POPULATION: 8.8 million (of whom 85 percent are ethnic Bulgarians)
RELIGION: Eastern Orthodox; Islam; Protestant and Catholic minorities
The first Bulgarian state (country with a government) was formed in AD 681. Over the following centuries, Bulgaria was ruled by three different royal families. In 1396, the Bulgarians were conquered by the Ottoman Turks, a Muslim people. They were ruled by the Turks for nearly five hundred years. Bulgaria finally became independent from the Turks near the end of the nineteenth century.
In 1944, troops from the Soviet Union entered the country and a Communist government was set up. Bulgaria was headed by a single leader—Todor Zhivkov—through nearly all of the communist era (1944–91). In 1991, Bulgaria elected its first non-Communist government.
Since 1991, Bulgaria has gone through a difficult period of political and economic change. But Bulgarians have not fought among themselves while adjusting to the changes. This is probably because most Bulgarians (about 85 percent) belong to a single ethnic group.
Bulgaria is located in the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe. Balkan means "mountain" in Turkish. The Balkan Peninsula includes Albania, Greece, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Yugoslavia, (Serbia and Montenegro), Bosnia and Herzegovina, and part of Turkey. Mountain ranges, including the Balkan Mountains, cover much of the peninsula. More than half of Bulgaria is covered by the Balkan Mountains. North of the Balkans is a plain leading to the Danube River. The Black Sea lies to the east.
Approximately 85 percent (7.5 million) of Bulgaria's 8.8 million people are ethnic Bulgarians. Ethnic Turks account for about 10 percent of the total and Gypsies, a little more than 5 percent.
Bulgarian is the official language of Bulgaria and is spoken by everyone. Bulgarian is a South Slavic language. It is written with the Cyrillic alphabet, which is also used for Russian. There are regional dialects, or variations, throughout the country.
Some common Bulgarian words are:
|hello||dobur den||DOH-bur den|
Basic number names are as follows:
A favorite character of Bulgarian folktales for hundreds of years has been Sly Peter. He is known for outwitting others.
The hajduks (HIGH-dukes) are legendary freedom fighters, similar to the English folk hero Robin Hood.
Here are some Bulgarian proverbs that illustrate the practical side of the Bulgarian spirit:
A dog barks to guard itself, not the village. Work left for later is finished by the Devil.
The Bulgarians are not strongly religious people. Religious observance is often a matter of tradition, rather than deeply held personal belief. The major organized religion in Bulgaria is Eastern Orthodox Christianity.
Official holidays include New Year (January 1 and 2); Liberation Day (March 3), which commemorates Bulgarian independence from the Ottoman Empire; Easter Monday (in March or April); Labor Day (May 1); Day of Letters (May 24), in honor of Bulgarian education and culture; and Christmas (December 25 and 26).
Many Bulgarians also observe the holy days of the Eastern Orthodox calendar, including a number of saints' days.
Religious ceremonies marking important life events include christening, marriage, the blessing of a new house, and the funeral service. By tradition, people usually avoid singing, dancing, or music-making for at least six months after the death of a relative or close friend.
It is customary for flower bouquets to have an odd number of flowers for all occasions except funerals. Funeral bouquets have an even number of blooms.
Bulgarians greet each other by shaking hands. Close female friends may kiss one another on the cheek. The most common formal greetings are Kak ste? ("How are you?") and Zdraveite ("Hello"). The more informal forms, used with friends, relatives, and coworkers, are Kak si? and Zdrasti or Zdrave.
When talking, Bulgarians tend to stand or sit closer together than Westerners. They speak in louder voices and touch each other more often.
The Bulgarian gestures for "yes" and "no" often confuse people from other countries. For "Yes," one shakes one's head from side to side. "No" is signaled by one or two nods up and down (often accompanied by clicking the tongue).
Over 75 percent of Bulgarians own their own homes. Traditionally, Bulgarians lived in single-story houses made of wood, mud bricks, or stone and plaster. Most of these have been replaced by two-story brick houses with a plaster finish. In the cities, most people live in apartments rather than houses.
As protection against the cold winters in the North, some houses are built mostly underground. Only the roof shows above ground level.
The three-generation extended family is common in rural areas. In cities, the nuclear family (just parents and their children) is usual. Single adults are expected to live with their parents until they marry. In addition, many young married couples live with one set of parents until they can afford their own home. Elderly parents are often cared for by their children.
Families in the cities usually have no more than two children each. Those in the country are often somewhat larger. Children are very close to their grandparents, who often provide child care so parents can work.
Bulgarian women have always had much freedom and responsibility. By the late 1990s, women made up almost half of the Bulgarian labor force. They held the same types of jobs as men.
Bulgarians wear modern Western-style clothing. They dress with care, even for informal occasions. Parents choose their children's outfits with great care. They seem to like imported and hand-knitted clothing. Many women knit sweaters for their families.
Traditional Bulgarian costumes are worn only at festivals and for dance performances. They are colorful, with embroidered white shirts or blouses and fancy embroidered vests. Red is used in almost all costumes, either as a background color or in the embroidery. Black is also used in many costumes.
Meat—especially pork or lamb—is an important ingredient in many Bulgarian dishes. Favorites include kufteta, a fried patty of meat and bread crumbs; moussaka, a casserole of pork or lamb with potatoes, tomatoes, and yogurt; sarmi, peppers or cabbage stuffed with pork and rice; and shopska salata, a salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and feta cheese, which is called sirene in Bulgaria).:
Yogurt is a staple of the diet served at almost every meal. Bulgarians begin eating yogurt at the age of three months. Yogurt with water and ice cubes is a favorite summer drink.
Another important staple is bread, which is usually bought fresh every day. A popular snack is a slice of warm bread topped with feta cheese and tomato slices. A favorite dessert is baklava (flaky pastry dough with nuts soaked in sweet syrup). Bulgarians like to drink strong espresso and Turkish coffee.
Students are required by law to attend school, which is free, until age fifteen. After the seventh or eighth grade, students decide which type of high school they want to attend. They must take an examination to get into the school of their choice. Most students finish high school.
Bulgaria has a number of universities. Students at public (government-run) universities traditionally did not have to pay tuition. However, in the 1990s tuition fees were charged in some cases. As of the late 1990s, several private colleges had been founded in Bulgaria, and these charged tuition.
Bulgarian culture was reborn when Ottoman rule ended in the 1800s. The leading writers include poets Hristo Botev (1848–76), Dimcho Debelyanov (1887–1916), and Geo Milev (1895–1925). All three died violent deaths at a young age, either in battle or at the hands of the police.
Bulgaria's lively, rhythmic folk music is popular with folk dancers the world over. It is played on instruments that include the gaida (bagpipes), kaval (seven-hole reed pipe), gadulka (pear-shaped fiddle), tambura (fretted lute), and tupan (cylindrical drum).
The best-known Bulgarian folk dance is the horo, a fast, swirling circle dance. Another favorite is the ruchenitza, which is often performed in dance contests.
In the 1990s, Bulgaria suffered from a "brain drain," as skilled, educated workers left the country because of its economic problems. Over 450,000 Bulgarians left for Germany, France, Canada, the United States, and other countries. In addition, Bulgaria cannot provide jobs for many of the people left in the country. Unemployment in the mid-1990s was over ten percent. Nearly twenty-five percent of Bulgarians work in agriculture. Thirty-three percent hold jobs in industry.
The mountains of Bulgaria make skiing a very popular sport. Soccer and basketball are also important. Basketball is popular especially among young people in the cities. Volleyball, track, rowing, wrestling, and weight lifting are other favorite sports.
The resort city of Albena, on the Black Sea, hosts chess and volleyball tournaments.
Bulgarians like to spend their leisure time in practical ways. Women often sew or knit while they socialize. Bulgarian men spend some of their free time in making wine.
Gardening is another very popular hobby. Each year there is a rose festival in early June. Roses are also grown as a business in Bulgaria. It produces over seventy percent of the rose oil made in the world. Bulgarians are more likely to spend their time reading, or socializing in a coffee house, than watching television.
The skills of many fine Bulgarian artisans can be seen in icons (religious paintings) and other church art. In most cases, the names of the individual artists are not known. Craftspeople of today weave intricately patterned cloth and carpets with complex designs.
There are some tensions between ethnic Bulgarians and the minority groups, Turks and Gypsies. Gypsies live mostly in poorly constructed housing on the edges of cities. Gypsies have very high unemployment rates. They live fewer years than average.
In the 1990s, the Bulgarians have struggled to adapt to lower living standards and an unpredictable political situation. These have developed since the end of the Communist era.
Crampton, R. J. A Short History of Modern Bulgaria. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1987.
Resnick, Abraham. Bulgaria, Enchantment of the World. Chicago: Children's Press, 1995.
Stavreva, Kirilka. Bulgaria, Cultures of the World. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1997.
Embassy of Bulgaria, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available http://www.bulgaria.com/embassy/wdc/ , 1998.
European Travel Commission. [Online] Available http://www.visiteurope.com/Bulgaria/Bulgaria01.htm , 1998.
World Travel Guide. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/bg/gen.html , 1998.