Bulgarian Ways


Bulgaria, Bulgarians, and the Bulgarian Ways

Bulgaria is part of Europe. It is situated on the Balkan Peninsula and borders on Romania (north), the Black Sea (east), Turkey, Greece (south), Macedonia, and Serbia (west).

Bulgaria's population numbers about seven and a half million people (nearly 1 million have left this country for the last 14 years) - including  Christians (over 85 per cent), Muslims and Jews. Historically, the Bulgarian people had developed as a "mixture" of Slavs, Turkic tribes and Thracians*. At present, the major ethnic minorities are ethnic Turks and Gypsies /Roma/.

All Bulgarian citizens are Bulgarians, irrespective of their ethnic origin and religion. The main language is Bulgarian. One of the Bulgarian dialects is an official language in FYR Macedonia, just the way an English dialect is the tongue spoken in Australia.

The first holy books of the Orthodox Christian Slavs - Russians, Ukrainians, Byelorussians and Serbs, were written in Old-Bulgarian which is also known as Old-Slavonic. Orthodox Christianity is the dominant religion in Bulgaria, but everyone is free to profess a faith in conformity with one's identity. All individuals are equal in their respective creeds, no matter what name they use to call their God.

It is the diversity of the Bulgarian nation that holds a potential for its growth and perpetuation.

The climate in Bulgaria is like that prevalent in Northern Italy, Switzerland, and France, and similar to the climate in New York and Washington DC.

Bulgarians are traditionalists. Family ties are very strong and it has long been quite common for three generations (grandparents, parents and children) to share the same home, or to maintain regular, active, and close contacts. Grandmothers would look after the kids, while mothers were at work. Nowadays the family pattern is to have only one or two children. Marriages (like in many other developed countries) have become less in number. Concubinage is ever more frequent among the young people - very often they choose to live together and even have children outside of wedlock. Population growth is negative. Migration to the larger centres is going on (jobs in the small towns and villages are scarce).

The Bulgarian houses are largely made of bricks or concrete and furnished in the standard European manner. Electric power supply, water supply and sewerage are common throughout the country.

The road network is as developed as everywhere in Europe and North America, although its condition, especially marking,  is generally not good enough.

Until 1989 Bulgaria (The People's Republic of Bulgaria) was a member of the Soviet bloc. Now it is a parliamentary republic (The Republic of Bulgaria). On 1 January 2007 Bulgaria joined the European Union.

The president is the head of state elected by the people for a five-year term. The president in office
until recently (Georgi Parvanov) was a Socialist, like Poland's former president. Bulgaria's current president (Citizens for  European Development of Bulgaria)  is Rosen Plevneliev. The national flag is of three colours - white, green and red. Bulgaria's state coat of arms includes, by an age-old tradition, representations of lions. The official logo is a stylised rose.

The political party that ruled from June 2000 till June 2005 was the party of Bulgaria's former king, Simeon II** . He is a grandson of Ferdinand I and a son of Boris III. Nonetheless, Simeon has become the Prime Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria. Simeon is also a cousin of Queen Elizabeth. He (unlike the large majority of Bulgarians) has more than just one or two children – in fact, he has four sons and a daughter.

The next cabinet (2005-2009) was formed by a three-party coalition (Coalition for Bulgaria /BSP/, NDSV, MRF).

On July 27 2009, the new GERB government came to power. GERB /Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria/ won 116 seats during the regular parliamentary elections and their leader Boyko Borisov formed a one-party cabinet, although the number of GERB PMs was less than the majority line of 121.

The food most widely used in Bulgaria includes vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, onion, potatoes, carrots, eggplants, cucumbers, leeks), beans, lentils, yoghourt, white brined cheese, yellow cheese, meat (pork, veal and chicken), as well as bread, which is essential in the Bulgarians' eating habits. Rice is also frequently used. Fish is less common food. The Bulgarian "eater" is fond of well-spiced and seasoned meals (flavoured with native Bulgarian aromatic plants – savory, parsley, dill, mint, paprika, hogweed, sweet basil, etc., as well as with imported spices  – pepper, laurel-leaves, caraway seeds, cummin, allspice, clove, etc.); men, in particular, are peppery food "addicts" (widely used are garlic and chillis). Much bread, fried food and a lot of salt have been in traditional use, but younger generations would stick to a  healthier diet.

Quite many of the Bulgarians grow vegetables for household consumption in their own household gardens. Keeping livestock - hens, geese, turkeys, pigs, sheep, goats, cows is also a common practice in rural areas. Donkeys are often used as pack animals in the rural household. Horses are used as draught animals, but they are also bred for riding. However, horse races (with or without betting) are still rare. Jumping events are held ever more often, though. (There are horse riding centres in quite many places around the country, in the capital of Sofia included.)

What Bulgarians do not have is hound racing, bullfighting, and cockfighting.

Bulgarians would come in touch with nature on lots of occasions. Quite many of them are hunters - they go hunting for wild pigs, rabbits, partridges, quails, wild ducks, foxes, wolves, jackals and a number of other birds and animals. You can hunt for deer in reserves. Hunting for bears and eagles is prohibited. Bird-watching is not popular among the local population yet, but tourists come to watch Bulgarian birds. Mountain hiking is practised by both young and old. Bulgarians are also good at fishing on rivers and dams, where they can catch trout, carp, sheat-fish, dace, barbell, etc.

Some of the Bulgarians are good and enthusiastic mushroom-gatherers. Many go gathering hips, blueberries, wild raspberries and strawberries. These fruits are used both fresh and home-preserved.

A good number of the Bulgarian families living in the countryside have their own small vineyards (10-20 ares). In autumn, Bulgarians in rural areas make wine (up to 100-500 l in a single household), which they keep in casks in their cellars. It should be added here that the casks get empty before next-year's yield of grapes gets ripe. The traditional Bulgarian aperitif is rakiya (kind of brandy made of grapes or plums, but of other fruits too). Like wine, it is often home-made. (Moreover, the wine and brandy industry is well developed.) Over the past decades beer has gained ground too. Bulgarian-produced beer is superb, but – in vino veritas!).

Plenty of medicinal herbs and mineral water springs are to be found in Bulgaria. Herbs grow both in the highlands and the lowlands. Most of the Bulgarian herbs are highly valued abroad and Bulgaria is one of the largest exporters of medicinal herbs. There is a Bulgarian saying: "God made every herb to heal an ailment". Bulgarians drink herbal tea quite a lot (herbal teas are sold in stores, but they are also prepared from the herbs that household members have gathered and dried). Bulgarians also drink black tea (no milk added), though less often. Drinking coffee is widespread. In the past, coffee was prepared in the "Turkish" way (this is what in Greece they call Greek coffee). Finely ground, it was boiled in water, sugar was added, and served in small cups, together with glasses of water. Nowadays most common is "espresso". On a regular basis, American coffee is served at McDonald's restaurants.

Bulgarian folk music and folk dances are really beautiful - they are among the Bulgarian things best known abroad. A record of a Bulgarian folk song (performed by Valia Balkanska) travels in space on board of the US-launched Voyager spacecraft.

"The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices" is a world renowned group of singers who perform music in the Bulgarian tradition. The national musical instruments are the pipe, the kaval (vertical, end-vibrated flute), the tambura (a kind of lute). It should be noted that, in general, Bulgarians are good singers and music performers. Orpheus***, the legendary musician and spiritual leader, was born in the Rhodope Mountains. Among the famous Bulgarian-born opera singers are Hristina Morphova, Elena Nikolay, Boris Hristov, Nikolay Giaourov, Raina Kabaivanska, Gena Dimitrova, Anna Tomova-Sintova, Hristina Anghelakova, Vessela Katsarova.

In territory and population, Bulgaria is a small country, but one providing all worldly goods and beauties.

    - Want Alpine mountains? – Here they are.

    - Want seaside beaches? – Here they are.

   - Want to see prehistoric archaeological sites? – You can find them here.

    - Want to see ancient ruins like those in Greece, Italy, or Turkey? – You can find such here.

    - Want to enjoy a good meal? – Well, we have no local citric fruits or bananas, but we import them. All the rest is available. The Bulgarian cuisine offers delicious dishes. Bulgarian grown tomatoes are tastier than those produced in any other place around the globe - just ask anyone who has been to Bulgaria. The Shopska Salad more often than not becomes a favourite with foreign visitors, it has become a sort of "worldwide hit". (За съжаление бюрократите в Европейската комисия не разбраха за какви зеленчуци става дума и наредиха да се наводни страната с ерзаци.)

    - Want to go to a discotheque? – No problem.

The most popular sport in Bulgaria is football (soccer). Bulgaria's greatest success in this field - the fourth place - was achieved in the 1994 World Football Championship held in the US. The most popular Bulgarian football player is Hristo Stoichkov, who earned world fame during the several seasons he spent in Spain's team of Barcelona, where he was a coach for a while . (He had been on the US team of Chicago Fires before that.) Беше и треньор на националния отбор на България. Напоследък особена известност придоби Димитър Бербатов, който вече играе в "Манчестър Юнайтед". Неговият медиен образ олицетворява типичния българин - свенлив добряк. Bulgaria has also good rhythmic gymnasts, athletes, wrestlers, weight lifters (the Bulgarian school in these disciplines is renowned), tennis players (the Maleev sisters, Cecyl Karatancheva), and rowers. Some major Bulgarian achievements in ice dancing are already a fact – silver medals from the latest European Figure Skating Championships and the gold medal in the 2006 World Championship for Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviiski. Born in Bulgaria was the catch-as-catch-can wrestler Dan Koloff, famous in North America in the first half of the 20th century – in the time of silent films when catch was a show.

In general, Bulgarian people are quite tolerant. (They stopped Hitler from deporting Bulgaria's Jews to the death camps!) According to representative social science surveys, upwards of 90 per cent of  them have friends confessing a different faith. Compared to the other Balkan nations, they are more tenacious, but less aggressive. They are industrious, but somewhat desultory, not sufficiently focused and purpose-seeking, although striving enough – should an ambition grab them - they would "lift a mountain". Bulgarians are friendly to strangers and helpful. Елитът им е провинициален. Hospitality is one of their distinctive qualities. (Certainly, all these characteristics have been affected in one way or another by the process of urbanization, the development of new technologies, and globalisation). For centuries, learning has been highly valued in this country. Parents would sell their property to provide means for their children to become educated. One of the most revered festival days in Bulgaria is 24th May, the Day of the Cyrillic Alphabet (the Cyrillic script**** was first introduced in Bulgaria and later in Russia, the Ukraine, Serbia; today it is used even in Mongolia). This is also the day celebrating schools, students, teachers, education, science, and culture in general.Двайсет и четвърти  май  е национален празник -  празник и на училищата, науката и културата.

At least for the past four or five decades, few Bulgarian women have been housekeepers, in fact most of them have been gainfully employed. The socio-political changes that took place after 1989 have led to a high rate of unemployment (18 per cent on the average, in some places over 50 per cent), which has affected women more severely than men. Bulgaria's women are famed for their beauty and aesthetic feeling.

A trivial (but sometimes crucial) detail has been considered a distinctive Bulgarian feature – the way Bulgarians shake their heads to indicate "yes" or "no" – the reverse of what almost any person on earth would do it, but more and more people have become aware of this incongruity and begin to change this habit.

International surveys rank Bulgarians at the leading places by intelligence, some give them the second place following Israelis. In all international competitions in mathematics, the Bulgarian representatives invariably win gold and silver medals; in the latest mathematical contest the Bulgarian team ranked fourth following the US, Russian, and Chinese teams. There are many students from Bulgaria at the US universities (the Ivy League included) who are said to perform quite well.  The 2005 world champion in chess  was Bulgarian Veselin Topalov; Antoaneta Stefanova won the world title in the ladies' world chess competition.

The inventor of the computer  – John Atanasoff*****  – is of Bulgarian origin.

There are four nation-wide TV channels (one of them formerly owned by Rupert Murdoch) and a hundred or so cable TV stations in Bulgaria. The people here watch virtually all worldwide-broadcast TV programs like the Discovery Channels, Animal Planet, MTV, CNN, EuroNews, Hallmark, HBO, etc. Male viewers watch European football matches. Women are partial to the Latin American soap operas and The Bold and the Beautiful. Generally, TV viewers in Bulgaria have been following The Fugitive, Everybody Loves Raymond, Profiler, American Gothic, Renegade, E.R., Friends and many more TV series, along with numerous other American, European, Australian pictures. Lately, reality shows have gained an ever greater popularity. Past Bulgarian film productions are also liked (shooting new films has been reduced to one movie a year at best).

Of course, this is only a very brief summary of what might be written about Bulgarians and the Bulgarian ways.


Following below are entries found in the 2000 Encyclopaedia Britannica CD edition, on Thracians, Simeon II, Orpheus, the Cyrillic alphabet, and John Atanasoff. 


* Thracians. -  The earliest people recorded in the Balkans belonged to three tribal groups—the Illyrians, Thracians, and Dacians. The Illyrians lived in the west of the peninsula, extending through the Dinaric range and adjacent mountains. They are believed to have originated in the eastern Alps and to have moved south in the western Balkans, establishing contact with Greek commercial colonies on the Adriatic coast as early as the 7th century BC. Archaeologists in Albania have found hill forts and cemeteries in which Illyrian weapons of bronze and iron are mixed with Greek coins and other metal implements. Some Illyrian tribes were assimilated by later Slavic migrations, but others moved south into present-day Albania, where they managed to keep their identity, including language, separate. Indeed, these Illyrians are thought to be the ancestors of the Albanians, an argument supported by the latter people's unique language. Less is known of the Thracians and Dacians. The Thracians settled in the Rhodope and other mountains of what is now southern Bulgaria, where they apparently had a state as early as the 5th century BC. They probably mixed with Bulgar tribes that migrated into the peninsula after the fall of Rome. The Dacians, thought to be ancestral to the Romanians, occupied territory north of the Danube River. During the reign of the Macedonians Philip II and Alexander III the Great during the 4th century BC, much of the Balkan Peninsula came under Greek influence. The Macedonians inhabited the fertile plains of the lower Vardar and Struma rivers. Because of their accessibility from Greece via these valleys, Macedonian tribes had more contact with the Greeks than with the Thracians and Illyrians, especially during Hellenistic times. After the Roman conquest the entire peninsula was divided into the provinces of Illyricum, Thrace, Macedonia, Moesia, and Dacia.

** Simeon II - born June 16, 1937, Sofia, Bulg. the last king of Bulgaria, reigning as a child from 1943 to 1946. On Aug. 28, 1943, his father, Boris III, died under mysterious circumstances—his death being reported variously as due to a heart attack, to poisoning, and to shooting—and the six-year-old crown prince ascended the throne, overseen by a three-man regency comprising Boris' brother Prince Cyril, former war minister Lieutenant General Nikolai Michov, and former premier Bogdan Filov. After Bulgaria quit the Axis Powers and was overrun by the Soviet Red Army, the regents were arrested, and on Feb. 2, 1945, all three were executed as enemies of the state and as collaborators with the Germans. A second regency was established, but on Sept. 8, 1946, the monarchy was voted out of existence, and Simeon and his mother, Queen Ioanna, went into exile. Simeon eventually settled in Madrid, marrying a Spanish heiress.

***Traditionally, Orpheus was the son of a Muse (probably Calliope, the patron of epic poetry) and Oeagrus, a king of Thrace (other versions give Apollo). According to some legends, Apollo gave Orpheus his first lyre. Orpheus' singing and playing were so beautiful that animals and even trees and rocks moved about him in dance. Orpheus joined the expedition of the Argonauts, saving them from the music of the Sirens by playing his own, more powerful music. On his return, he married Eurydice, who was soon killed by a snakebite. Overcome with grief, Orpheus ventured himself to the land of the dead to attempt to bring Eurydice back to life. With his singing and playing he charmed the ferryman Charon and the dog Cerberus, guardians of the River Styx. His music and grief so moved Hades, king of the underworld, that Orpheus was allowed to take Eurydice with him back to the world of life and light. Hades set one condition, however: upon leaving the land of death, both Orpheus and Eurydice were forbidden to look back. The couple climbed up toward the opening into the land of the living, and Orpheus, seeing the Sun again, turned back to share his delight with Eurydice. In that moment, she disappeared. Orpheus himself was later killed by the women of Thrace. The motive and manner of his death vary in different accounts, but the earliest known, that of Aeschylus, says that they were Maenads urged by Dionysus to tear him to pieces in a Bacchic orgy because he preferred the worship of the rival god Apollo. His head, still singing, with his lyre, floated to Lesbos, where an oracle of Orpheus was established. The head prophesied until the oracle became more famous than that of Apollo at Delphi, at which time Apollo himself bade the Orphic oracle stop. The dismembered limbs of Orpheus were gathered up and buried by the Muses. His lyre they had placed in the heavens as a constellation.

**** Cyrillic alphabet - writing system developed in the 9th–10th century AD for Slavic-speaking peoples of the Eastern Orthodox faith; it is the alphabet currently used for Russian and other languages of the republics that once formed the Soviet Union and for Bulgarian and Serbian. Based on the medieval Greek uncial script, the Cyrillic alphabet was probably invented by later followers of the 9th-century “apostles to the Slavs,” St. Cyril (or Constantine), for whom it was named, and St. Methodius. As the Slavic languages were richer in sounds than Greek, 43 letters were originally provided to represent them; the added letters were modifications or combinations of Greek letters, or (in the case of the Cyrillic letters for ts, sh, and ch) they were based on Hebrew. The earliest literature written in Cyrillic was a translation of the Bible and various church texts. The modern Cyrillic alphabets—Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, and Serbian—have been modified somewhat from the original, generally by the loss of some superfluous letters. Modern Russian has 32 letters (33, with inclusion of the soft sign—not strictly a letter), Bulgarian 30, Serbian 30, and Ukrainian 32 (33). Modern Russian Cyrillic has also been adapted to many non-Slavic languages, sometimes with the addition of special letters.

***** John Atanasoff - U.S. physicist (b. Oct. 4, 1903, Hamilton, N.Y.--d. June 15, 1995, Frederick, Md.), was belatedly credited (1973) with developing the first electronic digital computer. That acknowledgment followed a lawsuit that resulted in a judge's voiding a patent owned by Sperry Rand Corp. on the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), an invention that had been recognized as the first electronic digital computer. Though Atanasoff gained legal stature for his achievement, many historians continued to credit ENIAC's inventors, J. Presper Eckert, Jr. (q.v.), and John W. Mauchly, as the founding fathers of the modern computer. With Clifford Berry, Atanasoff developed (1937-42) a fragile prototype, the Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC), at Iowa State University. The limited-function vacuum-tube device lacked a central processing unit and was not programmable but could solve differential equations using binary arithmetic. The machine was historically important because it contained design components of what would become the basic architecture of a computer, and the computer controversy stemmed from a 1941 visit that Mauchly made to Atanasoff and their discussion about the design of the ABC. Atanasoff abandoned his computer work to become chief of the acoustics division of the Naval Ordnance Laboratory, Washington, D.C., and later headed two engineering firms. His contributions to computing were detailed in two 1988 books, The First Electronic Computer: The Atanasoff Story and Atanasoff: Forgotten Father of the Computer. He was the recipient in 1981 of the Computer Pioneer Medal and was honoured in 1990 with the National Medal of Technology. (Encyclop?dia Britannica, Inc.)