Bulgaria: Historical Highlights
The first Bulgarian state was recognized in 681 A.D. and was a mixture of Slavs and Bulgars. Several years later, the First Bulgarian Kingdom or the “Golden Age” emerged under Tsar Simeon I in 893-927. During this time, Bulgarian art and literature flourished. Also during the ninth century, Orthodox Christianity became the primary religion in Bulgaria and the Cyrillic alphabet was established.
In 1018, Bulgaria fell under the authority of the Byzantine Empire. Byzantine rule was short-lived, however. By 1185 Bulgarians had broken free of Byzantine rule and, in 1202, they established the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. Ottoman domination of the Balkan Peninsula eventually affected Bulgaria in the late 14th century, and by 1396, Bulgaria had become part of the Ottoman Empire. Following the Russo-Turkish War (1877-78) and the Treaty of Berlin (1885), Bulgaria gained some autonomy under the Ottoman Empire, but complete independence was not recognized until 1908.
The early-to-mid-1900s in Bulgaria was characterized by social and political unrest. Bulgaria participated in the First and Second Balkan Wars (1912 and 1913) and sided with the Central Powers and later the Axis Powers during the two World Wars. (Although allied with Germany during World War II, Bulgaria never declared war on Russia.)
Following the defeat of the Axis Powers, communism emerged as the dominant political force within Bulgaria. Former King Simeon II, who is currently Prime Minister, was forced into exile in 1946 and remained primarily in Madrid, Spain, until April 2001, when he returned to Bulgaria. (Note: Simeon assumed control of the throne in 1943 at the age of 6 following the death of his father Boris III.) By 1946, Bulgaria had become a satellite of the Soviet Union, remaining so throughout the Cold War period. Todor Zhivkov ruled Bulgaria for much of its time under communism, and during his 27 years as leader of Bulgaria, democratic opposition was crushed, agriculture and industry were nationalized, and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church fell under the control of the state.
In 1989, Zhivkov relinquished control, and democratic change began. The first multi-party elections since World War II were held in 1990. The ruling communist party changed its name to the Bulgarian Socialist Party and won the June 1990 elections. Following a period of social unrest and passage of a new constitution, the first fully democratic parliamentary elections were held in 1991 in which the United Democratic Front won. The first direct presidential elections were held the next year.
As Bulgaria emerged from the throes of communism, it experienced a period of social and economic unrest. With the help of the international community, former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov initiated a series of economic reforms in 1997 that helped stabilize the country. Recent elections in 2001 ushered in a new government and president, but the new leadership in Sofia remains committed to Euro-Atlantic integration, democratic reform, and development of a market-based economy.