For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.


Republic of Bulgaria

Area: 110,994 sq. km. (slightly larger than Tennessee).
Major cities: Capital--Sofia (1.2 million).
Others--Plovdiv (350,000), Varna (300,000).
Terrain: Bulgaria is located in South Central Europe. The terrain is varied, containing large mountainous areas, fertile valleys, plains and a coastline along the Black Sea.
Climate: Continental--mild summers and cold, snowy winters.

Population (July 2001 est.): 7,707,495.
Growth rate (July 2001 est.): -1.14%.
Ethnic groups (1998): Bulgarian 83%, Turkish 8.5%, Roma 2.6%, and others.
Religions (1998): Bulgarian Orthodox 83.5%, Muslim 13%, Roman Catholic 1.5%, others.
Language: Bulgarian (official).
Health: Life expectancy (2001 est.)--male--67.72 years; female--74.89 years. Infant mortality rate (2001 est.)--14.65 deaths/1,000 live births.

Type: Parliamentary democracy.
Constitution: Adopted July 12, 1991.
Independence: 1908 (from the Ottoman Empire).
Branches: Executive--President (Chief of State), Prime Minister (Head of Government), Council of Ministers (Cabinet).
Legislative--Unicameral National Assembly or Narodno Sobranie--240 seats. (Members are elected by popular vote of party/coalition lists of candidates for 4-year terms).
Judicial--Three-Tiered System (2001).
Suffrage: Universal at 18 years of age. Main political movements: National Movement Simeon II (NMS2); United Democratic Forces (UDF); Bulgaria Socialist Party (BSP); Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF).
Note: The NMS won half the seats in the June 2001 parliamentary election and established a coalition government with the mainly ethnic Turkish MRF. Two members of the Bulgarian Socialist Party also serve as ministers in the current government, although the BSP is not officially part of the coalition.

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Flag: bulgaria flag

Real GDP growth (2001): 4.8%.
Inflation rate (2001): 7.4%.
Unemployment rate (2001): 17.5%.
Natural resources: Bauxite, copper, lead, zinc, coal and timber.
Official exchange rate: Lev per $1 U.S.-2.2 (January 2002); 2.17 (2001 avg.)

The first Bulgarian state was recognized in 681 A.D. and was a mixture of Slavs and Bulgars. Several years later, the First Bulgarian Kingdom or the "Golden Age" emerged under Tsar Simeon I in 893-927. During this time, Bulgarian art and literature flourished. Also during the ninth century, Orthodox Christianity became the primary religion in Bulgaria and the Cyrillic alphabet was established.

In 1018, Bulgaria fell under the authority of the Byzantine Empire. Byzantine rule was short-lived, however. By 1185 Bulgarians had broken free of Byzantine rule and, in 1202, they established the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. Ottoman domination of the Balkan Peninsula eventually affected Bulgaria in the late 14th century, and by 1396, Bulgaria had become part of the Ottoman Empire. Following the Russo-Turkish War (1877-78) and the Treaty of Berlin (1885), Bulgaria gained some autonomy under the Ottoman Empire, but complete independence was not recognized until 1908.

The early-to-mid-1900s in Bulgaria was characterized by social and political unrest. Bulgaria participated in the First and Second Balkan Wars (1912 and 1913) and sided with the Central Powers and later the Axis Powers during the two World Wars. (Although allied with Germany during World War II, Bulgaria never declared war on Russia.)

Following the defeat of the Axis Powers, communism emerged as the dominant political force within Bulgaria. Former King Simeon II, who is currently Prime Minister, was forced into exile in 1946 and remained primarily in Madrid, Spain, until April 2001, when he returned to Bulgaria. (Note: Simeon assumed control of the throne in 1943 at the age of 6 following the death of his father Boris III.) By 1946, Bulgaria had become a satellite of the Soviet Union, remaining so throughout the Cold War period. Todor Zhivkov ruled Bulgaria for much of its time under communism, and during his 27 years as leader of Bulgaria, democratic opposition was crushed, agriculture and industry were nationalized, and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church fell under the control of the state.

In 1989, Zhivkov relinquished control, and democratic change began. The first multi-party elections since World War II were held in 1990. The ruling communist party changed its name to the Bulgarian Socialist Party and won the June 1990 elections. Following a period of social unrest and passage of a new constitution, the first fully democratic parliamentary elections were held in 1991 in which the United Democratic Front won. The first direct presidential elections were held the next year.

As Bulgaria emerged from the throes of communism, it experienced a period of social and economic unrest. With the help of the international community, former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov initiated a series of economic reforms in 1997 that helped stabilize the country. Recent elections in 2001 ushered in a new government and president, but the new leadership in Sofia remains committed to Euro-Atlantic integration, democratic reform, and development of a market-based economy.

Bulgaria shares a border with Turkey and Greece to the south, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Yugoslavia to the west, Romania to the north and the Black Sea to the east. The capital, Sofia, lies in the western region of the country.

The Unicameral National Assembly, or Narodno Sobranie, consists of 240 deputies who are elected for 4-term terms by popular vote of party or coalition lists of candidates for each of the nine administrative divisions. A party or coalition must garner a minimum of 4% of the vote in order to enter parliament. Parliament is responsible for enactment of laws, approval of the budget, scheduling of presidential elections, selection and dismissal of the Prime Minister and other ministers, declaration of war, deployment of troops outside of Bulgaria, and ratification of international treaties and agreements.

The 2001 parliamentary elections ushered in 63 women deputies, placing Bulgaria first within the region according to the number of women currently serving in parliament. The President of Bulgaria is directly elected for a 5-year term with the right to one re-election. The President serves as the head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces. The President is the head of the Consultative Council for National Security and while unable to initiate legislation, the President can return a bill for further debate (Parliament can overturn the President's veto with a simple majority vote). Bulgarian Socialist Party candidate Georgi Purvanov won the November 2001 presidential election and took office January 2002.

The Prime Minister is head of the Council of Ministers, which is the primary component of the executive branch. In addition to the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Ministers, the Council is composed of ministers who head the various agencies within the government and usually come from the majority/ruling party in parliament.

The Council is responsible for carrying out state policy, managing the state budget and maintaining law and order. The Council must resign if the National Assembly passes a vote of no confidence in the Council or Prime Minister.

The Bulgarian judicial system became an independent branch of the government following passage of the 1991 Constitution. Reform within this branch was initially slow, and in 1994, the National Assembly passed the Judicial Powers Act to further delineate the role of the judiciary. The first, appellate and cassation (highest appellate) courts comprise the three tiers of the judicial system.

The Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) is composed of 25 members serving 5-year terms. Those who serve on the council are experienced legal professionals and are either appointed by the National Assembly, selected by the judicial system or serve on the SJC as a result of their position in government. The SJC manages the judiciary and is responsible for appointing judges.

The Supreme Court of Administration and Supreme Court of Cassation are the highest courts of appeal and determine the application of all laws. Its judges are appointed for life.

The court that interprets the constitution and constitutionality of laws and treaties is the Constitutional Court. Its 12 justices serve 9-year terms and are selected by the government and other members of the judiciary.

Principal Government Officials
President--Georgi Purvanov
Prime Minister--Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha
Deputy Prime Minister/Minister of Labor and Social Policy--Lydia Shouleva
Deputy Prime Minister/Minister of Economy--Nikolay Vassilev
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Solomon Passy

Bulgaria's economy contracted dramatically after 1989 with the collapse of the COMECON system and the loss of the Soviet market, to which the Bulgarian economy had been closely tied. The standard of living fell by about 40%. In addition, UN sanctions against Yugoslavia and Iraq took a heavy toll on the Bulgarian economy. The first signs of recovery emerged when GDP grew in 1994 for the first time since 1988, by 1.4% and then by 2.5% in 1995. Inflation, which surged in 1994 to 122%, fell to 32.9% in 1995. During 1996, however, the economy collapsed due to shortsighted economic reforms and an unstable and decapitalized banking system.

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Ivan Kostov (UDF), who came to power in 1997, an ambitious set of reforms were launched, including introduction of a currency board regime, bringing growth and stability to the Bulgarian economy. Three-digit inflation in 1997 fell to 2.6% in 1999. GDP grew 3.5% in 1998, 2.4% in 1999, and due to an increase in investments and exports, the GDP rose to 5.8% in 2000.

In spite of the transition to a new government in July 2001, Bulgaria remains committed to the market reforms undertaken in 1997. The new government's economic team is young, energetic, and Western-trained. Recent measures introduced by Prime Minister Saxe-Coburg seek to reduce taxes, curtail corruption, and attract foreign investment. While economic forecasts for 2002 and 2003 predict continued growth in the Bulgarian economy, the government still faces high unemployment and low standards of living.

Bulgaria's military is currently undergoing an ambitious restructuring program. In 1997, Bulgaria officially applied for full membership into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and many of its efforts to restructure are in line with the country's aspirations to join that alliance. Bulgaria is a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace Program, and is working with NATO to complete its Membership Action Plan.

Bulgaria also has played an important role in resolving recent interethnic disputes within the Balkan Peninsula. Small contingents of Bulgarian troops are currently deployed with international forces serving in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.

Bulgaria is pursuing a path of greater Euro-Atlantic integration. In addition to its application for membership into NATO, Bulgaria also applied for full membership into the European Union (EU) in December 1995 and has begun accession negotiations with the EU. Bulgaria is a member of the United Nations and in January 2002 began a 2-year term as a nonpermanent member on the UN Security Council.

Bulgaria joined the World Trade Organization in 1996. In July 1998, Bulgaria became a full member of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA), which calls for the reduction of tariffs by 2002 on most industrial and agricultural goods traded between CEFTA countries. Recently, Bulgaria initialed free trade agreements with Turkey, Macedonia, Croatia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Israel.

Bulgaria's relationship with its neighbors has generally been good. Bulgaria has proven to be a constructive force in the region and has played an important role in promoting regional security.

U.S.-Bulgarian relations were severed in 1950 but were restored a decade later. Bilateral relations between the two nations improved dramatically after the fall of communism. The United States moved quickly to encourage development of a multi-party democracy and a market economy. The U.S. signed a Bilateral Investment Treaty in 1994 and later gave Bulgaria most-favored-nation trade status in October 1996.

In 1989, the U.S. Congress passed the Support for East European Democracies Act (SEED), authorizing financial support to facilitate development of democratic institutions, political pluralism, and free market economies in the Balkan region. Since 1990, Bulgaria has received more than $390 million in SEED assistance.

Bulgaria hosts the only fully American university in the region, the American University of Bulgaria in Blagoevgrad, established in 1991, drawing students from throughout southeast Europe and beyond.

Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--James W. Pardew
Charge d'affaires--Roderick Moore
Political/Economic Officer--John Winant
Commercial Officer--Reginald Miller
Consular Officer--Michael Barkin

The U.S. Embassy is located at 1 Saborna Street, Sofia; tel: [359] (2) 937-5100; Facsimile: [359] (2) 981-897.

[This is a mobile copy of Bulgaria (03/02)]

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