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- 1 Bloody history
- 2 Buggery
- 3 Religion and atheism
- 4 Pseudohistory
- 5 Local woo
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
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. (How close to the truth is any account offered by a Bulgarian depends chiefly on how much nationalistic propaganda the teller has been exposed to in school. And this whole section was written by Bulgarians...)
Rise and fall of the First Empire
Bulgaria was founded in 681 by the Bulgar people, who managed to (bloodily) acquire from the Eastern Roman Empire[note 1] a territory populated by numerous Slavic tribes. The Bulgars were gradually assimilated by the locals, but they lent their name to the country. The Romans were not amused, and repeatedly tried to (bloodily) regain the lost territory, causing some (bloody) amusing incidents (e.g. Krum and the skull cup)[note 2] to alleviate their boredom. Unfortunately, they tried too hard and the First Bulgarian Empire (bloodily) ceased to exist in 1085. In the meantime, Bulgaria managed to (bloodily) convert to Christianity, invent (bloodlessly, for a change) the Cyrillic alphabet, spawn a heresy (see buggery below) and burn the priest who invented it at the stake.
The Bulgarians got a second chance when the Second Bulgarian Empire was established in 1185 after a successful rebellion. It was somewhat less formidable than the first one. Highlights include some ass-kicking delivered to some cheeky Crusaders who had managed to conquer Constantinople and a swineherd becoming a tsar. Unfortunately, the end of the Roman/Byzantine Empire meant that something worse was going to take its place. In the 14th century the fragmented Bulgarian feudal states were conquered by the Ottoman Empire, along with the rest of the Balkans, and Bulgaria ceased to exist for five centuries.
Under the Yoke
Under the Yoke is a novel about Bulgarian life and resistance against Ottoman rule in the 19th century. It's inflicted on every schoolkid under the guise of "great Bulgarian literature". The phrase "Ottoman yoke" (османско иго) is often used to describe the period with a literary flourish. Another often used phrase has been "турско робство" (literally "Turkish slavery"), but it seems to be falling out of favour due to being politically (and historically) incorrect. The current academic term is "османско владичество", which translates as, well, "Ottoman rule".
As Bulgarians were both Christians and a conquered people, they didn't fare greatly under the Sultan, and until this day are a bit touchy about the subject. (Or in other words, saying something dumb about the period in the wrong place may get you beaten up.) The nationalistic indoctrination in antagonism against Turkey during the Communist period doesn't help matters. But if you think that this is a bit too long to hold a grudge, note that the American Civil War was about ten years earlier than the Liberation War, and it still causes... reactions.
Bulgaria was liberated in 1878 by the Russian Empire and regained full independence as the Tsardom of Bulgaria in 1908. Due to some territorial disputes with its neighbors,[note 3] Bulgaria started the 20th century with a pair of Balkan wars, and chose the wrong side in the First World War for the same reason. This in turn influenced its choice of sides during the Second World War — Bulgaria started the war as a neutral country, but after Nazi Germany showed up at the border, it let them in. On the upside, Bulgaria is notable for saving most of its Jews from the concentration camps. On the downside, it traded them for the Jews from its newly occupied territories. (End score: 40,000 saved : 11,000 deported.) The tsar, Boris III, died in 1943, leaving his six-year-old son at the throne and a council of regents to look after him. A coup d'etat in 1944[note 4] resulted in Bulgaria being officially at war with both sides in WWII for some time and this in turn allowed the Soviet Army to occupy the country. The regents got executed, the little tsar got exiled, and Bulgaria became a Communist state.
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. A common joke from that era follows the template "When [Soviet leader] farts, [Bulgarian leader] has diarrhea." It had been known as the "Silicon Valley" of the Communist bloc, spawning many of the useful computer viruses that the West enjoyed. The Communist regime fell in the beginning of the 1990s and after that Bulgaria became democratic. Countless Todor Zhivkov and Radio Yerevan jokes were also made during that time.
Bulgaria's transition to democratic government and market economy has been marked by organized crime, corruption and poverty. Surprisingly, the former Bulgarian Communist (now Socialist) Party managed to get itself elected for a few times. As a result, in 1997 the country suffered an economic collapse and hyperinflation and riot police had to protect members of the parliament from being stoned. The (supposedly) right-wing government that followed managed to clean the mess, but the people were getting sick of the two party system they perceived as corrupt, so when the exiled tsar, Simeon Sax-Coburg-Gota, returned to Bulgaria, he was elected as a prime minister. He served between 2001 and 2005, but his government wasn't any less corrupt than the previous ones and organized crime continued to thrive. In a piece of historical irony, while the former tsar was serving as a prime minister, the president was a former Communist.[note 5]
Speaking of the President in question, during his second term it turned out that he had been an agent/informer of the former secret police under the operative name "Gotse" (diminutive form of the name Georgi; it has nothing to do with the GOCE satellite or a certain website). The fact that he remained in office speaks volumes about the Bulgarian political system.
The next prime minister was Boyko Borisov, formerly: 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. (The latter contract was the one that landed him the job of Chief Secretary of the MoI in the former-tsar's cabinet.) The local clone of the Chuck Norris Facts list is called the Boyko Borisov Facts. And yes, we are not making this up. Borisov's cabinet resigned in the spring of 2013 after a series of protests, triggering premature elections in May, which was followed by yet another early election in October, 2014. Borisov returned to his position in November 2014, and has been Prime Minister ever since: since the 2017 elections, Borisov's populist-conservative Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) are in coalition with the United Patriots, a nationalist electoral alliance.
Meanwhile, Bulgaria has integrated with Europe, joining the European Union in 2007 and its citizens getting full freedom of movement in the EU in 2014 (although some countries allowed Bulgarians in sooner).
As weird as it seems, the term "buggery" for sodomy comes from a deformation of the French word for Bulgar, "bougre", due to a heretical sect that flourished there in the Middle Ages and was accused by Catholics of being devoted to sodomy.[note 6]
Religion and atheism
The good part: Bulgaria's constitution explicitly recognizes the right of its citizens to choose "any religious or atheistic views" (i.e. both "freedom of religion" and "freedom from religion", for the people who make that spurious distinction). The bad part: the constitution explicitly proclaims the Eastern Orthodox Christianity to be the "traditional religion" in the country, whatever that means.
- The average Bulgarian, if asked, will gladly explain that "the computer" was invented by a Bulgarian, John Atanasoff. Unfortunately, a) poor Clifford Berry always gets forgotten, b) the average Bulgarian has never heard of: George Boole, Charles Babbage, Alan Turing, John von Neumann, William Shockley, Jack Kilby, and many others.[note 7]
The Balkans are often said to be on 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 that was hastily filled by missionaries from the East and the West and various 'sects'. Atheism is still viewed by many as synonymous to communism.
The regime had a wooier side in Bulgaria, in the face of Lyudmila Zhivkova, the daughter of the last Bulgarian Communist leader.
PD founded a New Age-y new religious movement, a kind of "Esoteric Christianity" influenced by theosophy/anthroposophy. Established in the beginning of the 20th century, it survived the anti-religious propaganda and repressions of the Communist regime and has a modest following outside of Bulgaria.
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 both 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.[note 8]
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, as well as to 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 Nineties, 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 point of that era, now mostly forgotten, was when a trio of contactees predicted the landing of aliens on 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 artefacts) and that the expedition site was "inspected" by aliens during the dig.
The severe economic crisis in the second half of the decade 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.
The Bulgarian Academy of Science and crop circles
In November 2009, several UK newsrags ran headlines reporting that "Bulgarian scientists" claimed that they had contacted extraterrestrials on Earth. The reason was the activities of Lachezar Filipov,[note 9] 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 financial 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 has suspended one of its phone numbers, 088 888 888, because all its owners died within the last 10 years. The reason to ever 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 the Bulgarian organized crime where in said period a high risk of sudden violent death came with the territory.
- AKA the Byzantine Empire or simply Byzantium.
- The skull cup should not be confused with a "skull cap". The skull in question belongs to the Eastern Roman Emperor Nikephoros I. As one aspiring history student put it in his/her (hopefully) failed exam paper, "Krum blocked the [mountain] pass with his back parts, and with his front parts surprised Nikephoros from behind." ("Parts" in Bulgarian may also refer to "troops".)
- Bulgaria hasn't had some kind of territorial dispute with only one of its neighbors — the Black Sea.
- The guy who led the coup d'etat had already helped organize another two, in 1923 and 1935. (I am not making this up.) They should have seen a trend, or something. Even more remarkably he wasn't killed off by the Soviets after the war, but simply put in a cushy parliament job after gracefully bowing out in favor of Moscow's man - not bad for someone with a decidedly right-wing profile.
- And the minister of the environment at that time was Dolores Arsenova. You don't get any prize for guessing what "arsen" means in Bulgarian.
- Seriously...it's in the OED.
- Mentioning the makers of the Antikythera mechanism would be overkill, though.
- No, that definitely doesn't sound at all like schizophrenia. Why do you ask?
- What is it with Bulgarians called Lachesar?
- This thread contains some examples.
- These were quite widespread in the Eastern Bloc, see chapter 3 of Laughing Under the Covers.
- For a brief overview over the history of Bulgarian organized crime and its status circa 2005, search for US embassy cable 05 SOFIA 1207 in your favorite Wikileaks mirror. The Guardian has a severely edited copy. Some of the people mentioned within are no longer among the living.
- Bulgaria country profile, BBC, 22 May 2018
- See the Wikipedia article on Freedom of movement for workers in the European Union.
- Video (in Bulgarian)
- 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
- Episode #257, starts from the 0:45:50 mark.