“”We, the Bulgarians collectively have rarely been first in the world in anything. Actually, no, we were. We were "the saddest place in the world." That's what "The Economist" called our country in 2010 in a study of its own. Now we're death champions. From the saddest to the deadliest place, the step isn't really big.
|—Georgi Gospodinov, Bulgarian author, responding to the Bulgarian failure on COVID-19.|
“”As natives of the poorest member of the European Union, Bulgarians have been leaving their home in droves, contributing to the world’s fastest population decline. Bulgaria’s population was around 9 million at the end of the 1980s, but it fell to fewer than 7 million in 2018, and is expected to fall below 6 million in 50 years. The UN Population Division projects that Bulgaria will lose 23% of its population by 2050.
|—Denise Hruby, BBC, 30th September 2019.|
The Republic of Bulgaria (Bulgarian: България) is a struggling country in the eastern Balkans. Once a communist member of the Eastern Bloc, Bulgaria has become a fragile democracy haunted by widespread corruption, powerful unelected oligarchs, and shrinking media freedoms. Bulgaria also has to deal with a stagnant economy and the resulting mass migration of youth out of the country, making Bulgaria the world's fastest-shrinking country. It is the poorest country in the European Union. About 65% of Bulgarians are Eastern Orthodox, 8% are Muslim, and 9% are unaffiliated. The Roma are a significant minority in Bulgaria but face extreme discrimination. Bulgaria's capital and largest city is Sofia.
Bulgaria is a South Slavic region that spent a long time under the rule of the Roman Empire. This period ended when the nomadic Central Asian Bulgar people swept in during the 7th century to establish the Bulgarian Empire. The Bulgarians were influential in the region until 1396, when the Ottoman Empire conquered them. Bulgarians experienced severe cultural oppression under the Ottomans, and part of their population converted to Islam for the associated privileges. Bulgarians finally got their independence back in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78, although the new state's unsettled borders and irredentism ideology led to a series of turbulent Balkan wars, an alliance with Germany in World War I, and then an alliance with the Axis in World War II.
The Soviet Union invaded Bulgaria during WWII, establishing it as a communist puppet state in 1946. Already one of the poorer countries in Europe, Bulgaria stagnated further during the Cold War and then slipped much further after the abrupt downfall of communism in 1989. Bulgaria's quality of life has steadily risen, but it must still grapple with the old order's legacies. Bulgaria is now a member of the EU and NATO.
Most Bulgarians are very proud of the 1300-year-old history of their country, casually ignoring the fact that it didn't exist as an autonomous state for ~700 of those 1300 years. A relatively truthful account usually includes some instances of "I am not making this shit up" and goes approximately like the following.
First Empire and Christian shenanigans
Bulgaria wasn't even Bulgarian until around the third century CE. Before them were the Thracians, a pseudo-Greek culture that was conquered by the Roman Empire and subsequently converted to Christianity. In the third century, invasions by barbarian groups gradually eroded Roman holdings across Europe. Among them were the Bulgars, a nomadic group distantly related to the Turks, who conquered what is now Bulgaria and settled there while adopting elements of the Roman religious and political order. They gradually intermingled with the Slavs, who also migrated into the region.
In 681 CE, Khan Asparuh of the Bulgars noticed that the Byzantine/Eastern Roman Empire was distracted by fighting the Muslims and established the First Bulgarian Empire as an official polity in its own right. The Byzantines were forced to acknowledge the Bulgarians as a regional power, especially after Khan Tervel saved Constantinople from an Arab siege in 711 CE. Bulgaria adopted the Byzantine version of Eastern Orthodox Christianity and formed an autocephalous Bulgarian church.
As Bulgaria's power grew, the Byzantines gradually considered them more of a threat than an ally. Their differences grew even further when the Bogomilist heresy movement arose in Bulgaria, calling for the end of an ecclesiastical hierarchy and rejecting the concept of churches as a whole. The Bogomils became highly influential in Bulgaria, and the Byzantines finally invaded in 1014 CE and ended the empire. Byzantine Emperor Basil II captured about ten thousand Bulgar soldiers in a single battle and ordered nine thousand to be blinded.
Byzantine domination was relatively short. They ruled harshly, imposing high taxes and murderously crushing political and religious opposition. The first two Crusades also rolled through during this time, causing even more damage to Bulgaria. By 1185, the Bulgars were sick of this raw deal, so they rose up against the (by now much weaker) Byzantine Empire under the leadership of noble brothers Asen and Petar. This uprising smashed Greek power and led to the establishment of the second empire of Bulgaria.
The second empire was even more subject to Roman influence than the first, and its leaders now called themselves the Tsars. Under Tsar Kaloyan, the Bulgarians once again became a significant regional power. After the Fourth Crusade destroyed the Byzantines and established the Catholic Latin Empire in its place in 1204, the Bulgars under Tsar Kaloyan immediately intervened against them and began a series of wars lasting for almost 60 years. The Bulgars generally had the upper hand thanks to being far closer to their power base and the fact that the Latin Empire was an unauthorized project in the first place. The wars eventually resulted in the total destruction of the Crusader state and the reestablishment of a much weaker Byzantine Empire.
Once again turning back to their own affairs, the Bulgars had to deal with a peasant uprising, where a simple swineherd managed to crown himself Tsar Ivaylo of Bulgaria in 1278 after his success as a rebel leader. This began a long age of political crisis in which the empire was wrecked repeatedly by civil wars and infighting. All of this occurred while a rising power began to threaten from the south.
The Ottoman Empire rolled in from Turkey in 1345 to invade the greatly weakened Bulgarian Empire, beginning a series of wars that lasted about 50 years and saw Bulgaria get stabbed in the back by various internal elements and Serbia. Bulgaria belatedly got help from the Crusaders in the 1396 Battle of Nicopolis, but the Ottomans were unstoppable by this point and won easily. In retaliation for Crusader atrocities against them, the Ottoman army massacred around 3,000 prisoners and sold many others into slavery.
Since the Bulgarians had fought so tenaciously, the Ottomans chose to wipe the entire Bulgarian state out of existence. They eliminated all elements of the Bulgarian government, stripped land from the Bulgarian nobility, and liquidated the Bulgarian church and made it into a simple diocese of the Constantinople Patriarchate. Bulgarians who converted to Islam got special privileges and tax breaks, but conversion was not mandatory. Other Bulgarians, like prosperous merchants and artisans, became a significant economic factor in the new Ottoman Bulgaria as the Ottomans recognized the value of a thriving economy. In many cases, the moneyed classes acted as intermediaries between the Ottoman authorities and the rest of the Bulgarians.
Despite the destruction of Bulgarian political influence, Bulgarian culture went largely undisturbed. The Ottomans had settled many of their other subjects into Bulgaria's major cities, but the villages were able to escape from Ottoman government efforts due to the centralized authorities ignoring them. The similarly centralized Church administration at Constantinople also neglected to change anything about local village churches, meaning that Bulgarian Orthodoxy survived.
Still, Turkish rule was oppressive and unpopular. Bulgarian uprisings against the Ottomans were frequent and became a significant threat at least once a generation. As the empire declined, the revolts became more dangerous, and thus the Turks became more oppressive. This created a vicious cycle that perpetuated violence in Bulgaria and the entire Balkan region, throwing everything into chaos. In Bulgaria, the breakdown of Ottoman authority led to an era called the kurdzhaliistvo, where warlords and criminals dominated the countryside and terrorized the Bulgarian people. Political order was not reestablished until 1820, and by then, Bulgarian nationalism was in full swing thanks to the realization that Ottoman rule was on its way out.
All of this culminated in the April Uprising of 1876. The Ottoman response, though, was horrific and involved the massacre of tens of thousands of civilians. Europeans elsewhere were horrified by this, and they thus chose to do nothing when Russia invaded the Ottoman Empire in 1877 to liberate the Bulgarians and other Slavs. The war was a crushing defeat for the Ottomans, forcing them to acknowledge Bulgaria as a sovereign state.
Bulgaria's early years were probably the most productive. It gained a parliament with relatively limited powers under its Tsar, but Russia remained Bulgaria's protector and effective overlord. Russia used its influence to strongarm the Bulgarian government into rejecting liberal reforms, much to the anger of the original Bulgarian revolutionaries. Russian monarchial conservatism just wasn't popular in Bulgaria.
Even less popular were the Russians themselves, who quickly pissed away the goodwill they'd earned in fighting for Bulgaria's independence by compromising that independence. They didn't like that Russia maintained a troop presence in Bulgaria; they didn't like that the Russians demanded that the Bulgarians build a railway for them. They especially didn't like it when Russia interfered with Bulgaria's government and tried to stop Bulgarian territorial expansion.
In response to the alienation between them and their Russian protector and the various threats across the Balkans, Bulgaria militarized quickly and became known as the "Prussia of the Balkans". Rapid industrialization turned many people towards socialism due to horrible working conditions.
Balkan clusterfuck wars
“”The next great European war will begin over some damned foolish thing in the Balkans.
|—Otto von Bismarck, 1888|
Problems in the Balkans exploded into the Balkan Wars in 1912 as the alliance of Serbia, Greece, and Bulgaria fought to gain their irredentism-based land claims against the Ottoman Empire. The First Balkan War against Turkey resulted in a rapid victory thanks to the Ottoman Empire's failings and decay and the unity of purpose among the Balkan allies. After the war, the problem arose that the Balkan allies had competing territorial claims against each other and didn't like each other very much. The most pressing of these claims was Macedonia, which Bulgaria wanted but the Serbs had occupied.
Cue the second Balkan War, which began when Bulgaria launched a sneak attack against Serbia and its pal Greece. The Russians were pissed since they had brokered the original Balkan alliance and didn't appreciate seeing Bulgaria tear it apart. When the Bulgarians noticed how the Russian sympathies were more in line with Serbia, they broke up with their one-time sponsor once and for all (this would have catastrophic consequences).
The Bulgarian attack failed to oust the Serbian alliance from Macedonia, and thus the war resulted in a Bulgarian defeat and a total failure to get anything from the region. The wars had significant consequences because Bulgaria became pals with Austria after turning against Russia. Serbia and Russia, on the other hand, were tighter than ever. All of these events helped set the stage for...
World War I
At the outbreak of the Great War, Russia intervened to protect its pal Serbia from the big meanie Austria and the German Empire. Despite its clear interests in the war, Bulgaria initially declared neutrality just to see how things would turn out. By 1915, though, things seemed to be going well for the Central Powers, and they managed to bribe the Bulgarians with promises of a second shot at territorial expansion. Bulgaria joined the war during the summer of 1915 and participated in Austria's renewed assault on Serbia. Bulgaria attacked from the east and smashed the Serbian army during the Kosovo Offensive. Bulgarian participation helped the Central Powers crush Serbia, which Austria had embarrassingly failed to do at the outset of the war despite Serbia being so much smaller. Bulgaria then helped the Central Powers smash Romania, which had joined the war before being ready for it.
Although the Bulgarians were good on the battlefield, at home, their government failed to cope with the economic and administrative demands of the war, so famines and shortages plagued the Bulgarian people and military. Despite taking place in an enemy nation, the February Revolution found fertile ground in Bulgaria, where soldiers were increasingly pissed off about a Tsar's poor leadership. Bulgarians became even less enthusiastic about the war when Romania capitulated, and the Central Powers reneged on their promise to hand some of the spoils to Bulgaria. Demoralized by deteriorating conditions and the turning tide of the war, Bulgaria quit in late September of 1918.
The Bulgarians had suffered 300,000 casualties and 100,000 deaths in battle, the worst per capita losses for any combatant nation. All for nothing since Bulgaria lost its Aegean coastline and failed to make territorial gains.
Tsarist dictatorship and fucked economy
Like the other Central Powers, Bulgaria got fucked by a wave of war reparations, inflation, and rising taxes that contributed to political instability and radicalism. About 250,000 refugees hastily returned from the territories Bulgaria had lost, putting further strain on the Bulgarian state. Bulgaria had nowhere to put those people, and the refugees became homeless and agitated. Not a good combo.
Then the Great Depression fucked Bulgaria even harder. 200,000 workers lost their jobs, prices fell by 50 percent, dozens of companies went bankrupt, and per capita income among peasants was halved between 1929 and 1933. The resulting strikes and protests destroyed the civilian government. Deciding that the civilians couldn't run their own affairs (which was somewhat true), Tsar Boris III assembled a coalition of right-wing military officers and politicians and seized control of Bulgaria's government in 1934. He suspended elections and enacted strict censorship laws to ensure his complete control over the government.
Meanwhile, Bulgaria's economy recovered somewhat only with the help of the economic superpower of Nazi Germany. That, combined with Adolf Hitler's promises of realizing Bulgarian irredentism, ensured that the Tsar would inevitably become an Axis partner. In 1940, Hitler helped cement that alliance by forcing Romania to return territory that it had taken from Bulgaria in the previous war. The Axis invasion of Greece finally ended all hopes of Bulgarian neutrality, as Bulgaria was a key state on Greece's border. Bulgaria joined the Axis war effort officially in 1941.
World War II
WWII was a familiar situation for Bulgaria, as it had been coaxed into a European war against Russia. Boris III resisted the Axis attempts to get him to participate in the invasion of the Soviet Union and mostly tried to keep his soldiers confined to the Greek and Yugoslavia theatres. He was afraid that the Bulgarian people wouldn't take kindly to joining a war of extermination against fellow Slavs on behalf of the Nazis, who explicitly wanted to commit genocide against those Slavs. Thus, Boris came up with the excuse that he was protecting the Balkans from a potential Allied invasion, a logic that Hitler reluctantly accepted. Bulgaria thus escaped from the early phases of the Eastern Front meatgrinder.
To their credit, the Tsarist government also generally refused to participate in the Holocaust. It passed anti-Jewish legislation and deported Jews from foreign territories that it occupied (some 11,000 people), but it came up with various excuses to delay deporting any Jews who held Bulgarian citizenship. Even deporting foreign Jews sparked a domestic political backlash, and Bulgarian parliamentarian Dimitur Pešev led an activist and protest movement alongside the Bulgarian Orthodox Church that finally forced the government to stop cooperating with the Nazi genocide. Ultimately, the genuinely heroic Bulgarian efforts spared 50,000 Bulgarian Jews from the horrors of the Holocaust.
Also, in 1943, Boris suddenly died and left his 6-year-old son as Tsar. Allied air raids pounded the buildings of Sofia. Worst of all, in 1944, the Soviet Union abruptly declared war on Bulgaria despite their longstanding neutrality, sparking a panicked coup that turned Bulgaria into a weakened coalition government that was briefly at war with both the Axis and the Allies. The new government welcomed Soviet troops into Bulgaria and sent three Bulgarian armies, a total of 455,000 men, to help the Soviets liberate Yugoslavia.
From there, Soviet control over Bulgaria was a done deal. Soviet authorities took control of the Sofia government, using their influence to have the monarchial regents executed and the cute little Tsar exiled to Spain. Beyond that, the Soviets were merciful to Bulgaria and even let the Bulgarians keep the territory that Hitler had given them from Romania. This made Bulgaria the only Axis nation that gained territory from Hitler's efforts. Huh.
Soviet puppet regime
“”Dear passengers, please look to your left. You’ll notice that the aircraft’s left engines are on fire. Dear passengers, look right. You’ll notice that the aircraft’s right engines are also on fire. Dear passengers, look down. Those small white dots you see below you are the crew’s open parachutes. The on-board tape deck wishes you a pleasant landing.
|—Old joke about Bulgarian airlines.|
Between 1946 and 1990, Bulgaria was a "People's Republic" under the influence of the Soviet Union, earning the reputation of the most subservient state outside of the Union itself. Dictator Georgi Dimitrov was a loyal Stalinist and picked Daddy Joe over Josip Broz Tito when the two men divorced in 1948. Dimitrov followed Stalin's model in rapidly industrializing the formerly agrarian Bulgaria. He was succeeded by Valko Chervenkov in 1950, who was such a boot-licker that he became known as "Little Stalin". The two Bulgarian leaders used their position to seize control of Bulgarian religious institutions, murderously purge communist party members, and suppress culture and the arts along the lines of Soviet-prescribed socialist realism.
Stalin's death had similar far-reaching consequences in Bulgaria as in Russia. Bulgarian leaders scrambled to emulate the less awful leadership style of the new Soviet government, and Chervenkov was replaced by Todor Zhivkov, who was less enamored with silly things like labor camps and forced collectivization. Chervenkov's downfall had come directly from Nikita Khrushchev's posthumous denunciation of Stalinism, which just goes to show the consequences of anchoring your political fate to a single man. Zhivkov began some experiments in market liberalization that succeeded in growing the economy but also saddled the government with vast amounts of debt. His daughter, Lyudmila Zhivkova, was something of a soft Bulgarian nationalist who sponsored a reawakening of Bulgarian culture and arts. In 1972, the Bulgarian town of Gabrovo even opened the "House of Humor and Satire", which aimed to demonstrate that communists could take a joke too (with variable success).
On the negative side, Zhivkov purged his political opponents in ostentatious show trials in an apparent attempt to sacrifice people on the altar of proving loyalty to the Soviets. Zhivkov wanted to show Moscow that he could keep his house tidy, as Moscow was suspicious of all of their Eastern Bloc puppets after the 1956 disloyalty from Hungary. The Bulgarian government also noticed that the country's ethnic Turk population had a higher birthrate than the ethnic Bulgarians during the 1980s. Their solution to this "problem" was to begin a program of forced assimilation that began with forcing Turks to take Bulgarian names. This did little to improve Bulgaria's international standing.
Zhivkov stepped down soon after, under what was probably pressure from the new reformist government of Mikhail Gorbachev. Political reforms followed almost the same path in Bulgaria as in Russia, beginning with good intentions and resulting in uncontrollable calls for democracy. A powerful protest movement brought the communist regime down in 1991 along with the rest of the Eastern Bloc.
Modern (and incompetent) democracy
As in many other post-Eastern Bloc nations, Bulgaria's transition to a democratic government and market economy has been marked by organized crime, corruption, and poverty. It certainly wasn't the quick and profitable road that many had hoped for. The economy melted in 1989 along with the rest of Eastern Europe, and the recession only worsened throughout the 1990s. This began Bulgaria's era of alarming population decline as dozens of towns literally emptied out due to a mass exodus out of the country.
Surprisingly, the former Bulgarian Communist (now Socialist) Party managed to get itself elected a few times. As a result, in 1997, the country suffered another economic collapse, and riot police had to protect members of the parliament from being stoned. In 2001, the exiled Tsar Simeon (remember him?) returned to Bulgaria and served as the prime minister in a coalition with the Bulgarian Socialist Party. His administration proved to be no less corrupt and incompetent than those before him.
In terms of foreign policy, Bulgaria chose to align with the West. It joined NATO in 2004 alongside Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Bulgaria then joined the European Union in 2006, which was probably a mistake on the EU's part since Bulgaria had totally failed to get its governmental corruption and organized crime problems under control. The accession was very unpopular among European Union citizens, but the EU leadership had already painted themselves into a corner by making promises to Bulgaria. Romania was in a similar boat.
The current prime minister is Boyko Borisov, formerly: a fire-fighter, policeman, private security guard, Chief Secretary of the Ministry of Interior (i.e., police chief), and mayor of Sofia (the capital), in approximately this order. He had guarded both the last Communist leader and the former-tsar-turned-prime-minister. Borisov's political career has been turbulent, marked by resignations as PM and hastily organized elections. The president is Rumen Radev, supported by the Bulgarian Socialist Party. Radev and Borisov hate each other, and in 2020 Borisov used the government to raid Radev's office to delay anti-corruption investigations. This sparked a wave of anti-government protests in support of Radev, who is widely seen as a crusader against government corruption.
Government and politics
Structure (and problems)
Bulgaria is a semi-presidential republic with a unicameral legislature of 240 members, elected by proportional representation. The prime minister is the head of government, while the president is the head of state.
Unfortunately, Bulgaria's president, Ruman Radev, and its prime minister, Boyko Borisov, detest each other. These positions are elected separately, and Radev is a vocal Socialist Party-aligned critic of Borisov's center-right government. Radev and supporters accuse Borisov of being either personally corrupt or providing cover for those who are. Borisov didn't help his case when he sent heavily armed police to raid Radev's offices, sparking months of furious protests.
Bulgaria's current ruling party, led by Boyko Borisov, is the Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB), the dominant Bulgarian conservative party. It currently draws support mainly from the machismo image of its leader Borisov, and its platform focuses on economic issues. The other right-wing party is the Far-Right Shithead Party, known officially as the Ataka. They focused on Islamaphobia and drew condemnation from across the political spectrum in 2011 for organizing physical assaults against Muslims in prayer across Bulgaria. The Ataka also likes to demonize the Roma and blame them for Bulgaria's high criminality rates.
The Bulgarian Socialist Party is the direct continuation of the Bulgarian Communist Party that ruled things during the Soviet era. Its attempts to rebrand itself as a modern social-democratic party have split the organization between the modernists and the hardline crusty old communists. Its periods as the ruling party generally saw success in European foreign policy but great failures to handle the economy or corruption.
Bulgaria is widely considered the European Union's most corrupt country, which is shocking considering that the EU also has Italy and Romania. The EU frequently investigates Bulgaria, as its money tends to fall into a black hole whenever it's invested there. Regardless of political affiliation, governments have repeatedly failed to deal with corruption for decades. Perhaps the most severe impacts are felt in the judiciary, where wealthy oligarchs control judges to the point where Bulgarian parliamentarians consider their democracy to be in jeopardy. The Borisov government is probably the worst off of any Bulgarian administration, as it only tends to give a shit about corruption allegations if they involve political opponents.
Bulgaria rates extremely poorly with corruption in the police (coercion and bribery), public services (you need to bribe to get things done), property rights (the rich can bribe to get people's property seized), taxation (weak compliance compounded by bribery), customs administrations (coercion and bribery), and government administration (diversion of funds plus bribery). You'd be forgiven for wondering who the fuck isn't pocketing bribes in Bulgaria.
Bulgaria also has a severe organized crime problem, with various groups involved in drug trafficking, human trafficking, forced prostitution, car theft, arms trade, and extortion. Killings, frauds, and corruption seem to go unprosecuted and unpunished, thanks to the hideously corrupt judicial system. Bribes make things work for you in Bulgaria.
The oligarchs and the mafias they control are directly descended from the old communist secret police, which caused the whole country to descend into crime hell after the fall of communism and the subsequent scramble for cash. Prime minister Borisov himself has been implicated in the wave of crime that took place during the '90s. The good thing is that bloodshed and murders are down. The bad thing is that this is because the mafia groups find it easier to just funnel away EU cash that should be helping the people of Bulgaria.
Bulgaria has a long history of hating its Islamic and Turkish minorities, most notably when the communist administration mounted an official campaign of persecution against Bulgarian Turks during the 1980s. Far-right factions like the Ataka still consider Muslims an easy target for riling up hatred among their base.
Hate crimes against Turks and Muslims in Bulgaria are common and rarely investigated by authorities, although Bulgarian Muslims have shown no inclination towards religious extremism. With the Ataka's Patriotic Front increasing its ties with the ruling conservative party in Bulgaria, they've tried to introduce legislation to make discrimination against Turks part of the Bulgarian legal code. Already passed is a ban on women wearing veils that even partially cover their faces, and proposed are making it mandatory to use the Bulgarian language during all religious services and a vague prohibition of "radical Islam".
Discrimination against Roma
Roma people in Bulgaria also face hideous racism. They tend to live in self-built homes in de facto-segregated neighborhoods with limited access to running water and electricity, and Roma who seek medical help are often given differential treatment. Roma dwellings are frequently demolished because they have no official paperwork, leaving them homeless and without hope.
Their children grow up in grinding poverty and are often denied access to quality education, often shoved into schools for the "developmentally disabled" even when there's nothing wrong with them beyond just being Roma. These classrooms are overcrowded, lack basic facilities, and are led on irregular schedules and by unlicensed teachers.
Racism is highly prevalent toward Romani. A common slur is "tsiganin", meaning lazy or criminal, and another is a word meaning "blackie". At best, Roma are told they stink or are naturally inclined to be criminals, while at worst, they're attacked or spit on. Krasimir Karakachanov, head of the Bulgarian National Movement as well as the Minister for Public Order, has a manifesto that defines Roma as "asocial Gypsies" (a term used by the Nazis) and calls for limits on the number of children some Roma women can have, the introduction of compulsory "labor education schools" for Roma children, and calls for the creation of "reservations" for Roma in the line of what the United States did to Native Americans. His predecessor as deputy prime minister, Valeri Simeonov, described the Roma as "arrogant, presumptuous and ferocious humanoids". A popular protest slogan in 2011 was "gypsies into soap", a reference to the Holocaust.
Bulgaria is traditionally Eastern Orthodox, but the prolonged era of communist rule has led to religion receding in the face of rising atheism and agnosticism. This fact is somewhat hidden because around 81% of Bulgarians identify as Christian; you have to look closer and see that only 5% say they attend church regularly, and only 26% say they even think God is certain to exist.
The government is officially secular, although its constitution has some odd language that designates the Bulgarian Orthodox Church as the nation's "traditional" religion. Bulgaria also has significant Jewish and Islamic minorities, largely remnants of the Ottoman years.
The Bulgarian Orthodox Church has a long and turbulent history, having been established and then disestablished repeatedly throughout Bulgaria's eras of being ruled by foreign powers. The current church took shape after the downfall of the communist regime and, as shown above, it still struggles with a general lack of public enthusiasm. Its leader is the Patriarch of All Bulgaria, currently Patriarch Neophyte. His seat is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia, which allegedly contains relics of Russian hero Alexander Nevsky himself.
Unfortunately, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church isn't any less woo-prone than other religions despite Bulgaria's national secularism. Patriarch Neophyte attracted scorn in 2020 when he claimed that COVID-19 could not possibly be transmitted during church services because the church is "medicine for mental and physical healing and health". Health officials in Bulgaria promptly called bullshit.
The Balkans are often said to be at a crossroads between the East and the West. This also applies to the woo there. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, a wave of woo from the West swept over its rusty remains to meet a wave of woo that had grown locally. The Secret can be found in local bookstores next to Russian woo that most Westerners have never heard of. And being in Harun Yahya's backyard is not exactly good for education.
The totalitarian nature of the Communist regimes that suppressed any opposing viewpoints and controlled the information channels has made people distrust the establishment, providing fertile ground for conspiracy theories. The suppression of religion created a vacuum hastily filled by missionaries from the East and the West and various 'sects'. Atheism is still viewed by many as synonymous with communism.
The regime had a wooier side in Bulgaria in the face of Lyudmila Zhivkova, the daughter of the last Bulgarian Communist leader.
In polite Bulgarian company, suggesting that psychics, clairvoyants, etc. are frauds is usually met with "Yes, but Vanga was real."
Vanga (Vangelia Gushterova, nee Vangelia Dimitrova, 1911-1996) was a blind woman who claimed to possess several gifts, most prominently the ability to foretell the future (she was also a big fan of herbalism). In Bulgarian, she is usually described as ясновидка (yasnovidka), the female form of "clairvoyant," or as пророчица (prorochitsa), "prophetess." Her fans claim that her predictions were uncannily accurate and—unusually for a prophet—very specific. She claimed that she was visited by various aliens and similar entities, invisible to the Muggles (that is, ordinary people), who gave her advice and warnings.
Most of her predictions and visions were personal, relating to the people who visited her, but some were more global. As with Nostradamus, many people try to shoehorn recent events into some of her predictions and attribute to her claims that they have made up themselves. Also, as with Nostradamus, most global predictions attributed to her (other than those made up in hindsight) failed to occur, including a prediction for World War III late in the first decade of the 2000s.
The wooish 1990s
In the 90s, the Bulgarians emerged blinking from the shadow of the Iron Curtain and were hit point-blank by ideas for which their previous experience provided no immunity - pyramid schemes, populist politicians, psychics, poltergeists, and other things, some not starting with a P. One of the low points of that era, now mostly forgotten, was when a trio of contactees predicted the landing of aliens at the Ruse airport in 1995. Another one was the so-called "Hole in Tsarichina", the result of the Ministry of Defence being led on a wild-goose chase by a bunch of woosters. According to one version (the official?), they were looking for buried treasure. Other versions claim more exotic targets (alien and/or anomalous ancient artifacts) and that the expedition site was "inspected" by aliens during the dig.
The severe economic crisis in the decade's second half put people's thoughts on more immediate matters. While the country slowly started recovering, people gained cynicism, and the level of rank woo dropped to more bearable levels.
In November 2009, several UK news rags ran headlines reporting that "Bulgarian scientists" claimed they had contacted extraterrestrials on Earth. The reason was the activities of Lachezar Filipov, the deputy head of the Space Research Institute of the Bulgarian Academy of Science. He and a group of like-minded individuals claim they have managed to establish contact with aliens, using crop circles as a communication channel. Fortunately, his activities haven't been funded by or done for BAS. Unfortunately, the foreign press ignored this distinction. The fact that this incident came shortly after the finance minister got in a row with BAS over science funding (and some remarks about 'feudal elders') is probably a coincidence. Probably.
Cursed phone number
In 2010, the Media reported that Bulgarian cell phone company Mobiltel suspended one of its phone numbers, 088 888 888, because all its owners had died within the last 10 years. The reason to mention this here is that RationalWiki's resident Bulgarian was rather surprised and amused to hear about it on the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, having completely missed any reports in the Bulgarian media. It should be mentioned, however, that all said owners of the "cursed" phone number were prominent figures in Bulgarian organized crime, where in the said period, a high risk of sudden violent death came with the territory.
- Thracomania, a popular brand of Bulgarian pseudohistory
- Bulgaria in Crisis: How World’s Saddest Place Became Deadliest. Novinite.
- How to slow down the world’s fastest-shrinking country. BBC.
- Opposition Leader Says Bulgaria’s Problems are Europe’s Too. Balkan Insight.
- See the Wikipedia article on Religion in Bulgaria.
- ‘Everybody hates us’: on Sofia’s streets, Roma face racism every day. The Guardian.
- See the Wikipedia article on Bulgars.
- Pre-Bulgarian Civilizations. Country Studies.
- The Slavs and the Bulgars. Country Studies.
- See the Wikipedia article on Asparuh of Bulgaria.
- The First Bulgarian Empire. Rual Travel.
- Bulgaria: The First Golden Age. CountryStudies.
- See the Wikipedia article on Bogomilism.
- See the Wikipedia article on Bulgarian–Latin wars.
- See the Wikipedia article on Ivaylo of Bulgaria.
- Fine, John V. A. (1994). The Late Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Late Twelfth Century to the Ottoman Conquest. University of Michigan Press. pp. 422–3. ISBN 978-0-472-08260-5.
- See the Wikipedia article on Battle of Nicopolis.
- Tuchman, Barbara W. (1978). A Distant Mirror: the Calamitous 14th Century. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-345-28394-5. p 562
- Bulgaria: Ottoman Rule. Country Studies.
- Bulgaria: National Awakening. Country Studies.
- Historical Dictionary of Bulgaria, Raymond Detrez, Edition 3, Publisher Rowman & Littlefield, 2014, ISBN 1442241802, p. 38.
- See the Wikipedia article on Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878).
- Bulgaria: Decades of National Consolidation. Country Studies.
- Pinon, Rene (1913). L'Europe et la Jeune Turquie: Les Aspects Nouveaux de la Question d'Orient [Europe and Young Turkey: The new aspects of the Eastern Question] (in French). Perrin et cie. p. 411. ISBN 978-1-144-41381-9.
- On the Brink, The New York Times
- Balkan Wars. Britannica.
- Balkan Wars 1912-1913. International Encyclopedia of the First World War.
- Stowell, Ellery Cory (2009). The Diplomacy Of The War Of 1914: The Beginnings Of The War (1915). Kessinger Publishing, LLC. p. 94. ISBN 978-1-104-48758-4.
- Bulgaria in World War I. Britannica.
- See the Wikipedia article on Kosovo Offensive (1915).
- Bulgaria: WWI. Country Studies.
- Chenoweth, Erica (2010). Rethinking Violence: States and Non-State Actors in Conflict. Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. p. 129. ISBN 978-0-262-01420-5.
- Bulgaria: The Crises of the 1930s. Country Studies.
- Foreign Policy in the Late 1930s. Country Studies.
- Bulgaria: World War II. Country Studies.
- Bulgaria. US Holocaust Memorial Museum.
- Remembering the Rescue of Bulgaria’s Jews. Anti Defamation League.
- Bulgaria. World War II Database.
- The Footprints in the Butter: Bulgarian Jokes. Blazing Bulgaria.
- See the Wikipedia article on Georgi Dimitrov.
- See the Wikipedia article on Valko Chervenkov.
- Bulgaria: Communism. Country Studies.
- See the Wikipedia article on Lyudmila Zhivkova.
- Humor in the Unexpected: The Bulgarian House of Humor and Satire. Alta.
- See the Wikipedia article on Hungarian Revolution of 1956.
- Bulgaria in the 1980s. Archived.
- Bulgaria Marks 28 Years Since Fall of Communism. Balkan Insight.
- Economic Crisis and Reform in Bulgaria, 1989-92. University of Richmond.
- The Steep Decline of Bulgaria’s Population in its Post-Soviet Era. Pulitzer Center.
- See the Wikipedia article on Zhan Videnov.
- See the Wikipedia article on Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.
- Seven new members join NATO. NATO.
- The Big Question: With Romania and Bulgaria joining the EU, how much bigger can it get? The Independent.
- Raids on Bulgaria's President Rumen Radev's office draw large protests. Deutsche Welle.
- Bulgaria political structure. Economist Intelligence Unit.
- Bulgaria: President calls for Borissov and government to resign amid anti-corruption protests. Euro News.
- Bulgarian President Lambasts Cabinet, Warns of Crisis. Bloomberg.
- See the Wikipedia article on GERB.
- Bulgarian Nationalists Under Attack from Left, Right. Balkan Insight.
- Bulgaria election: Resisting the radicals. BBC News.
- Key Political Parties in Bulgaria. Balkan Insight.
- Bulgaria, Europe's 'most corrupt country,' cracks down - again. Deutsche Welle.
- MEPs tackle rule of law in Bulgaria as corruption crisis swells. Politico EU.
- The corruption fuelling the Bulgaria protests. EU Observer.
- Bulgaria Corruption Report. GAN Integrity.
- See the Wikipedia article on Bulgarian mafia.
- How Bulgaria became the EU’s mafia state. Politico.
- Cracks show in Bulgaria's Muslim ethnic model. Reuters.
- Bulgarian Muslims Condemn Islamophobic Attacks. Balkan Insight.
- Minority Interest: Inside Bulgaria's Proposed Ban on 'Radical Islam'. Newsweek.
- EU citizenship, but no shoes: the Roma of Bulgaria. Open Democracy.
- ‘Everybody hates us’: on Sofia’s streets, Roma face racism every day. The Guardian.
- 81% of Bulgaria’s population are Orthodox Christians – but 22% of them are atheists or agnostics. The Sofia Globe.
- 2019 Report on International Religious Freedom: Bulgaria. US State Department.
- See the Wikipedia article on Patriarch of All Bulgaria.
- See the Wikipedia article on Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia.
- Bulgarian Church Leader Insists Sacraments Cannot Transmit Coronavirus. Balkan Insight.
- See the Wikipedia article on Baba Vanga.
- Video (in Bulgarian)
- HOSTILE ALIENS ATTACK RESEARCHERS AT TSARICHINA. Unexplained Mysteries.
- Aliens 'already exist on earth', Bulgarian scientists claim, Daily Telegraph
- Bulgaria: We are in contact with aliens, Metro
- Aliens? They're already living among us, claim Bulgarian government scientists, Daily Mail
- Mobile phone number suspended after three users die in 10 years. The Telegraph.
- Episode #257, starts from the 0:45:50 mark.