Bulgaria - A Country Overview

Information on Bulgaria; its place geographically, history, government, climate, security, tourism and foreigners living in Bulgaria...

Geography

Bulgaria is situated in the Balkan area of southeastern Europe. It has land borders with Romania to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west, and Greece and Turkey to the south. Its eastern border of 378 Km is formed by the Black Sea.

Bulgaria is the 15th largest country in Europe at over 110,000 Km2 in size.

Around 30 percent of Bulgaria's land is made up of plains, while a further 41 percent consists of plateaux and hills. Mountainous areas characterise the country, with the Rila and Pirin Alpine ranges in the southwest of the country and the lower but larger Rhodope Mountains further to the east. The Balkan Mountains run east to west across the centre of the country, while hilly countryside is prevalent to the north along the Danube, as well as along the Black Sea coast and in the southeast of the country.

Due to the mountains and high-lying ground, Bulgaria has a network of 540 rivers that stretch across the country. The largest river in the country is the Danube.

History

Experts estimate that prehistoric civilisations existed up to 8,000 years ago in the area known today as Bulgaria. In approximately 500 BC, King Teres united the tribes in the area into the Odrysian Kingdom, which was subsequently conquered by Alexander the Great and later, by the Roman Empire.

Bulgaria's history as a separate country starts in the 7th century AD with the reign of Asparukh. The heir of Bulgar ruler Kubrat marched south and conquered territory belonging to the Byzantine Empire, resulting in a peace treaty with the Byzantines and the establishment of a Bulgarian capital at Pliska. Succeeding generations strengthened the Bulgarian position in the region with further territory gains, the adoption of Christianity, the establishment of a code of laws and the development of the Cyrillic alphabet. It was not until the early 11th century that the Byzantines re-conquered the area, effectively ending the first Bulgarian Empire.

The Byzantine leaders retained and subsequently incorporated the Bulgarian nobility in their power structure in order to minimise rebellion and uprising. However, this served to maintain the notion of a separate Bulgaria, and in 1185 Ivan Asen I and Peter IV organised a major uprising that succeeded in re-establishing the Bulgarian state. The second Bulgarian Empire was born. The new capital was established in Tarnovo and the following years saw economic and cultural growth. New territories were seized, and the empire grew to accommodate the areas of modern-day Albania, Macedonia and Serbia, as well as parts of Greece and Romania.

Their power waned at the end of the 13th century, and by the end of the 14th, the Bulgarian Empire had split into three kingdoms and several semi-independent principalities. The Ottoman Turks began their invasion of the Balkans and conquered many Bulgarian towns before capturing Tarnovo in 1393.

Ottoman rule lasted nearly five centuries. The Bulgarian nobility was abolished and the peasants enserfed to the Ottoman landowners. The educated fled the country, and Bulgaria became isolated from the rest of Europe. Several unsuccessful uprisings were to take place over the centuries, but it was not until the failed April uprising of 1876, where the Ottomans murdered 15,000 Bulgarians in reprisal, that the Great Powers were jolted into action. After the Constantinople Conference of 1876 and the subsequent rejection of proposals by the Ottoman Empire, Russia, supported by the Romanian Army and Bulgarian volunteer forces, defeated the Ottoman occupying forces and set up a new autonomous Bulgarian principality.

The early part of the 20th century saw Bulgaria embroiled in territorial disputes with its neighbours in a series of conflicts known as the Balkan Wars. The era culminated in defeat in World War I as part of the Axis alliance, resulting in significant loss of life and territory as well as a ruined economy. A royal authoritarian dictatorship led by Tsar Boris III was imposed on the country from 1918. In 1941 Bulgaria joined World War II on the side of the Axis nations, but when Boris III died in 1943 and it became apparent that Nazi Germany was losing the war, communist guerrilla movements gained more power and in 1944, led by the left-wing Fatherland Front, Bulgaria changed its allegiance.

In 1946 the People's Republic was established in Bulgaria coming under the Soviet sphere of influence. After a period of Stalinist rule under Chervenkov, Todor Zhivkov was appointed as premier in 1954. Under him the economy flourished and standards of living rose. In 1957 collective farmers benefited from the first agricultural pension and welfare system in Eastern Europe. Bulgaria became a member of the Warsaw Pact in 1955.

The Bulgarian Communist party gave up its monopoly in 1990. Zhivkov resigned and the first free elections were held in June of that year.

The migration to capitalism has been a difficult journey for the country as privatisation exposed the underlying problems in Bulgaria's industry and infrastructure. This has caused high levels of unemployment and led to a significant number of highly qualified workers leaving the country, despite economic reforms in 1997.

Bulgaria joined NATO in 2004 and the EU in 2007.

Politics and Government

Bulgaria operates a parliamentary representative democratic republic political system. The Prime Minister is the head of a multi-party government.

A Council of Ministers from the majority party (or from a coalition if no majority exists) holds executive power in the country. Chaired by the Prime Minister, it is responsible for law and order, carrying out state policy and managing national budgets.

The Bulgarian head of state is the directly-elected President. It is the President's role to schedule elections, represent Bulgaria's foreign policy abroad, command the armed forces and head the Consultative Council for National Security. The President is elected for a five-year term with the right to one re-election.

Legislative power in the country lies with the Bulgarian National Assembly, which consists of 240 deputies. The members of parliament are elected for four-year terms from 28 administrative districts in the country. Parties or coalitions in the National Assembly have to have received a minimum of four percent of the vote in order to enter the parliament.

The National Assembly is responsible for legislation, budget approval, military action, scheduling Presidential elections and the selection of the Council of Ministers.

The judicial system in Bulgaria consists of regional, district, military and appeal courts. It also includes the Supreme Court of Cassation, the Constitutional court of Bulgaria and the Supreme Administrative Court.

The Ministry of Justice oversees the judiciary in Bulgaria.

Economy

The currency of Bulgaria is the Lev. It is pegged to the Euro at 1.955 Lev for every Euro. It is predicted that Bulgaria will join the Eurozone in 2013.

Bulgaria enjoys an industrialised free market economy and has an estimated total labour force of around 3.5 million. According to the World Bank, Bulgaria has an upper-middle-income average and has a GDP of $53 million.

Despite having achieved substantial growth over recent years, Bulgaria's per capita income level of $12,851 is still among the lowest in the EU.

The service sector makes up the largest proportion of the GDP, accounting for 63.7 percent. Industry and agriculture account for 30.3 percent and 6 percent respectively.

Major industries in the country include metal, coal, electronics, machinery, textiles, chemicals, firearms and construction materials. Bulgaria is the third largest copper producer in Europe and the ninth largest bismuth producer in the world. Agricultural products such as tobacco, timber, raspberries and sheep's milk are produced and exported on a large scale, although they represent only a small proportion of the overall economy.

Bulgaria has invested heavily in renewable energy and is one of the fastest growing wind energy producers in the world.

Climate

Bulgaria has a temperate climate, with long cold winters and hot summers. The Balkan Mountains that run east to west across the country have an effect on the climate, with the northern half of the country experiencing lower temperatures and more rain than the south.

Average precipitation in the country is around 700 millimetres. Mountainous areas can receive upwards of 1,000 millimetres of rain per year, while coastal regions are generally drier.

With distinct seasons, the summer months see hot weather punctuated with thunderstorms, while the long cold winter months are usually the driest but feature long periods of snow and ice. Average daytime temperatures range from 0-5ºC n the winter months to 25-30ºC n the summer.

Security

There is an underlying threat of terrorist activity, and organised crime groups operate in Bulgaria. It is advisable for visitors to check advice on the Internet before travelling.

Bulgaria's judiciary is renowned for being one of Europe's most corrupt and inefficient.

Bulgaria ranks at number 51 in The World Bank 'Ease of Doing Business Index' for 2011 and at number 73 in Transparency International's 'Corruption Perception Index' for 2010.

As in most eastern European countries, crime is high in urban areas. It is advisable to take precautions in towns and cities.

Immigration

Bulgaria has been suffering from negative population growth since the early 1990s due to low birth rates and high levels of emigration. In recent years the population is estimated to be shrinking at a rate of 30,000 people per year.

The population of Bulgaria is estimated to include over 80 percent ethnic Bulgarians, 10 percent Turkish and approximately five percent of Romany heritage.

Tourism

Bulgaria has a long historical and cultural heritage. Coupled with its natural beauty, Bulgaria has become a popular tourist destination in recent years and is one of the most visited countries in southeast Europe.

As well as offering an array of seaside resorts stretching the length of the Black Sea coastline, Bulgaria also benefits from winter tourism with its mountain ranges and skiing. It also caters for cultural tourists, with many heritage sites and artefacts that have yet to be properly accessed. Those seeking eco-tourism have nine UNESCO world heritage sites to visit.

Main attractions include the coastal areas of Sunny Beach and Golden Sands, skiing in the mountains above Sofia, the mediaeval stronghold at Veliko Tarnovo, the Amphitheatre in Plovdiv and the ancient city of Nessebar.