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 (2003): 7,801,300.
Growth rate (2003.): -5.7 (on basis of 1,000 people).
Ethnic groups (2001): Bulgarian 83.94%, Turkish 9.42%, Roma 4.68%, and others.
Religions (2001): Bulgarian Orthodox 82.6%, Muslim 12.2%, Roman Catholic 0.6%, Protestant 0.5%, others.
Language: Bulgarian (official).
Health: Life expectancy (2002)--male 68.5 years; female 75.4 years. Infant mortality rate (2002)--13.3 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. Based on results of June 2005 elections, seat allocation is as follows: BSP--82, NMSS--53, MRF--34, Ataka--21, UDF--20, DSB--17, BNU--13. Judicial--three-tiered system.
Suffrage: Universal at 18 years of age.
Main political movements: Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP); National Movement Simeon II (NMSS); Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF); United Democratic Forces (UDF); Democrats for Strong Bulgaria (DSB); Bulgarian People's Union (BNU) and Ataka. Results from the June 25, 2005 general election are as follows: BSP (Coalition for Bulgaria) 34.17%, NMSS 22.08%, MRF 14.17%, Ataka 8.75%, UDF 8.33%, DSB 7.08%, BNU 5.42%.
Real GDP growth: 5.6% (2004); 4.3% (2003).
Inflation rate: 6% (2004); 5.6% (2003).
Unemployment rate: 12.7% (2004 average); 14.25% (2003 average).
Natural resources: Bauxite, copper, lead, zinc, coal, and timber.
Official exchange rate: Lev per $1 U.S.--1.49 (Feb. 2005); 1.58 (2004 average); 1.73 (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 pursued 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. Bulgaria signed its Accession Treaty with the European Union (EU) on April 25, 2005. With the support of all political parties, the Bulgarian parliament ratified the EU accession treaty on May 11, 2005, with a view towards joining the EU in 2007. Following general elections on June 25, 2005, on August 16, 2005, Sergei Stanishev of the Bulgarian Socialist Party became the new Prime Minister of a coalition government.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Bulgaria is a parliamentary republic. The unicameral National Assembly, or Narodno Subranie, consists of 240 deputies who are elected for 4-year terms through a system of proportional representation in 31 electoral regions. Party or coalition lists, rather than individual candidate names, appear on the ballots. A party or coalition must garner a minimum of 4% of the vote in order to enter parliament. Parliament selects and dismisses government ministers, including the prime minister, exercises control over the government, and sanctions deployment of troops abroad. It is responsible for enactment of laws, approval of the budget, scheduling of presidential elections, declaration of war, and ratification of international treaties and agreements.
A one-month official campaign period precedes general elections. The voting age is 18. Preliminary results are available within hours of poll closings. Seats in parliament are allocated both by vote and by voter turnout. The votes for parties who did not receive a minimum threshold of votes are redistributed to other parties proportionate to their own share of the vote. The lists of newly elected members of parliament are announced 7 days after the elections. The president must convene the new parliament within one month after the elections, and calls upon parties, coalitions, or political groups to nominate a prime minister and form a government. If the three largest parties, coalitions, or political groups fail to nominate a prime minister, the president can dissolve parliament and schedule new elections. In recent years, it has taken approximately a month for the new government to form. A general election in Bulgaria was held June 25, 2005. Results are as follows: Bulgarian Socialist Party/Coalition for Bulgaria (BSP) 34.17%, National Movement Simeon II (NMSS) 22.08%, Movement for Rights and Freedom (MRF) 14.17%, Ataka 8.75%, United Democratic Forces (UDF) 8.33%, Democrats for Strong Bulgaria (DSB) 7.08%, Bulgarian People's Union (BNU) 5.42%.
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. Presidential elections are expected in fall 2006.
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 or from a member party of the ruling coalition 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--Sergei Stanishev
Deputy Prime Minister/Minister of Foreign Affairs--Ivailo Kalfin
Deputy Prime Minister/Minister of Education--Daniel Vulchev
Deputy Prime Minister/Minister of Disaster and Accidents--Emel Etem
Minister of Defense--Vesselin Bliznakov
Minister of Economy and Energy--Roumen Ovcharov
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. Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg'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 record-high GDP growth of 5.8% in 2004, following GDP growth of 4.9% and 4.3% in 2002 and 2003, respectively. As a result of these moves, in October 2002 the European Commission declared Bulgaria had a "Functioning Market Economy." Measures introduced by the government were targeted at reducing corporate and individual taxes, curtailing corruption, and attracting 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 moved ahead with long-delayed privatization of some of the 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. The new government of Prime Minister Stanishev will need to act on its pledge to secure 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 NATO 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 signed its Accession Treaty with the European Union (EU) on April 25, 2005. With the support of all political parties, the Bulgarian parliament ratified the EU accession treaty on May 11, 2005, with a view towards joining the EU in 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 served 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--John R. Beyrle
Deputy Chief of Mission--Jeffrey D. Levine
Counselor, Public Affairs--David Siefkin
Director, USAID--Michael Fritz
Political/Economic Counselor--Brad Freden
Senior Commercial Officer--James Rigassio
Consular Officer--Daniel Perrone
The U.S. Embassy is located at 16 Kozyak Street, Sofia; tel:  (2) 937-5100; facsimile:  (2) 9375-320.