Five things to know about Bulgaria

AFP , Sunday 2 Oct 2022

Bulgaria's fourth parliamentary election in 18 months on Sunday is expected to produce yet another fragmented legislature.

Bulgaria elections
Women wait to cross the road near election campaign posters in Sofia, Bulgaria, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. AP


From demographics and corruption to yoghurt and Rosa Damascena, here are five things to know about the country.

Dwindling population

Bulgaria has one of the world's fastest shrinking populations.

At the fall of communism in 1989, there were almost nine million inhabitants but it now has only 6.52 million people due to mass emigration, low birth rates and high mortality.

Life expectancy is one of the lowest in the European Union at 73.6 years.

The lack of an adequately large workforce, particularly a brain drain of educated professionals, is affecting economic growth.

Endemic corruption

Bulgaria is the worst-rated EU country in the Corruption Perception Index compiled by the Transparency International NGO.

The shadow economy accounts for just under 30 percent of economic activity, according to one estimate published by the International Monetary Fund.

Bribery is endemic in many areas of public life, including medicine, education, the police and the media.

There are frequent stories of the lavish lives led by the political elite -- flats acquired at knock-down prices, villas built with EU funds, and privileges for oligarchs.

Most Bulgarians have an average monthly salary of just 870 euros ($853), 2.5-times less than the EU average.

For the elderly, pensions of a mere 342 euros ($335) mean they also struggle to make ends meet.

Russophilia and Muslims

Historically Bulgarians have often oriented themselves towards Russia rather than the West.

Both countries are predominantly Slav and Orthodox Christian and use the Cyrillic script, which Bulgaria claims was invented on its soil.

Moscow also played a crucial role in the liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule in 1878 and the country was the Soviet Union's most loyal satellite during communism.

Economic and energy ties remained strong, so the last government ended up walking a tight-rope after Russia invaded Ukraine.

From Ottoman times, Bulgaria inherited a 13-percent Muslim minority of ethnic Turks, Pomaks (Bulgarians who converted to Islam under Ottoman rule) and some Roma.

Yoghurt and roses

The country prides itself on discovering yoghurt -- a claim challenged by neighbouring Turkey -- and has even given its name to the bacteria that is indispensable in making it: Lactobacillus bulgaricus (LBB).

A Bulgarian researcher, medical student Stamen Grigorov, discovered LBB in 1905 while studying the food habits in Bulgaria's southern Rhodope mountains.

Another national emblem is the Rosa Damascena, whose oil is a must-have in almost all high-end perfumes.

Alongside Turkey and Morocco, Bulgaria is traditionally one of the world's leading exporters of rose oil. Bulgarians also make rose jam and even rose brandy from the delicate pink petals.

Pagan roots

Bulgaria's festival calendar includes many traces of its pre-Christian pagan past.

One example is the tradition of the "kukeri", who parade in elaborate monster costumes to chase away adverse winter spirits at the end of the season.

Another that has been entwined with contemporary religious dates are the "nestinari" who dance over hot embers on the feast of Saints Constantine and Helen.

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