This article is about the Bulgarians. For the early medieval people, see Bulgars. For other uses, see Bulgarians (disambiguation).
Total population
c. 9–11.3 million
7.3 million Bulgaria nationals
Regions with significant populations
 Bulgaria 6,000,000 (2011 est.)
 Turkey 351,000–600,000
 Greece 300,000
 Ukraine (2001 area) 204,574–500,000
 Germany 226,926
 Spain 133,427–350,000
 United States 99,642–300,000
 Moldova (incl. Transnistria) 79,520
 Argentina 70,000
 United Kingdom 65,000–150,000
 Brazil 62,000
 Italy 56,576–120,000
 Canada 30,485–70,000
 France 30,000–50,000
 Russia (2010 area) 24,038–330,000
 Austria 22,436
 Netherlands 23,308
 Cyprus (excl. TRNC) 19,197
 Serbia (excl. Kosovo) 18,543
 South Africa 15,000–20,000
 Belgium 13,171
 Poland 10,000–12,000
 Sweden 8,325
 Denmark 7,718
 Portugal 7,553–12,000
 Czech Republic 10,058
 Romania 7,336
 Kazakhstan 6,915
 United Arab Emirates 6,000–7,000
 Australia 5,436
 Norway 5,227
Cyrylicka litera Б.PNG Bulgarian

75% Orthodox, 12% none or unknown, 1% Muslim, 1% Catholic and Protestant

(58% religious, 34-40% atheists and agnostics, 15% atheists)
Related ethnic groups
Other South Slavs, especially Macedonians

^ a: The 2011 census figure was 5,664,624. The question on ethnicity was voluntarily and 10% of the population did not declare any ethnicity, thus the figure is considered insufficient and ethnic Bulgarians are estimated at around 6 million.
^ b: Additional number of ethnic Bulgarians did not declare their ethnic group and religion at the same time at the census so these census statistics excludes a significant number of irreligious people (31% of Bulgaria's population.)

The Bulgarians (Bulgarian: българи, Bǎlgari, IPA: [bɤ̞ɫɡɐri]) are a South Slavic ethnic group who are native to Bulgaria and neighbouring regions.


According to the Art.25 (1) of Constitution of Republic of Bulgaria, a Bulgarian citizen shall be anyone born of at least one parent holding a Bulgarian citizenship, or born on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria, should they not be entitled to any other citizenship by virtue of origin. Bulgarian citizenship shall further be acquirable through naturalization.


The Bulgarians descend from peoples with different origins and numbers, which became assimilated and formed a Slavic-speaking ethnicity in the First Bulgarian Empire, three of which left something remarkable:

  • the ancient pre-Slavic indigenous peoples, notably Thracians, to whom most modern South Slavs are connected through genetic heritage
  • the Early Slavs from whom the language was inherited;
  • the Bulgars, from whom the ethnonym and the early statehood were inherited.
    Proto-Slavs in their homeland in 300 BC

From the indigenous Thracian people certain cultural and ethnic elements were taken. Other pre-Slavic Indo-European peoples, including Dacians (if distinct from Thracians), Celts, Goths, Romans, Greeks, Sarmatians, Paeonians and Illyrians have also settled into the later Bulgarian land. The Thracian language has been described as a southern Baltic language. It was still spoken in the 6th century, probably becoming extinct afterwards. However, that in a later period the Bulgarians replaced long-established Greek/Latin toponyms with Thracian toponyms might suggest that Thracian had not been completely obliterated then. Some pre-Slavic linguistic and cultural traces might have been preserved in modern Bulgarians (and Macedonians). Medieval historians claimed that the Triballi are the largest tribe and that they subsequently changed their name to Bulgarians or Serbs. Others claimed that the Paeonians are Bulgarians. Scythia Minor and Moesia Inferior appear to have been Romanized, although the region became a focus of barbarian re-settlements (various Goths and Huns) during the 4th and early 5th centuries AD, before a further "Romanization" episode during the early 6th century. According to archeological evidence from the late periods of Roman rule, the Romans did not decrease the number of Thracians significantly in major cities. By the 4th century the major city of Serdica had predominantly Thracian populace based on epigraphic evidence, which shows prevailing Latino-Thracian given names, but thereafter the names were completely replaced by Christian ones.

The Early Slavs emerged from their original homeland in the early 6th century, and spread to most of the eastern Central Europe, Eastern Europe and the Balkans, thus forming three main branches: the West Slavs in eastern Central Europe, the East Slavs in Eastern Europe, and the South Slavs in Southeastern Europe (Balkans). The latter gradually inflicting total linguistic replacement of Thracian if the Thracians had not already been Romanized or Hellenized. The Byzantines grouped the numerous Slavic tribes into two groups: the Sklavenoi and Antes. Some Bulgarian scholars suggest that the Antes became one of the ancestors of the modern Bulgarians.

The Bulgars are first mentioned in the 4th century in the vicinity of the North Caucasian steppe. According to epigraphic evidence at least the aristocracy of the Bulgars was Oghur Turkic in culture and Tengrist, but it is suggested that other ethnic elements may have been part of their composition. Similarily, the Hungarian social structure and country name was Turkic and despite the Hungarian language was influenced by Turkic, is still an Uralic language, suggesting a mixture of tribes. Scholars often suggest that the ultimate origins of the Bulgars can be traced to the Central Asian nomadic confederations, specifically as part of loosely related Oghuric tribes which spanned from the Pontic steppe to central Asia. However, any direct connection between the Bulgars and postulated Asian counterparts rest on little more than speculative and "contorted etymologies". Some ancient authors claimed that the Moesi and Dacians are Bulgars, it should be noted that often they made errors. In the late 7th century, some Bulgar tribes, led by Asparukh and others, led by Kouber, permanently settled in the Balkans. The Bulgars are not thought to have been numerous and became a ruling elite in the areas they controlled. Asparukh's Bulgars made a tribal union with the Severians and the "Seven clans", who were re-settled to protect the flanks of the Bulgar settlements in Scythia Minor, and the capital Pliska was built on the site of a former Slavic settlement. Omurtag was the last ruler with a Turkic name and during the reign of Boris the Slavonic language reached an official level.

During the Early Byzantine Era, the Roman provincials in Scythia Minor and Moesia Secunda were already engaged in economic and social exchange with the 'barbarians' north of the Danube. This might have facilitated their eventual Slavonization, although the majority of the population appears to have been withdrawn to the hinterland of Constantinople or Asia Minor prior to any permanent Slavic and Bulgar settlement south of the Danube. The major port towns in Pontic Bulgaria remained Byzantine Greek in their outlook. The large scale population transfers and territorial expansions during the 8th and 9th century, additionally increased the number of the Slavs and Byzantine Christians within the state, making the Bulgars quite obviously a minority. The establishment of a new state molded the various Slav, Bulgar and earlier or later populations into the "Bulgarian people" of the First Bulgarian Empire speaking a South Slav language. In different periods to the ethnogenesis of the local population contributed also different Indo-European and Turkic people, who settled or lived on the Balkans.

National identity

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Officers from Bulgarian hussar regiment in Russia (1776–1783)
See also: Byzantine commonwealth and Rum Millet

The First Bulgarian Empire was founded in 681. After the adoption of Orthodox Christianity in 864 it became one of the cultural centres of Slavic Europe. Its leading cultural position was consolidated with the invention of the Cyrillic script in its capital Preslav at the eve of the 10th century. The development of Old Church Slavonic literacy in the country had the effect of preventing the assimilation of the South Slavs into neighbouring cultures and it also stimulated the development of a distinct ethnic identity. A symbiosis was carried out between the numerically weak Bulgars and the numerous Slavic tribes in that broad area from the Danube to the north, to the Aegean Sea to the south, and from the Adriatic Sea to the west, to the Black Sea to the east, who accepted the common ethnonym "Bulgarians". During the 10th century the Bulgarians established a form of national identity that was far from modern nationalism but helped them to survive as a distinct entity through the centuries.

In 1018 Bulgaria lost its independence and remained a Byzantine subject until 1185, when the Second Bulgarian Empire was created. Nevertheless, at the end of the 14th century, the Ottomans conquered the whole of Bulgaria. Under the Ottoman system, Christians were considered an inferior class of people. Thus, Bulgarians, like other Christians, were subjected to heavy taxes and a small portion of the Bulgarian populace experienced partial or complete Islamisation. Orthodox Christians were included in a specific ethno-religious community called Rum Millet. To the common people, belonging to this Orthodox commonwealth became more important than their ethnic origins. This community became both, basic form of social organization and source of identity for all the ethnic groups inside it. In this way, ethnonyms were rarely used and between the 15th and 19th centuries, most of the local people gradually began to identify themselves simply as Christians. However, the public-spirited clergy in some isolated monasteries still kept the distinct Bulgarian identity alive, and this helped it to survive predominantly in rural, remote areas. Despite the process of ethno-religious fusion among the Orthodox Christians, strong nationalist sentiments persisted into the Catholic community in the northwestern part of the country. At that time, a process of partial hellenisation occurred among the intelligentsia and the urban population, as a result of the higher status of the Greek culture and the Greek Orthodox Church among the Balkan Christians. During the second half of the 18th century, the Enlightenment in Western Europe provided influence for the initiation of the National awakening of Bulgaria in 1762.

Some Bulgarians supported the Russian Army when they crossed the Danube in the middle of the 18th century. Russia worked to convince them to settle in areas recently conquered by it, especially in Bessarabia. As a consequence, many Bulgarian colonists settled there, and later they formed two military regiments, as part of the Russian military colonization of the area in 1759–1763.

Bulgarian national movement

See also: Bulgarian Millet

During the Russo-Turkish Wars (1806–1812) and (1828–1829) Bulgarian emigrants formed the Bulgarian Countrymen's Army and joined the Russian army, hoping Russia would bring Bulgarian liberation, but its imperial interests were focused then on Greece and Valachia. The rise of nationalism under the Ottoman Empire led to a struggle for cultural and religious autonomy of the Bulgarian people. The Bulgarians wanted to have their own schools and liturgy in Bulgarian, and they needed an independent ecclesiastical organisation. Discontent with the supremacy of the Greek Orthodox clergy, the struggle started to flare up in several Bulgarian dioceses in the 1820s.

It was not until the 1850s when the Bulgarians initiated a purposeful struggle against the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The struggle between the Bulgarians and the Greek Phanariotes intensified throughout the 1860s. In 1861 the Vatican and the Ottoman government recognized a separate Bulgarian Uniat Church. As the Greek clerics were ousted from most Bulgarian bishoprics at the end of the decade, significant areas had been seceded from the Patriarchate's control. This movement restored the distinct Bulgarian national consciousness among the common people and led to the recognition of the Bulgarian Millet in 1870 by the Ottomans. As result, two armed struggle movements started to develop as late as the beginning of the 1870s: the Internal Revolutionary Organisation and the Bulgarian Revolutionary Central Committee. Their armed struggle reached its peak with the April Uprising which broke out in 1876. It resulted in the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878), and led to the foundation of the third Bulgarian state after the Treaty of San Stefano. The issue of Bulgarian nationalism gained greater significance, following the Congress of Berlin which took back the regions of Macedonia and Adrianople area, returning them under the control of the Ottoman Empire. Also an autonomous Ottoman province, called Eastern Rumelia was created in northern Thrace. Аs a consequence, the Bulgarian national movement proclaimed as its aim the inclusion of most of Macedonia, Thrace and Moesia under Greater Bulgaria.

Eastern Rumelia was annexed to Bulgaria in 1885 through bloodless revolution. During the early 1890s, two pro-Bulgarian revolutionary organizations were founded: the Internal Macedonian-Adrianople Revolutionary Organization and the Supreme Macedonian-Adrianople Committee. In 1903 they participated in the unsuccessful Ilinden-Preobrazhenie Uprising against the Ottomans in Macedonia and the Adrianople vilayet. Macedonian Slavs were identified then predominantly as Bulgarians, and significant Bulgarophile sentiments endured up among them until the end of the Second World War.

In the early 20th century the control over Macedonia became a key point of contention between Bulgaria, Greece, and Serbia, who fought the First Balkan War of (1912–1913) and the Second Balkan War of (1913). The area was further fought over during the World War I (1915–1918) and the World War II (1941–1944).

Genetic origins

Main article: Genetic studies on Bulgarians
Genetic distance of Balto-Slavs by A (atDNA), B (Y-DNA) and C (mtDNA plot).

Bulgarians are genetically nearest either to peoples from the Balkan, central European people, or both, depending on the type of DNA and the samples of populations included in the studies.

According to a triple autosomal, mitochondrial and paternal analysis of available data from large-scale studies on Balto-Slavs and their proximal populations, the whole genome SNP data situates Bulgarians in a cluster with Romanians and Macedonians, and they are at similar proximity to Gagauzes, Montenegrins and Serbs who are not part of another cluster but are described as 'in between' clusters. Bulgarians are least distanced from the same populations according to the Y-DNA analysis. Genetic distance calculated by SNP data of the multiple autosomes, ranked most proximal to Bulgarians the Serbs, followed by Macedonians, Montenegrins, Romanians, Gagauzes, Macedonian Greeks apart from Thessaloniki, the rest of the South Slavs, Hungarians, Slovaks, Czechs, and then by Greeks from Thessaloniki, Central Greece and Peloponese. At the mtDNA plot the Bulgarians share their most proximal position with Macedonians, Czechs, Romanians and Hungarians. It was concluded that the contributions to the Bulgarian gene pool from the pre-Slavic indigenous population definitely outnumber that of the Slavic settlers who spread their language in the Balkans mainly by assimilation. Autosomal studies detect a connection between modern Bulgarians and North Slavs that is a result of migrations no earlier than 1,500 years ago. Anyway most of the East-West Slavs share only a modest gene flow with Bulgarians. While the Bulgarians share significantly fewer IBD segments for length classes with Greeks than with the group of East-West Slavs, most of the East-West Slavs share as much as IBD segments with the Bulgarians as with the inter-Slavic populations Romanians and Hungarians. Despite various invasions of Altaic peoples in Europe, no significant impact from such Asian descent is recorded throughout southern and central Europe.

Prevailing hgs among Euroepans

Bulgarians show the highest diversity of haplogroups in Europe, marked by significant (> 10%) frequencies of 5 major haplogroups (compared to Atlantic Europe, dominated by > 50% R1b). Most Bulgarians belong to three unrelated Y-DNA haplogroups, 20% of whom to I-M423 (I2a1b), 18% to E-V13 (E1b1b1a1b1a) and 17.5% to R-M17 (R1a1a), but the biggest part belongs to macro-haplgoroup R (~28%). There is a further heterogeneity among Bulgarian regions and different of the major haplogroups may prevail in different regions, one region (Haskovo) for example is genetically nearer to the Czech population than to any other Bulgarian regions by Y-DNA. The largest-scale Bulgarian Y-DNA study (n=808) itself determines the Romanians as closest to Bulgarians, however the phylogenetic analysis did not involve Serbians and Macedonians. The largest-scale study on Romanians (n=147) from where the data for comparison was itself taken, situates the Bulgarians more distant from Romanians than Ukrainians and Hungarians. The largest-scale Y-DNA analysis of the Hungarians (n=219) determined that the closest Europeans to them are the Bulgarians, furthermore the same study determines the "Jugoslavs" (Serbs and Montenegrins) as the nearest population to Bulgarians. According to Y-DNA data of hundreds of Macedonians, they have the lowest genetic distance against the Bulgarian population (0.0815).

Bulgaria shows a very similar mtDNA profile to other European countries – dominated by mitochondrial haplogroups Hg H (~42%), Hg U (~18%), Hg J/Hg T (~18%), and Hg K (~6%). Like most Europeans, H1 is the prevailing subclade among Bulgarians. Most of the U carriers belong to U5 and U4. The subclades of Haplogroup H may have not been studied but subclusters H1b and H2a are more common in eastern than in western Europeans. Several mitochondrial studies considered different positions, ranging from conclusions that Bulgarians are most related to Central Europeans to conclusions implying people from the Apennines or Iberia as the most related. However, one of the plots of the largest-scale Bulgarian mtDNA study itself, determined Bulgarians at shortest distance to Poles, followed by other Slavs such as Croats, Ukrainians and Czechs, while the other plot of the Bulgarian study determined Bulgarians nearest to Hungarians, Croats, Ukrainians and Slovaks, both showing neighbouring populations distant in favour of central Europeans. In addition to alternative data situating Bulgarians closest to neighbouring Macedonians or Romanians, different data conisders them closest to Slovaks or Szekelys, or to Italians, or to Portuguese and Albanians, others determined northern Europeans and Slavs at shortest genetic distance to Bulgarians.

Two Thracian remains from Bulgaria are defined by major Y-DNA haplogroups present on modern Bulgarians, namely E-Z1919 (the parent of E-V13) and J-M410 (J2a). Dozens of medieval Slavic mtDNA samples from Poland and Slovakia were compared to most European populations, as a result modern Bulgarians and Czech came out closest to the Polish samples, while Portuguese and Bulgarians came out closest to the Slovak samples, anyway modern Slovak and Polish populations are distant from these.


Main article: Demographics of Bulgaria

Most Bulgarians live in Bulgaria, where they number around 6 million, constituting 85% of the population. There are significant Bulgarian minorities in Serbia, Turkey, Albania, Romania (Banat Bulgarians), as well as in Ukraine and Moldova (see Bessarabian Bulgarians). Many Bulgarians also live in the diaspora, which is formed by representatives and descendants of the old (before 1989) and new (after 1989) emigration. The old emigration was made up of some 2,470,000 economic and several tens of thousands of political emigrants, and was directed for the most part to the U.S., Canada, Argentina, Brazil and Germany. The new emigration is estimated at some 970,000 people and can be divided into two major subcategories: permanent emigration at the beginning of the 1990s, directed mostly to the U.S., Canada, Austria, and Germany and labour emigration at the end of the 1990s, directed for the most part to Greece, Italy, the UK and Spain. Migrations to the West have been quite steady even in the late 1990s and early 21st century, as people continue moving to countries like the US, Canada and Australia. Most Bulgarians living in Canada can be found in Toronto, Ontario, and the provinces with the most Bulgarians in Canada are Ontario and Quebec. According to the 2001 census there were 1,124,240 Bulgarian citizens in the city of Sofia, 302,858 in Plovdiv, 300,000 in Varna and about 200,000 in Burgas. The total number of Bulgarians stood at over 9 million.

Related ethnic groups

Map of the Bulgarian Exarchate (1870–1913).

Until the early 20th century, ethnic Macedonians, Torlaks and Slavic-speakers of Greek Macedonia usually self-identified as Bulgarians.

Bulgarians are considered most closely related to the neighbouring Macedonians; indeed it is sometimes said there is no discernible ethnic difference between them. The ethnic Macedonians were considered Macedonian Bulgarians by most ethnographers until the early 20th century and beyond with a big portion of them evidently self-identifying as such. The Slavic-speakers of Greek Macedonia and most among the Torlaks in Serbia have also had a history of identifying as Bulgarians and many were members of the Bulgarian Exarchate, which included most of the territory regarded as Torlak. The greater part of these people were also considered Bulgarians by most ethnographers until the early 20th century and beyond.



Main article: Bulgarian language
Valya Balkanska, a folk singer thanks to whom the Bulgarian speech in her song "Izlel ye Delyo Haydutin" will be played in the Outer space for at least 60,000 years more as part of the Voyager Golden Record selection of music included in the two Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977.

Bulgarians speak a Southern Slavic language which is mutually intelligible with Macedonian and with the Torlak dialect.

Bulgarian demonstrates some linguistic developments that set it apart from other Slavic languages. These are shared with Romanian, Albanian and Greek (see Balkan language area) with which it is not at all mutually intelligible. Until 1878 Bulgarian was influenced lexically by medieval and modern Greek, and to a much lesser extent, by Turkish. More recently, the language has borrowed many words from Russian, German, French and English.

The Bulgarian language is spoken by the majority of the Bulgarian diaspora, but less so by the descendants of earlier emigrants to the U.S., Canada, Argentina and Brazil.

Bulgarian linguists consider the officialized Macedonian language (since 1944) a local variation of Bulgarian, just as most ethnographers and linguists until the early 20th century considered the local Slavic speech in the Macedonian region. The president of Bulgaria Zhelyu Zhelev, declined to recognize Macedonian as a separate language when the Republic of Macedonia became a new independent state. The Bulgarian language is written in the Cyrillic script.

Cyrillic alphabet

Main article: Cyrillic alphabet
Cyrillic alphabet of the medieval Old Bulgarian language

In the first half of the 10th century, the Cyrillic script was devised in the Preslav Literary School, Bulgaria, based on the Glagolitic, the Greek and Latin alphabets. Modern versions of the alphabet are now used to write five more Slavic languages such as Belarusian, Macedonian, Russian, Serbian and Ukrainian as well as Mongolian and some other 60 languages spoken in the former Soviet Union. Medieval Bulgaria was the most important cultural centre of the Slavic peoples at the end of the 9th and throughout the 10th century. The two literary schools of Preslav and Ohrid developed a rich literary and cultural activity with authors of the rank of Constantine of Preslav, John Exarch, Chernorizets Hrabar, Clement and Naum of Ohrid. Bulgaria exerted similar influence on her neighbouring countries in the mid- to late 14th century, at the time of the Tarnovo Literary School, with the work of Patriarch Evtimiy, Gregory Tsamblak, Constantine of Kostenets (Konstantin Kostenechki). Bulgarian cultural influence was especially strong in Wallachia and Moldova where the Cyrillic script was used until 1860, while Church Slavonic was the official language of the princely chancellery and of the church until the end of the 17th century.

Name system

Main article: Bulgarian name

There are several different layers of Bulgarian names. The vast majority of them have either Christian (names like Lazar, Ivan, Anna, Maria, Ekaterina) or Slavic origin (Vladimir, Svetoslav, Velislava). After the Liberation in 1878, the names of historical Bulgar rulers like Asparuh, Krum, Kubrat and Tervel were resurrected. The old Bulgar name Boris has spread from Bulgaria to a number of countries in the world.

Most Bulgarian male surnames have an -ov surname suffix (Cyrillic: -ов), a tradition used mostly by Eastern Slavic nations such as Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. This is sometimes transcribed as -off or "-of" (John Atanasov—John Atanasoff), but more often as -ov (e.g. Boyko Borisov). The -ov suffix is the Slavic gender-agreeing suffix, thus Ivanov (Bulgarian: Иванов) literally means "Ivan's". Bulgarian middle names are patronymic and use the gender-agreeing suffix as well, thus the middle name of Nikola's son becomes Nikolov, and the middle name of Ivan's son becomes Ivanov. Since names in Bulgarian are gender-based, Bulgarian women have the -ova surname suffix (Cyrillic: -овa), for example, Maria Ivanova. The plural form of Bulgarian names ends in -ovi (Cyrillic: -ови), for example the Ivanovi family (Иванови).

Other common Bulgarian male surnames have the -ev surname suffix (Cyrillic: -ев), for example Stoev, Ganchev, Peev, and so on. The female surname in this case would have the -eva surname suffix (Cyrillic: -ева), for example: Galina Stoeva. The last name of the entire family then would have the plural form of -evi (Cyrillic: -еви), for example: the Stoevi family (Стоеви).

Another typical Bulgarian surname suffix, though less common, is -ski. This surname ending also gets an –a when the bearer of the name is female (Smirnenski becomes Smirnenska). The plural form of the surname suffix -ski is still -ski, e.g. the Smirnenski family (Bulgarian: Смирненски).

The ending –in (female -ina) also appears rarely. It used to be given to the child of an unmarried woman (for example the son of Kuna will get the surname Kunin and the son of GanaGanin). The surname suffix -ich can be found only occasionally, primarily among the Roman Catholic Bulgarians. The surname ending –ich does not get an additional –a if the bearer of the name is female.


Main articles: Orthodox Church and Bulgarian Orthodox Church
St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia

Most Bulgarians are at least nominally members of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church founded in 870 AD (autocephalous since 927 AD). The Bulgarian Orthodox Church is the independent national church of Bulgaria like the other national branches of the Orthodox communion and is considered a dominating element of Bulgarian national consciousness. The church was abolished once, during the period of Ottoman rule (1396—1878), in 1873 it was revived as Bulgarian Exarchate and soon after raised again to Bulgarian Patriarchate. In 2011, the Orthodox Church at least nominally had a total of 4,374,000 members in Bulgaria (59% of the population), down from 6,552,000 (83%) at the 2001 census. 4,240,000 of these pointed out the Bulgarian ethnic group. The Orthodox Bulgarian minorities in the Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Greece, Albania, Ukraine and Moldova nowadays hold allegiance to the respective national Orthodox churches.

Despite the position of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church as a unifying symbol for all Bulgarians, small groups of Bulgarians have converted to other faiths through the course of time. During Ottoman rule, a substantial number of Bulgarians converted to Islam, forming the community of the Pomaks or Muslim Bulgarians. In the 16th and the 17th centuries Roman Catholic missionaries converted a small number of Bulgarian Paulicians in the districts of Plovdiv and Svishtov to Roman Catholicism. Nowadays there are some 40,000 Roman Catholic Bulgarians in Bulgaria, additional 10,000 in the Banat in Romania and up to 100,000 people of Bulgarian ancenstry in South America. The Roman Catholic Bulgarians of the Banat are also descendants of Paulicians who fled there at the end of the 17th century after an unsuccessful uprising against the Ottomans. Protestantism was introduced in Bulgaria by missionaries from the United States in 1857. Missionary work continued throughout the second half of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. Nowadays there are some 25,000 Protestant Bulgarians in Bulgaria.

Art and science

Main articles: Cinema of Bulgaria, Bulgarian literature, Music of Bulgaria, and Bulgarian dances
Assen Jordanoff (left), Bulgarian American inventor considered by prominent aviation specialists the main contributor to the American knowledge of aviation, likewise the Boeing, airbag and tape recorder.
John Vincent Atanasoff (right), Bulgarian American inventor of the Atanasoff-Berry computer, legally the inventor of the electronic digital computer in the U.S. and considered the "father of the computer".

Boris Christoff, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Raina Kabaivanska and Ghena Dimitrova made a precious contribution to opera singing with Ghiaurov and Christoff being two of the greatest bassos in the post-war period. The name of the harpist-Anna-Maria Ravnopolska-Dean is one of the best-known harpists today. Bulgarians have made valuable contributions to world culture in modern times as well. Julia Kristeva and Tzvetan Todorov were among the most influential European philosophers in the second half of the 20th century. The artist Christo is among the most famous representatives of environmental art with projects such as the Wrapped Reichstag.

Bulgarians in the diaspora have also been active. American scientists and inventors of Bulgarian descent include John Atanasoff, Peter Petroff, and Assen Jordanoff. Bulgarian-American Stephane Groueff wrote the celebrated book "Manhattan Project", about the making of the first atomic bomb and also penned "Crown of Thorns", a biography of Tsar Boris III of Bulgaria. According to Mensa International, Bulgaria ranks 2nd in the world in Mensa IQ test-scores and its students rate second in the world in SAT scores. Also, international MENSA IQ testing completed in 2004 identified as the world's smartest woman (and one of the smartest people in the world) Daniela Simidchieva of Bulgaria, who has an IQ of 200. As of 2007 CERN employed more than 90 Bulgarian scientists, and about 30 of them will actively participate in the Large Hadron Collider experiments.


Main article: Bulgarian cuisine
Bulgarian Kozunak as prepared for Easter

Famous for its rich salads required at every meal, Bulgarian cuisine is also noted for the diversity and quality of dairy products and the variety of local wines and alcoholic beverages such as rakia, mastika and menta. Bulgarian cuisine features also a variety of hot and cold soups, an example of a cold soup being tarator. There are many different Bulgarian pastries as well such as banitsa.

Most Bulgarian dishes are oven baked, steamed, or in the form of stew. Deep-frying is not very typical, but grilling—especially different kinds of meats—is very common. Pork meat is the most common meat in the Bulgarian cuisine. Oriental dishes do exist in Bulgarian cuisine with most common being moussaka, gyuvetch, and baklava. A very popular ingredient in Bulgarian cuisine is the Bulgarian white brine cheese called "sirene" (сирене). It is the main ingredient in many salads, as well as in a variety of pastries. Fish and chicken are widely eaten and while beef is less common as most cattle are bred for milk production rather than meat, veal is a natural byproduct of this process and it is found in many popular recipes. Bulgaria is a net exporter of lamb and its own consumption of the meat is prevalent during its production time in spring.


Main article: Bulgarian customs
Typical martenitsa
Kukeri in Razlog

Bulgarians may wear the martenitsa (мартеница)—an adornment made of white and red yarn and worn on the wrist or pinned on the clothes—from 1 March until the end of the month. Alternatively, one can take off the martenitsa earlier if one sees a stork (considered a harbinger of spring). One can then tie the martenitsa to the blossoming branch of a tree. Family-members and friends in Bulgaria customarily exchange martenitsas, which they regard as symbols of health and longevity. The white thread represents peace and tranquility, while the red one stands for the cycles of life. Bulgarians may also refer to the holiday of 1 March as Baba Marta (Баба Марта), meaning Grandmother March. It preserves an ancient pagan tradition. Many legends exist regarding the birth of this custom, some of them dating back to the 7th-century times of Khan Kubrat, the ruler of Old Great Bulgaria. Other tales relate the martenitsa to Thracian and Zoroastrian beliefs.

The ancient ritual of kukeri (кукери), performed by costumed men, seeks to scare away evil spirits and bring good harvest and health to the community. The costumes, made of animal furs and fleeces, cover the whole of the body. A mask, adorned with horns and decoration, covers the head of each kuker, who also must have bells attached to his waist. The ritual consists of dancing, jumping and shouting in an attempt to banish all evil from the village. Some of the performers impersonate royalty, field-workers and craftsmen. The adornments on the costumes vary from one region to another.

Another characteristic custom called nestinarstvo (нестинарство), or firedancing, distinguishes the Strandzha region. This ancient custom involves dancing into fire or over live embers. Women dance into the fire with their bare feet without suffering any injury or pain.


Main articles: Sport in Bulgaria and Football in Bulgaria
Hristo Stoichkov, awarded the Golden Ball and regarded as one of the best footballers by Barcelona.
Veselin Topalov, the 21st World Chess Champion.

As for most European peoples, football became by far the most popular sport for the Bulgarians. Hristo Stoichkov was one of the best football (soccer) players in the second half of the 20th century, having played with the national team and FC Barcelona. He received a number of awards and was the joint top scorer at the 1994 World Cup. Dimitar Berbatov, currently in PAOK F.C. and formerly in Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Bayer Leverkusen and others, the national team and two domestic clubs, is still the most popular Bulgarian football player of the 21st century.

In the beginning of the 20th century Bulgaria was famous for two of the best wrestlers in the world – Dan Kolov and Nikola Petroff. Stefka Kostadinova is the best female high jumper, still holding the world record from 1987, one of the oldest unbroken world records for all kind of athletics. Ivet Lalova along with Irina Privalova is currently the fastest white woman at 100 metres. Kaloyan Mahlyanov has been the first European sumo wrestler to win the Emperor's Cup in Japan. Veselin Topalov won the 2005 World Chess Championship. He was ranked No. 1 in the world from April 2006 to January 2007, and had the second highest Elo rating of all time (2813). He regained the world No. 1 ranking again in October 2008.


The national symbols of the Bulgarians are the Flag, the Coat of Arms, the National anthem and the National Guard, as well other unofficial symbols such as the Samara flag.

The national flag of Bulgaria is a rectangle with three colours: white, green, and red, positioned horizontally top to bottom. The colour fields are of same form and equal size. It is generally known that the white represents – the sky, the green – the forest and nature and the red – the blood of the people, referencing the strong bond of the nation through all the wars and revolutions that have shaken the country in the past. The Coat of Arms of Bulgaria is a state symbol of the sovereignty and independence of the Bulgarian people and state. It represents a crowned rampant golden lion on a dark red background with the shape of a shield. Above the shield there is a crown modeled after the crowns of the emperors of the Second Bulgarian Empire, with five crosses and an additional cross on top. Two crowned rampant golden lions hold the shield from both sides, facing it. They stand upon two crossed oak branches with acorns, which symbolize the power and the longevity of the Bulgarian state. Under the shield, there is a white band lined with the three national colours. The band is placed across the ends of the branches and the phrase "Unity Makes Strength" is inscribed on it.

Both the Bulgarian flag and the Coat of Arms are also used as symbols of various Bulgarian organisations, political parties and institutions.



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