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Bulgaria - History

According to archaeologists, present-day Bulgaria first attracted human settlement as early as the Neolithic Age, about 5000 BC. The first known civilization in the region was that of the Thracians, whose culture reached a peak in the sixth century B.C. Because of disunity, in the ensuing centuries Thracian territory was occupied successively by the Greeks, Persians, Macedonians, and Romans. A Thracian kingdom still existed under the Roman Empire until the first century A.D., when Thrace was incorporated into the empire, and Serditsa was established as a trading center on the site of the modern Bulgarian capital, Sofia. In the fourth century, the region became part of the Byzantine Empire, and Christianity was introduced. Both Latin and Greek cultures pervaded the region in the centuries that followed.

Beginning in the fifth century, Slavic tribes arrived in the region, initiating a process of substantial slavicization of the existing social system. In the seventh century, Bulgar tribes of mixed Turkic and Slavic origin entered the region and established a state in present-day northeastern Bulgaria. Based on that state, the First Bulgarian Empire under Tsar Simeon (r. 893927) expanded substantially until it was defeated by the Byzantine Empire in 924. In 870 the acceptance of Orthodox Christianity increased the influence of Byzantine and Slavic cultures on the Bulgarians. During the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Bulgaria was ruled by the Byzantine Empire, and the First and Second Crusades devastated the land en route to the Middle East.

In 1202 the Second Bulgarian Empire was established as the Byzantine Empire weakened. After a brief second golden age, in the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries Bulgarias internal divisions led to successive incursions by Tatars, Magyars, and Byzantines. After its establishment in the fourteenth century, the Ottoman Empire captured Bulgarias commercial center, Sofia, in 1385 and occupied all Bulgarian territory by the mid-fifteenth century. Bulgaria was to remain under Ottoman control for nearly five centuries.

The Ottomans removed all of the apparatus of the Bulgarian Empire and subordinated the Bulgarian Orthodox Church to the Byzantine Patriarchate in Constantinople. Bulgarian institutions generally were assimilated into the centralized Ottoman state system, although certain classes, such as the merchants, received autonomy or special treatment. Traditional Bulgarian culture survived this period only in small villages, and Bulgarias location along a major east-west trade route added people of many nationalities to the population. Three major uprisings, in the 1590s, the 1680s, and the 1730s, were harshly suppressed. Ottoman rule became harsher as the empire declined, beginning in the seventeenth century. At the same time, Western contacts and the broad sweep of Christian resistance to Ottoman occupation in Eastern Europe stimulated national consciousness, which flourished in Bulgaria in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Of particular influence was a history of the Bulgarian people written in 1762 by Father Paisi of the Mt. Athos monastery.

The Bulgarian national revival gained strength in the nineteenth century. Beginning in the 1860s, a series of independence organizations made limited progress. Among the leaders of such movements were Georgi Rakovski, Vasil Levski, and Ivan Karavelov. An important obstacle to the independence movement was Western opposition to increased Russian influence in a post-Ottoman Europe. During most of the nineteenth century, Britain and France defended the Ottoman Empire in order to thwart Russias ambition to gain access to the Balkans and the Bosporus. Meanwhile, the collapse of regional Ottoman control left Bulgaria in a chaotic condition that also inhibited formation of a national state in the nineteenth century.

After decades of resistance, in 1870 the Ottoman Empire declared the Bulgarian Orthodox Church independent of the Greek Patriarchate of Constantinople, to which it had been subordinate for four centuries. The new exarchate became a leading force for cultural revival. In 1877 a massacre of Bulgarian nationalist groups by Ottoman forces precipitated Russian occupation of all of Bulgaria. The ensuing Treaty of Berlin (1878) provided for an independent Bulgarian state much smaller than insurgent forces had envisioned. Alexander of Battenburg, a German, became the first modern prince of Bulgaria.

After six years of instability, Alexander was deposed in 1886. A strong prime minister, Stefan Stambolov, then achieved stability after Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was named the new ruler in 1887. Before his removal in 1894, Stambolov established a strong Bulgarian economy. The conservative Ferdinand dominated governance and continued most of Stambolovs policies from 1894 until the beginning of World War I. Meanwhile, territorial ambitions (particularly in neighboring Macedonia) remaining from the Treaty of Berlin brought Bulgaria into two Balkan wars in 1912 and 1913, which in turn led to the onset of World War I in Bosnia. Bulgarias participation in World War I on the side of the Central Powers ended in a national catastrophe. Bulgaria was forced by popular opinion and military defeats to withdraw in September 1918. In 1918 Tsar Ferdinand abdicated in favor of his son Boris III. The 1919 Peace Treaty of Neuilly imposed severe terms on Bulgaria it was deprived of an outlet to the Aegean, western Thrace became part of Greece, south Dobrudzha was joined to Romania, and the regions round Strumitsa, Bosilegrad, Tsaribrod and villages in the region of Kula were given to the Serbian-Croation-Slovenian kingdom. (South Dobrudzha was reinstated to Bulgaria in 1940 by a treaty between Bulgaria and Romania).

The period following the war was one of slow economic growth, uneasy political coalitions, and continued division over Macedonian territory. In 1923 Macedonian radicals assassinated Prime Minister Aleksandur Stamboliiski. War reparations, the Macedonia issue, and diplomatic isolation hindered Bulgarias progress in the 1920s, and the Great Depression decimated its economy in the early 1930s.

In 1935 Tsar Boris III ended a period of political chaos by declaring a royal dictatorship. In the late 1930s, Bulgaria increasingly moved into the economic and geopolitical sphere of Nazi Germany. Under strong pressure after the outbreak of World War II, Bulgaria signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy in 1941. Tsar Boris III stood by public pressures and did not allow deportation of about 50,000 Bulgarian Jews. In August 1943 Tsar Boris III died and the regency of the young Tsar Simeon II was declared to be the countrys government.

Although Bulgaria took a passive position throughout the war, the Soviet Union invaded it in 1944 and withdrew only in 1947, leaving behind a communist government. After a period of Stalinist repression under Vulko Chervenkov (prime minister, 195056), Todor Zhivkov completed his rise through the ranks of the Bulgarian Communist Party by becoming prime minister in 1962. For the next 27 years, Zhivkov would remain the unchallenged leader of Bulgaria.

Zhivkov broadened his political support and maneuvered through a series of national and international threats such as the Prague Spring of 1968 and the opposition of conservative communists to rapprochement with the West. Zhivkov also presided over a general expansion of intellectual and media activity. However, until the 1980s he avoided antagonizing his patron nation, the Soviet Union. Economically, he emulated that country by emphasizing heavy industry and centralizing agriculture. By the mid-1980s, Bulgaria had been implicated in an assassination attempt on the pope, relations with the Soviet Union had cooled, and its government was increasingly corrupt. Zhivkov was removed as Bulgarian Communist Party chief in 1989, heralding the end of communist rule.

In 1989, Zhivkov was removed from power, 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 Union of Democratic Forces won. The first direct presidential elections were held the next year.

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