Bulgaria History, Language and Culture
History of Bulgaria
Bulgaria is the oldest surviving state in Europe to have kept its original name – since 681CE – and most of the population are descendants of the Bulgar invasion of the south Danube around that time.
On two occasions during the medieval period - between the 7th and 11th centuries and again between the 12th and 14th centuries - the Bulgarians managed to establish empires, which existed in a state of armed conflict with Byzantium.
The rising power in the Balkans, the Serbs, overran Bulgaria’s territory in Macedonia. However, their dominance was short-lived as the Ottoman Turks arrived in the 1350s and within 40 years, the country had been completely absorbed into the Ottoman Empire.
Following an uprising in 1876, Bulgarian volunteer forces, with strong Russian support, defeated the Turks and established an independent state.
King Ferdinand was the dominant figure in Bulgarian politics up to World War I, although he was discredited thereafter due to his support for the Germans. The popular Agrarian leader, Aleksandur Stambolyiski, imprisoned by Ferdinand, formed a reformist government that lasted until 1923 when it was overthrown in a right-wing coup.
The government of Alexander Tsankov, which replaced Stambolyiski’s administration, established a royalist-militarist government with King Boris as head of state.
Soviet forces entered the country in 1944, the monarchy was abolished, and a republic was declared.
By the end of 1947, the Communist Party had completed its takeover of the country.
Bulgaria’s dominant political figure was Todor Zhivkov, under whose leadership Bulgaria became the staunchest of Moscow’s allies.
In 1989, Zhivkov resigned and the first multi-party elections for 44 years were held in June 1990 with the ruling Communists restyling themselves the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and winning an absolute majority.
Throughout the first half of the 1990s, Bulgaria was wracked by instability and plunged into economic crisis with a range of personality-lead parties such as former King Simeon II’s populist liberal NDSV and the ruling centre-right GERB Party emerging to oppose the BSP.
In recent years Bulgarian politics have stabilised and the country is considered to have a good record on freedom of speech and human rights.
Bulgaria became a NATO member in 2004, and joined the EU in 2007.
Did you know?
• Swiss-born gymnast Charles Champaud competed for Bulgaria in the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896, the year after he brought football to the capital Sofia.
• To welcome spring each year martenitsa, small red and white dolls made of yarn, are traditionally worn from 1 March until the wearer first sees a stork, swallow or blossoming tree.
• Estimated to be over 1670 years old, the Granit Oak – a common oak tree named after the village in which it is found – may be the oldest living oak tree in the world.
Religion in Bulgaria
The majority of the population are Christian, the main denomination being Bulgarian Orthodox Church with a membership of 59.4% of the population. Eastern Orthodox Christianity is considered to be the traditional religion in Bulgaria. There is also a significant Muslim minority (7.8%) and a small Jewish community.
Social Conventions in Bulgaria
Normal courtesies should be observed and handshaking is the normal form of greeting. Dress should be conservative but casual. If invited to the home, a small souvenir from one's homeland is an acceptable gift, and something for their children is always welcome. Do not give money. Remember that a nod of the head means 'No' and a shake means 'Yes'.
Smoking: Bulgarian restaurants, cafés and nightclubs have zones for smokers and non-smokers. There is no smoking in public places.
Language in Bulgaria
Bulgarian is the official language and the Cyrillic alphabet is used - Bulgaria is the only EU nation to use it. Turkish and Macedonian are amongst the minority languages. English, German, French and Russian are spoken in major tourist resorts and hotels.