ETHNONYMS: Bulgarini, Bulgars
Identification. Bulgaria is identified variously on the basis of geographical, cultural, and political factors as part of Eastern Europe, southeastern Europe, the Balkans, the Slavic countries, the South Slavic countries, and, until recently, the Communist bloc. The most likely origin of the name "Bulgarian" is from the Turkic verb meaning "to mix," reflecting the mixture of various Turkic tribes that invaded the region and established the first Bulgarian polity.
Location. Bulgaria is located on the eastern part of the Balkan Peninsula, between 41°14′ and 44°13′ N and 22°21′ and 28°36′ E. It is bordered by Romania to the north, Yugoslavia to the west, Greece to the southwest and south, Turkey to the southeast, and the Black Sea to the east. The country has a varied topography consisting of mountains, foothills, and plains. The major feature is the Balkan mountain chain, which runs across the center of the country in an east-west Direction, turning northward in the west. The Danubian Plain lies to the north of the Balkans; and the upper Thracian Plain, to the south. Bulgaria abuts the Rhodope, Rila, and Pirin massif, located to the south and southwest. The topography has a strong influence on the climate, dividing the country into two climatic zones. In the north the climate is eastern European continental, with hot summers and cold winters. The Balkan range shields the south from cold winter winds, producing a modified Mediterranean climate with milder winters and hot dry summers.
Demography. In 1988 the population of the country was 8,973,600. Approximately 85 percent are ethnically Bulgarian. There is much concern about the low birthrate among Bulgarians, which has dropped from one of the highest in Europe in the 1870s to the current level, which barely exceeds the rate necessary to sustain existing population levels. This dynamic has led to an increase in the average age of the Population. The other major demographic shift has been in the urban component of the population, which has grown from only 20 percent in 1900 to 66 percent in 1988.
Linguistic Affiliation. Bulgarian is classified as a South Slavic language and is written with the Cyrillic alphabet. However, the contemporary grammar and vocabulary show diverse influences, especially Turkish. There are various Regional dialects in the country, with the major difference being between eastern and western variants. Other languages in border regions—such as Serbian in the northwest, Macedonian in the southwest, and Romanian in the north-central area—are increasingly influential. Regional dialects are becoming less pronounced as a result of national standardization in education and the rising importance of national media, especially television.
History and Cultural Relations
The Bulgarian lands have been the domain of diverse Cultures, including Thracian, Greek, Roman, and Byzantine. Contemporary Bulgarians, however, trace their origins to Slavs who came from the area north of the Carpathians Between the fifth and sixth centuries and the subsequent incursion of Turkic tribes from central Asia in the seventh century. The latter are referred to as "Bulgars" or "proto-Bulgarians," and it is from this group that the Bulgarians got their name. Although the "proto-Bulgarians" quickly dominated the Region politically, they adopted the customs of the Slavic settlers, which then formed the basis of Bulgarian culture.
Bulgaria's fortunes vis-à-vis numerous hostile neighbors rose and fell over the subsequent years. The most significant event was the fall to Ottoman domination in 1396. Ottoman dominion lasted nearly 500 years and had a significant Impact on Bulgarian language, culture, and economic development. The sizable Turkish minority in Bulgaria and the strained relations between Bulgarians and Turks at both the individual and national levels are, in part, consequences of this period. Likewise, the stereotypical good relations Between Bulgarians and Russians that epitomized the socialist era can also be traced back to the Ottoman period, since it was the Russian army that liberated Bulgaria from Ottoman control in 1877.
Besides the Turkish minority, which accounts for approximately 10 percent of the population of Bulgaria, Gypsies are the only other sizable group with which Bulgarians interact regularly. The latter are marginalized and stigmatized as a rule; traditionally they have lived separately in distinct Neighborhoods, although they are becoming more integrated residentially with Bulgarians. Some large cities also have groups of guest workers and students. The largest group of foreign workers are Vietnamese who were sent to work in Bulgaria for five-year periods in exchange for Bulgarian products exported to Vietnam. The contractual arrangement between the two countries was recently terminated and most Vietnamese are expected to return to Vietnam in the early 1990s. Students come primarily from the Middle East and Africa. For the most part relations between these foreigners and Bulgarians take place in the formal context of work or school. Outside of these contexts, relations are minimal and sometimes strained.
The location of original settlements in the area was determined by defensive concerns. As settlements expanded, the presence of water and gentle terrain became dominant factors as well, and larger settlements grew up along rivers and in the foothills at the edges of the fertile plains. Contemporary Villages are distributed along important travel routes connecting larger towns. In most of the country villages are concentrated settlements with houses in close proximity to each other around a village square. This area of habitation is surrounded by the land that villagers cultivate. Because of migration and demographic changes, many smaller villages have lost their population base and are basically hamlets. As their current population is primarily elderly, their long-term survival is questionable. Larger villages are faring better as a result of governmental migration restrictions, economic development, and closer integration with nearby urban settlements.
Traditional village houses were constructed of wood and plastered with mud. They were small, one-story constructions with one to three rooms. A similar style of house was also constructed from mud bricks or stone and plaster. While some examples of these houses are still evident in Contemporary villages, the predominant model is a two-story house with several rooms made of brick and finished with a stucco-type plaster. Urban areas have the same type of constructions, but since the 1950s the large, multistory, concrete apartment building, usually in groups forming a complex, has come to dominate the urban housing scene.
Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Traditional Subsistence was structured around agriculture and herding. The relative importance of these two activities varied regionally: agriculture dominated the plains; sheep- and goatherding typified the mountain regions; and a more balanced combination of both characterized intermediate zones. These resources were augmented by small-scale commodity production and the sale of excess agricultural products. Commercial agricultural production characterized a few areas, such as the Rose Valley, which is famous for the production of rose oil. Elsewhere, the level of commercial production was inhibited by the small size of holdings, which were often barely sufficient for subsistence purposes and typically widely dispersed.
Reciprocal labor sharing was an important element of the subsistence strategy, and some individuals from agriculturally poorer regions migrated seasonally to work in the plains. The crop base varied regionally but usually combined grain, fruit, and vegetable production.
The agricultural situation changed radically with the collectivization of land in the 1950s. Villagers then started working for the cooperative farm and raising additional crops and animals for their own use on small personal plots granted by the cooperative for subsistence purposes. Since the 1960s the development of industrial enterprises and the possibility of commuting to work in towns has turned many villagers into nonagricultural workers who continue to acquire some Subsistence needs from their personal plots.
Industrial Arts. Bulgarians traditionally practiced many trades, often in addition to agricultural work. Wood-and metalworkers provided villagers with such necessities as building materials, furniture, horse/donkey carts, and wine barrels. Textile crafts were perhaps the most important, Including spinning, weaving, knitting, and sewing. The major products were clothing and household textiles such as bed covers and rugs. Particular designs and colors of clothing distinguished different regions of the country. While all Households were involved in domestic textile production, some regions developed significant woolen and braid industries during the Ottoman period. Today textile industries are again a major component of the national economy. Other major sectors of contemporary industry include machine building, metalworking, and food processing. Chemical and electronic industries are important growth sectors.
Trade. After liberation from Ottoman control Bulgarians began exporting agricultural products—primarily food-stuffs—to Germany, Austria, Great Britain, and other Western European countries. The sale of foodstuffs to Germany increased significantly in the context of World War II. After the war the nature of trade shifted radically. Bulgaria became part of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, and trade—now state-controlled—shifted to the other members of this Communist economic alliance, especially the Soviet Union. With increasing industrialization the profile of exports also shifted to include a balance of agricultural and industrial products. The major imports were fuels, raw materials, and machinery. In the 1970s trade with Western Europe began to develop again on a small scale, and since 1989 there has been a major attempt to establish economic connections with developed capitalist countries.
Division of Labor. In the agricultural subsistence Economy labor was divided on the basis of sex and age. Women took care of most domestic activities, including cooking, cleaning, spinning, and weaving. Sewing was done by both men and women, but outer garments were often made by Village tailors who were men. In the fields women hoed while men plowed and sowed, but everybody helped in the harvest. Both men and women took care of the animals, with men tending to horses and butchering. Children were primarily responsible for pasturing animals and collecting water. In the socialist era both men and women moved increasingly into wage labor. This has softened the rigidity of the sexual division of labor, but many of the same divisions are operative in the personal plot production and domestic activity of villagers.
Land Tenure. In Ottoman times land was held by the sultan, who granted rights to collect tribute or tax to Ottoman lords. After liberation most land was divided up among Bulgarian cultivators, but villages retained some areas of pasture and forest as communal property. Schools and churches also had associated lands for their support. After World War II, the controlling Communist government pursued a policy of collectivization. Villagers retained a small "personal plot" of land for their own subsistence use, but the government took control of most land amenable to an economy of scale through village Cooperatives. Following collectivization, the trend was toward increasing the size of agricultural production units, first by consolidating cooperatives and subsequently by integrating several cooperatives into large administrative units called agroindustrial complexes. This trend began to wane in the mid-1980s, and with the decline of Communist party influence since 1989, there has been strong official support for reprivatization of agricultural production.
Kin Groups and Descent. Bulgarians trace kinship bilaterally and the major kin group is the kindred. Close relatives are always members of one's kindred, but the importance of more distant relatives is shaped significantly by such factors as geographical distance, frequency of interaction, and interdependence in informal economic activities. Affinal relations between families of married couples are valued and fictive kin relations like godparenthood are of continuing importance. Kinship Terminology. The designation of kin follows the Eskimo system with some refinements, such as additional terms for many affinal relations.
Marriage. Marriage was nearly universal and usually occurred when the man and woman were in their early twenties. Village endogamy was common, though marriage of Individuals from neighboring villages was also frequent. Spouses met in the context of village life, and village work bees were major occasions for courtship. Spouse selection was based on mutual attraction, and while relatives made their feelings known, they rarely forced a couple to marry against their will. Women were expected to bring a dowry, which commonly consisted of furniture, clothing, and household textiles. Some textiles were given as gifts to wedding guests, and the remainder used by the new couple. Postmarital residence was patrilocal, with the bride going to live in the house of the groom. Divorce was viewed negatively and rarely occurred. Widows and widowers could remarry but only each other. Today marriage is still nearly universal but separation, divorce, and remarriage are fairly common. Also, as there are more contexts for interaction across localities, spouses are more likely to come from more distant locations than in the past, and neolocal Residence is not uncommon. The civil ceremony has replaced the religious one, but the remainder of festivities of the traditional wedding, such as the feasts and gift giving, have been retained, if not expanded.
Domestic Unit. Bulgaria is well known for the historical importance of large patrilocally extended households known as zadrugas, typically consisting of a couple, several married sons, and their families. This pattern was disappearing by the turn of the century, and since that time the three-generation stem family has predominated in rural areas. Nuclear family households are also very common, sometimes cooperating economically with related households. In urban areas the Nuclear family model is the predominant domestic form, though it is not uncommon to find an elderly parent living with one of his or her children.
Inheritance. Partible inheritance was legally and socially prescribed. Traditionally, daughters often received less than sons and sometimes forfeited their patrimony or gave it to a favorite brother. Brothers inherited equally, but in the case of stem families the son who stayed at home to take care of his parents received more, usually in the form of the house and other buildings. This son was typically the youngest.
Socialization. Traditionally the household and the village provided the major context for socialization of children into adults. Children learned by observation and experience. With a reduction in the number of children per couple and the increasing role of socialist education, the process has changed. Parents indulge their children and do not encourage Independence, perhaps in opposition to socialist education, which until recently stressed political ideology and commitment.
Social Organization. Village social organization was built around the household and the network of connections Between households based on kin relations and socioeconomic cooperation. Connections with neighbors were particularly significant in this network. In the presocialist era neighborhoods were the basis of labor-sharing groups and informal Socializing. After collectivization, cooperative brigades were also organized on the basis of neighborhood. Social stratification was minimal as the vast majority of village households were smallholding proprietors. The major social divisions were between agriculturalists, the village artisans, and the intelligentsia; the last group included the mayor, the doctor, the priest, and schoolteachers. The few households with larger landholdings had higher status, but this situation was reversed after World War II when large holdings were expropriated and wealth became a target of punitive political action. Subsequently, the advantages and power associated with Political positions controlled by the Communist party were the primary basis of village differentiation. Other associations important in the village in the Socialist era were the Communist Youth League and the Fatherland Front.
Political Organization. The Ottomans allowed villages to administer much of their own affairs, usually through a Council of household heads. In the years following independence, the state administered local villages by appointing mayors who maintained law and order and acted as local judges. Since World War II, the Communist party has dominated local political organization through the appointment of mayors and party secretaries who follow the directions of higher party organs. In addition to the village leaders there is a local Communist party organization of all village party members and a village council with appointed representatives from each neighborhood. There is also an Agrarian party organization in most villages, though until 1989 it followed Communist party policy. In 1988 multicandidate elections for local administrators were held. In 1990 the constitutionally guaranteed political monopoly of the Communist party was abolished and a multiparty national parliament was democratically elected. Multiparty local elections were held in 1991. Social Control. Traditionally the mayor, the village policeman, and the priest were the main forces of social control. Gossip and the threat of ostracism, however, were more important and ensured that formal sanctions were seldom needed. Major conflicts usually involved disputes between two parties to a financial transaction or disputes between Siblings over the division of the inheritance. Such disputes Divided not only the families involved but other related families as well. Even after the conflict was legally resolved, the family units often remained estranged. With collectivization the Inheritance of land became less important, though the division of other resources sometimes still causes conflicts. Most conflicts are resolved by the village leaders.
Conflict. Bulgarians do not have any major conflicts with other groups, although relations with Gypsies and Turks are sometimes strained. Gypsies are stereotyped as lazy and dishonest, so they are obvious scapegoats when there is theft in the community or problems at places where they work. Conflicts with Turks can be traced in large part to the government's attempt to assimilate them by restricting the use of the Turkish language and forcing Turks to change their names to Bulgarian names. Such conflicts are primarily restricted to those regions where Turks predominate.
Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. The majority of Bulgarians are adherents of the Eastern Orthodox church, whose beliefs they combine with non-Christian ideas about forces of evil such as the evil eye and bad fortune. There are also several thousand Protestants of various affiliations, approximately 3,500 Jews, and a group of Bulgarian Muslims called Pomaks. A large segment of Bulgarians are not religious at all. This number increased during the Communist regime as a result of state-sponsored atheism, but even before World War II many villagers were not devoutly religious.
Religious Practitioners. Traditionally, certain older women in villages had reputations for preventing or countering evil forces, while the Eastern Orthodox priest was considered to be the major intermediary with God and the forces of good.
Ceremonies. The most important religious ceremonies (in addition to regular church services and religious holidays) were christenings, weddings, the blessing of a new house, and funerals. The Communist government provided civil replacements for weddings, funerals, and christenings, though some Bulgarians continued to have religious rituals performed as well.
Arts. Folklore is an important element of traditional and contemporary Bulgarian culture. Folk songs are varied and many of them are connected to the struggle against Ottoman control. After the liberation they served as the basis for subsequent compositions. Singing was an important social activity, as work groups and drinking parties would often erupt into song. Folk dancing likewise served important social functions, and regular dances in the spring and summer brought together much of the village at the village square. Such singing and dancing continues in the contemporary context, though with somewhat less frequency. The Communist Government promoted folklore as a symbol of Bulgarian identity and sponsored numerous professional folklore ensembles and amateur festivals. Many villages and towns have amateur folk ensembles who perform in these festivals. Larger villages and towns also have amateur drama and choral clubs that perform for the village. Textile arts were also of traditional importance, especially the weaving of intricately patterned cloth and rugs. Contemporary Bulgarians have achieved excellence in many art forms, and some of their artists, such as opera singers, have gained worldwide recognition.
Medicine. Treatment for illness traditionally included a variety of possibilities: religious actions, such as drinking holy water and kissing icons; non-Christian magical incantations believed to counter or exorcise evil forces; herbal treatments using local plants and their products (such as garlic, wine, and brandy); and consulting a physician. Traditionally the last option was the last resort, but in contemporary Bulgaria it is more often the first response to sickness, though often in combination with folk treatments.
Death and Afterlife. Ideas about the afterlife are extensive, though many Bulgarians deny believing them. Traditionally, bodies had to be buried within twenty-four hours. At death the soul is believed to begin a forty-day journey to the other world. Many necessities for this journey and subsequent life, such as lighted candles, food, wine, clothing, and money, are buried with the corpse or laid on the grave. These supplies are replenished by relatives of the deceased in rituals conducted at the grave site on significant anniversaries of the death, including three days, forty days, six months, and one year. In addition there are several days in the Eastern Orthodox religious calendar devoted to the dead when everyone goes to the graveyard to light candles, lay out food, and pour wine on the graves of their relatives. The Communist government promoted civil funerals to replace religious ones and developed an annual civil ceremony at graveyards for honoring the dead. Bulgarians participated in both, and even in civil ceremonies much of the religious ritual was retained.
See also Bulgarian Gypsies; Pomaks
Crampton, R. J. (1987). A Short History of Modern Bulgaria. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
McIntyre, Robert J. (1988). Bulgaria: Politics, Economics, and Society. London: Pinter.
Markov, Georgi (1984). The Truth That Killed. Translated by Liliana Brisby. New York: Ticknor & Fields.
Sanders, Irwin (1948). Balkan Village. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press.
Silverman, Carol (1983). "The Politics of Folklore in Bulgaria." Anthropological Quarterly 56:55-61.
Whitaker, Roger (1979). "Continuity and Change in Two Bulgarian Communities: A Sociological Profile." Slavic Review 38:259-271.
GERALD W. CREED
"Bulgarians." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 20, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bulgarians
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