Friday, June 14, 2024

Bulgaria country profile – BBC News

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Bulgaria, situated in the eastern Balkans, has been undergoing a slow and painful transition to a market economy since the end of Communist rule.

A predominantly Slavonic-speaking, Orthodox Christian country, Bulgaria was the birthplace 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 its independence in the 19th Century.

After World War Two it became a satellite of the Soviet Union, but is now a member of the EU and Nato.


  • Capital: Sofia
  • Area: 110,913 sq km
  • Population: 6.7 million
  • Language: Bulgarian
  • Life expectancy: 77 years (men) 69 years (women)


Image source, Getty Images

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 relative newcomer to politics who ran as an independent candidate with the backing of the opposition Socialists.

His victory in the presidential election led to the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and early parliamentary elections.

Mr Radev has pledged to maintain Bulgaria’s position as a member of the European Union and Nato, while also improving historically important ties with Russia.

Prime Minister: Nikolay Denkov

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Bulgaria has formed a coalition government comprising the centre-right GERB party and the anti-corruption alliance led by We Continue the Change and Democratic Bulgaria (PP-DB).

The coalition’s main goal will be to implement constitutional reforms in the first half of its mandate, particularly targeting the judiciary in a country plagued by high-level corruption.

The agreement will last for the 18 months. The PP-DB’s Nikolay Denkov, will lead the government for the first nine months. Denkov will then swap seats with former European Commissioner for Innovation Mariya Gabriel, who was the GERB party’s pick for PM.

The grand coalition has also been tasked with reintroducing electronic voting, as part of an effort to tackle electoral fraud.

The agreement is intended to put an end to years of political instability in Bulgaria, which has held five elections in the past two years.

The GERB party, whose leader leader Boyko Borissov served as prime minister from 2009 to 2021, won the April 2023 election with 26.5% of the vote. The PP-DB coalition came second with 24.9%.

The democracy advocacy group, Freedom House, has reported a continuing deterioration of democratic governance, citing reduced media independence, stalled reforms and abuse of authority.

Image source, Getty Images

Global media giants have a stake in Bulgaria’s lively broadcasting market. TV is the most popular medium.

International media group CME runs bTV, Bulgaria’s most-watched channel. Scandinavian company MTG operates national station Nova TV.

There are several private regional TVs and many private radio stations. Cable and satellite are the main distribution platforms. Media ownership is concentrated among a handful of individuals.


Image source, Getty Images

Image caption, Bulgaria’s Rila Monastery. Founded in the 10th Century, it has played a key role in the country’s cultural and national identity

Some key dates in Bulgaria’s history:

500BC – Thracian tribes settle in what is now south eastern Bulgaria. They are subsequently subjugated by the Macedonian king Alexander the Great and later the area becomes part of the Roman Empire.

4th Century AD – Goths migrate to northern Bulgaria. The Gothic bishop Ulfilas translates the Bible from Greek to Gothic, creating the Gothic alphabet in the process – the first book written in a Germanic language.

632 – Khan Kubrat unites the three largest Bulgar tribes, forming Old Great Bulgaria, which is located in what is now southern Ukraine and southern Russia. After his death and military defeat, many Bulgars move west into the Balkans.

681-1018 – First Bulgarian Empire. After defeating a Byzantine army under Constantine IV, Bulgars secure recognition of their right to settle south of the Danube. They gradually adopt the region’s prevailing Slavic language. Bulgaria becomes an important regional power. Bulgarians besiege Constantinople in 923 and 924. In 1014, under Byzantium’s Basil II “the Bulgar Slayer”, the Bulgarians are decisively defeated at the Battle of Kleidion.

890s – The earliest form of the Cyrillic alphabet – later versions of which are now used in dozens of Slavonic languages – is created by Bulgarian scholars.

1018-1185 – Bulgaria comes under Byzantine rule.

1185-1396 – Second Bulgarian Empire. A dominant power in the Balkans, defeating the Byzantine Empire in several major battles. It reaches its peak under the 12th and 13th Century Tsars Kaloyan and Ivan Asen II before gradually being conquered by the Ottomans in the late 14th Century.

1396-1878 – Ottoman occupation of Bulgaria. Often referred to as the “Turkish yoke”. Following their conquests in the Balkans, the Turkish authorities destroyed most medieval Bulgarian fortresses to prevent rebellions. Large towns and the areas where Ottoman power predominated remained severely depopulated until the 19th Century.

The Ottoman system declines in the 17th Century and had largely collapsed by the end of the 18th Century. In the first decades of the 19th Centuries the Balkan Peninsula experiences widespread anarchy.

1876 – April uprising: The nationwide uprising against Ottoman rule is violently suppressed, with thousands massacred by Turkish troops. The massacres aroused a broad public reaction among liberal Europeans such as William Gladstone, who launches a campaign against the “Bulgarian Horrors”.

1876-77 – Constantinople Conference. Following the 1875 Herzegovinian uprising and the Bulgarian 1876 uprising, the Great Powers call for political reforms in Bosnia and 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 reforms, Russian forces invade, with Bulgarians fighting alongside the advancing Russians – decisively defeating Ottoman forces at the Shipka Pass and Pleven.

1878 – Treaty of San Stefano – Russia and Turkey recognise an autonomous Bulgaria

1878 – Treaty of Berlin: fearing the establishment of a large Russian client state in the Balkans, the other Great Powers are reluctant to accept San Stefano and create a much smaller Bulgarian principality. Eastern Rumelia remains under Ottoman rule.

1886 – Eastern Rumelia is merged with Bulgaria.

1887 – Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha elected prince.

1908 – Bulgaria declares itself an independent kingdom. Ferdinand assumes title of tsar.

1912-13 – First and Second Balkan Wars Keen to revise the Treaty of Berlin, Bulgaria allies with Serbia, Greece, Montenegro to partition Turkish territory in Europe. After gains in the first war, Bulgaria is attacked by its former allies in the second war, and forced to concede some of its earlier gains.

1914-18 – World War One. Bulgaria allies itself with Germany. There is significant fighting in northern Greece and in Macedonia against Allied armies. Some 100,000 Bulgarian troops are killed, one of the most severe per capita losses of any country involved in the war.

1939-45 World War Two. Soviet army invades German-occupied Bulgaria in 1944. Soviet-backed Fatherland Front takes power.

1946 – Monarchy abolished in referendum and republic declared. Communist Party wins election. Georgi Dimitrov elected prime minister.

1954 – Todor Zhivkov becomes Communist Party general secretary. Bulgaria becomes staunch USSR ally.

1971 – Zhivkov becomes president.

1978 – Georgi Markov, a BBC World Service journalist and Bulgarian dissident, dies in London after apparently being injected with poison from the tip of an umbrella.

1984 – Zhivkov government tries to force Turkish minority to assimilate and take Slavic names. Many resist and in 1989 some 300,000 flee the country.

1989 – Reforms in the Soviet Union inspire demands for democratisation. Zhivkov ousted. Multiparty system introduced.

1991 – New constitution proclaims Bulgaria a parliamentary republic and provides broad range of freedoms.

1993 – Mass privatisation programme.

1997 – Mass protests over economic crisis. Opposition boycotts parliament and calls for elections. Bulgarian currency pegged to German mark.

1999 – Protracted demolition attempts on marble mausoleum of first communist leader Georgi Dimitrov become national joke.

2000 – Post-communist prosecutors close file on Georgi Markov case. In December Markov is awarded Bulgaria’s highest honour, 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, raising EU membership to 27.

2008 – European Commission suspends EU aid worth hundreds of millions of euros after series of reports criticise Bulgarian government for failing to take effective action against corruption and organised crime.

2010 – Boris Tsankov, a prominent crime journalist who specialised 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 – Government say Burgas suicide attack was most likely the work of the Lebanese group Hezbollah. Hezbollah denies the allegation.

Weeks of protests over official corruption culminate in a blockade of parliament and clashes with police.

2015 – Bulgaria says it will extend a controversial fence along its border with Turkey by 80km to help stem the flow of illegal immigrants.

2022 – EU interior ministers accept Croatia into the 26-nation, border-free Schengen zone, but reject Romania and Bulgaria amid concerns that both are soft on illegal migration.

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption, St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia is one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world

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