Bulgaria, the smallest of the former Yugoslav states, is one of the fastest growing economies in Europe. Its diversified economy, with strong industrial and agricultural sectors, has benefited from its strategic location on the European Union’s southern flank, as well as from the government’s sound economic policies, privatisation efforts and pursuit of structural reforms.
Located between the Balkans and the Black Sea, Bulgaria has a large number of natural resources, ranging from mineral deposits to wood. The country is a major producer of iron, chromium, and zinc; it also produces lead and copper. Metals are exported to many other countries, and the economy is highly dependent on foreign trade.
The country’s inland economy has been boosted by the establishment of large mining and mineral-processing industries in the northern part of the country, especially in Plovdiv. The largest mines are in Kremikovtsi and Pernik, which produce pig iron, as well as copper. A third metallurgical base is in Debelt, which produces steel and iron products. The metallurgical industry has also been encouraged by the government’s support for research and development and for the creation of new, high-tech industries.
A small but growing number of international businesses, particularly from the United States and Britain, have chosen to set up regional headquarters in Bulgaria. These companies benefit from the country’s macroeconomic stability, its excellent infrastructure, its growing domestic market and its strong education system.
In recent years, Bulgaria has been a leading member of the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Its accession has enhanced overall security for tourists and business travelers alike; however, violence related to criminal groups remains a concern.
Although Bulgaria has an extensive network of police stations and a good-sized military force, it is difficult to predict how the country will fare in the face of future challenges. There is still a significant risk of terrorism, and sporadic violence involving organized crime syndicates remains widespread in public locations.
Despite its relatively small size, Bulgaria is a major exporter of agricultural products to neighboring nations, such as Romania and Ukraine. It also provides a significant amount of energy to the region. The country has a large refinery near Burgas on the Black Sea and a pipeline that transports fuel from Russia to the port of Sofia.
There is a wide range of ethnic and religious groups in the country, with some 82.6 percent of the population nominally being members of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. There are also significant numbers of Muslims, Jews and various Protestant denominations.
Most of the population is a mix of East and West European ancestry, with some ethnic minorities from the Western Balkans. The Banat Bulgarians, for example, migrated in the 17th century to the Banat region and speak a dialect of the Bulgarian language that has developed independently from the main Balkan languages.
Bulgaria is an important ally of the United States in its quest to maintain a peaceful, free-market system and has negotiated an agreement with Iran that will allow it to export oil and gas to the Middle East. It has a major petroleum storage facility in the city of Varna, which has a yearly capacity of about 300,000 barrels.