Background Notes: Bulgaria 10/98


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

Released by the Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs.



PROFILE
Official Name
Republic of Bulgaria

Geography
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.

People
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.

Government

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. 


Economy
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. 

Economy

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. 

Military

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. 



TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION

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Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S.
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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
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see "Principal Government Officials" listing in this
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U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous
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Further Electronic Information: 

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