Bulgaria shares borders with Serbia, Macedonia, Romania, Greece, and Turkey. Two mountain ranges and two great valleys mark the topography of Bulgaria, a country the size of Tennessee and situated on the Black Sea. The Maritsa is Bulgaria's principal river, the Danube also flows through the country.
The Thracians lived in what is now known as Bulgaria from about 3500 B.C. They were incorporated into the Roman Empire by the first century A.D. At the decline of the empire, the Goths, Huns, Bulgars, and Avars invaded. The Bulgars, who crossed the Danube from the north in 679, took control of the region. Although the country bears the name of the Bulgars, the Bulgar language and culture died out, replaced by a Slavic language, writing, and religion. In 865, Boris I adopted Orthodox Christianity. The Bulgars twice conquered most of the Balkan peninsula between 893 and 1280. But in 1396 they were invaded by the Ottoman Empire, which made Bulgaria a Turkish province until 1878. Ottoman rule was harsh and inescapable, given Bulgaria's proximity to its oppressor. In 1878, Russia forced Turkey to give Bulgaria its independence after the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878). But the European powers, fearing Russia's and Bulgaria's dominance in the Balkans, intervened at the Congress of Berlin (1878), limiting Bulgaria's territory and fashioning it into a small principality ruled by Alexander of Battenburg, the nephew of the Russian czar.
Alexander was succeeded in 1887 by Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, who declared a kingdom independent of the Ottoman Empire on Oct. 5, 1908. In the First Balkan War (1912–1913), Bulgaria and the other members of the Balkan League fought against Turkey to regain Balkan territory. Angered by the small portion of Macedonia it received after the battle—it considered Macedonia an integral part of Bulgaria—the country instigated the Second Balkan War (June–Aug. 1913) against Turkey as well as its former allies. Bulgaria lost the war and all the territory it had gained in the First Balkan War. Bulgaria joined Germany in World War I in the hope of again gaining Macedonia. After this second failure, Ferdinand abdicated in favor of his son in 1918. Boris III squandered Bulgaria's resources and assumed dictatorial powers in 1934–1935. Bulgaria fought on the side of the Nazis in World War II, but after Russia declared war on Bulgaria on Sept. 5, 1944, Bulgaria switched sides. Three days later, on Sept. 9, 1944, a Communist coalition took control of the country and set up a government under Kimon Georgiev.
Bulgaria's First Non-Communist Government Gains Power
A Soviet-style People's Republic was established in 1947 and Bulgaria acquired the reputation of being the most slavishly loyal to Moscow of all the East European Communist countries. The general secretary of the Bulgarian Communist Party, Todor Zhikov, resigned in 1989 after 35 years in power. His successor, Peter Mladenov, purged the Politburo, ended the Communist monopoly on power, and held free elections in May 1990 that led to a surprising victory for the Communist Party, renamed the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). Mladenov was forced to resign in July 1990.
In Oct. 1991, the Union of Democratic Forces won, forming Bulgaria's first non-Communist government since 1946. Power shifted back and forth between the pro-Western Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) and the BSP during the 1990s. The economy continued to deteriorate amid growing concern over the spread of organized crime. A new UDF government, led by Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, was elected in 1997 to overhaul the economic system and institute reforms aimed at stemming corruption. Progress on both fronts remained slow. As a result, the UDF lost the July 2001 election to the former king of Bulgaria, leader of the Simeon II National Movement (SNM). The new prime minister, Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (Simeon II), had been dethroned 55 years earlier (at age nine) during the Communist takeover of the country. Bulgaria became a member of NATO in 2004. In 2005, the EU approved its membership for 2007, subject to the implementation of reforms, especially the cleaning up of corruption and organized crime.
In June 2005 general elections, no party received a clear majority, and a coalition government was formed with Socialist Party leader Sergei Stanishev as the new prime minister. In 2007, Bulgaria joined the EU.
On July 23, 2008, the European commission suspended about 500 million euros of EU aid to Bulgaria due to suspicion of organized crime and corruption.
A severe energy shortage for several weeks in January 2009 was caused by the Russian-Ukrainian gas dispute and created widespread anger towards government energy policies.
Former Wrestler and Bodyguard Elected Prime Minister
During general elections in July 2009, the centre-right GERB party led by Boyko Borisov prevailed, defeating incumbent Sergei Stanishev, who had failed to crack down on corruption and organized crime during his four years in office. The burly Borisov became prime minister and promised to crack down on corruption and revive Bulgaria's weak economy, which suffered during the global financial crisis.
Rosen Plevneliev, Bulgaria's former construction minister, won the second round of the presidential election in October 2011. He represents the party Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria.
Borisov Resigns after Protests Erupt
In February 2013, protests were held across Bulgaria. Citizens protested corruption, poor standards of living, and rising energy costs. Two days after the protests began, Borisov resigned as prime minister. His government followed. Borisov's time served as prime minister had been riddled with allegations of corruption, including money laundering and ties to organized crime. He was also accused of racism, xenophobia, and threatening journalists.
After Borisov resigned, Marin Raykov was appointed as interim prime minister. Raykov assumed office on March 12, 2013, and also took up the post of minister of foreign affairs. After early legislative elections held on May 12, 2013, proved inconclusive, the Bulgarian parliament narrowly voted in Plamen Oresharski, a former finance minister who is not party-affiliated, as prime minister. Oresharski was backed by the Socialist Party and a majority ethnic Turkish party, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms.
Only one month after the May snap elections, the new Bulgarian government faced serious popular discontent, with nearly constant mass protests in Sofia and other large cities, calling for an end to the current government. The political turmoil has caused President Plevneliev to call for another round of early elections, a move that must be initiated by parliament.
2014 Banking Crisis Causes Fallout
In 2014, Bulgaria experienced its worst banking crisis since the 1990s. The crisis came after two years of political instability, months of protests over corruption, stalled economic growth, and damaging floods. In June, Standard & Poor's gave the country a credit rating downgrade to just one notch above junk. Also during the summer of 2014, Bulgaria's fourth largest lender, Corporate Commercial Bank, was shutdown pending a full audit ordered by the central bank.
Just a year after the election, Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski resigned his cabinet in July 2014. Law professor Georgi Bliznashki was named interim prime minster until the next election. A former Socialist party member, Bliznashki was kicked out of the party when he publicly supported an anti-government Sofia University student occupation earlier in 2014.
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