At the beginning of the Christian Era, what is now Bulgaria constituted the Roman provinces of Moesia and Thrace, a territory in which Christianity was preached at a very early period, as proved by the Council of Sardica in 343. During the migratory period Slavic races pushed forward into this region. Some time after the middle of the seventh century, the Bulgars, a people of Hunnic and Finnic
stock, who had been driven from their habitations on the Volga as far as the Lower Danube, began to make incursions into Moesia and Thrace. Completing their conquest of the country in a war with the Byzantine Empire, they founded an independent kingdom about 680.
The first Bulgarian state was recognized in 681 A.D. and was a mixture of Slavs and Bulgars. Several years later, the First Bulgarian Kingdom or the "Golden Age" emerged under Tsar Simeon I in 893-927. During this time, Bulgarian art and literature flourished. Also during the ninth century, Orthodox Christianity became the primary religion in Bulgaria and the Cyrillic alphabet was
In 1018, Bulgaria fell under the authority of the Byzantine Empire. Byzantine rule was short-lived, however. After several futile uprisings against the oppressive Byzantine rule, a fresh Bulgarian insurrection took place about 1185. Two brothers, Peter and Ivan Asen, assumed the leadership, threw off the Byzantine yoke and re-established Symeon's empire. On their death (1197) their
youngest brother Kaloyan, or Ivanitza, ruled alone until 1207; he entered into negotiations with the Holy See, promised to recognize the spiritual supremacy of the pope, and in November, 1204, was crowned with the royal diadem by Cardinal Leo, legate of Pope Innocent III. At the same time Archbishop Basil of Tirnovo was consecrated Primate of Bulgaria. This new Bulgarian Church embraced eight
dioceses, Tirnovo being the primatial see, but the union with Rome was not of long duration. The new empire soon came into conflict with the recently founded Latin Empire (1204) of Constantinople; the Greeks fanned the dissensions in order to gain the Bulgarians over to their side. King Ivan Asen II (1218-41) formed an alliance with Emperor Vatatzes against the Latin Empire (1234), and again
joined the Greek Church, which thereupon solemnly recognized the autonomy of the Church of Tirnovo (1235). Since that time, with the exception of brief intervals, the Bulgarian Church has persisted in schism. In 1236 Pope Gregory IX pronounced sentence of excommunication on Asen II, and in 1238 had a Crusade preached against Bulgaria. The history of the following period shows a succession of
struggles with the Greeks, the Servians, and the Hungarians, of internal wars for the possession of the throne, and of religious disturbances, as, for instance, those consequent on the spread of the Bogomili and the Hesychasts, all of which weakened the State.
Ottoman domination of the Balkan Peninsula eventually affected Bulgaria in the late 14th century, and by 1396, Bulgaria had become part of the Ottoman Empire. Following the Russo-Turkish War (1877-78) and the Treaty of Berlin (1885), Bulgaria gained some autonomy under the Ottoman Empire, but complete independence was not recognized until 1908.
During the first half of the 20th century, Bulgaria was marred by social and political unrest. Bulgaria participated in the First and Second Balkan Wars (1912 and 1913) and sided with the Central Powers, and later the Axis Powers, during the two World Wars. Although allied with Germany during World War II, Bulgaria never declared war on Russia.
King Simeon II assumed control of the throne in 1943 at the age of 6 following the death of his father Boris III. Following the defeat of the Axis Powers in World War II, communism emerged as the dominant political force within Bulgaria. Simeon, who is currently Prime Minister, was forced into exile in 1946 and resided primarily in Madrid, Spain, until April 2001, when he returned to Bulgaria.
By 1946 Bulgaria had become a satellite of the Soviet Union, remaining so throughout the Cold War period. Todor Zhivkov, the head of the Bulgarian Communist Party, ruled the country for much of its time under communism, and during his 27 years as leader of Bulgaria, democratic opposition was crushed, agriculture and industry were nationalized, and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church fell under the
control of the state.
In 1989 Zhivkov relinquished control, 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.
As Bulgaria emerged from the throes of communism, it experienced a period of social and economic unrest that culminated in a severe economic and financial crisis in late 1996-early 1997. With the help of the international community, former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov initiated a series of reforms in 1997 that helped stabilize the country’s economy and put Bulgaria on the Euro-Atlantic path.
Elections in 2001 ushered in a new government and president. In July 2001, Bulgaria’s ex-king Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha became the first former monarch in post-communist Eastern Europe to become Prime Minister. The leadership in Sofia remains committed to Euro-Atlantic integration, democratic reform, and development of a market economy. Bulgaria officially became a member of the North Atlantic
Treaty Organization on March 29, 2004 after depositing its instruments of treaty ratification in Washington, DC and hopes for a full membership in the European Union by 2007.
The 2001 parliamentary elections ushered in 63 women deputies, placing Bulgaria first within the region according to the number of women currently serving in parliament. The president of Bulgaria is directly elected for a 5-year term with the right to one re-election. The president serves as the head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces. The president is the head of the
Consultative Council for National Security and while unable to initiate legislation, the president can return a bill for further debate. Parliament can overturn the president's veto with a simple majority vote. Bulgarian Socialist Party candidate Georgi Purvanov won the November 2001 presidential election and took office January 2002.
* Portions of this text are from the print edition of the 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia.