Founded in 681, Bulgaria is one of the oldest European states. However, in spite of its 13-century-old tradition, it is an “infant” compared to the history of civilization in the present-day Bulgarian lands. These areas had been populated as early as the Palaeolithic period. Here, in the neighbourhood of the town of Montana, a 6800-year-old inscription has been discovered (cf. the ancient Egyptian script dates back to about the end of the 4th millennium A.D.). This is a stone tablet on which 24 signs (still undeciphered) are written in four lines. And near the Black Sea port of Varna the oldest (Copper Age) gold treasure in Europe was found in 1972. Among the articles, whose overall weight is 1516 g, there are some regal symbols, which means that even in most ancient times there existed some, though unknown, form of statehood. The ethnic identity of the people who had created these masterpieces is also obscure.
Evidence from the literate age indicates that the oldest native population of Eastern Thrace were the Thracians. This people, the most numerous next to the Indian one, as reported by Herodotus, provided the classical antiquity with gods and goddesses like Dionysus, Hephaestus, Artemis, Kibela, Ares... Orpheus and Spartacus are Thracians. Thracians fought in the Trojan War on the side of the Achaeans. There is no doubt that Thracian culture is part of the foundations of modern civilization.
The largest gold treasures in the Bulgarian museums today are Thracian. This gold is only one of the material tokens of the legacy received by the Bulgarians from their great Thracian ancestors.
In the 7th-6th centuries B.C. the Hellenic colonization of the Bulgarian lands began, along the Black Sea coast in particular. Most of the today's seaboard towns were founded by Hellenic merchants and sea-farers. In the 4th century B.C. a large portion of the territory of what is now Bulgaria was conquered by the Macedonian Hellenes of Philip II and his son Alexander the Great. As part of Alexander's army, the Thracian detachments reached Egypt, Persia and India...
In the 1st century A.D. the time of the Roman Ceasars and their legions came. The major highways of modern Bulgaria often follow the beds of the roads constructed by the Romans in those times. Romans were the ones who laid the foundations of many new towns. Some of the Thracians adopted the Latin language and the culture of this Empire. After the 4th century the Balkan Peninsula fell under the power of Byzantium joining the sphere of its civilization for long centuries to pass. This, in short, is the history of Moesia, Thrace and Macedonia - the three “classical” regions comprising the ethnic area of the Bulgarian people.
During the Great Migration of Peoples dozens of tribes crossed these lands, each one leaving its traces; many of these later went to the West and were involved in the formation of the contemporary European nations. Of all these migrations Slavic invasion was the most significant. In the early 7th century Slavs had already colonized almost the whole peninsula, getting as far as Peloponesus. The predecessors of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians settled in the Northwest Balkans, and the Slav tribes of the Bulgarian group - in the remaining regions. During the last quarter of the century the area surrounding the Danube delta was invaded by the Proto-Bulgarians - a people of Turk origin, having long statehood traditions in the lands by the Volga and Kama rivers. Making an alliance with the Slav tribes, they founded here their new state, named after them - Bulgaria, which signed her first peace treaty in 681.
Thus, the Proto-Bulgarian aristocracy became the state-forming element, whose role was analogous to the role played by Rurik's Vikings in Kievan Russia, or the Normans of William the Conqueror in England. Irrespective of their key positions in the feudal hierarchy, Proto-Bulgarians were gradually Slavicized, like the other ethnic groups, Thracians included.
The First Bulgarian Kingdom existed from 681 till 1018. In this period Bulgaria was converted to Christianity (865), and in the 10th century Bulgarian Prince Simeon received a royal sceptre from Constantinople. Bulgaria was recognized as tzardom by the Pope and the Holy Roman Empire. The first translations of the Holy Scriptures from Greek into Slavonic were made in the Old-Bulgarian tongue. Old-Bulgarian became the language of church, literature and administration in a number of Slavic and non-Slavic countries. Having evolved, the Old-Bulgarian alphabet, known as the Cyrillic script, is now used in Bulgaria, Serbia, Belarus, the Ukraine, Russia, etc.
In 1018 Emperor Basil II Bulgaroctonus conquered Bulgaria and made it a province of the Byzantine Empire.
The Second Bulgarian Kingdom (1185-1396) was initiated after a successful uprising of the Bulgarian aristocracy. The reign of the Assen dynasty began. The city of Turnovo was chosen to become the capital. This kingdom was fated by history to play an important part in the period of Ottoman Muslim invasion. At the price of its independence, Bulgaria blocked the Sultan's expansion to Europe.
Bulgaria was an Ottoman province in the course of five centuries. With Bulgaria's conquest, Bulgarian aristocracy was liquidated, Bulgarian administration was eliminated, and the Sultans, who, for a long time, made no difference between the individual peoples inhabiting the Balkans, deprived the Bulgarian church of its autonomy and patriarchal authority and made it subject to the dominion of the Greek Constantinople Patriarchate. During this period the ordinary Bulgarian peasants, craftsmen, tradesmen and clergymen went through hard trials, which formed in them awareness of being responsible for their own identity, nationality, faith, spiritual tradition, culture, history... The Bulgarian people maintained and backed the growth of their monasteries , restored their towns, further developed their crafts and trade, created a municipally supported educational system (remarkable in the context of its time), generated their unique folklore... They produced spiritual and political leaders on an European scale, developed the modern Bulgarian literary language, regained their church autonomy (1870), organized their national liberation movement, which reached its peak in the April uprising of 1876. This uprising had a world-wide response. Its suppression was the immediate reason underlying a large-scale international concern that culminated in the Russian-Turkish War of 1877-78. The termination of the Ottoman rule, the Bulgarian national Revival and the struggles for national liberation found expression in the classical works of modern Bulgarian literature.
The Third Bulgarian Kingdom stemmed from the San Stephano Peace Treaty signed on 3 March 1878. This treaty re-established Bulgaria in its ethnic boundaries determined by a special international committee, but it was revised only several months later by the then Great Powers - Germany, Great Britain, France, Austria-Hungary and Russia. This took place at the Berlin Congress, as it came to be known, which harmed, in varying degrees, the interests of all the Balkan nations. It created the “knot” of complications which made the Balkans the “powder-keg” of Europe. Exactly here lie the roots of the process which in later times became internationally known as “Balkanization”. Therefore, the notorious “Balkanization” was not produced by the specific mentality or, respectively, characteristics of the Balkan peoples and countries, it was rather a direct result of the arbitrary acts of the Great Powers.
In conformity with the resolutions of the Berlin Congress the territory of Moesia and the district of Sofia formed the Principality of Bulgaria. South Bulgaria was proclaimed to be an autonomous province named Eastern Rumelia. Macedonia remained within the confines of the Ottoman Empire. Until World War II the unification of the Bulgarian people continued to be a dominant concern both in the foreign and the domestic policy of the Bulgarian state.
Bulgaria succeeded in restoring South Bulgaria through a bloodless coup in 1885, as well as some part of Macedonia - after the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913. The unrealized ideal of national unification predetermined Bulgaria's joining the Central Powers, in World War I, and Germany, in World War II. The dream of and pain for Macedonia (divided between Greece and Serbia), which are living till the present day, were paid by the Bulgarian people with two insurrections and four wars.
However, official Bulgaria, as well as the wide public, accept reality as it is today. The national question of the Bulgarian people may be settled in the context of United Europe.
After the restoration of the national state in 1878, Bulgaria became a constitutional monarchy with a democratic governmental system and a rapidly growing economy. The processes of fruitful construction, however, were interrupted by Tzar Ferdinand's brinkmanship, which led to the catastrophes of 1913 (when the nation had to wage war simultaneously against Serbia, Montenegro, Greece, Turkey and Roumania), and of 1918 (against the Entente states). Twice - in 1923 and 1934 - the democratically elected governments were overthrown by coups and authoritarian regimes were established. The 1930's were a period of stable economic development in the country's modern history. On the whole, Bulgaria's military involvement in World War II boiled down to the occupation of Macedonia. Bulgaria was Germany's only ally that did not allow the destruction of its Jews . Owing to Tzar Boris III and the Bulgarian governments, no hostilities were waged on Bulgarian territory. Following the invasion of the Red Army in early September 1944, the Bulgarian army fought against the Nazis reaching as far as Austria.
In consequence of the agreements between Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt, after World War II Bulgaria fell under the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union.
Thanks to its centralized resources, Bulgaria was able to solve, with a relative success, the relevant problems of industrialization, education and social welfare. In the course of several decades the country became one of the main economic partners of the former Soviet Union. Bulgarian commodities were sold on markets stretching from the Baltic region to the Pacific. This large-scale growth, compared to the country's size, was accomplished to the detriment of citizen's rights and freedoms. The economy was militarized and unilaterally bound to the Soviet market and the Soviet raw material supplies. Non-governmental organizations did not exist. Individual enterprise was restrained.
In several cases BCP authorities resorted to massive repressive actions, namely:
Following 10 November 1989, when under the pressure of both domestic and international developments Todor Zhivkov, Bulgaria's long-time Communist Party leader, was forced to resign, Bulgaria stepped on the road to democracy again. Nowadays, it is a pluralistic, multi-party state and a parliamentary republic.
3 January 1990 - 14 May 1990 - a Round Table was held to negotiate the positions of the BCP leadership and the representatives of the newly born opposition.
The rights and property of the old parties in Bulgaria were restored. Ethnic Turks were entitled to all rights enjoyed by the rest of Bulgaria's citizens.
The Bulgarian public was told about Stalin's idea to create a “Macedonian nation”, and a "Dobroudjan.nation" too, as well as about the Serb idea of a "Shopp nation".
10-17 June 1990 - the first free parliamentary elections were held.
12 July 1991 - the new, democratic Constitution was adopted by the Grand National Assembly.
13 October 1991 - the first free local elections were held.
Private property, taken away in the process of nationalization and collectivization, was restored.
January 1992 - the first free presidential elections took place. Zhelyu Zhelev was elected Head of State. January 1997 - president Petar Stoyanov came into office. 1997-2001 - a UdDF cabinet with Ivan Kostov at the helm was in power. The currency board was introduced. During Kostov's term of office the privatization of the Bulgarian economy was more or less completed. In 2001 the party led by Simeon II came to power. Simeon Sax Coburg-Gotha became Prime-Minister. January 2002 - President Georgi Parvanov swore in..
Bulgaria is now a country of functioning market economy. It is a candidate for membership in the European Union. On 1 April, Bulgaria was welcomed into NATO.