Bulgaria, formally the Republic of Bulgaria, is located in south-eastern Europe. Bulgaria is bordered to the north with Romania, to the west with Serbia and Macedonia, in the south with Greece and Turkey, and to the east with the Black Sea. With an area of 110,994 square kilometres, Bulgaria is the 16th largest country in Europe.
Organised prehistoric cultures began to develop on what is now Bulgarian territory during the Neolithic period. Ancient history has known the presence of the Thracians, Greeks and Romans. The creation of a united Bulgarian state dates back to the foundation of the First Bulgarian Empire in A.D. 681, which dominated most of the Balkans and served as a cultural centre for the Slavs in the Middle Ages. With the fall of the Second Bulgarian Empire in 1396, the area came under Ottoman rule for almost five centuries. During the Russo-Turkish War from 1877 to 1878, a third Bulgarian state was established. In the years that followed, Bulgaria had several conflicts with its neighbours, which led it to form an alliance with Germany in both World Wars. In 1946, it became a one-party state as part of the Soviet-led Eastern Bloc. The Communist Party allowed multi-party elections in December 1989, after which Bulgaria’s transformation to democracy and the market-based economy began.
The population of Bulgaria amounting to approximately 7.4 million is predominantly urbanised and located in the administrative centres located in the 28 provinces. The majority of commercial and cultural activities have been concentrated in their capital and largest city, Sofia. The strongest economic sectors are heavy industry, energy engineering and agriculture, all of which depend on local natural resources.
The current political structure of the country dates back to the adoption of a democratic constitution in 1991. It is a unified parliamentary republic characterised by a high degree of political, administrative and economic power centralisation. It is a member of the European Union, NATO and the Council of Europe, a founding member of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and has served on three occasions on the UN Security Council.
Geography of Bulgaria
The Balkan mountain range separates northern and southern Bulgaria, as it runs from the extreme northwestern part of the country to the coast of the Black Sea in the east. In the south, Bulgaria’s terrain is dominated by high mountains and river valleys, which occupy almost the entire west and southernmost areas of the country. Also in the south are the Thracian Plain and the low mountains of Strandzha and Sakar. The area of northern Bulgaria consists exclusively of lowlands. Eastern Bulgaria consists exclusively of the coasts and beaches of the Black Sea.
Highest point: Mount “Musala” in the Rila Mountains – 2925m (highest peak in Eastern Europe).
Demographics of Bulgaria
The population of Bulgaria is 7,364,570 people according to the 2011 census. Its majority, 72.5 %, resides in urban areas; approximately 1/6 of the total population being concentrated in Sofia. Bulgarians are the most important ethnic group, accounting for 84.8 per cent of the population. Turkish and Roma minorities make up 8.8 and 4.9 per cent, respectively; about 40 smaller minorities make up 0.7 per cent, and 0.8 per cent do not self-identify with an ethnic group.
All ethnic groups speak Bulgarian, either as a first or second language. Bulgarian is the only language with official status and mother tongue for 85.2 per cent of the population. As the oldest written Slavic language, Bulgarian differs from the other languages of this group in some grammatical peculiarities, such as the absence of noun clauses and infinitives and a trailing definite article.
According to government statistics from 2003, literacy rates are 98.6 %, and there is no significant difference between the genders. The standard of education is traditionally high, though still far from European standards, and has deteriorated steadily over the past decade. Bulgarian students were among the best in the world in reading in 2001, performing better than their Canadian and German peers; by 2006, scores in reading, mathematics and science had deteriorated. Government spending on education is far below the European Union average. The Ministry of Education, Youth and Science partly funds public schools, colleges and universities, sets criteria for textbooks and monitors publication. The state provides free education in public primary and secondary schools. The educational process covers 12 grade levels, with grades one to eight being primary and nine to twelve being secondary. High schools can be technical, vocational, general or specialised in a particular field, while higher education consists of a four-year bachelor’s degree and a one-year master’s degree.
The Bulgarian Constitution defines the country as a secular state with guaranteed freedom of religion, but refers to Orthodoxy as a “traditional” religion. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church was granted autocephalous status in 927 AD and currently has 12 dioceses and over 2,000 priests. More than three quarters of Bulgarians profess Eastern Orthodoxy. Sunni Muslims are the second largest community and make up 10 per cent of the religious composition, although the majority of them do not pray and find the use of Islamic veils in schools unacceptable. 11.8 per cent do not self-identify with a religion and 21.8 per cent refuse to state their faith.
Bulgaria has a universal health care system financed by taxes and contributions. There is a gradually increasing share of primary health care costs paid by the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF). The projected health expenditure for 2013 is 4.1 per cent of GDP. The number of doctors is above the EU average at 181 doctors per 100,000 population, but the distribution by specialty is uneven, there is a severe shortage of nurses and other medical staff, and the quality of most medical facilities is poor. In some areas, the shortage of staff is so severe that patients seek treatment in neighbouring countries. Bulgaria ranks 113th in the world in average life expectancy, which is 73.6 years for both sexes. The main causes of death are similar to other developed countries, mainly cardiovascular diseases, neoplasms and respiratory diseases.
Bulgaria is in a demographic crisis. Since the early 1990s, when the economic collapse triggered a prolonged wave of emigration, the country has had negative population growth. Approximately 937,000 to 1,200,000 individuals – primarily young adults – emigrated from the country until 2005. The total fertility rate (TFR) was estimated at 1.43 children born/woman in 2013, below the replacement rate of 2.1. One-third of all households consist of only one person and 75.5 per cent of families have no children under 16. As a result, the population growth and fertility rate is among the lowest in the world, at the same time the mortality rate is one of the highest. The majority of children are born to unmarried women (of all births in 2012, 57.4 % were out of wedlock).
Economy of Bulgaria
Today, Bulgaria is an emerging market economy with an upper-middle income sector, where the private sector represents more than 80 % of GDP. The loss of the COMECON markets in 1990 and the subsequent “shock therapy” of the planned system caused a steep decline in industrial and agricultural production, which was eventually followed by an economic collapse in 1997. The economy largely recovered during a period of rapid growth a few years later, but the average wage remains one of the lowest in the EU at 952 leva (€488) per month in March 2016, with more than a fifth of the workforce employed for a minimum wage of €1 per hour. However, wages account for only half of total household income due to the extensive informal economy, which accounts for almost 32 % of GDP. Bulgaria’s PPS GDP per capita was 47 % of the EU average in 2014, according to Eurostat data, while the cost of living was 48 % of the average. The currency is the lev, which is pegged to the euro at a rate of 1.95583 leva for 1 euro. Bulgaria is not part of the eurozone and has abandoned plans to adopt the euro.
Economic indicators deteriorated during the financial crisis of the late 2000s. After several consecutive years of high growth, GDP contracted by 5.5 per cent in 2009 and unemployment remains above 12 per cent. Industrial production fell by 10 per cent, mining by 31 per cent, and iron and metal production recorded a 60 per cent decline. In 2010, positive growth was achieved again, although investment and consumption continued to fall steadily due to rising unemployment. That same year, inter-company debt has exceeded €51 billion, which means that 60 % of total Bulgarian companies had mutual debt. By 2012, it had risen to €83 billion, equivalent to 227 per cent of GDP. The government, with the support of the IMF and the EU, implemented strict austerity measures that led to some positive fiscal results, but the social consequences of these measures were catastrophic, as reported by the International Trade Union Confederation. Corruption remains another obstacle to economic growth. Bulgaria is one of the most corrupt members of the European Union, ranking 75th in the Corruption Perceptions Index. Weak law enforcement and the overall low capacity of the civil service remain as challenges in curbing corruption. However, anti-corruption has become a focus of the government due to EU accession and several anti-corruption programmes have been implemented by various government agencies.
Economic activity is boosted by the lowest income and corporate tax rates in the EU and the second lowest public debt of all member states at 16.5 per cent of GDP in 2012. The GDP (PPP) for 2013 was estimated at $119.6 billion.Bulgaria is a net recipient of funds from the EU. The absolute amount of funds received was €589 million in 2009.