Republic of Bulgaria
The Republic of Bulgaria shares its borders with 5 other countries in southeastern Europe and has a coastline on the Black Sea. Romania lies to the north, Turkey to the southeast, Greece to the south, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to the southwest, and Serbia (with Montenegro part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) to the west. The eastern coastline on the Black Sea is 354 kilometers (220 miles) long, and the total area of the country is 110,910 square kilometers (42,823 square miles), making it slightly larger than the state of Tennessee. The capital, Sofia, is situated at the foot of the Balkan and Vitosha Mountains in western Bulgaria; other principal cities are Plovdiv in south-central Bulgaria, the coastal cities of Varna and Burgas, and Ruse on the Danube River.
The Bulgarian population recorded in the 1985 census was 8,948,649, but by July 2000, largely due to emigration , the population was estimated to have decreased to 7,796,694. In 2000, the birth rate stood at 8.06 and the death rate at 14.63 per 1,000 population, but this downward trend should be halted as the economy improves, emigrants return, and the country joins the European Union (EU) in 2007. By 2010, the population is projected to reach 7.26 million. Population density is about 70 persons per square kilometer (181 per square mile).
Ethnic Bulgarians account for 85 percent of the population, Turks 9 percent, and Roma (Gypsies) 3.7 percent. Other small, miscellaneous groups round out the total. Bulgarian, a Slavic language with a written tradition da ting back to the 9th century, is the principal language, with other languages spoken corresponding to the ethnic breakdown. Religions include Orthodox Christian (83 percent), Muslim (13 percent), and Roman Catholic (1.5 percent), with Jewish, Protestant, and other groups making up the rest. The population of Bulgaria is aging, with 16 percent below the age of 14 and 16 percent older than 65. The median age is expected to increase from 37.5 years in 1995 to nearly 41 in 2005. A majority of the population, 69 percent, lives in urban areas, and Sofia and its suburbs are home to the largest number.
Prior to 1989, the government encouraged population growth by providing maternity benefits, free health care, affordable pre-school day care, and reasonably adequate pensions. Emigration was negligible due to government restrictions on travel. Since then, however, deteriorating living standards, the opening of the economy, and freedom to travel have generated emigration, mostly of young people, to Western Europe and North America, and of ethnic Turks to their neighboring home-land. Many of the latter, however, return or maintain households in both countries.
The service sector, generating approximately half of Bulgaria's GDP in 1999 and employing 43 percent of the workforce, continues to experience the highest growth of any sector. Most private sector activity involves some form of trade or retail, and financial services such as insurance and lending, health-care services, and tourism are well regarded by private companies.
With the breakup of the rigid socialist banking system, the 1990s witnessed expansion of the banking and financial services sector. In 1996, however, many state-owned and some private banks collapsed under the burden of bad debts accumulated by state factories that had become obsolete and by the now infamous "credit millionaires." In 1997, the government focused on achieving stabilization and financial discipline, forcing the banks to avoid new lending and to maintain very high liquidity rates (a measure of how much cash is kept on hand). Bulgaria's low inflation is accompanied by low interest rates, but the level of lending is a third of that in most central European countries and is a major barrier to investment. The economy is heavily reliant on cash payments, which is detrimental to efficiency and conducive to corruption and tax evasion. Savings have been declining since 1999 due to generally low income levels.
The government is privatizing remaining state banks, and there were plans to sell in 2001 the largest, Bulbank, to a consortium made up of UniCredito (Italy) and Allianz (Germany), and the Bulgarian State Savings Bank. The large Post Bank was sold in 1998 to a consortium of Greek banks and AIG (U.S.), which also bought a stake in the United Bulgarian Bank in 1999. Most hard-won loans are now going to private companies. Consumer credit is developing, although slowly, with banks actively encouraging car and home loans to the tune of $400 million. Credit card companies have also started operations in this formerly virgin market.
Tourism plays a significant but not crucial role in the economy. While its competitors, Spain, Greece, and Turkey, have the advantage of aggressive and expensive marketing campaigns and decades of exposure to the market, Bulgaria has been unable to capitalize on its popular image as a land with a rich folklore tradition. The country offers extensive beach resorts along the Black Sea coast, several alpine skiing resorts in the Vitosha, Rila, Pirin, and Rhodope Mountains, and natural mineral water health spas. Nevertheless, the number of Western tourists fell by a third between 1994 and 1996, and the total revenue from the tourist industry in 1996 was $669 million. Attracted by low prices, cultural similarities, the lack of visa formalities, and a Russian-friendly population, former Soviet nationals spent 130 percent more overnight stays in Bulgaria in 1996 than in 1985, and 63 percent more than in 1993. Former East Germans are also frequent visitors. In 1996, overnight stays by Russians and Germans were around 2 million each, but the number of British and Scandinavian visitors is low. Poles, Czechs, Slovaks and Hungarians, among the top tourists to Bulgaria in the 1980s, now prefer other destinations. Foreign-acquired tourist hotels on the coast are mainly Russian-owned, while others have been leased to tour operators such as Germany's Neck-ermann who carry out renovation. However, it is 5-star business hotels that most attract foreign investors.
Growing quickly during the 1990s, the retail sector was energized by the privatization of state and municipality-owned stores, the emergence of many small private firms, and the import of cheap foreign consumer goods. Major foreign retailers, such as the German Metro, the Turkish Koc Holding, and others from Austria and France, began developing a network of large hypermarkets. The choice of goods has widened impressively, but low-income Bulgarians are generally reluctant or unable to pay more for better-looking products, often leaving consumers reliant on traditional domestic suppliers. The lower price of subsidized agricultural goods from the EU make them popular with buyers but detrimental to local producers. Direct and network marketing, which became popular in Eastern Europe after Oriflame (Sweden) made a success of it, is taking root, but only gradually, due to low levels of disposable income .
Bulgaria has no territories or colonies.
Crampton, R. J. A Concise History of Bulgaria. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Report: Bulgaria. London: 2000.
U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2001. <http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/index.html> . Accessed October 2001.
U.S. Department of State. FY 2000 Country Commercial Guide: Bulgaria. <http://www.state.gov/www/about_state/business/com_guides/2000/europe/index.html> . Accessed December 2000.
Lev (plural Leva). One lev equals 100 stotinki. There are coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 stotinki.
Machinery and equipment; metals, minerals, and fuels; chemicals and plastics; food, tobacco, and clothing.
Fuels, minerals, and raw materials; machinery and equipment; metals and ores; chemicals and plastics; food and textiles.
US$48 billion (purchasing power parity, 2000 est.).
Exports: US$4.8 billion (f.o.b., 2000 est.). Imports: US$5.9 billion (f.o.b., 2000 est.).