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History

History

The founders of what is now Bulgaria, having accepted and preserved their name over the centuries, have been the Bulgarians. Bulgaria’s history can be traced back to the most distant antiquity (1st millennium BC). The Bulgarians belong to the Caucasians (a white race), part of the big Indo-European family. Their ancient original homeland was Central Asia (the region of the Pamir and Hindu Kush mountains). Making up a highly civilized social formation, the ancient Bulgarians had long been a determining cultural factor in the Central Asian territories. The Bulgarian statehood in Europe dates back to 165 AD, according to the oldest Bulgarian chronicle “Name List of the Bulgarian Kans”. During the 7th century the powerful Kan Koubrat (632-665) headed the state, known as Old Great Bulgaria, an ally of Byzantium in its wars against the Avars. As a token of respect, Byzantine Emperor Heraclius gave Koubrat, who had been converted to the Christian faith in his childhood, the high-ranking Roman and Byzantine title of “patrician” and generous gifts.

After the death of Koubrat in 665, Great Bulgaria was reborn into two new states: Volga Bulgaria in the region of the middle reaches of the Volga, and Danubian Bulgaria in the Balkan Peninsula. During the Middle Ages, the two states played the role of a shield, guarding the European political and spiritual space. Part of the Bulgarians remained in the composition of the Khazar Kaganate, others formed a state of their own in what is today Macedonia (the Bulgarians of Kouber) and in the Apennines (the Bulgarians of Altsek). As the result of a brilliant military victory against Byzantium, in 680 Kan Asparouh, the son of the great Kan Koubrat, extended the Old Great Bulgaria to the south of the Danube. In 718, under the rule of Kan Tervel (701-721) the Bulgarians halted the Arab expansion to Europe and saved neighbouring Byzantium. By the 9th century Bulgaria was one of the three great European monarchies.

The reign of Tsar Simeon the Great (893-937) has been referred to as the Golden Age of Bulgarian political and cultural grandeur. It was the result of the adoption of Christianity as official state religion in the 60s of the 9th century under Knyaz Boris I (852-889) and of the evolution and enrichment of the life cause of the holy brothers Cyril and Methodius.

In the mid-9th century, Constantine the Philosopher, called Cyril, and his brother Methodius completed the composition of the first Bulgarian-Slav alphabet, the so-called Glagolitic alphabet, as well as the translation of the holy books from Byzantine Greek into Old Bulgarian. In 868 Cyril and Methodius entered into a sharp dispute with the Latin clergy, challenging in front of Pope Hadrian II the trilingual dogma, according to which the Word of God could be heard and understood only in Greek, Latin and Hebrew. By their victory in the dispute, they opened the gates to the Bulgarians and the world of Slavs to the Christian civilization.

In 886 some of the disciples of the two brothers were received with dignity and offered brilliant conditions for work in Christian Bulgaria under Knyaz Boris 1 (852-889). One of them Nahum, headed the literary activities in Pliska and Preslav, while Clement created in Ohrid the alphabet, now known as the Cyrillic alphabet.The Cyrillic alphabet spread from Bulgaria into other countries, too. This graphic system had been used in the past in the Romanian principalities of Wallachia and Moldova, in Lithuania and elsewhere. Writing in Cyrillic now are the people in Macedonia, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Serbia and Montenegro.

At the beginning of the 11th century the Bulgarians temporarily fell under the rule of Byzantium. Winning back its independence in 1186, medieval Bulgaria underwent a new political and cultural upsurge during the reign of kings Ivan Assen II (1218-1241) and Ivan Alexander (1331-1371). The brilliant civilization of the medieval Bulgarians was cut short by the Turkish invasion in the 14th century. Bulgaria was conquered and was forcibly included in the Ottoman Empire for five long centuries.

Over the ages the Bulgarian people were often subjected to long direct and indirect destruction by the sword of different invaders, but under the power of the Ottoman Empire that process acquired the features of genocide: the warrior men were slaughtered as was the peaceful population children, women and old people; blood due was taken whereby young boys were taken away from their families and were trained to be killers of their own people. Scores of thousands of Bulgarians were resettled in Asia and assimilated.

The Age of the Bulgarian National Revival began at the start of the 18th century. Regardless of the resistance of the central Turkish authorities and the Greek clergy,the struggle for an independent church, the publication of books and, later on, of periodicals in the Bulgarian language, the establishment of lay Bulgarian schools and the official recognition of the language and culture, became real steps to the revival of the nation. Particularly important landmark was the writing of the Slav-Bulgarian History (1762) by monk Paissi of Hilendar. A movement was born of national liberation, in which Vassil Levski (1837-1873), a national hero of Bulgaria, called the Apostle of Freedom, was the outstanding personality.

The April 1876 Uprising was a breakthrough in the struggle for freedom of the Bulgarians during the Revival Period. Its suppression, drowned in blood, put to the fore the Bulgarian question to the world democratic community and provoked the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-1878, which brought the Liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule (1878).

After the Liberation, Bulgaria took the first steps towards joining the civilized European world. The 1878-1944 period was a time of modernization, of search for new ways and trends. The country’s involvement in the two Balkan wars (1912-1913) and in the First and the Second World War was a failed attempt at achieving national unification, which entailed in its wake several national catastrophes. An expression of the Bulgarian will for all-human tolerance was the unprecedented salvation of the Bulgarian Jews during the Second World War.

On September 9, 1944, a government of the Fatherland Front was established in Bulgaria. During the following year the country was proclaimed a republic. The Bulgarian Communist Party took power. The political parties outside the Fatherland Front were banned, the economy and banking were nationalized, the arable land was pooled in cooperative farms. Until the end of the 1980s, Bulgaria was part of the political, military and economic structures of what was referred to as the Eastern Bloc.

November 10, 1989 laid the beginnings of the democratic changes in Bulgaria. A new Constitution was endorsed (1991), the political parties were restored, the ownership, nationalized in 1947, was restituted; privatization and the return of the land ownership began.

Today Bulgaria is becoming integrated in the big European community at accelerated rates, reaffirming its own model of ethnic tolerance, resting on the traditional Bulgarian democratic values and on historical experience. On April 2, 2004 the country was accepted to full membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), while in 2007 the country will join the European Union. Bulgaria continues to be a major factor of stability in the Balkans, all the difficult and complicated social and economic transition notwithstanding.