Bulgaria, located in the eastern Balkans, has been experiencing a slow and painful transition to a market economy since the end of communist rule.
An Orthodox Christian country with a Slavic majority, Bulgaria is the cradle of the Cyrillic alphabet, which was created there towards the end of the 9th century.
It was long influenced by Byzantine culture, then was part of the Ottoman Empire for 500 years before gaining independence in the 19th century.
After World War II, it became a satellite of the Soviet Union, but is now a member of the EU and NATO.
REPUBLIC OF BULGARIA: FACTS
- Capital: Sofia
- Area: 110,913 km²
- Population: 6.7 million
- Language: Bulgarian
- Life expectancy: 77 years (men) 69 years (women)
Rumen Radev became Bulgaria’s fifth democratically elected president when he was sworn in for a five-year term in January 2017.
A former air force commander, Mr. Radev is a newcomer to politics. He ran as an independent candidate with the support of the opposition socialists.
His victory in the presidential election led to the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and early parliamentary elections.
Mr. Radev pledged to maintain Bulgaria’s position as a member of the European Union and NATO, while improving historically important ties with Russia.
Prime Minister: Nikolai Denkov
Bulgaria has formed a coalition government including the center-right GERB party and the anti-corruption alliance led by We Pursue Change and Democratic Bulgaria (PP-DB).
The coalition’s main goal will be to implement constitutional reforms during the first half of its term, particularly targeting the justice system in a country plagued by high-level corruption.
The agreement will last 18 months. Nikolay Denkov of the PP-DB will lead the government for the first nine months. Denkov will next swap seats with former EU Innovation Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, who was the GERB party’s choice for prime minister.
The grand coalition was also tasked with reintroducing electronic voting, as part of the fight against electoral fraud.
The deal aims to end years of political instability in Bulgaria, which has held five elections in the past two years.
The GERB party, whose leader Boyko Borissov was Prime Minister from 2009 to 2021, won the April 2023 elections with 26.5% of the vote. The PP-DB coalition comes in second place with 24.9%.
Democracy advocacy group Freedom House has reported a continued deterioration in democratic governance, citing reduced media independence, blocked reforms and abuses of authority.
Global media giants have a stake in Bulgaria’s dynamic broadcasting market. Television is the most popular media.
The international media group CME operates bTV, the most watched channel in Bulgaria. The Scandinavian company MTG operates the national station Nova TV.
There are several private regional televisions and many private radio stations. Cable and satellite are the main distribution platforms. Media ownership is concentrated among a few individuals.
Some key dates in Bulgarian history:
500 BC – Thracian tribes settled in what is now southeastern Bulgaria. They were then subjugated by the Macedonian king Alexander the Great and the region later became part of the Roman Empire.
4th century AD – The Goths migrate to northern Bulgaria. The Gothic bishop Ulfilas translated the Bible from Greek into Gothic, creating the Gothic alphabet – the first book written in a Germanic language.
632 – Khan Kubrat united the three largest Bulgarian tribes, forming ancient Great Bulgaria, located in what is now southern Ukraine and southern Russia. After his death and military defeat, many Bulgarians moved west to the Balkans.
681-1018 – First Bulgarian Empire. After defeating a Byzantine army under Constantine IV, the Bulgarians obtained recognition of their right to settle south of the Danube. They gradually adopted the dominant Slavic language of the region. Bulgaria becomes an important regional power. The Bulgarians besieged Constantinople in 923 and 924. In 1014, under Basil II of Byzantium “the Bulgarian Killer”, the Bulgarians were decisively defeated at the Battle of Kleidion.
890s – The oldest form of the Cyrillic alphabet, later versions of which are now used in dozens of Slavic languages, was created by Bulgarian scholars.
1018-1185 – Bulgaria comes under Byzantine domination.
1185-1396 – Second Bulgarian Empire. A dominant power in the Balkans, defeating the Byzantine Empire in several major battles. It reached its peak under Tsars Kaloyan and Ivan Asen II of the 12th and 13th centuries before being gradually conquered by the Ottomans at the end of the 14th century.
1396-1878 – Ottoman occupation of Bulgaria. Often called the “Turkish yoke”. Following their conquests in the Balkans, Turkish authorities destroyed most of Bulgaria’s medieval fortresses to prevent rebellions. Large cities and areas where Ottoman power predominated remained severely depopulated until the 19th century.
The Ottoman system declined in the 17th century and collapsed at the end of the 18th century. During the first decades of the 19th century, the Balkan Peninsula experienced widespread anarchy.
1876 – April Uprising: The national uprising against Ottoman rule is violently suppressed, with thousands of people massacred by Turkish troops. The massacres sparked a broad public reaction among liberal Europeans, such as William Gladstone, who launched a campaign against the “Bulgarian horrors”.
1876-77 – Constantinople Conference. Following the Herzegovinian uprising of 1875 and the Bulgarian uprising of 1876, the great powers called for political reforms in Bosnia and in the Ottoman territories with a majority Bulgarian population. The Ottoman Empire refuses to accept the reforms.
1877-78 – Russo-Turkish War. Following Turkey’s refusal to accept the reforms, Russian forces invaded the territory, with the Bulgarians fighting alongside the advancing Russians, decisively defeating the Ottoman forces at Shipka Pass and Pleven.
1878 – Treaty of San Stefano – Russia and Turkey recognize an autonomous Bulgaria
1878 – Treaty of Berlin: fearing the establishment of a large client state of Russia in the Balkans, the other great powers hesitate to accept San Stefano and create a much smaller Bulgarian principality. Eastern Rumelia remains under Ottoman rule.
1886 – Eastern Rumelia merges with Bulgaria.
1887 – Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha elected prince.
1908 – Bulgaria declares itself an independent kingdom. Ferdinand takes the title of Tsar.
1912-13 – First and Second Balkan Wars Eager to revise the Treaty of Berlin, Bulgaria allied with Serbia, Greece and Montenegro to divide Turkish territory in Europe. After the gains of the first war, Bulgaria was attacked by its former allies in the second war and forced to concede some of its earlier gains.
1914-18 – First World War. Bulgaria allies with Germany. Significant fighting rages in northern Greece and Macedonia against the allied armies. Some 100,000 Bulgarian soldiers were killed, one of the worst per capita losses of any country involved in the war.
1939-45 World War II. The Soviet army invaded German-occupied Bulgaria in 1944. The Fatherland Front, supported by the Soviets, took power.
1946 – Monarchy abolished by referendum and republic declared. The Communist Party wins the elections. Georgi Dimitrov is elected Prime Minister.
1954 – Todor Zhivkov becomes general secretary of the Communist Party. Bulgaria becomes a faithful ally of the USSR.
1971 – Zhivkov becomes president.
1978 – Georgi Markov, BBC World Service journalist and Bulgarian dissident, dies in London after apparently being injected with poison with the end of an umbrella.
1984 – The Zhivkov government is trying to force the Turkish minority to assimilate and take Slavic names. Many resisted and in 1989, some 300,000 people fled the country.
1989 – Reforms in the Soviet Union inspire demands for democratization. Zhivkov ousted. Introduction of the multiparty system.
1991 – The new constitution proclaims Bulgaria a parliamentary republic and grants a wide range of freedoms.
1993 – Massive privatization program.
1997 – Massive demonstrations against the economic crisis. The opposition boycotts Parliament and calls for elections. Bulgarian currency pegged to the German mark.
1999 – Prolonged attempts to demolish the marble mausoleum of the first communist leader Georgi Dimitrov have become a national joke.
2000 – Post-communist prosecutors close the file in the Georgi Markov case. In December, Markov received Bulgaria’s highest honor, the Order of Stara Planina, for his contribution to Bulgarian literature and his opposition to the communist authorities.
2004 – Bulgaria joins NATO
2007 – Bulgaria and Romania join the European Union, bringing the number of members to 27.
2008 – The European Commission suspends EU aid worth hundreds of millions of euros after a series of reports criticize the Bulgarian government for its failure to take effective action against corruption and organized crime.
2010 – Boris Tsankov, a prominent crime journalist specializing in reporting on the mafia in Bulgaria, is shot dead in Sofia.
2012 – A suspected suicide bomber kills five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian driver on a bus in the Black Sea resort of Burgas.
2013 – The government says the Burgas suicide attack was most likely the work of the Lebanese group Hezbollah. Hezbollah denies this allegation.
Weeks of protests against official corruption culminate in a blockade of Parliament and clashes with police.
2015 – Bulgaria says it will extend a controversial fence by 80 km along its border with Turkey to help stem the flow of illegal immigrants.
2022 – EU interior ministers agree to Croatia joining the 26-nation border-free Schengen zone, but reject Romania and Bulgaria, fearing both countries will be lenient on illegal immigration.