcape.jpg
Left: Pirin Mountain in western Bulgaria
Right: Maslen nos on the Black Sea coast

The Balkan mountains run laterally through the middle of the country, the mountainous southwest of the country has two alpine ranges—Rila and Pirin, which border the lower but more extensive Rhodope Mountains to the east.[102] Bulgaria is home to the highest point of the Balkan peninsula, Musala, at 2,925 metres (9,596 ft)[106] and its lowest point is sea level. Plains occupy about one-third of the territory, while plateaus and hills occupy 41 per cent,[107] the country has a dense network of about 540 rivers, most of which are relatively small and with low water levels.[108] The longest river located solely in Bulgarian territory, the Iskar, has a length of 368 kilometres (229 mi). Other major rivers include the Struma and the Maritsa in the south.[102]

Bulgaria has a dynamic climate, which results from its being positioned at the meeting point of Mediterranean and continental air masses and the barrier effect of its mountains.[102] Northern Bulgaria averages 1 °C (1.8 °F) cooler and registers 200 millimetres (7.9 in) more precipitation annually than the regions south of the Balkan mountains. Temperature amplitudes vary significantly in different areas, the lowest recorded temperature is −38.3 °C (−36.9 °F), while the highest is 45.2 °C (113.4 °F).[109] Precipitation averages about 630 millimetres (24.8 in) per year, and varies from 500 millimetres (19.7 in) in Dobrudja to more than 2,500 millimetres (98.4 in) in the mountains. Continental air masses bring significant amounts of snowfall during winter.[110]

Biodiversity and environment

The interaction of climatic, hydrological, geological and topographical conditions have produced a relatively wide variety of plant and animal species.[111] Bulgaria is one of the countries with highest biodiversity in Europe.[112] Bulgaria's biodiversity is conserved in three national parks, 11 nature parks[113] and 16 biosphere reserves.[114] Nearly 35 per cent of its land area consists of forests,[115] where some of the oldest trees in the world, such as Baikushev's pine and the Granit oak,[116] grow. Most of the plant and animal life is central European, although representatives of Arctic and alpine species are present at high altitudes,[117] its flora encompass more than 3,800 species of which 170 are endemic and 150 are considered endangered.[118] A checklist of larger fungi of Bulgaria reported that more than 1,500 species occur in the country.[119] Animal species include owls, rock partridges, wallcreepers[117] and brown bears.[120] The Eurasian lynx and the eastern imperial eagle have small, but growing populations.[121]

In 1998, the Bulgarian government approved the National Biological Diversity Conservation Strategy, a comprehensive programme seeking the preservation of local ecosystems, protection of endangered species and conservation of genetic resources.[122] Bulgaria has some of the largest Natura 2000 areas in Europe covering 33.8% of its territory.[123] It also adopted the Kyoto Protocol[124] and achieved its objective of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent from 1990 to 2009.[125]

However, pollution from factories and metallurgy works and severe deforestation continue to cause major problems to the health and welfare of the population.[126] Air pollution is more severe than in any other European country,[127] particularly in urban areas affected by coal-based power stations and automobile traffic.[128][129] One of these, the lignite-fired Maritsa Iztok-2 power station, is also causing the highest damage costs to health and the environment in the entire European Union.[130]Pesticide usage in the agriculture and antiquated industrial sewage systems produce extensive soil and water pollution with chemicals and detergents,[131] over 75% of surface rivers meet the standards for good quality. An improvement of water quality began in 1998 and has maintained a sustainable trend of moderate improvement.[132] According to Yale University's 2012 Environmental Performance Index, Bulgaria is a "modest performer" in protecting the environment.[133]


The National Assembly building in Sofia
The National Assembly in Sofia

Bulgaria is a parliamentary democracy where the prime minister is the most powerful executive position,[97] the political system has three branches—legislative, executive and judicial, with universal suffrage for citizens at least 18 years old. The Constitution of Bulgaria also provides possibilities of direct democracy.[134] Elections are supervised by an independent Central Election Commission that includes members from all major political parties. Parties must register with the commission prior to participating in a national election.[135] Normally, the prime minister–elect is the leader of the party receiving the most votes in parliamentary elections, although this is not always the case.[97]

Political parties gather in the National Assembly, a body of 240 deputies elected to four-year terms by direct popular vote, the National Assembly has the power to enact laws, approve the budget, schedule presidential elections, select and dismiss the prime minister and other ministers, declare war, deploy troops abroad, and ratify international treaties and agreements. The president serves as the head of state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and has the authority to return a bill for further debate, although the parliament can override the presidential veto by a simple majority vote of all members of parliament.[97] Overall, Bulgaria displays a pattern of unstable governments.[136]

Boyko Borisov is serving his third term as prime minister since 2009,[137] when his centre-right, pro-EU party GERB won the general election and ruled as a minority government with 117 seats in the National Assembly.[138] However, his first government resigned on 20 February 2013 after nationwide protests caused by high costs of utilities, low living standards, corruption[139] and the failure of the democratic system.[140] The protest wave was notable for self-immolations, spontaneous demonstrations and a strong sentiment against political parties.[141]

The subsequent snap elections in May resulted in a narrow win for GERB,[142] but the Bulgarian Socialist Party eventually formed a government led by Plamen Oresharski after Borisov failed to secure parliamentary support.[143][144] The Oresharski government resigned in July 2014 amid continuing large-scale protests.[145][146][147] A caretaker government took over[148] and called the October 2014 elections[149] which resulted in a third GERB victory, but a total of eight parties entered parliament.[150] Borisov's party formed a coalition[151] with several right-wing parties. Borisov resigned again after the candidate backed by his party failed to win the 2016 Presidential election, the March 2017 snap election was again won by GERB, but with a mere 95 seats in Parliament. GERB formed a coalition with the far-right United Patriots, who hold 27 seats.[137]

Legal system

Bulgaria has a typical civil law legal system,[152] the judiciary is overseen by the Ministry of Justice. The Supreme Administrative Court and the Supreme Court of Cassation are the highest courts of appeal and oversee the application of laws in subordinate courts,[135] the Supreme Judicial Council manages the system and appoints judges. The legal system is one of Europe's most inefficient, and the lack of transparency and corruption are pervasive.[153][154][155][156][157]

Law enforcement is carried out by organisations mainly subordinate to the Ministry of the Interior,[158] the National Police Service (NPS) combats general crime, maintains public order and supports the operations of other law enforcement agencies.[159] NPS fields 26,578 police officers in its local and national sections,[160] the Ministry of the Interior also heads the Border Police Service and the National Gendarmerie—a specialised branch for anti-terrorist activity, crisis management and riot control. Counterintelligence and national security are the responsibility of the State Agency for National Security, established in 2008.[161]

Administrative divisions

Bulgaria is a unitary state,[162] since the 1880s, the number of territorial management units has varied from seven to 26.[163] Between 1987 and 1999 the administrative structure consisted of nine provinces (oblasti, singular oblast). A new administrative structure was adopted in parallel with the decentralisation of the economic system,[164] it includes 27 provinces and a metropolitan capital province (Sofia-Grad). All areas take their names from their respective capital cities, the provinces subdivide into 264 municipalities.

Municipalities are run by mayors, who are elected to four-year terms, and by directly elected municipal councils. Bulgaria is a highly centralised state, where the national Council of Ministers directly appoints regional governors and all provinces and municipalities are heavily dependent on it for funding.[135]

Bulgaria Aministrative Provinces numbered.png

Foreign relations and security

Bulgaria became a member of the United Nations in 1955 and since 1966 has been a non-permanent member of the Security Council three times, most recently from 2002 to 2003,[165] it was also among the founding nations of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in 1975. Euro-Atlantic integration has been a priority since the fall of Communism, although the Communist leadership also had aspirations of leaving the Warsaw Pact and joining the European Communities by 1987.[166][167][168] Bulgaria signed the European Union Treaty of Accession on 25 April 2005,[169] and became a full member of the European Union on 1 January 2007.[100] In addition, it has a tripartite economic and diplomatic collaboration with Romania and Greece,[170] good ties with China[171] and Vietnam[172] and a historical relationship with Russia.[173][174][175][176]

Bulgarian MiG-29 fighters in flight

Historically, Bulgaria deployed significant numbers of both civilian and military advisors in Soviet-allied countries like Nicaragua[177] and Libya.[178] The first deployment of foreign troops on Bulgarian soil since World War II occurred in 2001, when the country hosted six KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft and 200 support personnel for the war effort in Afghanistan.[19] International military relations were further expanded with accession to NATO in March 2004[99] and the US-Bulgarian Defence Cooperation Agreement signed in April 2006. Bezmer and Graf Ignatievo air bases, the Novo Selo training range, and a logistics centre in Aytos subsequently became joint military training facilities cooperatively used by the United States and Bulgarian militaries.[179][180]

Domestic defence is the responsibility of the all-volunteer military of Bulgaria, branched into land forces, navy and an air force. The land forces consist of two mechanised brigades and eight independent regiments and battalions; the air force operates 106 aircraft and air defence systems in six air bases, and the navy operates various ships, helicopters and coastal defence weapons.[181] Active troops dwindled from 152,000 in 1988[182] to 31,300 in 2017, supplemented by 3,000 reservists and 16,000 paramilitary.[183] The inventory consists mostly of Soviet equipment like Mikoyan MiG-29 and Sukhoi Su-25 jets,[184] S-300PT air defence systems[185] and SS-21 Scarab short-range ballistic missiles.[186]


Graph showing GDP and unemployment
Economic growth and unemployment statistics since 2001

Bulgaria has an open market economy[187] in the upper middle income range,[188] where the private sector accounts for more than 80% of GDP.[189] From a largely agricultural country with a predominantly rural population in 1948, by the 1980s Bulgaria had transformed into an industrial economy with scientific and technological research at the top of its budgetary expenditure priorities,[190] the loss of COMECON markets in 1990 and the subsequent "shock therapy" of the planned system caused a steep decline in industrial and agricultural production, ultimately followed by an economic collapse in 1997.[191][192] The economy largely recovered during a period of rapid growth several years later,[191] but the average salary of 1,036 leva (€529) per month remains the lowest in the EU.[193] More than a fifth of the labour force are employed on a minimum wage of €1 per hour.[194]

A balanced budget was achieved in 2003 and the country began running a surplus the following year.[195] Expenditures amounted to $21.15 billion and revenues were $21.67 billion in 2017.[196] Most government spending on institutions is earmarked for security, the ministries of defence, the interior and justice are allocated the largest share of the annual government budget, whereas those responsible for the environment, tourism and energy receive the least amount of funding.[197] Taxes form the bulk of government revenue[197] at 30 per cent of GDP.[198] Bulgaria has some of the lowest corporate income tax rates in the EU at a flat 10 per cent rate,[199] the tax system is two-tier. Value added tax, excise duties, corporate and personal income tax are national, whereas real estate, inheritance, and vehicle taxes are defined by local authorities.[200] Bulgaria also has the third-lowest public debt in the Union at 28.7 per cent of GDP in 2016.[201] Strong economic performance in the early 2000s reduced government debt from 79.6 per cent in 1998 to 14.1 per cent in 2008.[195]

Headquarters of the Bulgarian National Bank in Sofia
Headquarters of the Bulgarian National Bank in Sofia

The Yugozapaden planning area is the most developed region with a per capita gross domestic product (PPP) of €20,600 ($27,400) in 2014.[202] It includes the capital city of Sofia and the surrounding Sofia Province, which alone generate 42 per cent of national gross domestic product.[203] PPP GDP per capita and the cost of living stood at 47 per cent of the EU average in 2015.[204][205] National PPP GDP was estimated at $143.1 billion in 2016, with a per capita value of $20,116.[206] Economic growth statistics take into account illegal transactions from the informal economy, which is the largest in the EU as a percentage of economic output,[207][208] the currency is the lev, issued by the Bulgarian National Bank and pegged to the euro at a rate of 1.95583 levа for 1 euro.[209]

After several consecutive years of high growth, repercussions of the financial crisis of 2007–2008 resulted in a 5.5 per cent contraction of GDP in 2009 and unemployment above 12 per cent.[210][211] Industrial output declined 10 per cent, mining by 31 per cent, and ferrous and metal production marked a 60 per cent drop.[212] Positive growth was restored in 2010 but intercompany debt exceeded €51 billion, meaning that 60 per cent of all Bulgarian companies were mutually indebted.[211][213] By 2012, it had increased to €83 billion, or 227 per cent of GDP,[214] the government implemented strict austerity measures with IMF and EU encouragement to some positive fiscal results, but the social consequences of these measures have been "catastrophic" according to the International Trade Union Confederation.[215]

Siphoning of public funds to the families and relatives of politicians from incumbent parties has also resulted in fiscal and welfare losses to society.[216][217] Bulgaria ranks 71st in the Corruption Perceptions Index[218] and experiences the worst levels of corruption in the European Union, a phenomenon that remains a source of profound public discontent.[219][220] Along with organised crime, corruption has led to a rejection of the country's Schengen Area application and withdrawal of foreign investment.[221][222][223] Government officials reportedly engage in embezzlement, influence trading, government procurement violations and bribery with impunity.[153] Government procurement in particular is a critical area in corruption risk. An estimated 10 billion leva ($5.99 billion) of state budget and European cohesion funds are spent on public tenders each year;[224] nearly 14 billion ($8.38 billion) were spent on public contracts in 2017 alone.[225] A large share of these contracts are awarded to a few politically connected[226] companies amid widespread irregularities, procedure violations and tailor-made selection or award criteria.[227] Despite repeated criticism from the European Commission,[228] EU institutions abstain from taking measures against Bulgaria because it is not seen by Brussels as a "problem country" like Poland or Hungary.[219]


The labour force is 3.36 million people,[229] of whom 6.8 per cent are employed in agriculture, 26.6 per cent are employed in industry and 66.6 per cent are employed in the services sector.[230] Extraction of metals and minerals, production of chemicals, machinery, petroleum refining[231] steel and automotive component manufacturing[232] are among the major industrial activities.[233] Mining alone employs 24,000 people and generates about five per cent of the country's GDP; the number of employed in all mining-related industries is 120,000.[234][235] Bulgaria is Europe's sixth-largest coal producer.[235][236] Local deposits of coal, iron, copper and lead are vital for the manufacturing and energy sectors.[237]

Two-thirds of Bulgarian food and agricultural exports go to OECD countries,[238] although cereal and vegetable yields dropped by 40 per cent between 1990 and 2008,[239] output has since increased, and the 2016-2017 season registered the biggest grain yields in a decade.[240][241] Bulgaria is also the largest global producer of lavender and rose oil widely used in fragrances.[19][242][243][244] Of the services sector, tourism is the most significant contributor to economic growth;[245] in recent years, Bulgaria has emerged as a travelling destination with its inexpensive resorts and beaches outside the reach of the tourist industry.[246][247] Most of the visitors are British, Romanian, German and Russian.[248] Sofia, Veliko Tarnovo,[249] coastal resorts Golden Sands and Sunny Beach and winter resorts Bansko, Pamporovo and Borovets are some of the locations most visited by tourists.[245]

Science and technology

Spending on research and development amounts to 0.95 per cent of GDP,[250] and the bulk of public R&D funding goes to the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (BAS).[251] Private businesses accounted for more than 73 per cent of R&D expenditures and employed 42 per cent of Bulgaria's 22,000 researchers in 2015.[252] The same year, Bulgaria ranked 39th out of 50 countries in the Bloomberg Innovation Index, the highest score being in education (24th) and the lowest in value-added manufacturing (48th).[253] Chronic government underinvestment in research since 1990 has forced many professionals in science and engineering to leave Bulgaria.[254]

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launching BulgariaSat-1 in June 2017
The launch of BulgariaSat-1 by SpaceX using a B1029 reusable booster, 2017

Despite the lack of funding, research in chemistry, materials science and physics remains strong.[251] Three per cent of economic output is generated by the information and communication technologies sector where 40,000[255] to 51,000 software engineers are employed.[256] More than 26 per cent of them are women, the highest percentage of females in ICT in any EU country.[257] High levels of female participation are a legacy of the Soviet era,[258] when the country was known as a "Communist Silicon Valley" due to its key role in COMECON computing technology production.[259] Bulgaria is also a regional leader in high performance computing and operates Avitohol, the most powerful supercomputer in Southeast Europe.[260]

Bulgaria has made numerous contributions to space exploration,[261] these include two scientific satellites, more than 200 payloads and 300 experiments in Earth orbit, as well as two cosmonauts since 1971.[261] Bulgaria was the first country to grow wheat and vegetables in space with its Svet greenhouses on the Mir space station.[262][263][264] It was involved in the development of the Granat gamma-ray observatory[265] and the Vega program, particularly in modelling trajectories and guidance algorithms for both Vega probes.[266][267] Bulgarian instruments have been used in the exploration of Mars, including a spectrometer that took the first high quality spectroscopic images of Martian moon Phobos with the Phobos 2 probe.[261][265] Cosmic radiation en route to and around the planet has been mapped by Liulin-ML dosimeters on the ExoMars TGO.[268] Variants of these instruments have also been fitted to the Chandrayaan-1 lunar probe and the International Space Station.[269][270] Bulgaria's first geostationary communications satelliteBulgariaSat-1—was launched by SpaceX in June 2017.[271]


Telephone services are widely available, and a central digital trunk line connects most regions.[272] More than 90 per cent of fixed lines are served by Vivacom (BTC),[273] while mobile services are provided by three operators—A1, Telenor and Vivacom.[274] Internet penetration stood at 66 per cent, or 4.66 million users, in late 2017.[275]

Bulgaria's strategic geographic location and well-developed energy sector make it a key European energy centre despite its lack of significant fossil fuel deposits.[276] Coal accounts for 40% of national energy production,[277] followed by nuclear power from the Kozloduy reactors (35%)[278] and renewable sources (20%)[279]. Biomass has become the primary source of renewable power after more than a decade of growth in the sector.[280]

The national road network has a total length of 19,512 kilometres (12,124 mi),[281] of which 19,235 kilometres (11,952 mi) are paved. Railroads are a major mode of freight transportation, although highways carry a progressively larger share of freight. Bulgaria has 6,238 kilometres (3,876 mi) of railway track[272] and currently a total of 81 kilometres (50 miles) of high-speed lines are in operation.[282][283][284][285] Rail links are available with Romania, Turkey, Greece, and Serbia, and express trains serve direct routes to Kiev, Minsk, Moscow and Saint Petersburg.[286] Sofia and Plovdiv are the country's air travel hubs, while Varna and Burgas are the principal maritime trade ports.[272]


Population graph
Population trend since 1961

The population of Bulgaria is 7,364,570 people according to the 2011 national census, the majority of the population, or 72.5 percent, reside in urban areas;[287] approximately one-sixth of the total population is concentrated in Sofia.[288][289] Bulgarians are the main ethnic group and comprise 84.8 percent of the population. Turkish and Roma minorities comprise 8.8 and 4.9 percent, respectively; some 40 smaller minorities comprise 0.7 percent, and 0.8 percent do not self-identify with an ethnic group.[290][291] The Roma minority is usually underestimated in census data and may represent up to 11 per cent of the population.[292]

Bulgaria is in a state of demographic crisis,[293][294] it has had negative population growth since the early 1990s, when the economic collapse caused a long-lasting emigration wave.[295] Some 937,000 to 1,200,000 people—mostly young adults—left the country by 2005,[295][296] the total fertility rate (TFR) was estimated in 2013 at 1.43 children born/woman, which is below the replacement rate of 2.1.[297] The majority of children are born to unmarried women.[298] Furthermore, a third of all households consist of only one person and 75.5 percent of families do not have children under the age of 16.[294] The resulting birth rates are among the lowest in the world[299][300] while death rates are among the highest.[301]

More than 80% of all deaths are due to cancer and cardiovascular conditions.[302] Mortality rates may be amenable with timely, adequate health care,[303] which the current system fails to provide fully. Although healthcare in Bulgaria is universal,[304] out-of-pocket expenses account for nearly half of all healthcare spending, and significantly limit access to medical care.[305] Other problems disrupting medical care provision are the emigration of doctors due to low wages, understaffed and under-equipped regional hospitals, and frequent changes to the basic service package for those insured.[306] Personnel or equipment shortages in some fields are so severe that patients may seek treatment in neighboring countries.[307]

Sofia University building
The Rectorate of Sofia University

Public expenditures for education are far below the European Union average as well.[308] Educational standards were once high,[309] but have deteriorated significantly over the past decade.[308] Bulgarian students were among the highest-scoring in the world in terms of reading in 2001, performing better than their Canadian and German counterparts; by 2006, scores in reading, math and science had dropped. The PISA study of 2015 found 41.5% of pupils in the 9th grade to be functionally illiterate in reading, maths and science.[310] Average literacy stands at 98.4% with no significant difference between sexes.[311] The Ministry of Education, Youth and Science partially funds public schools, colleges and universities, sets criteria for textbooks and oversees the publishing process. Education in primary and secondary public schools is free,[309] the process spans through 12 grades, where grades one through eight are primary and nine through twelve are secondary level. Higher education consists of a 4-year bachelor degree and a 1-year master's degree.[312] Bulgaria's highest-ranked higher education institution is Sofia University.[313][314]

All ethnic groups speak Bulgarian, either as a first or as a second language. Bulgarian is the only language with official status and native for 85.2 percent of the population. The oldest written Slavic language, Bulgarian is distinguishable from the other languages in this group through certain grammatical peculiarities such as the lack of noun cases and infinitives, and a suffixed definite article.[315][316]

Largest cities and towns


The Constitution of Bulgaria defines it as a secular state with guaranteed religious freedom, but designates Orthodoxy as a "traditional" religion,[318] the Bulgarian Orthodox Church gained autocephalous status in 927 AD,[319][320] and currently has 12 dioceses and over 2,000 priests.[321] More than three-quarters of Bulgarians subscribe to Eastern Orthodoxy.[322] Sunni Muslims are the second-largest community and constitute 10 percent of the religious makeup, although a majority of them are not observant and find the use of Islamic veils in schools unacceptable.[323] Less than three percent are affiliated with other religions, 11.8 percent do not self-identify with a religion and 21.8 percent refused to state their beliefs.[322]


Bulgarian Kuker
Kuker in Lesichovo

Contemporary Bulgarian culture blends a formal culture that helped forge a national consciousness towards the end of Ottoman rule, and millenium-old folk traditions.[324] An essential element of Bulgarian folklore is fire, used to banish evil spirits and illnesses. Many of these are personified as witches, whereas other creatures like zmey and samodiva (veela) are either benevolent guardians or ambivalent tricksters.[325] Some rituals against evil spirits have survived and are still practised, most notably the kukeri and survakari.[326] Martenitsa is also widely celebrated.[327] Nestinarstvo, a ritual fire-dance of Thracian origin,[328] is included in the list of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.[329]

Nine historical and natural objects have been inscribed in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Pirin National Park, Sreburna Nature Reserve, the Madara Rider, the Thracian tombs in Sveshtari and Kazanlak, the Rila Monastery, the Boyana Church, the Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo and the ancient city of Nesebar.[330] The Rila Monastery was established by Saint John of Rila, Bulgaria's patron saint, whose life has been the subject of numerous literary accounts since Medieval times.[331]

The Middle Ages were marked by the literary schools of Preslav and Ohrid, these were essentially the first Slavic scholarly institutions, and their establishment in the 10th century is associated with a golden period in Bulgarian literature.[331] This emphasis on Christian scholarship made the Bulgarian Empire a centre of Slavic culture, bringing Slavic peoples under the influence of Christianity and providing them with a written language.[332][333][334] Its alphabet, Cyrillic script, was developed by the Preslav Literary School,[335] the Tarnovo Literary School, on the other hand, is associated with a Silver age of literature defined by historical and mystical themes under the Asen and Shishman dynasties.[331] Many literary and artistic masterpieces were destroyed by the Ottoman conquerors, and artistic activities did not re-emerge until the National Revival in the 19th century.[324] Ivan Vazov's enormous body of work covered every genre and touched upon every facet of Bulgarian society, bridging pre-Liberation works with literature of the newly-established state.[331] Notable later works are Bay Ganyo by Aleko Konstantinov, the Nietzschean poetry of Pencho Slaveykov, the Symbolist poetry of Peyo Yavorov and Dimcho Debelyanov, the Marxist-inspired works of Geo Milev and Nikola Vaptsarov, and the Socialist realism novels of Dimitar Dimov and Dimitar Talev.[331] Tzvetan Todorov is a notable contemporary author,[336] while Bulgarian-born Elias Canetti was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1981.[337]

А religious visual arts heritage includes frescoes, murals and icons, many produced by the medieval Tarnovo Artistic School.[338] Like literature, it was not until the National Revival when Bulgarian visual arts began to reemerge. Zahari Zograf was a pioneer of the visual arts in the pre-Liberation era.[324] After the Liberation, Ivan Mrkvička, Anton Mitov, Vladimir Dimitrov, Tsanko Lavrenov and Zlatyu Boyadzhiev introduced newer styles and substance, depicting scenery from Bulgarian villages, old towns and historical subjects. Christo is the most famous Bulgarian artist of the 21st century, known for his outdoor installations.[324]

Folk music is by far the most extensive traditional art and has slowly developed throughout the ages as a fusion of Far Eastern, Oriental, medieval Eastern Orthodox and standard Western European tonalities and modes.[339] Bulgarian folk music has a distinctive sound and uses a wide range of traditional instruments, such as gadulka, gaida, kaval and tupan. A distinguishing feature is extended rhythmical time, which has no equivalent in the rest of European music,[19] the State Television Female Vocal Choir won a Grammy Award in 1990 for its performances of Bulgarian folk music.[340] Written musical composition can be traced back to the works of Yoan Kukuzel (c. 1280–1360),[341] but modern classical music began with Emanuil Manolov, who composed the first Bulgarian opera in 1890.[324] Pancho Vladigerov and Petko Staynov further enriched symphony, ballet and opera, which singers Ghena Dimitrova, Boris Hristov and Nikolay Gyaurov elevated to a world-class level.[324][342][343][344][345][346] Bulgarian performers have also gained acclaim in other genres like electropop (Mira Aroyo), jazz (Milcho Leviev) and blends of jazz and folk (Ivo Papazov).[324]

Cultural events are advertised in the largest media outlets, including the Bulgarian National Radio, and daily newspapers Dneven Trud, Dnevnik and 24 Chasa.[347] Bulgarian media were described as generally unbiased in their reporting in the early 2000s,[348] and print media had no legal restrictions.[349] Since then, freedom of the press has declined to the point where Bulgaria scores 111th globally in the World Press Freedom Index, lower than all European Union members and membership candidate states, the government has siphoned EU funds to sympathetic media outlets and bribed others to be less critical on problematic topics, while attacks against individual journalists have increased.[350][351] Collusion between politicians, oligarchs and the media is widespread.[350]

Bulgarian cuisine is similar to those of other Balkan countries and demonstrates a strong Turkish and Greek influence.[352] Yogurt, lukanka, banitsa, shopska salad, lyutenitsa and kozunak are among the best-known local foods. Oriental dishes such as moussaka, gyuvech, and baklava are also present. Meat consumption is lower than the European average, given a notable preference for a large variety of salads.[352] Bulgaria was the world's second-largest wine exporter until 1989, but has since lost its positions,[353][354] the 2016 harvest yielded 128 million litres of wine, of which 62 million was exported mainly to Romania, Poland and Russia.[355] Mavrud, Rubin, Shiroka melnishka, Dimiat and Cherven Misket are the typical grapes used in Bulgarian wine.[356] Rakia is a traditional fruit brandy which was consumed in Bulgaria as early as the 14th century.[357]


Association football is the most popular sport in Bulgaria.

Bulgaria performs well in sports such as wrestling, weight-lifting, boxing, gymnastics, volleyball, football and tennis.[358] The country fields one of the leading men's volleyball teams, ranked sixth in the world according to the 2013 FIVB rankings.[359] Football is by far the most popular sport.[358] Some famous players are Dimitar Berbatov, former Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur forward, Georgi Asparuhov, former Levski Sofia forward and Hristo Stoichkov, winner of the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball and the most successful Bulgarian player of all time.[360] Prominent domestic clubs include PFC CSKA Sofia[361][362] and PFC Levski Sofia. The best performance of the national team at FIFA World Cup finals came in 1994, when it advanced to the semi-finals by defeating consecutively Greece, Argentina, Mexico and Germany, finishing fourth.[358] Bulgaria has participated in most Olympic competitions since its first appearance at the 1896 games, when it was represented by Charles Champaud,[363] the country has won a total of 224 medals: 52 gold, 89 silver, and 83 bronze,[364] which puts it in 24th place in the all-time ranking.

Stefka Kostadinova is the reigning world record holder in the women's high jump at 2.09 metres (6 feet 10 inches), which she jumped during the 1987 World Championships in Athletics in Rome. Her world record is one of the oldest in modern athletics. Altogether Kostadinova set seven world records – three outdoors and four indoors, she also holds the women's world record for having jumped over 2.00 metres (6 feet 7 inches) 197 times.

Yordanka Donkova is a former hurdling athlete, notable for winning an Olympic gold medal and bronze medal as well as 9 medals at European indoor and outdoor championships. Donkova set four 100 m hurdles world records in 1986, her fifth world record, a time of 12.21 set in 1988, stood until 2016.

Maria Gigova and Maria Petrova have each held a record of three world-titles in rhythmic gymnastics.

Kaloyan Mahlyanov (Калоян Махлянов), known as Kotoōshū Katsunori is a former professional sumo wrestler who became the first European to earn the title ozeki in Japan.

Veselin Topalov became FIDE World Chess Champion by winning the FIDE World Chess Championship 2005.

See also


  1. ^ 19 February in the Julian calendar used at the time.
  2. ^ 22 September in the Julian calendar used at the time.


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