Bulgar, from the Bulgarian bu'lgar (Bulgarian person). In English, "Bulgar" is usually used only for the central Asian ancestors of the modern Bulgarians.
Identification. The names "Bulgar", and "Bulgarian" most likely derive from a Turkic verb meaning "to mix." Ethnic Bulgarians trace their ancestry to the merging of Bulgars (or Proto-Bulgarians), a central Asian Turkic people, and Slavs, a central European people, beginning in the seventh century C.E. in what is now northeastern Bulgaria. Besides ethnic Bulgarians, there are several ethnic minorities, the most numerous being Turks and Gypsies, with smaller numbers of Armenians, Jews, and others.
The dominant national culture is that of the ethnic Bulgarians, and there is little sense of shared national culture among the three main ethnic groups. Turks usually do not self-identify as Bulgarians, whereas Gypsies often do. Both groups are generally considered outsiders by ethnic Bulgarians, in contrast to the more assimilated minorities such as Jews and Armenians. Nevertheless, since all citizens participate in the national economy and polity, a shared national bureaucratic-political culture does exist, both shaped by and shaping the cultural practices of the constituent ethnic groups.
Location and Geography. Bulgaria is located on the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe. It is bordered on the east by the Black Sea, on the north by Romania and the Danube River, on the south by Greece and Turkey, and on the west by Macedonia and Serbia. The landscape consists of mountains, foothills, and plains. One-third of the territory is forested, and one-third is more than 2,000 feet (600 meters) above sea level. Major mountain ranges include Rila, Pirin, Balkan (Stara Planina), and Rhodope. For geographic reasons, Sofia was named the capital in 1879, after Bulgaria gained independence. Situated in an upland basin near the western border, Sofia was on the crossroads of major trade routes between the Aegean Sea and the Danube and between Turkey and central Europe. It also offered easy access to Macedonian lands, which were not part of the new Bulgarian state. Regional cultural variation sometimes reflects occupational specialization associated with local environmental conditions (e.g., fishing, animal husbandry), along with the influence of other cultural groups.
Demography. Bulgaria's population was 8,230,371 on December 31, 1998. The population increased gradually for most of the twentieth century, but has decreased by more than 700,000 people since 1988. This decline stems from out-migration and falling birthrates during the uncertain postsocialist period. About 68 percent of Bulgaria's population lives in urban areas, compared to 25 percent in 1946. In 1992, 86 percent of the population self-identified as ethnically Bulgarian, 9 percent as Turkish, and 4 percent as Roma (Gypsy). Smaller groups include Russians, Armenians, Vlachs, Karakachans, Greeks, Tatars, and Jews. The 1992 census did not include a category for Pomaks (Bulgarian Muslims), who are often identified as one of Bulgaria's four main ethnic groups and constitute an estimated 3 percent of the population. Through emigration, ethnic Turks have decreased as a share of the population since Bulgaria's 1878 independence. During the socialist period, ethnicity data were not made public, and there were efforts to assimilate Muslim minorities. This makes discussion of historical trends difficult, and some people may have self-identified on the census differently than they might in other contexts.
Linguistic Affiliation. The national language is Bulgarian, a South Slavic language of the Indo-European language family, which uses the Cyrillic script. Bulgarian is very closely related to Macedonian, the two languages being largely mutually intelligible, and to Serbo-Croatian. Much vocabulary has been borrowed from Russian, Greek, and Turkish, and the latter two have had a strong influence on Bulgarian grammar. Bulgarian has two main dialectal variants, eastern and western, and also local dialects. National education and media are fostering homogenization of the language, particularly in urban settings.
The Turkish minorities speak Turkish, a Turko-Altaic language. Gypsies speak Romany, an Indic language of the Indo-European language family. Many Gypsies also speak Turkish, and some speak Romanian. Bulgarian is necessary for interaction with the authorities and in commerce, and is the medium of instruction in schools, though minorities are entitled to be taught their mother tongue. The national media use Bulgarian, while some radio broadcasts and print media are available in Turkish.
Symbolism. The Bulgarian nation is symbolized in the coat of arms, which has at its center a crowned lion, a symbol of independence dating to the medieval Bulgarian state. During the state socialist period, the crown (a symbol of monarchy) was replaced by a star. After the fall of state socialism in 1989 the crown was replaced following a seven-year debate. The flag, a tricolor of horizontal stripes (from top: white, green, red), while a visible national emblem, is not so vested with specific meaning.
Among the most potent symbols of Bulgarian national identity are several key historical events: the founding of the Bulgarian states in 681 and 1878; the partition of Bulgaria in the Treaty of Berlin (1878); the union with Eastern Rumelia (an autonomous Ottoman province created by the partition) in 1885; the successful defense against Serbian encroachment in 1885; and territorial gains, losses, and humiliation in the Balkan wars (1912–1913) and World War I (1914–1918). Symbols of incompleteness and loss serve as powerful rallying points for national unity.
Images of the peasant, the merchant, the craftsman and entrepreneur, the teacher, and the nationalist revolutionary vie with each other in literature and folklore as icons of the true Bulgarian spirit, which incorporates qualities ranging from honesty and industry to resourcefulness and cunning.
Emergence of the Nation. In the fifth century C.E. , Slavs began to settle the Thracian-occupied eastern Danubian plains. In the seventh century, they joined with invading Bulgars to gain control of a sizable territory, which they defended against Byzantium in 681, gaining recognition as the first Bulgarian state. The Slav and Bulgar elements are then understood to have merged into one ethnic-cultural group, particularly after the official adoption of Byzantinerite Christianity in 864 unified them around a common religion. With Christianity soon came vernacular literacy, and the development of a Slavic writing system by the Bulgaro-Macedonian Saints Cyril and Methodius. The local Slavic language became the language of liturgy and state administration, diminishing the ecclesiastical and cultural influence of Byzantium. In the tenth century Bulgaria was counted among the three most powerful empires in Europe.
The Ottomans invaded in the fourteenth century and ruled the Bulgarian lands for five centuries. The last century of Ottoman rule witnessed the reflowering of Bulgarian culture in the "National Revival." Bulgarian schools and cultural centers were established. In 1870 the Bulgarian church regained independence from Greek domination. The outside world took note in April 1876 when a Bulgarian uprising met bloody Ottoman reprisals. Russia defeated the Ottomans in 1878, leading to the reestablishment of a Bulgarian state. Hopes for a large Bulgaria were dashed in the Treaty of Berlin (1878), which left large numbers of ethnic Bulgarians in adjacent states. This partitioning of Bulgaria has been the cause of much conflict in the Balkans.
Following World War II (1939–1945), a socialist government was instituted under Soviet tutelage. The ouster of communist leader Todor Zhivkov on 10 November 1989 precipitated a reform process culminating in the dismantling of state socialism in 1990 and the establishment of a more democratic form of government.
National Identity. Bulgarian national identity is premised on the understanding that the Bulgarian nation (people) was formed with a distinctive ethnic identity during the Middle Ages (from a mix of Slavic, Bulgar, and other ethnicities). This identity, preserved throughout Ottoman rule, formed the basis for an independent nation-state. The history of the struggle for a Bulgarian state provides key symbols of national identity. Another premise is that ethnic and territorial boundaries should overlap. This has led at times to territorial conflicts with neighboring states. Moreover, this renders ambivalent the status of minorities, since they do not share the same ethnic and historical ties to the Bulgarian lands and state.
Ethnic Relations. Bulgaria officially espouses cordial relations with neighboring states. Relations with Macedonia, however, are complicated since many Bulgarians see Macedonia as historically a Bulgarian territory. The liberation of Macedonia was a central element in the nineteenth-century Bulgarian liberation movement and in early twentieth-century nationalism. Ottoman Macedonia was divided among Bulgaria, Greece, and Serbia in 1913. Bulgarian claims to the contrary, most Macedonians sought an independent Macedonian state, realized only after World War II within Yugoslav Macedonia. Bulgaria was quick to recognize Macedonia's independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, but does not acknowledge a distinct Macedonian culture. Since 1997 the Bulgarian government has acknowledged Macedonian as a separate language. Many Bulgarians, however, continue to consider Macedonians as Bulgarians, and the existence of a Macedonian minority within Bulgaria is generally denied.
There is both official and popular concern regarding the human rights (especially the right to ethnic self-determination) of Bulgarians living in neighboring states, particularly Serbia and Macedonia.
The relations among the various ethnic groups within Bulgaria are somewhat strained, partly as a legacy of brutal assimilation policies under state socialism, and partly out of fear on the part of ethnic Bulgarians that minority self-determination would threaten the integrity of the nation-state. Generally, in mixed settlements, relations with members of other ethnic groups are amicable, though much depends upon personal acquaintance.
Until World War II, Bulgaria's economy was largely agricultural. State socialism brought rapid industrialization and the collectivization of agriculture, leading to a significant population shift to the towns and cities. Soviet-style concrete apartment buildings and industrial developments ring towns and cities, with older-style homes and apartment buildings closer in. Educational and administrative facilities are dispersed in the major cities. Streets are wide, and often cobbled, and public parks, gardens, and playgrounds abound. Economic collapse in the 1990s has adversely affected the infrastructure and the maintenance of public spaces.
Commercial districts are by and large centrally located, and trips to central produce markets are essential for urban household survival. Residence and work are usually spatially separate, with most people relying on public transportation, which is extensive, but crowded.
Traditional houses in villages and towns are archetypally wooden, surrounded by high fences and with latticed windows. National Revival period houses are brightly painted with second floors projecting out over the street. Interiors often include carved wooden ceilings. Dwellings, whether apartments or traditional houses, are very much private spaces, with interiors hidden from public view and often decorated in highly individual manners.
Churches are prominent, many dating from the National Revival, and many Revival-era cultural centers ( chitalishta ) are preserved. Many mosques were destroyed following liberation and also during the state socialist period. Mosque restoration and rebuilding began after 1989 in Muslim areas.
Food in Daily Life. The everyday diet is based largely on local, in-season products. Bread, an important staple, is often purchased rather than home baked. Dairy products are widely consumed, particularly yogurt and white-brined cheese. Home-cooked lunches and dinners often include soups, salads, stews, grilled meats, or stuffed vegetables, while meals away from home may consist of foods such as bread, cheese, sausage, and vegetables. Banitsa is a popular pastry filled with cheese and eggs, pumpkin, rice, spinach, or leeks. For snacks and breakfast, it is accompanied by a grain-based drink, boza , or yogurt-based airan . Popular alcoholic beverages include rakiya , a potent fruit-based brandy, and wine. Many people can fruits and vegetables and make sauerkraut for winter when fresh produce is unavailable or unaffordable. Regional culinary variation reflects local environmental conditions, for example, fish along the sea, vegetables in the plains, and dairy products in mountain areas. Some observant Muslims avoid eating pork. In response to postsocialist conditions, meat and dairy product consumption has declined relative to the less-expensive bread. Typical restaurant offerings are more limited than home cooking, with menus based around salads, soups, grilled meats, and perhaps a meatless offering. Coffee bars, pubs, and sweet shops are popular meeting places for a drink, coffee, or snack.
Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Some Orthodox Christians observe a Lenten fast before Easter, and observant Muslims avoid eating and drinking during daylight hours during Ramadan. Within Islamic tradition, numerous dishes are served and sweets are exchanged on Ramazan (Ramadan) Bairam, and a ram or calf is ritually slaughtered for Kurban Bairam. Kurban means sacrifice and also refers to a boiled meat dish prepared for ceremonial occasions. Another popular celebration dish is spit-roasted sheep or goat. The Christmas Eve table includes numerous, predominantly meatless dishes, including stuffed cabbage leaves, beans, lentils, boiled wheat, dried fruit, and nuts. For Christmas or New Year's, fortunes in the form of coins, cornel cherry twigs, or slips of paper are inserted in banitsa or bread. Special holiday breads include Easter's braided kozunak , which is sometimes decorated with dyed eggs.
Basic Economy. Bulgaria's economy has experienced considerable disruption since communism's fall in 1989. Industrial and agricultural production have declined, unemployment has increased, and the purchasing power of pensions and wages has fallen. In 1986, agriculture made up 16 percent of the economy (measured as a share of gross value added); industry, 60 percent; and services, 24 percent. The figures for 1996 were 15 percent for agriculture,
Land Tenure and Property. Significant changes in property ownership followed communism's collapse. Bulgaria's constitution declares as state property underground resources, coastal beaches, public roadways, waters, forests and parks of national significance, nature preserves, and archaeological sites. Ownership of agricultural land and forests is legally restricted to Bulgarian citizens, government entities, and organizations; foreigners, however, are permitted use rights. Private property rights to most agricultural land have been restored to their former (precollectivization) owners or their heirs, and the parliament passed legislation in 1997 to restore to their former owners forests that were privately owned before forest nationalization in 1947. Most precollectivization landholdings were small, and this pattern continues. About 19 percent of forests were privately owned before nationalization, and churches, mosques, cooperatives, schools, and municipalities owned or managed some of the remainder. Some forests and pastures were communally managed before collectivization; it is unclear, however, the extent to which communal land management will reemerge.
Major Industries. Before World War II, Bulgaria's economy was based primarily on agriculture along with light manufacturing enterprises, such as food processing and textile production, which processed the resulting products. Rapid industrialization occurred during the socialist era, particularly in heavy industry such as machinery production, mining and metallurgy, and chemical and oil processing, and these sectors continued to dominate Bulgarian industry at the end of the twentieth century. Manufacture of food, beverages, and tobacco products also continues to be important.
Trade. Much of Bulgaria's socialist-era trade was with other socialist countries through their trading organization, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance. In the last decade, trade with European Union countries has grown relative to that with former socialist bloc countries. Bulgaria's largest trading partners in 1997 were Germany, Greece, Italy, and the Russian Federation. Major export categories include chemical and petroleum products, machinery, electronics, mining and metallurgy, textiles and clothing, and processed food, beverages, and tobacco.
Division of Labor. Labor specialization increased during the socialist era, and many young people received vocational training preparing them for particular professions. Yet, many rural households have returned to private agricultural production in the postsocialist period, and people may be unable to find jobs for which they were trained.
Classes and Castes. During the socialist period, senior party officials, managers of state enterprises, and their kin formed an elite, the former bourgeois elite having had their property and means of wealth confiscated and nationalized. Since 1989, despite the restitution of much confiscated property, it is largely the socialist-era elite and those close to them who have managed to acquire the wealth that now defines status, mostly through illegal transfers of control of state-owned assets and the private exploitation of formerly state-controlled trade relationships. Much of the new private wealth is also derived from criminal activity, particularly organized crime.
Symbols of Social Stratification. During the state socialist period, elite status depended upon the maintenance of the right relationships and entailed privileges of access—to better housing, the best schooling, scarce (often imported) commodities, and foreign travel. Following the fall of state socialism, status began to be measured more in terms of monetary wealth, while the gap between the rich and the ordinary citizens grew sharply. Despite a general aversion to it, conspicuous consumption by the elite has become considerably more visible in the form of imposing dwellings and imported luxury goods and motor vehicles.
Government. Bulgaria's 1991 constitution, which established a parliamentary republic, provides for a multiparty parliamentary system and free elections with universal adult suffrage. Bulgaria's chief of state is an elected president, and the head of government is a prime minister selected by the largest parliamentary group. To enter the National Assembly, parties and electoral coalitions must receive at least 4 percent of the popular vote. The Council of Ministers, chaired by the prime minister, is the main body of the executive branch of government. Mayors and councilors of local municipalities are elected, while regional governors are appointed by the Council of Ministers. There is also an independent judiciary.
Leadership and Political Officials. Bulgaria experienced considerable political disruption during the 1990s. Postsocialist governments have changed frequently, and two parliaments failed to survive their four-year mandates. Growing disillusionment with government and its inability to effect postsocialist economic restructuring is seen in the decline in voter participation from 83 percent of eligible voters during the 1991 parliamentary election to 59 percent in 1997. More than thirty-five political parties and coalitions registered for parliamentary elections during the 1990s, yet only a handful gained enough votes to enter parliament. Politics are dominated by the Union of Democratic Forces, an anticommunist coalition that became a party in 1997, and the Bulgarian Socialist Party, successor to the Bulgarian Communist Party. The other party to play a major role in parliamentary politics is the Movement for Rights and Freedom, which is commonly identified with Bulgaria's Turkish minority. Despite the disillusionment, many Bulgarians continue to look to the government to solve problems and provide services—as it did during the socialist era.
Social Problems and Control. Formal systems for addressing crime include laws, police, and the courts. In the postsocialist period, crime is seen to be out of control, and the police are viewed as ineffective at best and involved in rapidly escalating crime rates at worst. The most common reported crimes are property and car theft, while allegations of corruption are widespread. Another common perception is that certain economic sectors are controlled by so-called mafia groups operating outside the law. Ordinary people often feel helpless to do anything about these situations. In some rural communities, less formal systems of social control continue to operate for addressing problems such as crop damage from livestock trespass, and local authorities may mediate disputes.
Military Activity. All Bulgarian men must perform military service, although Bulgaria has had little direct involvement in military conflicts since World War II. In the 1990s, the length of service was reduced, partly due to cost considerations, and movement began toward a voluntary military. Military
Bulgaria's socialist-era social safety net included pensions, health care, maternity leave, and guaranteed employment. Some services had ideological goals, such as day care, which helped facilitate women's entrance into the workforce. The economic status of many households has fallen significantly in the postsocialist period because of unemployment and the declining purchasing power of wages and pensions. Meanwhile, the government's poor financial condition has made maintaining earlier services difficult. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), such as the Bulgarian Red Cross, are involved in activities such as supporting orphanages and feeding homeless children. Others promote civil rights or ethnic and religious tolerance. Yet, NGO activities are limited by their economic circumstances and reliance on foreign funding. Some foreign support for NGOs results from their perceived status as democratic institutions that are part of civil society, which was seen as lacking during the socialist era and thus needing support.
Few independent organizations existed in socialist Bulgaria. Previously established groups were incorporated into state structures or disappeared. Newly formed environmental organizations such as Ecoglasnost played a role in the 1989 political changes, and NGO numbers increased considerably following the collapse of the state socialist regime. These organizations address such concerns as environmental protection, economic development, human rights, social welfare, health care, the arts, and education. Most NGOs rely on financial support from non-Bulgarian sources interested in their activities or in the organizations themselves as democratic institutions. Many NGOs have been created by urban professionals, although some groups exist in rural areas. The mass mobilization around environmental issues seen in 1989 has decreased as many people struggle to survive the difficult economic situation. More generally, NGO impact on people's lives is limited by their small sizes, financial constraints, and the limited recognition of NGOs in some circles. Other organizations include trade unions and professional associations.
Division of Labor by Gender. Many women entered paid employment during the socialist era, when an ideology of gender equality was promoted, and they made up nearly half the workforce in the late twentieth century. Women are frequently employed as teachers, nurses, pharmacists, sales clerks, and laborers, and less often involved in management, administration, and technical sciences. Women are also largely responsible for household tasks—child care, cooking, cleaning, and shopping. Agricultural labor is divided according to gender, with men working with animals and machinery and women doing more hand labor in crop production, although flexibility exists in response to specific situations.
The Relative Status of Women and Men. While Bulgaria is often described as a patriarchal society, women may have substantial authority in household budgeting or agricultural decision making. Both men and women have the right to vote and own property. Women lag behind men only slightly in educational achievement. Despite the socialist ideology of gender equality, women are often employed in lower paying jobs, remain responsible for most household chores, and represent more than half the registered unemployed. They also occupy leadership positions less frequently than men. Fewer than 14 percent of postsocialist parliamentary representatives have been women, and only one in five municipal councilors were women in 1996.
Marriage. Bulgarians typically marry by individual choice, although families may exert pressure on the choice of spouse. Some groups, such as Pomaks and Gypsies, previously arranged marriages and may occasionally do so now. Only civil ceremonies are legally recognized, although couples may also have a religious ceremony. Marriages are monogamous, close relatives are not considered appropriate marriage partners, and spouses are usually from the same ethnic and religious group. Nearly all adults marry, typically in their early to mid-twenties. Divorce was rare in the past, but is less stigmatized today. Marriage rates declined in the 1990s in response to postsocialist uncertainty.
Domestic Unit. Historical accounts of Balkan family structure often discuss the zadruga , an extended, joint-family household said to have disappeared by the early twentieth century. Contemporary households commonly consist of a married couple or couple with children, but they may include three generations—for example, a nuclear family with a grandparent or a married couple, their son and daughter-in-law, and grandchildren. Most couples have only one or two children, although birthrates are higher for Bulgaria's ethnic minorities. Households are the primary units of social and biological reproduction, and economic activity, especially in the case of agricultural production. Two wage earners are often required to support urban households. Since most women work, grandparents often care for grandchildren in three-generation households, and a grandmother may shop and cook. Other factors contributing to such households are housing shortages and the need to generate income through both wage labor and subsistence production. After marriage, patrilocal residence—with the new couple moving in with the husband's parents—is more likely than matrilocal residence, although couples may establish independent households if they have sufficient resources.
Inheritance. In principle, both men and women own property such as land, buildings, and animals, and inheritance is partible (i.e., property is divided among all heirs rather than going to a single heir). In practice, some heirs may be disinherited or may receive more land than their siblings, and daughters may inherit less land than sons. The latter is sometimes explained in terms of the often large dowries of household goods and sometimes land or livestock that women take into marriage. Houses are often inherited by youngest sons, who bring their wives to live in the family home.
Kin Groups. Bulgarians count as kin relatives by blood and marriage on both the male and female sides. Rather than formal structures, kindreds tend to be informal networks of relatives. One's inner circle of close kin, friends, and neighbors is referred to as blizki , or close people. The importance of more distant relatives depends on factors such as proximity and frequency of interaction. With the socialist era's rapid urbanization, relatives can be dispersed between rural and urban settings, although it is not uncommon to find clusters of kin in rural communities. In rural settings, kin and other blizki often cooperate in agricultural activities. Connections through rural and urban networks of kin and blizki are often mobilized to accomplish such objectives as obtaining scarce goods, accessing information, or gaining employment.
Infant Care. Early infant care is usually provided by the mother. Working mothers receive at least four months maternity leave on full pay, enabling them to care full time for young infants. The government in theory provides income supplements to families with children, but the economic collapse of the 1990s made the amounts mere tokens (when they were paid at all).
Child Rearing and Education. Ethnic Bulgarians tend towards single-child families. They are thus able to devote considerable resources and attention to their children's well-being and education. Children aged three to six may attend state-run kindergartens, where available. Otherwise, their care often falls to grandparents, who are increasingly visible as caregivers in the economically insecure postsocialist era. Heavy-handed discipline is uncommon, but children are brought up to defer to parental authority.
Schooling is free and compulsory for children aged seven to sixteen (four years elementary; six to eight secondary). Ethnic Bulgarians value education, and children are encouraged to do well, with many parents paying for private tutoring to ensure that their children pass entrance examinations for the better secondary schools and universities or even resorting to bribery of officials. Since 1989, many private schools have been established, offering an educational alternative for the wealthy and often catering to those not accepted into elite state schools.
Turks and Gypsies have notably higher birth-rates and tend to be lower on the socioeconomic scale, as well as culturally and linguistically disadvantaged. Levels of educational achievement are generally lower than among ethnic Bulgarians.
Higher Education. Bulgaria has an extensive system of higher education, with state universities, technical institutes, and teacher's colleges in a number of cities. There is also a private American university in the city of Blagoevgrad. Competition for places in the state universities is rigorous. Most students receive subsidized housing and many receive scholarships to offset the costs of education. Fees are not high, but under the depressed economic conditions they are significant.
In Bulgaria, gestures for indicating "yes" and "no" are essentially opposite from those common in most of the rest of Europe. A sideways shaking of
Bulgarians generally pride themselves on their hospitality and neighborliness. An uninvited visitor will first be greeted with a handshake or verbal greeting at the outermost doorway or gateway, and will be invited further into the private domestic space depending on the nature of the visit. At mealtimes, a guest will be offered food and drink, and at other times a drink (often homemade rakiya); it is impolite not to accept this hospitality. The obligation to accept a host's offer extends to situations outside of the home, such as when invited for a meal or a drink in a restaurant or other establishment. When visiting someone's home, it is customary to bring flowers or sweets.
On the street or in other public places, strangers will usually avoid making eye contact. In public transportation, it is expected that younger people will give up a seat to an older woman or to a parent with a young child. Failure to do so invites public censure from other passengers.
In ethnically-mixed areas, it is considered polite to greet a neighbor or acquaintance in that person's own language.
Religious Beliefs. Most ethnic Bulgarians belong to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, though there are small numbers of Muslims (Pomaks), Protestants, and Roman Catholics. Most Turks and many Gypsies are Muslim, while some (especially Gypsies) are Christian. In Bulgaria, both Orthodox Christianity and Islam incorporate some pagan beliefs and rituals. Among the Pomaks and Gypsies, Christian and Islamic beliefs and practices often coexist. Other religions include Judaism, Armenian Orthodox Christianity, and a variety of Protestant churches and sects.
Orthodox Christianity is enshrined in the constitution as the traditional religion in Bulgaria, and the church has a legacy of ties to nationalist groups. State regulation of religious affairs has diminished since the fall of state socialism. Nevertheless, political interference remains a factor in religious affairs, and schisms in the Orthodox and Muslim communities in the 1990s (over challenges to the legitimacy of leaderships installed under state socialism) were dominated by partisan political interests. Proselytizing by foreign-based churches and sects is considered a threat to national identity.
Most Orthodox Bulgarians and Muslims are not observant, and many are atheists, partly a result of the state socialist government's attempts to discredit religion. Despite some resurgence of interest in religious observance since the fall of state socialism, religious practices have become largely markers of cultural identity.
Religious Practitioners. The Orthodox Church is headed by a patriarch, presiding over the Holy Synod (or Church Council), with a hierarchy of regional archbishops, bishops, and priests. There are also monasteries where monks and nuns practice a life of religious devotion and scholarship. The Muslim community is governed by the Supreme Muslim Council under the Chief Mufti (religious judge), with a hierarchy of regional muftis, imams (clergy), and religious teachers.
Rituals and Holy Places. For both Christians and Muslims, the most significant rituals are those associated with the passage of life: birth, marriage, and death, as well as christening (for Christians) and circumcision (for Muslims). Christian holidays include Christmas, Easter, Lent, and saints' days. Services are held on Sundays and often daily, and people often visit churches to pray to saints, burning candles in honor of loved ones. Muslim holidays include the month-long fast of Ramadan and the Festival of Sacrifice (Kurban Bairam). The observant attend mosques on Fridays and may observe daily prayers.
Churches and especially monasteries are considered sacred, not only to the Orthodox Church but also to the nation, as they played a significant role in the national emancipation.
Death and the Afterlife. Both Orthodox Christians and Muslims believe in an afterlife. For both, proper observance of death and burial-related rituals is considered crucial to the soul's proper passage into the afterlife.
Bulgaria has an extensive health-care system based around community polyclinics, with a network of general and specialized hospitals. This system is largely a legacy of the state socialist period, when universal healthcare was provided free of charge. Following health care reforms in 2000, consumers must now choose their own family doctor and pay for heath insurance. Health-care professionals may also operate private practices.
Bulgarians have long valued herbal remedies, and economic hardship in the 1990s led to increased reliance on herbs, with Western medicine becoming for many a last resort. Bulgarians on the whole are
Efforts were made during the socialist era to replace religious holidays and life-cycle rituals with secular ones—for example, civil ceremonies replaced church weddings and Grandfather Frost delivered presents on 1 January instead of Grandfather Christmas on 25 December. With communism's fall, government-recognized holidays include Easter and Christmas, and some socialist holidays such as 9 September, marking the beginning of the socialist era, have disappeared.
New Year's is celebrated on 1 January with holiday foods and traditions designed to bring luck and health in the coming year. Baba Marta (Grandmother March), on 1 March, is a pre-Christian holiday welcoming spring, on which people exchange martinitsas , good luck charms made from red and white threads. Bulgaria's liberation from the Ottoman Empire is celebrated on 3 March, International Women's Day on 8 March, Labor Day on 1 May, and Bulgarian education and culture on 24 May, a day associated with Saints Cyril and Methodius, founders of the Cyrillic alphabet. Other celebrations—often associated with the agricultural calendar, the Orthodox Christian calendar, or both— include the day of the vintner on 14 February; Saint George's Day on 6 May, in honor of the patron saint of shepherds and the army; and festivals of masked kukeri (mummers) marking the beginning of spring and the agricultural season (dates vary). Important life-cycle celebrations mark births, high school graduations, send-offs to military service, weddings, and deaths. The latter are commemorated at specified intervals following death (e.g., nine days, forty days, six months, one year).
Support for the Arts. During the state socialist period, the arts were state funded (and regulated). State-sponsored folk ensembles were charged not only with preserving heritage, but also with the task of transforming folk art forms to the level of high culture. State sponsorship allowed the arts to flourish, and ideological limits did not necessarily compromise artistry. Puppet theater, for instance, developed to a high standard of excellence. Since the fall of state socialism in 1989, state funding has evaporated, and entrepreneurship on the part of individuals and ensembles has become necessary for survival, where before salaries and programming emanated largely from the Ministry of Culture. This has been a tough transition for many practitioners of the arts. What state funding remains is granted subject to open competition.
Literature. Bulgarian literature begins with the advent of literacy in Old Church Slavonic (Old Bulgarian) in the late-ninth century C.E. The earliest writings were religious in nature. In the late-eighteenth century, secular writings began to be written using a more accessible modern vernacular Bulgarian. Several important writings on the history of the Bulgarian nation date from this period. In the early nineteenth century, the modern standard language developed through the promotion of literacy in the schools.
Literature and journalism flourished around the theme of national emancipation. Ethnologists began to collect and publish folklore, another vehicle for the development of national consciousness. Bulgarian Revival and early modern literature continues to form the core of literature studies within the Bulgarian education system. Several Bulgarian authors and poets have achieved international fame.
Graphic Arts. Bulgaria's graphic art traditions have their roots in Orthodox Christian icon and fresco painting, and some Bulgarian medieval works are world famous and significant in the history of world art, particularly the frescos in the Boyana church near Sofia. Folk arts and crafts thrive, and distinctive and beautiful traditions exist in wood carving, ceramics, and weaving and other textile arts.
Performance Arts. Bulgaria boasts a rich palette of music, dance, and theater, ranging from folk music and dance to classical and modern opera, jazz, and Western-style popular music. Of particular note here are the varieties of folk and folk-influenced musics, many of which have become well-known in the outside world since the mid-1980s, achieving status as virtual icons of Bulgarian national culture. Particularly prominent are women's vocal (choral) music and wedding band music. Traditionally, folk musicians are often gypsies, the music is sensuous, and performances involve a high degree of spontaneity, particularly at events such as weddings. In theater, opera, and ballet, the repertoire of Bulgarian artists includes a range of international and local productions. Bulgarian cinema had its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s under state sponsorship, but now produces only between five and ten films annually.
During the socialist era, the government supported the physical and social sciences; increased higher education opportunities resulted in the training of a cadre of scientists in such fields as linguistics, economics, history, philosophy, sociology, folklore, ethnography, physics, chemistry, biology, botany, geography, geology, forestry, agronomy, and medicine. Many scientists were employed in research institutes of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences or at universities. Under postsocialist economic constraints, government support for these activities has fallen substantially. Some scientists have left the country as a result, while others have changed jobs or sought support for their activities through nongovernmental organizations.
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—B ARBARA A. C ELLARIUS AND T IM P ILBROW