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--368,568, Varna--349,482.
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 (Dec. 2002 est.): 7,845,841.
Growth rate (2002 est.): -5.8 (on basis of 1,000 people).
Ethnic groups (March 2001 est.): Bulgarian 83.94%, Turkish 9.42%, Roma 4.68%, and others.
Religions (March 2001 est.): Bulgarian Orthodox 82.6%, Muslim 12.2%, Roman Catholic 0.6%, Protestant 0.5%, others.
Language: Bulgarian (official).
Health: Life expectancy (data for 2000-2002 period)--male 68.5 years; female 75.4 years. Infant mortality rate (2002 est.)--3.3 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 Subranie--240 seats. Members are elected by popular vote of party/coalition lists of candidates for 4-year terms. Judicial--three-tiered system.
Suffrage: Universal at 18 years of age.
Main political movements: National Movement Simeon II (NMS2); United Democratic Forces (UDF); Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP); Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF). The NMS won half the seats in the June 2001 parliamentary election and established a coalition government with the mainly ethnic Turkish MRF.
Real GDP growth: (2003 est.) 4.3%, (2002) 4.8%.
Inflation rate: (2003) 5.6%, (2002) 3.8%.
Unemployment rate: (2003 average) 14.3 %, (2002 average) 17.7%.
Natural resources: Bauxite, copper, lead, zinc, coal, and timber.
Official exchange rate: Lev per $1 U.S.--1.55 (Oct. 2004), 1.56 (Jan. 2004), 1.72 (2003 average).
GEOGRAPHY AND PEOPLE
Bulgaria shares a border with Turkey and Greece to the south, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Serbia and Montenegro 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. Ethnic groups include Bulgarian, Turkish, Roma, and others. The official language is Bulgarian.
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.
During the first half of the 20th century, Bulgaria was marred 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.
King Simeon II assumed control of the throne in 1943 at the age of 6 following the death of his father Boris III. Following the defeat of the Axis Powers in World War II, communism emerged as the dominant political force within Bulgaria. Simeon, who is currently Prime Minister, was forced into exile in 1946 and resided primarily in Madrid, Spain, until April 2001, when he returned to Bulgaria. By 1946 Bulgaria had become a satellite of the Soviet Union, remaining so throughout the Cold War period. Todor Zhivkov, the head of the Bulgarian Communist Party, ruled the country 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 Union of Democratic Forces 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 that culminated in a severe economic and financial crisis in late 1996-early 1997. With the help of the international community, former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov initiated a series of reforms in 1997 that helped stabilize the country's economy and put Bulgaria on the Euro-Atlantic path. Elections in 2001 ushered in a new government and president. In July 2001, Bulgaria's ex-king Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha became the first former monarch in post-communist Eastern Europe to become Prime Minister. The leadership in Sofia remains committed to Euro-Atlantic integration, democratic reform, and development of a market economy. Bulgaria officially became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on March 29, 2004 after depositing its instruments of treaty ratification in Washington, DC and hopes for a full membership in the European Union by 2007.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
The unicameral National Assembly, or Narodno Subranie, consists of 240 deputies who are elected for 4-year terms by popular vote of party or coalition lists of candidates for each of the 28 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. In 1994, the National Assembly passed the Judicial Powers Act to further delineate the role of the judiciary. In 2003, Bulgaria adopted amendments to the constitution, which aimed to improve the effectiveness of the judicial system by limiting magistrates' irremovability and immunity against criminal prosecution.
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.
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 president, the National Assembly and the Supreme Courts.
Principal Government Officials
Prime Minister--Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha
Deputy Prime Minister/Minister of Transport and Communications--Nikolay Vassilev
Deputy Prime Minister--Plamen Panayotov
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Solomon Passy
Minister of Defense--Nikolay Svinarov
Minister of Economy--Milko Kovachev
Bulgaria maintains an embassy in the United States at 1621 22nd Street, NW, Washington DC 20008 (tel. 202-387-0174; fax: 202-234-7973).
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 de-capitalized banking system.
Under the leadership of former 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. The currency board contained inflationary pressures and the three-digit inflation in 1997 was cut to only 1% in 1998. Following declines in GDP in both 1996 and 1997, the Bulgarian government delivered strong, steady GDP growth in real terms (4.0% in 1998, 2.3 % in 1999, 5.4% in 2000 and 4.0% in 2001).
In spite of the transition to a new government in July 2001, Bulgaria remained committed to the market reforms undertaken in 1997. The government's economic team of young, Western-educated financiers continued to implement measures that helped sustain stable economic growth and curb unemployment. The government was expecting a GDP growth of 5% in 2003, following a 4.8% growth in 2002. As a result of these moves, in October 2002 the European Commission declared Bulgaria had a "Functioning Market Economy." Recent measures introduced by Simeon Saxe-Coburg's government seek to reduce corporate taxes, curtail corruption, and attract foreign investment. The government also implemented a set of measures that helped restructure the country's foreign debt and revive the local stock market. It also vowed to move ahead with long-delayed privatization of major state monopolies. But while macroeconomic data reveal private sector growth, a double-digit increase in exports and imports and higher foreign investment, incomes remain low and the government still needs to act on its pledges for securing higher living standards.
In November 2002, Bulgaria was invited to become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and officially became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on March 29, 2004 after depositing its instruments of treaty ratification in Washington, DC. Bulgaria's military is currently undergoing an ambitious restructuring program aimed to bring the army up to NATO standards.
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, as well as Afghanistan. A Bulgarian battalion is currently deployed in Iraq as part of U.S.-led coalition forces there.
Bulgaria, which is advancing towards greater Euro-Atlantic integration, officially became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on March 29, 2004 after depositing its instruments of treaty ratification in Washington, DC. Bulgaria hopes to complete European Union (EU) accession talks by the end of 2004 and hopes for a full membership in the EU by 2007. Bulgaria is a member of the United Nations and in 2002-2003 served a 2-year term as a nonpermanent member on the UN Security Council. Bulgaria is serving as Chair-In-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2004.
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 called for the reduction of tariffs by 2002 on most industrial and agricultural goods traded between CEFTA countries. Bulgaria has initialed free trade agreements with Turkey, Macedonia, Croatia, Lithuania, Estonia, Israel, Albania, and Latvia. Currently, Bulgaria is holding consultations for launching free trade agreement talks with Moldova as well.
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.
The year 2003 marked the 100th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the United States and Bulgaria. 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 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 $460 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
Deputy Chief of Mission--Jeffrey D. Levine
Counselor, Public Affairs--Matthew Lussenhop
Director, USAID--Debra McFarland
Political/Economic Counselor--Brad Freden
Senior Commercial Officer--James Rigassio
Consular Officer--Michael Barkin
The U.S. Embassy is located at 1 Saborna Street, Sofia; tel:  (2) 937-5100; facsimile:  (2) 981-897.