Bulgarians - History and Cultural Relations

The Bulgarian lands have been the domain of diverse Cultures, including Thracian, Greek, Roman, and Byzantine. Contemporary Bulgarians, however, trace their origins to Slavs who came from the area north of the Carpathians Between the fifth and sixth centuries and the subsequent incursion of Turkic tribes from central Asia in the seventh century. The latter are referred to as "Bulgars" or "proto-Bulgarians," and it is from this group that the Bulgarians got their name. Although the "proto-Bulgarians" quickly dominated the Region politically, they adopted the customs of the Slavic settlers, which then formed the basis of Bulgarian culture.

Bulgaria's fortunes vis-à-vis numerous hostile neighbors rose and fell over the subsequent years. The most significant event was the fall to Ottoman domination in 1396. Ottoman dominion lasted nearly 500 years and had a significant Impact on Bulgarian language, culture, and economic development. The sizable Turkish minority in Bulgaria and the strained relations between Bulgarians and Turks at both the individual and national levels are, in part, consequences of this period. Likewise, the stereotypical good relations Between Bulgarians and Russians that epitomized the socialist era can also be traced back to the Ottoman period, since it was the Russian army that liberated Bulgaria from Ottoman control in 1877.

Besides the Turkish minority, which accounts for approximately 10 percent of the population of Bulgaria, Gypsies are the only other sizable group with which Bulgarians interact regularly. The latter are marginalized and stigmatized as a rule; traditionally they have lived separately in distinct Neighborhoods, although they are becoming more integrated residentially with Bulgarians. Some large cities also have groups of guest workers and students. The largest group of foreign workers are Vietnamese who were sent to work in Bulgaria for five-year periods in exchange for Bulgarian products exported to Vietnam. The contractual arrangement between the two countries was recently terminated and most Vietnamese are expected to return to Vietnam in the early 1990s. Students come primarily from the Middle East and Africa. For the most part relations between these foreigners and Bulgarians take place in the formal context of work or school. Outside of these contexts, relations are minimal and sometimes strained.

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