Bulgaria

Bulgaria Listeni/bʌlˈɡɛəriə/ (Bulgarian: България, IPA: ), officially the Republic of Bulgaria (Bulgarian: Република България, IPA: bɤ̞ɫˈɡarijɐ]), is a country located in Southeastern Europe. It is bordered by Romania to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, and the Black Sea to the east. With a territory of 110,994 square kilometres (42,855 sq mi), Bulgaria is Europe’s 14th-largest country.

  • GEOGRAPHICAL DATA
  • DEMOGRAPHICS
  • ADMINISTRATIVE DIVISIONS
  • ECONOMY
  • CULTURE

Bulgaria occupies a portion of the eastern Balkan peninsula, bordering five countries—Greece and Turkey to the south, Macedonia and Serbia to the west, and Romania to the north. The land borders have a total length of 1,808 kilometres (1,123 mi), and the coastline has a length of 354 kilometres (220 mi). Its total area of 110,994 kilometres (68,968 mi) ranks it as the world’s 105th-largest country. Bulgaria’s geographic coordinates are 43° N 25° E.

The most notable topographical features are the Danubian Plain, the Balkan Mountains, the Thracian Plain, and the Rhodope Mountains. The southern edge of the Danubian Plain slopes upward into the foothills of the Balkans, while the Danube defines the border with Romania. The Thracian Plain is roughly triangular, beginning southeast of Sofia and broadening as it reaches the Black Sea coast.

The Balkan mountains run laterally through the middle of the country. The mountainous southwest of the country has two alpine ranges—Rila and Pirin, which border the lower but more extensive Rhodope Mountains to the east. Bulgaria is home to the highest point of the Balkan peninsula, Musala, at 2,925 metres (9,596 ft) and its lowest point is sea level. Plains occupy about one-third of the territory, while plateaus and hills occupy 41 per cent. The country has a dense network of about 540 rivers, most of which are relatively small and with low water levels. The longest river located solely in Bulgarian territory, the Iskar, has a length of 368 kilometres (229 mi). Other major rivers include the Struma and the Maritsa in the south.

Bulgaria has a dynamic climate, which results from its being positioned at the meeting point of Mediterranean and continental air masses and the barrier effect of its mountains. Northern Bulgaria averages 1 °C (1.8 °F) cooler and registers 200 millimetres (7.9 in) more precipitation annually than the regions south of the Balkan mountains. Temperature amplitudes vary significantly in different areas. The lowest recorded temperature is −38.3 °C (−36.9 °F), while the highest is 45.2 °C (113.4 °F). Precipitation averages about 630 millimetres (24.8 in) per year, and varies from 500 millimetres (19.7 in) in Dobrudja to more than 2,500 millimetres (98.4 in) in the mountains. Continental air masses bring significant amounts of snowfall during winter.

The population of Bulgaria is 7,364,570 people according to the 2011 national census. The majority of the population, or 72.5 per cent, reside in urban areas; approximately one-sixth of the total population is concentrated in Sofia. Bulgarians are the main ethnic group and comprise 84.8 per cent of the population. Turkish and Roma minorities comprise 8.8 and 4.9 per cent, respectively; some 40 smaller minorities comprise 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 as a second language. Bulgarian is the only language with official status and native for 85.2 per cent of the population. The oldest written Slavic language, Bulgarian is distinguishable from the other languages in this group through certain grammatical peculiarities such as the lack of noun cases and infinitives, and a suffixed definite article.

Bulgaria is in a state of demographic crisis. It has had negative population growth since the early 1990s, when the economic collapse caused a long-lasting emigration wave. Some 937,000 to 1,200,000 people—mostly young adults—left the country by 2005. The total fertility rate (TFR) was estimated in 2013 at 1.43 children born/woman, which is below the replacement rate of 2.1. A third of all households consist of only one person and 75.5 per cent of families do not have children under the age of 16. Consequently, population growth and birth rates are among the lowest in the world while death rates are among the highest. The majority of children are born to unmarried women (of all births 57.4% were outside marriage in 2012). Bulgaria ranks 113th globally by average life expectancy, which stands at 73.6 years for both genders. The primary causes of death are similar to those in other industrialised countries, mainly cardiovascular diseases, neoplasms and respiratory diseases.

Bulgaria has a universal healthcare system financed by taxes and contributions. The National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) pays a gradually increasing portion of the costs of primary healthcare. Projected healthcare expenditures for 2013 amount to 4.1 per cent of GDP. The number of doctors is above the EU average with 181 physicians per 100,000 people, but distribution by fields of practice is uneven, there is a severe shortage of nurses and other medical personnel, and the quality of most medical facilities is poor. Personnel shortages in some fields are so severe that patients resort to seeking treatment in neighboring countries.

Government estimates from 2003 put the literacy rate at 98.6 per cent, with no significant difference between the sexes. Educational standards have been traditionally high, although still far from European benchmarks and in continuing deterioration for the past decade. Bulgarian students were among the highest-scoring in the world in terms of reading in 2001, performing better than their Canadian and German counterparts; by 2006, scores in reading, math and science had deteriorated. State expenditures for education are far below the European Union average. The Ministry of Education, Youth and Science partially funds public schools, colleges and universities, sets criteria for textbooks and oversees the publishing process. The State provides free education in primary and secondary public schools. The educational process spans through 12 grades, where grades one through eight are primary and nine through twelve are secondary level. High schools can be technical, vocational, general or specialised in a certain discipline, while higher education consists of a 4-year bachelor degree and a 1-year Master’s degree.

Bulgaria is a unitary state. Since the 1880s, the number of territorial management units has varied from seven to 26. Between 1987 and 1999 the administrative structure consisted of nine provinces (oblasti, singular oblast). A new administrative structure was adopted in parallel with the decentralisation of the economic system. It includes 27 provinces and a metropolitan capital province (Sofia-Grad). All areas take their names from their respective capital cities. The provinces subdivide into 264 municipalities.

Municipalities are run by mayors, who are elected to four-year terms, and by directly elected municipal councils. Bulgaria is a highly centralised state, where the national Council of Ministers directly appoints regional governors and all provinces and municipalities are heavily dependent on it for funding.

Bulgaria has an emerging market economy in the upper middle income range, where the private sector accounts for more than 80 per cent of GDP. From a largely agricultural country with a predominantly rural population in 1948, by the 1980s Bulgaria had transformed into an industrial economy with scientific and technological research at the top of its budgetary expenditure priorities. The loss of COMECON markets in 1990 and the subsequent “shock therapy” of the planned system caused a steep decline in industrial and agricultural production, ultimately followed by an economic collapse in 1997. The economy largely recovered during a period of rapid growth several years later, but individual mean income remains one of the lowest in the EU at 768 leva (393 euro) per month. More than a fifth of the labour force are employed on a minimum wage of 1 euro per hour. Wages, however, account for only half of the total household income, owing to the substantial informal economy which amounts to almost 32% of GDP. Bulgarian PPS GDP per capita stood at 47 per cent of the EU average in 2012 according to Eurostat data, while the cost of living was 49 per cent of the average. The currency is the lev, which is pegged to the euro at a rate of 1.95583 levа for one euro. Bulgaria is not part of the eurozone and has abandoned its plans to adopt the euro.

Economic indicators have worsened amid the late-2000s financial crisis. After several consecutive years of high growth, GDP contracted with 5.5 per cent in 2009 and unemployment remains above 12 per cent. Industrial output declined with 10 per cent, mining with 31 per cent, and ferrous and metal production marked a 60 per cent drop. Positive growth was restored in 2010, although investments and consumption continue to decline steadily due to rising unemployment. The same year, intercompany debt exceeded 51 billion euro, meaning that 60 per cent of all Bulgarian companies were mutually indebted. By 2012, it had increased to 83 billion euro, or 227 per cent of GDP. The government implemented strict austerity measures with IMF and EU encouragement to some positive fiscal results, but the social consequences of these measures have been “catastrophic” according to the International Trade Union Confederation. Corruption remains another obstacle to economic growth. Bulgaria is one of the most corrupt European Union members and ranks 75th in the Corruption Perceptions Index. Weak law enforcement and overall low capacity of civil service remain as challenges in curbing corruption. However, fighting against corruption has become the focus of the government because of the EU accession, and several anti-corruption programs have been undertaken by different government agencies.

Economic activities are fostered by the lowest personal and corporate income tax rates in the EU, and the second-lowest public debt of all member states at 16.5 per cent of GDP in 2012. In 2012, GDP (PPP) was estimated at $104 billion, with a per capita value of $14,235. Sofia and the surrounding Yugozapaden planning area are the most developed region of the country with a per capita PPS GDP of $23,162 in 2009. Bulgaria is a net receiver of funds from the EU. The absolute amount of received funds was 589 million euro in 2009.

The labour force is 2.45 million people, of whom 7.1 per cent are employed in agriculture, 35.2 per cent are employed in industry and 57.7 per cent are employed in the services sector. Extraction of metals and minerals, production of chemicals, machinery and vehicle components, petroleum refinement and steel are among the major industrial activities. Mining and its related industries employ a total of 120,000 people and generate about five per cent of the country’s GDP. Bulgaria is Europe’s sixth-largest coal producer. Local deposits of coal, iron, copper and lead are vital for the manufacturing and energy sectors. Almost all top export items of Bulgaria are industrial commodities such as oil products, copper products and pharmaceuticals. Bulgaria is also a net exporter of agricultural and food products, of which two-thirds go to OECD countries. It is the largest global producer of perfumery essential oils such as lavender and rose oil. Agriculture has declined significantly in the past two decades. Production in 2008 amounted to only 66 per cent of that between 1999 and 2001, while cereal and vegetable yields have dropped by nearly 40 per cent since 1990. Of the services sector, tourism is the most significant contributor to economic growth. In recent years, Bulgaria has emerged as a travelling destination with its inexpensive resorts and beaches outside the reach of the tourist industry. Lonely Planet ranked it among its top 10 destinations for 2011. Most of the visitors are British, Romanian, German and Russian. The capital Sofia, the medieval capital Veliko Tarnovo, coastal resorts Golden Sands and Sunny Beach and winter resorts Bansko, Pamporovo and Borovets are some of the locations most visited by tourists.

Traditional Bulgarian culture contains mainly Thracian, Slavic and Bulgar heritage, along with Greek, Roman, Ottoman, Persian and Celtic influences. Nine historical and natural objects have been inscribed in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Madara Rider, the Thracian tombs in Sveshtari and Kazanlak, the Boyana Church, the Rila Monastery, the Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo, Pirin National Park, Sreburna Nature Reserve and the ancient city of Nesebar. Nestinarstvo, a ritual fire-dance of Thracian origin, is included in the list of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. Fire is an essential element of Bulgarian folklore, used to banish evil spirits and diseases. Bulgarian folklore personifies illnesses as witches and has a wide range of creatures, including lamya, samodiva (veela) and karakondzhul. Some of the customs and rituals against these spirits have survived and are still practiced, most notably the kukeri and survakari. Martenitsa is also widely celebrated.

Slavic culture was centered in both the First and Second Bulgarian Empires during much of the Middle Ages. The Preslav, Ohrid and Tarnovo literary schools exerted considerable cultural influence over the Eastern Orthodox world. Many languages in Eastern Europe and Asia use Cyrillic script, which originated in the Preslav Literary School around the 9th century. The medieval advancement in the arts and letters ended with the Ottoman conquest when many masterpieces were destroyed, and artistic activities did not re-emerge until the National Revival in the 19th century. After the Liberation, Bulgarian literature quickly adopted European literary styles such as Romanticism and Symbolism. Since the beginning of the 20th century, several Bulgarian authors, such as Ivan Vazov, Pencho Slaveykov, Peyo Yavorov, Yordan Radichkov and Tzvetan Todorov have gained prominence. In 1981 Bulgarian-born writer Elias Canetti was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

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