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Bulgaria - People

The population of Bulgaria, the European Union's poorest member, may soon become as low as it was in the aftermath of World War II. Bulgaria's population is shrinking faster than any other country in the world; it is expected to hit only 5.4 million in 2050, down from 7 million in 2017.

Bulgaria shares a border with Turkey and Greece to the south, Macedonia and Serbia to the west, Romania to the north, and the Black Sea to the east. The capital, Sofia, lies in the western region of the country. Ethnic groups include Bulgarian, Turkish, Roma, and others.The population according to the February 2011 census was 7,364,570. Ethnic groups according to the February 2011 census were Bulgarian 84.8%, Turkish 8.8%, Roma 4.9%, other 0.7% (including Macedonian, Armenian, Tatar), and unstated 0.8%.

The official language is Bulgarian, which is classified as a South Slavic language, together with Serbo-Croatian, Slovenian, and Macedonian. One of the oldest written languages in Europe, Bulgarian influenced all the other Slavic languages, especially Russian, in early medieval times. In turn the Bulgarian language was enriched by borrowings from other civilizations with which it came into contact. Besides 2,000 words from the pre-Cyrillic Old Slavonic language, Bulgarians borrowed religious terms and words used in daily life from the Greeks; vocabulary relating to political, economic, and day-to-day life from Turkish; and many Russian words to replace their Turkish equivalents as Ottoman influence waned during the National Revival period. In the postwar era, many West European words began to appear in Bulgarian, especially in technological fields.

Throughout its history, the Balkan Peninsula was a homeland for many diverse ethnic groups that were able to preserve their national identities despite being shifted among the jurisdictions of powerful empires. In modern Bulgaria, the opposite was true: the largest minority ethnic group, the Turks, remained in territory that their Ottoman ancestors had occupied. Bulgaria's communist leaders often tried to deny the existence of minority groups by manipulating or suppressing census data or by forcibly assimilating "undesirable" groups. In 1985, at the height of the last anti-Turkish assimilation campaign, a leading Bulgarian Communist Party official declared Bulgaria "a one-nation state" and affirmed that "the Bulgarian nation has no parts of other peoples and nations."

Bulgarians have been recognized as a separate ethnic group on the Balkan Peninsula since the time of Tsar Boris I (852-89), under whom the Bulgars were converted to Christianity. Early historians began mentioning them as a group then; however, it is not clear whether such references were to the earliest Bulgarians, who were Asiatic and migrated to the Balkan Peninsula from the Ural Mountains of present-day Russia, or to the Slavs that preceded them in what is now Bulgaria. By the end of the ninth century, the Slavs and the Bulgarians shared a common language and a common religion, and the two cultures essentially merged under the name "Bulgarian".

Acceptance of the Eastern Orthodox church as the state religion of the First Bulgarian Empire in A.D. 864 shaped the Bulgarian national identity for many centuries thereafter. The Bulgarian language, which was the first written Slavic language, replaced Greek as the official language of both church and state once the Cyrillic alphabet came into existence in the ninth century. National literature flourished under the First Bulgarian Empire, and the church remained the repository of language and national feeling during subsequent centuries of occupation by the Byzantine and Ottoman empires.

Because of their status as former occupiers, the Turks have had a stormy relationship with Bulgaria since the beginning of its independence. In 1878 Turks outnumbered Bulgarians in Bulgaria, but they began emigrating to Turkey immediately after independence was established. The movement continued, with some interruptions, through the late 1980s. Between 1923 and 1949, 219,700 Turks left Bulgaria. Then a wave of 155,000 emigrants either were "expelled" (according to Turkish sources) or were "allowed to leave" (according to Bulgarian sources) between 1949 and 1951. The number would have been far greater had Turkey not closed its borders twice during those years. In 1968 an agreement reopened the BulgarianTurkish border to close relatives of persons who had left from 1944 to 1951. The agreement remained in effect from 1968 to 1978.

The biggest wave of Turkish emigration occurred in 1989, however, when 310,000 Turks left Bulgaria as a result of the Zhivkov regime's assimilation campaign. That program, which began in 1984, forced all Turks and other Muslims in Bulgaria to adopt Bulgarian (Christian or traditional Slavic) names and renounce all Muslim customs. Bulgaria no longer recognized the Turks as a national minority, explaining that all the Muslims in Bulgaria were descended from Bulgarians who had been forced into the Islamic faith by the Ottoman Turks. The Muslims would therefore "voluntarily" take new names as part of the "rebirth process" by which they would reclaim their Bulgarian identities. During the height of the assimilation campaign, the Turkish government claimed that 1.5 million Turks resided in Bulgaria, while the Bulgarians claimed there were none. (In 1986 Amnesty International estimated that 900,000 ethnic Turks were living in Bulgaria.)

The motivation of the 1984 assimilation campaign was unclear; however, many experts believed that the disproportion between the birth rates of the Turks and the Bulgarians was a major factor. The birth rate for Turks was about 2 percent at the time of the campaign, while the Bulgarian rate was barely above zero. The upcoming 1985 census would have revealed this disparity, which could have been construed as a failure of Zhivkov government policy. On the other hand, although most Turks worked in lowprestige jobs such as agriculture and construction, they provided critical labor to many segments of the Bulgarian economy. The emigration affected the harvest season of 1989, when Bulgarians from all walks of life were recruited as agricultural laborers to replace the missing Turks. The shortage was especially acute in tobacco, one of Bulgaria's most profitable exports, and wheat.

The marginalization of the Romani minority remained the countrys most pressing human rights problem. The majority of Bulgaria's Roma (approximately 1 million, according to Roma leaders) live in socio-economically depressed areas, and over one-third rely on government subsidies as their only source of income. According to official statistics, nearly ten percent of Bulgarian Roma have never attended school, and less than one percent have completed higher education. In comparison, nearly all ethnic Bulgarians have some formal education, and over twenty percent complete higher education. The unemployment rate within the Roma community is also extremely high -- around sixty-five percent on average, but as high as ninety percent in some regions. The unemployment rate for Bulgaria overall in 2005 was around twelve percent.

According to the 2011 census, there were 325,345 Roma in the country, less than 5 percent of the population, as well as 588,318 ethnic Turks, less than 9 percent of the population. Observers asserted that these figures were inaccurate, since more than 600,000 persons did not answer the census question about their ethnic origin, and officials did not conduct a proper count in most Romani communities, but rather either made assumptions or failed to include Romani figures altogether. Societal discrimination and popular prejudice against Roma and other minority groups remained a problem. The media described Roma and other minority groups in discriminatory and abusive language.

Many Roma continued to live in appalling conditions. The 2011 census indicated that 55.4 percent lived in overcrowded urban neighborhoods. NGOs estimated that 50 to 70 percent of their housing was illegally constructed, often without proper water supply and sewerage. Many municipalities continued to initiate legal proceedings to demolish illegally built houses. In February the town of Petrich demolished 52 illegal makeshift Romani houses, leaving approximately 300 Roma to sleep in the open for several days. The mayor stated they all had relatives elsewhere to whom they could go and urged them to leave. According to NGOs, they subsequently dispersed to other places.

Romani children often attended de facto segregated schools where they received inferior education. There were cases of Bulgarian students departing desegregated schools, thereby resegregating them. NGOs criticized the National Roma Integration Strategy for not providing specific school desegregation measures and not ensuring the necessary financial support for such measures. NGO projects aimed at lowering the dropout rate among Romani students resulted in rates that in most places were less than 1 percent for elementary school students. Retaining Romani students beyond the age of 10 remained a challenge for the government, which also lacked effective programs for reintegrating students who had dropped out. According to the government survey during the year, 14.8 percent of Roma completed secondary school, 44.7 percent completed primary school, and 15.5 percent never completed any level of education.

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