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U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Bulgaria, October 1998

Released by the Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs


Official Name

Republic of Bulgaria


Area: 110,994 sq. km; slightly larger than Tennessee.
Cities: Capital -- Sofia. Other cities -- Plovdiv, Varna, Burgas, Ruse, Blagoevgrad.
Terrain: Mostly mountainous with large fertile valleys and plains; lowlands in the north and southeast; Black Sea coast on the east.
Climate: Temperate.


Nationality: Noun and adjective -- Bulgarian(s).
Population (1996): 8.3 million.
Population growth rate (1996 est.): -0.53%.
Ethnic groups: Bulgarian 83%, Turks 10%, Roma 6%, others 1%.
Religions: Bulgarian Orthodox 83.5%, Islam 13%, Roman Catholic 1.5%, others 0.5%.
Languages: Bulgarian (official), Turkish, and Roma.
Education: Literacy 98%.
Health: Infant mortality rate -- 16.3/1,000. Life expectancy -- 67 years male, 75 years female.


Type: Parliamentary democracy.
Constitution: July 12, 1991.
Independence: March 3, 1887 (from the Ottoman Empire).
Subdivisions: 9 provinces (oblasti) -- Sofia, Sofia City, Burgas, Haskovo, Lovech, Montana, Plovdiv, Ruse, Varna.
Political Parties: Union of Democratic Forces (UDF); People's Union (comprised of the Bulgarian Agrarian National Union, People's Union and the Democratic Party); Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP); Alliance for National Salvation, comprised of the mainly ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) and smaller partners; Bulgarian Business Bloc (BBB); and the Euroleft.
Suffrage: Universal at 18.


GDP (1996 est): 1,660 billion leva (about $9.4 billion). About 40% of GDP is contributed by the private sector.
GDP growth rate (1996): -10.9%.
Per capita income: $1,120.
Inflation rate: 311% in 1996.
National resources: Copper, lead, zinc, lignite, iron, manganese, limestone and lumber.
Agriculture (1996): 11% of GDP. Products -- grain crops (more than one-third of the arable land), oilseeds, vegetables, fruits, tobacco (world's fourth-largest exporter); livestock.
Industry (1996): 31% of GDP. Types -- machinery and metal products, food processing, textiles, chemicals, building materials, electronics.
Services (1996): 54% of GDP.
Trade: Imports -- $5,327 million. Exports -- $4,814.

U.S.-Bulgarian Relations

U.S.-Bulgarian bilateral relations improved dramatically with the fall of communism in 1989. The United States moved quickly to encourage development of a multi-party democracy and a market economy. Initial progress was rapid, leading to full normalization of bilateral political and trade ties. A trade agreement was signed in 1991 and a bilateral investment treaty in 1992. The U.S. accorded Bulgaria unconditional Most Favored Nation trade status in 1996. In 1996, the U.S. was Bulgaria's sixth-largest trading partner, accounting for less than 5% of Bulgaria's total trade and was Bulgaria's fourth-largest investor, with investments of $55 million. There is active bilateral military cooperation, including a linkage between the Bulgarian military and the Tennessee National Guard. Bulgaria hosts the only fully American university in the region, the American University of Bulgaria (AUBG) in Blagoevgrad, established in 1991 and drawing students from throughout southeast Europe and beyond. The American College of Sofia, a high school founded in the 1860s and closed under communism, reopened in 1992.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

Ambassador -- Avis T. Bohlen
Deputy Chief of Mission -- Christopher Dell
Political and Economic Counselor -- Steven L.Blake
USAID Country Director -- John Tennant
Agricultural Officer -- Jamie Rothchild
Public Affairs Officer -- James W. Hutcheson
Defense Attache -- Col. William Hall
Commercial Officer -- Susan Weidner
Administrative Officer -- Douglas B. Leonnig
Consular Officer -- Stuart Hatcher
Regional Security Officer -- David T. Schnorbus
Peace Corps Director -- Kenneth Hill

Historical Highlights

Long a crossroads of civilizations (archaeological finds date back to 4600 B.C.), Bulgaria was first recognized as an independent state in AD 681. Bulgarian Orthodox Christanity, which became a hallmark of national identity, was established in the 9th century. Bulgaria was ruled by the Byzantine Empire from 1018 to 1185 and the Ottoman Empire from 1396 to 1878. In 1879, Bulgaria adopted a democratic constitution and invited a German nobleman, Alexander of Battenburg, to be prince.

In the early part of the 20th century, in an effort to gain Macedonian and other territories, Bulgaria engaged in two Balkan wars and become allied with Germany during World War I. It suffered disastrous losses as a result. The interwar period was dominated by economic and political instability and by terrorism as political factions, including monarchists and communists, struggled for influence. In World War II, Bulgaria ultimately allied again with Germany but protected its Jewish population of some 50,000 from the Holocaust. When King Boris III died in 1943, political uncertainty heightened. The Fatherland Front, an umbrella coalition led by the Communist Party, was established. This coalition backed neutrality and withdrawal from occupied territories. Bulgaria tried to avoid open conflict with the Soviet Union during the war, but the U.S.S.R. invaded in 1944 and placed the Fatherland Front in control of government.

After Bulgaria's surrender to the Allies, the Communist Party purged opposition figures in the Fatherland Front, exiled young King Simeon II, and rigged elections to consolidate power. In 1946, a referendum was passed overwhelmingly, ending the monarchy and declaring Bulgaria a people's republic. In a questionable election the next year, the Fatherland Front won 70% of the vote and Communist Party leader Georgi Dimitrov became prime minister. In 1947, the Allied military left Bulgaria and the government declared the country a communist state. Forty-two years of heavy-handed totalitarian rule followed. All democratic opposition was crushed, agriculture and industry were nationalized, and Bulgaria became the closest of the Soviet Union's allies. Unlike other countries of the Warsaw Pact, however, Bulgaria did not have Soviet troops stationed on its territory.

Dimitrov died in 1949. Todor Zhivkov became communist party chief in 1956 and prime minister in 1962. Zhivkov held power until November 1989, when he was deposed by members of his own party, soon renamed the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). The BSP won the first post-communist parliamentary elections in 1990 with a small majority. The BSP government formed at that time was brought down by a general strike in late 1990 and replaced by a transitional coalition government. Meanwhile, Zhelyu Zhelev, a communist-era dissident, was elected president by the Parliament in 1990 and later won Bulgaria's first direct presidential elections, in 1992. Zhelev served until early 1997. The country's first fully democratic parliamentary elections, in November 1991, ushered in another coalition government, which was led by the pro-reform Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) in partnership with the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF). This coalition collapsed in late 1992, however, and was succeeded by a technocratic team, put forward by the MRF, which governed at the sufferance of the BSP for 2 years. The BSP won pre-term elections in December 1994 and remained in office until February 1997, when a populace alienated by the BSP's failed, corrupt government demanded its resignation and called for new elections.


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 Serbia (1992-95) and Iraq took a heavy toll on the Bulgarian economy. First signs of recovery emerged when GDP grew 1.4% in 1994 for the first time since 1988, and 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 the BSP's go-slow, mismanaged economic reforms, its disastrous agricultural policy, and an unstable and de-capitalized banking system, which led to inflation of 311% and the collapse of the lev. When pro- reform forces come into power in spring 1997, an ambitious economic reform package, including introduction of a currency board regime, was agreed with the IMF and the World Bank, and the economy began to stabilize.

Since 1990, the bulk of Bulgarian trade has shifted from former COMECON countries primarily to the European Union, although Russian oil exports to Bulgaria make it Bulgaria's largest single trading partner. In December 1996, Bulgaria joined the World Trade Organization (WTO). Bulgaria's slow pace of cash privatization, contradictory government tax and investment policies, and bureaucratic red tape have kept foreign investment among the lowest in the region. Total direct foreign investment from 1991 through 1996 was $831 million. Germany was the largest investor.

The BSP promised to move forward on cash and mass privatization upon taking office in January 1995 but was slow to act. The first round of mass privatization finally began in January 1996 and auctions began toward the end of that year. The second and third rounds were conducted in spring 1997 under a new government. In July 1998, the UDF-led government and the IMF reached agreement on a 3-year loan worth about $800 million, which replaced the 14-month stand-by agreement that expired in June 1998. The load will be used to develop financial markets, improve social safety net programs, strengthen the tax system, reform agricultural and energy sectors and further liberalize trade.

Government and Political Conditions

Bulgaria has been a parliamentary democracy since 1990. Four parliamentary and two presidential elections have been held since the fall of the communist dictatorship in November 1989, each followed by peaceful and orderly change.

The president, elected for a 5-year term, is head of state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The president's main duties are to schedule elections and referenda, represent Bulgaria abroad, conclude international treaties, and head the Consultative Council for National Security. The president may return legislation to Parliament for further debate -- a kind of veto -- but the legislation can be passed again by a simple majority vote. Petar Stoyanov, the candidate of a united opposition coalition led by the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), was nominated to run for president in the country's first primary election, in June 1996. Stoyanov was elected in November and inaugurated in January 1997.

The legislative body is the unicameral National Assembly of 240 members elected to 4-year terms. Political parties must garner a minimum of 4% of the national vote in order to enter parliament. Parliament is responsible for enactment of laws, approval of the budget, scheduling presidential elections, selection and dismissal of the prime minister and other ministers, declaration of war and deployment of troops outside of Bulgaria, and ratification of international treaties and agreements. After the collapse of a socialist government in February 1997, a caretaker cabinet appointed by the president served until pre- term parliamentary elections in April, which yielded a landslide victory for pro-reform forces led by the UDF in the United Democratic Forces coalition. Along with the UDF, there are five other parties represented in parliament.

The Council of Ministers is the principal organ of the executive branch. It is usually formed by the majority party in Parliament, if one exists, or by the largest party in Parliament along with coalition partners. Chaired by the Prime Minister, it 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 the Prime Minister.

Bulgaria's judicial system is independent and is managed by the Supreme Judicial Council. Its principal elements are the Supreme Court of Administration and the Supreme Court of Cassation, which oversee application of all laws by the lower courts and judge the legality of government acts. There is a separate Constitutional Court, which interprets the Constitution and rules on the constitutionality of laws and treaties.

Political Parties

Six out of the 34 political parties and coalitions that fielded candidates in the last election are represented in Parliament. The Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) recaptured Parliament in April 1997 with 123 seats out of 240. Its electoral coalition partner, the People's Union, carried 14 seats. Also in that election, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) dropped from its 1994 majority of 125 seats to 58. The Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) formed the Alliance for National Salvation with several smaller parties, taking 19 seats. The two other parties are the Euroleft (comprised largely of defectors from the BSP with a social-democratic orientation), which holds 14 seats and the populist Bulgarian Business Bloc (BBB) which holds 12. The next parliamentary elections must take place no later than April 2001.


Bulgaria's defense forces officially consist of 96,000 uniformed personnel (52,000 army, 21,000 air force, 3,000 navy, 17,200 centrally controlled staff, and 2,800 Ministry of Defense staff). The Bulgarian military is suffering from deep budget cuts and a top-heavy structure. Defense expenditures in 1996 were an estimated $419 million. An 18- month conscription is universal for men. The legal basis for civilian control of the military was established by the Armed Services Law enacted in 1996. Bulgaria joined NATO's Partnership for Peace in 1994 and applied for NATO membership in 1997. It is working toward NATO compatibility in communications and training, and has established a Peacekeeping Training Center. The military continues to rely on Russia for much of its equipment needs and spare parts.

Principal Government Officials

President -- Petar Stoyanov
Vice President -- Todor Kavaldjiev
Prime Minister -- Ivan Kostov
Ambassador to the United States -- Snezhana Botusharova
Ambassador to the United Nations -- Filip Dimitrov

The Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria in the United States is located at 1621 22nd Street, NW, Washington, DC 20008; tel. 202-387-7969; fax. 202-123-7973.

Foreign Relations

Bulgaria has generally good relations with its neighbors and has proved to be a constructive force in the region under socialist and democratic governments alike. Promoting regional stability, Bulgaria hosted a Southeast European Foreign Ministers meeting in July 1996 and an OSCE conference on Black Sea cooperation in November 1995. Bulgaria also participated in the 1996 South Balkan Defense Ministerial in Albania and is active in the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative (SECI).

With their close historical, cultural, and economic ties, Bulgaria seeks a mutually beneficial relationship with Russia, on which it is largely dependent for energy supplies. Sporadic negotiations are underway among Greece, Bulgaria, and Russia for construction of a gas pipeline from Burgas on the Black Sea to Alexandropolis to transport Caspian Sea oil.

Bulgaria's EU Association Agreement came into effect in 1994, and Bulgaria formally applied for full EU membership in December 1995. In 1996, Bulgaria acceded to the Wassenaar Arrangement controlling exports of weapons and sensitive technology to countries of concern and also was admitted to the World Trade Organization. Bulgaria is a member of the Zangger Committee and the Nuclear Suppliers Group. After a period of equivocation under a socialist government, in March 1997 a UDF-led caretaker cabinet applied for full NATO membership, which the current government is pursuing as a priority.

U.S. Assistance

In 1989, the U.S. Congress passed the Support for East European Democracies Act (SEED), authorizing financial support to facilitate the development of democratic institutions, political pluralism, and free market economies in the region. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) administers the SEED programs in Bulgaria under the guidance of the U.S. ambassador. Bulgaria has received more than $200 million in SEED assistance as of September 30, 1996, along with an additional $48 million in food programs and a $15-million endowment for the American University in Bulgaria. Much of USAID's assistance focuses on strengthening non-governmental organizations and other grassroots initiatives, promoting the private sector, and enhancing local government effectiveness and accountability. Emergency relief activities in 1997 totaled more than $2 million with the assistance of Project HOPE and donations of $400,000 through the International Federation of the Red Cross.

In addition, the Peace Corps, with 70 volunteers in Bulgaria as of 1997, offers assistance in English-language instruction, small business centers, and environmental protection programs. The Department of Defense provides monetary and professional assistance through several programs including the Joint Contact Team Program, Partnership for Peace, International Military Education and Training, Excess Defense Articles, Foreign Military Financing and humanitarian assistance. Bulgaria serves as coordinator for the South Balkan Development Initiative (SBDI), which is funded through the U.S. Trade and Development Agency to promote infrastructure development in Bulgaria, Albania, and The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.


The U.S. Department of State's Information Program provides Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on immigration practices, currency regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in the country. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of American travelers.

Free copies of this information are available by calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page: and the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). To access CABB, dial the modem number: (301-946-4400 (it will accommodate up to 33,600 bps), set terminal communications program to N-8-1 (no parity, 8 bits, 1 stop bit); and terminal emulation to VT100. The login is travel and the password is info (Note: Lower case is required). The CABB also carries international security information from the Overseas Security Advisory Council and Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Consular Affairs Trips for Travelers publication series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954; telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-4000.

Passport Services information can be obtained by calling the 24-hour, 7-day a week automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498- 3648)

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at (404) 332-4559 gives the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal Government Officials" listing in this publication).

U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous areas are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a country (see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" listing in this publication). This may help family members contact you in case of an emergency.

Further Electronic Information:

Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet, DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch, the official magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press briefings; Country Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of foreign service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at

U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on an annual basis by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Contact the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or fax (202) 512-2250.

National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information. It is available on the Internet ( and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-1986 for more information.

[end of document]

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