First Historical Traces
The land of contemporary Bulgaria has been settled since the earliest historical times. Traces of the Paleolithic, the Neolithic and the Eneolithic Ages have been discovered in different regions of the country. The Bronze Age is related to the Thracians and their rich material culture. The Early Iron Age (11th-6th centuries BC) witnessed changes in the structure of society, which led to the rise of the first Thracian state alliances, when the flourish of the Thracian society began (6th-2nd centuries BC) and lasted until the invasion of the Roman emperor Trayan. In the 1st century AD Roman rule was established over the Thracian lands, which were taken within the boundaries of Byzantium (from 5th c. AD). The Barbarian invasion in the 3rd-5th centuries ended with the settlement of the Slavs and the Proto-Bulgarians in the Balkan Peninsula.
History became aware of the Bulgarians some 1000 years b.c., when they were first recorded and perpetuated in Indian, Arab, Tadzik and Latin sources as the rulers of contemporary Pamir/Hindokush - east of Persia and west of Turkestan, in the north of today's Afghanistan.
It was Bulgarians who stirred the waves of Great Resettlement that left its mark on the nations of contemporary Europe. According to a record kept at the Library of the Vatican, the wave of Huns that came from the East, changing the face of Europe, was "nothing more than a wave of Proto-Bulgarian off-spring tribes". In this context, it should be noted that "hun" actually means "union" in the ancient language of the enormous human wave that came from the region of Bulgaria and which eventually reshaped a continent.
One of the first records of Bulgaria in Ancient Europe dates from the 7th century A.D. Its author, the Antioch Patriarch Michael of Syria, wrote of three brothers of the ruling dynasty who "came out of Central Scythia (Central Asia) with some 30,000 Scythians" to settle on the lands of the Tanais (Don) river. Today "Scythians" is a synonym of "mounted warriors"
a definition that defines the traits of Bulgarians at the time, who like many other nations, were warriors in quest of territory to build nations. These three leaders were the first to place the corner stone of the history of the Bulgarian state.
Contrary to other tribes of the time, the "Scythians" were no nomads migrating from East to West, and they left behind a trail of urbanistic landmarks. They belonged to the regular army of a State following a leader towards a new goal. These warriors, heavily clad in iron, eventually left an important legacy to the medieval knighthood in their style of armament, tactics, organization and discipline.
The reluctance to destroy and the willingness to build determined the profound difference between Bulgarians, who came to stay, and the nomadic tribes who came to plunder and vanish. Moreover, Bulgarians enjoyed several cultural and scientific advances over other tribes as manifested by one of the most advanced calendar systems of the time.
The Golden Age and the birth of Bulgarian culture
Proto-Bulgarians arrived in the lands of the Balkan Peninsula south of the Danube in AD 680, merged with the Slavs and indigenous Thracians, and won recognition by Byzantium. In 681 the Bulgarian State was founded with khan Asparouh as the leader of a union of the Slavs and the Proto-Bulgarians. The following period, between the 8th and the 10th centuries, brought the political rise and territorial expansion during the reign of khan Tervel (700-721) and especially at the time of khan Kroum (803-814), when, to the West, Bulgaria bordered with the empire of Charlemagne and in the South-East Bulgarian troops reached the walls of Constantinople. Prince Boris I Mihail (852-889) converted the Bulgarians to Christianity and adopted the Slavonic script created by Constantine Cyril the Philosopher and his brother Methodius and propagated in Bulgaria by their disciples.
The cities of Ohrid (today within Macedonia), Pliska and Veliki Preslav became centres of the Slavonic culture. Czar Simeon (893-927) conquered new lands and expanded Bulgaria to the Black Sea, the Aegean and the Adriatic. This period became known as the Golden Age of the Bulgarian culture, making it one of the most powerful states in Europe.
As every nation has it period of splendour and decline, Bulgaria would not be different. The successors to Simeon, Peter I (927-968) and Boris II (969-972), eventually led the Bulgarian state to a period of prolonged weakness due to internal riots and the heretical teachings of the Bogomils, which eventually spread and later influenced the heresies of the Cathars and the Albigenses in West Europe. After exhaustive wars with Byzantium, which ended with the defeat of the troops of Czar Samuil (997-1014) the Byzantine rule over Bulgaria was established. During this period, the Bulgarian state institutions ceased to exist for two centuries (1018-1187). Soon enough however, liberation movements were to rise against Byzantine rule.
The most successful of which was the uprising headed by the two brothers, the boyars Assen and Peter, that eventually ended with the domination of Byzantium in 1187.
A New Rebirth
In 1187 the Second Bulgarian Kingdom with Tirnovo as a capital was established. Peter II was pronounced Czar of the Bulgarians. He was succeeded on the Bulgarian throne by his younger brother Assen I (1187-1196). The regain of Bulgarian power in the region was restored by Czar Kaloyan (1197-1207) who inflicted a final defeat on the forces of the Latin emperor Baldwin I. The ascension of Czar Ivan Assen II (1218-1241) on the throne is connected with a new strengthening of the state and its political hegemony in South-Eastern Europe, with the expansion of its borders, and with economic and cultural development. However, new internal riots and the uprising of peasants led by Ivailo (1277) caused territorial fragmentation and a new period of decline for the country.
|After a period of temporary stability, the secessionist strivings of boyars gained the upper hand again during the reign of Czar Ivan-Alexander (1331-1371) who divided the country between his sons Ivan Sratsimir (1371-1396), who was given the Vidin Kingdom, and Ivan Shishman (1371-1393), who became the ruler of the Tirnovo Kingdom. The cultural life was on the upsurge again as the Tirnovo literary and art schools continued the traditions of the Bulgarian culture.
Ottoman rule and National Revival
The attacks of the Ottoman Turks on the Balkan Peninsula in the 14th century led to the waning of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom, which was finally conquered in 1396. Bulgaria remained under Ottoman rule for some 500 years, without however yielding to excessive efforts for assimilation. The Ottoman rule aroused the resistance of the conquered Bulgarians in the first decades of the 15th century whose uprisings and attempts to cast off the Ottoman rule continued well into the 16th and the 17th centuries.
The 18th century witnessed the beginning of the Bulgarian National Revival and the formation of the Bulgarian nation. The period of the National Revival began with "The Slav-Bulgarian History" written in 1762 by Paissii, a monk at the Hilendar monastery. This text became the foundation of the ideology of national liberation from Ottoman rule and the independent Bulgarian church, along with its education and cultural identity were restored. The national liberation movement was formed on the basis of organized revolutionary activities and was related to the efforts of Georgi Rakovski, of Vassil Levski, a strategist and ideologist of the national revolution, of the writer Lyuben Karavelov (1876) and of the poet Hristo Botev. The April Uprising (1876), which was drowned in blood by the Ottoman Empire, had a strong political effect as the cruelty of its repression reverberated through the whole of Europe.
As a result of the Russian-Turkish War of Liberation (1877-1878) the Bulgarian State was restored, but it included only a small part of the Bulgarian lands. The Berlin Congress (1878) revised the San Stefano Peace Treaty and dismembered the Bulgarian territory into several parts: the Principality of Bulgaria governed by an elected knyaz (prince), Eastern Roumelia with a Christian Governor-General, appointed by the sultan, and Thrace and Macedonia which remained in the Ottoman Empire. Alexander I of Battenberg was elected knyaz. The Bulgarian people reacted against the decision of the Berlin Congress with the Kresna-Razlog uprising (1878-1879), the unification of Eastern Rumelia and the Principality of Bulgaria (1885), and the Ilinden-Preobrazhenie uprising (1903). Taking advantage of the favourable conditions created by the Young Turks' Revolution in 1908, prince Ferdinand Saxe Coburg-Gotha proclaimed Bulgaria independent and himself the Czar. Bulgaria, together with Serbia and Greece, was victorious in the Balkan War (1912-1913) against Turkey for the liberation of Thrace and Macedonia. But in the Inter-Allies War (1913), it was defeated by its former allies who tore out territories inhabited by Bulgarians. Bulgaria's participation in World War I on the side of the Central Powers ended with a national catastrophe, and Czar Ferdinand abdicated in favour of his son Boris III (1918-1943).
The interwar years and the Second World War
The Neuilly Peace Treaty (1919) imposed hard conditions on Bulgaria. The period between the two world wars began with a deep crisis and with the rule of the Bulgarian Agrarian Union - a Government with its leader Alexander Stamboliiski at the head. He was ousted by a coup d'etat (1923) and a dictatorial regime headed by Prof. Alexander Tsankov was established in the country. The resistance of the leftist forces led to the September 1923 uprising guided by the Communist Party. During the next decade the influence of the monarchist circles increased which strengthened the personal power of Czar Boris III. At the time of the government of Prof. Bogdan Filov, Bulgaria was oriented to Germany and it was forced to join the Axis in 1941. Bulgaria declared the so-called "Symbolic war" on USA and Great Britain, but refused to commit its army to actual combat. The Bulgarian state firmly refused to deport its Jews to the death camps.
After the death of Czar Boris III a council of regents was formed and it ruled in place of the young Simeon II. A National Committee of the Fatherland Front (organization created by the communists) was set up and a guerrilla movement was organized.
After the Yugoslav and Greek armies capitulated to the Axis, Bulgaria re-occupied Western Outlands (1941) and Macedonia and Western Thrace (1941) but was forced to withdraw and declare, first, neutrality (1944) and then war on Germany as the Soviet Army invaded the country (8 September 1994) and helped the Fatherland Front (a coalition of Communists, Agrarians, Social Democrats and republican officers) take power by a coup d'etat (9 September 1944).
The Bulgarian Army passed under Soviet command (September 1944) and operated against the Germans in Yugoslavia, Hungary and Austria (October 1944-May 1945).
The Fatherland Front took over the power and a Government headed by Kimon Georgiev was formed. The presence of the Soviet Army in Bulgaria sped up the changes in the political life.
Peace with the Allies was signed in Paris on February 10, 1947), recognizing Bulgaria's 1 January 1941 frontiers but denying it co-belligerent status.
On the strength of the results of a referendum (8 September 1946), the monarchy was abolished and King Simeon II of Saxe Coburg-Gotha, together with the members of the royal family, was forced to leave the country.
In 1946 Bulgaria was declared a republic. In the same year the communists came firmly to power. The political parties were dismantled, banks and industrial enterprises were nationalized, and arable land was consolidated in cooperative farms.
Bulgaria joined the Warsaw Pact and the UN in 1955.
In 1956 the Communist Party's Central Committee brought to power Todor Zhivkov, who held on for 35 years.
Zhivkov began a program to assert the country's national identity and create a "single-nation state" in the late 1960s. An agreement with Turkey, providing for the emigration of ethnic Turks, was reached in 1969. The agreement lapsed in 1979, by which point some 50,000 had emigrated.
In the early 1980s the government launched an internationally condemned campaign to assimilate the Turkish minority by forcing its members to adopt Slavic names. Turkish language newspapers and schools were closed. Amnesty International reported that more than 100 Turks were killed during this campaign; 300,000 others immigrated to Turkey, most in the summer of 1989.
In 1989 Bulgaria embarked on a course of sweeping political changes. Zhivkov was forced to resign his party post on November 10, 1989, and was removed from the presidency. In September 1992 Zhivkov was sentenced to 7 years' imprisonment on charges of corruption and abuse of power, but in 1996 the sentence was reversed.
The National Assembly voted to revoke constitutionally guaranteed dominant role of the Communist Party in January 1990. The Communists (now Socialists) won the first democratic elections to a Grand National Assembly and were defeated by a narrow margin by a coalition led by the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) in the following general elections in October 1991.
The Bulgarian Socialist Party regained an absolute majority in Parliament in the early general elections in December 1994. However, by December 1996 hyperinflation, the closure of 16 commercial banks due to insolvency and an uncontrolled fall of the lev against the major foreign currencies led to popular riots in front of the National Assembly in January 1997. In 1997 alone, consumer price inflation stood at a cumulative 573%
The then socialist government was forced to resign in early February 1997 and after a two-month tenure of a caretaker government early general elections were held in April of the same year that brought the UDF to power again.
The new cabinet, in agreement with the International Monetary Fund, decided to introduce a currency board arrangement in Bulgaria, which had an immediate stabilizing effect on the financial sector and on the economy in general. By December the same year, inflation was brought down to about 1-2% on a monthly basis, down from an unprecedented 270% in February.
The National Assembly elected in April 1997 was the first in the post-communist history of Bulgaria to spend its entire 4-year term in office. In June 2001 a newly established coalition headed by Simeon Saxe Coburg-Gotha won an unexpected 50% of the seats in the new parliament, after barely two months of campaigning, and effectively pulled the political carpet from under the traditional political players.
In November 2001, Bulgaria surprised the world again by electing the leader of the BSP, Georgi Parvanov, as its next President.
Currently Bulgaria is involved in the lengthy process
of negotiations with the European Union for membership;
and in late 2002 Bulgaria expects to be among the
new group of Central and East European states invited
to join the North-Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).