A Brief Introduction to Bulgaria


Bulgaria, a country in Southeastern Europe, is a comparatively mountainous and relatively poor country with an ancient history and rich cultural legacy. The economy is primarily agricultural, with substantial industrial and service sectors. The nation is also relatively rich in mineral resources, particularly lignite and anthracite coal, as well as non-metalliferous minerals such as rock salt, gypsum, kaolin and gold. The capital, Sofia, is home to some of the most important universities in the Balkans and is an international business center.

Bulgaria borders Romania to the north (along the Danube), Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, and the Black Sea to the east. The country covers an area of 42,823 square miles (110,550 square kilometers)—about the size of Tennessee.

The nation was historically a member of the Soviet bloc, though it became a democracy in 1991 and has since maintained a free-market economic system. In the past, however, socialist-era government had a profound effect on daily life. Beneath the surface of this socialism, Bulgaria’s ancient traditions and vibrant culture were preserved.

Among the most significant developments was the transition from hereditary monarchy to constitutional republic in 1878. The first constitution established the executive branch of government, headed by a prime minister who was directly elected every five years. It also set up a legislative assembly—the National Assembly—responsible for passing laws and overseeing government activities. The National Assembly is now comprised of two houses: the Council of Ministers and the National Council of Representatives. Both houses must approve legislation before it can take effect.

In addition to democratic institutions, the Bulgarian constitution provides for a secular state and guarantees freedom of religion. Although the majority of Bulgarians are Orthodox Christian, the nation has a diverse religious population, including Muslims and Jews.

The earliest evidence of a Bulgarian state dates back to the seventh century, when a hereditary leader called a khan united several tribes into Old Great Bulgaria. Khan Kubrat was not a pureblooded Bulgar, but his rule brought a sense of unity to the nation that would endure.

Even today, Bulgarians celebrate and carry on with their traditional festivals, music, dances and costumes. These traditions have become increasingly popular among young Bulgarians, and many are performed around the world by amateur and professional artists. The most famous of these are the singers Nicolai Ghiaurov, Boris Christoff and Raina Kabaivanska. A traditional Easter custom involves a family tapping colored eggs against one another; the person who receives the last unbroken egg is said to have luck for the year ahead. This ritual is repeated at weddings and countryside fiestas. In the modern age, Bulgarians are often referred to as a “family-oriented” people. Meals are usually eaten together or separately, depending on the schedules of individual family members. Inherited property is shared by all heirs, rather than going to a single heir; and children are brought up to respect and defer to parental authority. Kin groups tend to be informal networks of relatives.