Author: Ivan Rankov
Bulgaria is situated at the south-eastern extremity of Europe, occupying the north-eastern part of the Balkan peninsula. Both in area (43,000 square miles) and population (a little over 8 million inhabitants) it is one of the smallest European countries. Its importance is mainly due to its geographical position at the junction of the main routes connecting western and northern Europe with the Near and Middle East.
From the geographical point of view Bulgaria has a greater claim than any of its neighbours to be described as a Balkan country, since it contains within its frontiers the Balkan massif, the ancient Haemus, which the Bulgarians call Stara Planina, the "old mountain". But a country which shows such a remarkable development of industry as present-day Bulgaria can certainly no longer be called a Balkan state in the old derogatory sense of the term. Since 1944 it has been governed by a Communist regime, and the Soviet Union continues to give powerful support to a country which has always been closely bound to Russia by ties of blood, of culture and of history, even though from time to time the governments of the two countries may have followed different policies.
Bulgaria has a common frontier with Rumania — from which it is separated by the Danube, except in the Dobrudja — to the north, with Yugoslavia to the west, and with Greece and Turkey to the south. On the east it is bounded by the Black Sea, which links it directly with the Soviet Union and, by way of the Bosporus and Dardanelles, with the countries bordering on the Mediterranean.
Bulgaria offers a great variety of landscape, high mountains with tantalizingly inaccessible peaks alternating with beautiful wooded hills, wide fertile plains and smiling valleys. The geographers usually distinguish three main geographical regions — 1) the Balkan plateau or Danube plain, which forms part of the great Getic Plain; 2) the Bulgarian mountains, belonging to two different systems, the Balkan and Rhodope massifs; and 3) the south-eastern plain, comprising mainly the Maritza basin, the region known to history as Roumelia.
The Balkan massif, or Stara Planina, is the longest chain of mountains in the peninsula to which it has given its name. The chain forms part of the Alpine and Carpathian system and extends from the Yugoslav frontier, which passes near the Timok, a tributary of the Danube, to the Black Sea (Cape Emine). In the western part, as far as the Shipka Pass, the Balkan peaks range in height between 4900 and 7796 feet (Mount Botev). The only deep cut in the range is that formed by the Iskar gorges, but it is traversed by many passes: this mountain barrier which determines the climate and water supply of the region has not, therefore, offered any obstacle to human communications and trade. The southern face of the Balkan range is relatively steep, while the northern slope falls gradually away to the Danube plateau. The mountains are covered with an abundant growth of vegetation — pasture land on the summits and forests (mainly beech) at lower levels.
Thanks to the defensive strength of its natural features, the Balkan region was the cradle of the first two Bulgarian kingdoms. In the Middle Ages the main centres of Bulgarian culture were Pliska, protected by fortresses on the neighbouring heights; Preslav, securely entrenched amid its valleys; and Tarnovo within its ring of hills. In later centuries also the flame of the national consciousness continued to burn in this region. Many risings took place here, and the Shipka Pass is known to history as the scene of one of the great deeds in the heroic war against the Osmanli oppressors. And more recently still the Balkan massif was one of the centres of the Bulgarian resistance during the second World War. Today there are many growing health and tourist resorts in these mountains, including such well-known places as Berkovica, Etropole, Teteven, Trojan and Kotel.
Farther south is the Sredna Gora, the "central range", which runs parallel to the Balkan massif, bounded on the west by the valley of the Iskar (Pancharevo defile) and on the east by the bend in the River Tundja just above Jambol. Its highest peak is Mount Bogdan (5263 feet). To the south it slopes gently down towards the plain of Thrace. Between the Sredna Gora and the Balkan massif is the Tundja valley, running from west to east; this is the famous Valley of Roses, the principal town in which is Kazanluk.
To the same mountain complex belong also the Vitosha and Strandja ranges. The Vitosha range dominates Sofia to the south-west, forming a continuation of the Sredna Gora beyond the Pancharevo defile. The Iskar and the Struma rise in this range. Its highest point is the Cherni Vrah or "Black Peak" (7513 feet). The Vitosha range, which is being developed as a national park renowned for the richness of its flora, is a favourite haunt of walkers and tourists all the year round. Its abundant springs supply Sofia with part of its drinking water, and its pure air contributes to the excellent climate of the capital.
The Strandja range extends south-east beyond the Tundja basin, reaching out towards Istanbul. The greater part of the range is in Turkish territory. On account of its metamorphic structure the Strandja massif was long thought to form part of the ancient mountain foundation of the area; it is now considered to belong to the Balkan arc. Its peaks are of no great height, and the surface relief is smoothly rounded. In 1903 the whole of this region rose against the Turks, and the exploits of these valiant highlanders were celebrated in a number of popular songs which are still remembered.
To the south of the Maritza are the old Bulgarian mountain ranges, in which the Hercynian foundation has undergone less modification than elsewhere.
The Rhodope is the largest range of mountains in Bulgaria. It is bounded on the north and east by the Maritza valley, and on the west by the Mesta valley. To the south, part of the Rhodope massif extends into Greek territory, but its highest peaks are in Bulgaria. Its culminating point is the Goljam Perelik (7189 feet).
Two other ranges which lie to the west, between the Struma and Mesta valleys, are closely connected with the Rhodope mountains. These are the Rila and the Pirin massifs.
The Rila range includes the highest peak in the Balkan peninsula, Mount Musala (9564 feet). The ice-cut corries and the ravines which slash the upper slopes of the Rila, the perpetual snow which covers its peaks, the swift mountain streams which tumble down its slopes all contribute to the mysterious beauty of this mountain, on which is perched Rila Monastery, guardian of the proudest traditions of Bulgarian culture.
To the south of the Rila range is Pirin, the mountain of winds and storms. Its name has been connected with that of Perun, God of thunder. Its highest peak is Mount Vihren (9531 feet), a close rival of Mount Musala. Of all the mountains of Bulgaria Pirin is perhaps the one which has most fully preserved its natural wildness. Its slopes are covered with firs and umbrella pines, and edelweiss is to be found there.
To the west of the Struma are the mountains of Belasitza, Ograjden and Osogovo, only the fringes of which lie within Bulgaria. These are also outliers of the Rhodope mountains, belonging to the ancient Hercynian foundation.
Plains and Valleys
Between the Balkan massif in the south and the Danube in the north lies the Danube plain. This is in fact a large plateau, lying at an average height of 500 feet above the Danube valley, in which — particularly above Ruse — many rivers rising in the Balkan massif have carved out courses for themselves. East of Ruse the plateau broadens out towards the Black Sea. Here it is less broken up and more uniform, and is known as the Deli Orman or Ludogorie. To the north lies the Dobrudja plain. The Danube plain, occupying something like a quarter of the total area of the country, is the granary of Bulgaria, producing more than half the national output of cereals.
The south-eastern plain lies between the Sredna Gora in the north and the Rhodope mountains in the south-west, and consists mainly of the Maritza basin. The geographers often refer to it as Upper Thrace, in contrast to Lower (or Greek) Thrace. It is an area which has always been renowned for its fruitfulness, being known as early as the time of Homer for its splendid steeds, "swifter than the wind", and its sheep with their heavy fleeces. Rich crops of fruit and vegetables and large vineyards alternate here with fields of hemp and flax, rice and cotton, and above all tobacco of high quality.
Mention must also be made of the sub-Balkan plains, a succession of sheltered areas lying at the foot of the mountains between Sofia and Burgas, and the Struma valley, which supplies Bulgaria with early vegetables.
From the point of view of climate there are two main regions, separated by the barrier of the Balkan range. Northern Bulgaria has a temperate continental climate, While the plain of Thrace has a climate of intermediate type with certain similarities to that of the Mediterranean. The average temperature over the year is in the region of 12° C. The temperature in January varies between an average of -2° in the north and +2° in the south; in July the average rises as high as 23° or even 24° in the plain of Thrace. In the coastal area the variations in temperature are less considerable: at Varna, for example, the winter average is 3°, the summer average 21°, and the autumn is very mild.
The rainfall pattern shows the variations that are to be expected between the plain and mountain areas. The Danube plain has an annual rainfall of over 600 mm. (23.6 in.), the heaviest falls being in the early summer, while in September the figure falls as low as 40 mm. (1.6 in.). The plain of Thrace has less rain, and may suffer from drought at any time from the month of August onwards. In the fertile plains in the eastern parts of the country irrigation is necessary to obviate the disastrous effects of drought.
East of a line from General Toshevo to Balchik the rainfall is less than 450 mm. (17.7 in.) a year. It is 500 mm. (19.7 in.) in the Dobrudja, a coastal strip some 12 to 20 miles wide from Varna to Burgas, a broad belt 30 miles wide to the north of a line from Burgas to Jambol, the lower Tundja valley and the greater part of the Maritza basin. The highest parts of the Balkan massif, the whole of the Rila range and the southern parts of the Rhodope have annual rainfalls of the order of 1000 mm. (39.4 in.).
Although Bulgaria is well provided with rivers and water-courses of all kinds, there is scarcely a single river other than the Danube which is navigable for any distance. The Bulgarian tributaries of the Danube rise in the Balkan massif, with the exception of the Iskar which originates in the Vitosha range. A number of coastal streams flow directly into the Black Sea — the Provadijska Reka, the Kamcija, the Ropotamo, the Djavolska Reka, the Veleka, the Rezovska Reka, etc. The last three of these come from the Strandja range, the others from the Balkan. Finally the Maritza and its large tributary the Tundja are fed by the streams which drain the southern slopes of the Balkan and the northern slopes of the Rhodope mountains; and the Struma, which like the Maritza flows into the Aegean, is joined on its left bank by streams flowing from the Rila and Pirin ranges, and on its right bank by streams from the mountains on the boundary between Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. The Mesta, in a valley between the Pirin range to the west and the Rhodope to the east, also flows into the Aegean. The Danube and Maritza basins, coinciding with the two great Bulgarian plains (the Danube plain and the plain of Thrace), occupy two-thirds of the whole territory of Bulgaria.
Until quite recently this abundant water supply was hardly used: in 1940 there were scarcely more than 75,000 acres of irrigated land. There is now a large network of barrages which will provide for the irrigation of some 5,000,000 acres of arable land. These barrages will also provide the main source of power for the development of industry. The Batak hydro-electric scheme, in the western Rhodope, includes barrages at Vasil Kolarov and Batak, and power stations at Batak, Peshtera and Aleko. The Arda scheme, in the eastern Rhodope, comprises three barrages, at Studen Kladenec, Kardjali and Ivajlovgrad, with the corresponding power stations. Near Sofia is the largest barrage in Bulgaria, the Iskar barrage, supplying power stations at Pasarel and Kokalene. Among other large schemes are the Georgi Dimitrov barrage on the Tundja, feeding the Georgi Dimitrov and Stara Zagora power stations, and the Aleksander Stambolijski barrage on the Rositza in the north of the Balkan massif. There are a number of other barrages and power stations in the Sofia area — at Studena on the Struma; Beli Iskar on the Iskar, which supplies a number of different power stations; Kalin, at a height of 7855 feet, which collects the water from the higher slopes of the Rila range to the north-west; and Petrohan, near the pass of the same name in the western Balkan range, which supplies power stations at Petrohan, Barzija and Klisura.
Flora and Fauna
Bulgaria has a very varied flora in consequence of the three different types of climate — continental, Mediterranean and steppe — to be found within its frontiers. A number of species which have disappeared from other parts of Europe are still represented in Bulgaria. Among these rare species are Ramondia sorbica, Prunus lawocerasus, Glycyrrhiza glabra, Rheum rhaponticum, Astragalus physocalyx, Rhododendron ponticum, etc. The total number of species growing in Bulgaria is estimated at 3200. Almost everywhere the development of cultivation has replaced the natural vegetation by products more suited to economic needs; but there are still a number of compact areas of natural vegetation, particularly at the mouths of certain coastal rivers like the Kamcija and the Ropotamo, in the mountains of southern Bulgaria, in the Balkan and sub-Balkan regions, and on some islands in the Danube.
Almost a third of the country (29%) is covered with forest. There are large forests of conifers (Corsican pine, Scots pine, Macedonian pine, white pine, fir, juniper, spruce), particularly in the high mountains of the Rila, Pirin and western Rhodope ranges. Deciduous trees (mainly oak and beech, but also hornbeam, elm, ash, lime and hazel) predominate in the Balkan massif (Stara Planina, Sredna Gora and Strandja), where re-forestation with young firs is also being carried out. Areas of natural chestnut forest have survived in the Belasica massif and the western Balkan (in the Berkovica area). The fauna of Bulgaria includes species belonging to continental Europe, the northern countries and the Mediterranean region. In this last group the bats are particularly well represented. Jackals are not rare in the Strandja massif. The large birds of prey found in Bulgaria include the lammergeyer. There are also a number of mammals which have become extinct in many European countries — bears, wolves, foxes, badgers, wild cats, deer and roe-deer, wild pigs, etc. Pelicans, partridges, pheasants and grouse are found in abundance in many parts of the country. There is a varied range of sea and river fish, and some 50 species of reptiles and amphibious creatures. The variety of insects will satisfy the most exacting entomologist: some 1100 species of butterflies and moths are known in Bulgaria. And finally the cave fauna, comprising at least 75 species, is of particular interest.
The population of Bulgaria now exceeds 8,4 million, representing an average density of 77 inhabitants to the square kilometer (198 to square mile). We can obtain some idea of the rate of population growth by comparing the figures for 1877 (3,120,000), 1920 (4,804,000), 1934 (6,397,000), 1946 (7,029,350), 1956 (7,629,250) and 1962 (8,045,150). This growth is due partly to the fall in the death rate (13.7 per 1000 in 1936-40 to 8.7 per 1000 in 1956-60), which increased the average length of life from 52 years in 1939 to 70 in 1963, and partly to the rise in the number of births. The combination of these two factors has increased the rate of natural increase of the population from 8 per 1000 in 1938 to 9.7 per 1000 in 1960.
The distribution of population depends on economic factors. The highest densities are found in industrial areas, where there are often more than 100 inhabitants to the square kilometer (260 to the square mile). The mountain areas, on the other hand, are fairly thinly populated, with densities like 26.8 to the square kilometer (69.4 to the square mile) in the Kotel area, 21 (54.4) in the Krumovgrad area, 18.3 (47.4) at Devin, 18 (46.6) at Micurin and 15.3 (39.6) at Malko Tarnovo. The pattern of distribution has changed considerably during the last 25 years, a period during which the urban population has more than doubled. After remaining practically stationary from 1877 (18.8%) to 1920 (20%) and 1934 (21.4%), it rose to 26% in 1946, 33.6% in 1956, and almost 40% in 1962. The day is not far off when every other inhabitant of Bulgaria, a country of predominantly farming and pastoral traditions, will be a town-dweller. There are, in round figures, 1,000,000 workers employed in industry (compared with 100,000 in 1939), or almost 1,500,000 if workers in building and transport are included. These considerable changes in the distribution of population are an indication of the profound transformation which have revolutionized the economic structure of Bulgaria in recent years.
As regards the composition of the population, Bulgaria presents a high degree of homogeneity: some 88% of the population is Bulgarian. The present-day Bulgarians are the result of a mingling of the Southern Slavs who descended into the Balkan peninsula about the 5th and 6th centuries, coming from the area which is now north-western Ukraine and southern Poland, and the Bulgars who originally came from the Sea of Azov region. Being of Turanian origin, the Bulgars settled in the area round the mouth of the Danube about the 7th century. Although much outnumbered by the Slavs, they gave the new state its government and military organization, but were rapidly assimilated by the dominant ethnic element. Even their language left hardly any mark on the tongue of the Slav tribes with which they fused.
After the Bulgarians the largest ethnic group is the Turks, numbering 650,000 (8.5%) in 1956. Many Turks who had remained in Bulgaria after the end of Ottoman rule left the country in 1950-51. The Turks of Bulgaria are now mostly in the eastern Rhodope and the Ludogorie, and are engaged in agriculture.
The third ethnic group in order of size is the Gypsies, who in 1956 numbered 198,000, or 2.5% of the total population. The Gypsies arrived in Bulgaria at the same time as the Turks, at the end of the 14th century, coming from India by way of Persia and Egypt. They were for long materially and culturally backward, but are now seeking to adapt themselves to the conditions of modern life and to become integrated into the socialist society.
There are also a number of other ethnic groups of relatively small size.
There were a fair number of Armenians up to the last war, but most of them returned to Soviet Armenia about 1955. There were still 22,000 in 1956, mainly concentrated in the larger towns (Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, Ruse, Kolarovgrad). Most of the Armenians in Bulgaria came as refugees at the time of the pogroms of 1896 against the Armenian population of Asia Minor, or in 1922 (Greco-Turkish War).
There were 10,000 Russians in 1956. Some of them (Don and Dnieper Cossacks) had been in Bulgaria since the 18th century. Others had come after the Russian Revolution of October 1917; and many of these returned to the Soviet Union in 1955-56.
The 7500 Greeks in Bulgaria (according to the 1956 census) are mostly fishermen and vine-growers in the coastal towns (Sozopol, Burgas, Pomorie, Nesebar, Varna and Balcik).
In 1956 there were only 6000 Jews left in Bulgaria, compared with some 50,000 before 1948-49, when most of them emigrated to the newly established state of Israel. The great mass of the Jewish population of Bulgaria originally came from Spain in the year 1442. At the present time half the Jews in Bulgaria live in Sofia; the others are in Plovdiv, Ruse, Stanke Dimitrov, Jambol and other places.
The number of Tatars (6000 in 1956) has also fallen considerably since the Liberation. They occupied the Ludogorie and the Dobrudja. Most of them came to Bulgaria in the 18th century, others after the Crimean War (1853-56).
The Rumanians of Bulgaria (4000 in 1956) are Wallachians and Moldavians who fled from their native country in the 18th and 19th centuries to escape from the exactions of the great landowners. Most of them have remained near the banks of the Danube, particularly to the west, in the Kula, Vidin, Orjahovo and Svishtov areas.
The Karakachans (2000 in 1956) are Hellenized Thracians who came from the Pindus region in western Greece in the 18th and 19th centuries. For long of nomadic habit, they have now settled near the high mountain pastures round Berkovica, Mihajlovgrad, Varshec, Karlovo, Sliven, Pestera, Samokov, etc.
Under the Constitution the ethnic minorities have the same rights and the same duties as citizens of Bulgarian origin. Their various languages are recognized, their traditions are respected, and they take part in the political, economic and cultural life of the country on a footing of complete equality. Although socialist principles call for the propagation of a radical atheism, religious freedom is guaranteed by the Constitution. The predominant creed is that of the Orthodox Church, and the monasteries still retain something of the prestige which enabled them to play an active part in the National Renaissance. The Moslem faith, the religion of the Turkish population, is still professed by something like 100,000 Pomaks, Bulgarians in the Rhodope area who embraced Islam after the Turkish conquest. The numbers of Roman Catholics and Protestants have fallen steadily since the closing of the Christian schools. All these various forms of worship are practiced in the larger towns.
Western travelers visiting Bulgaria have depicted the Bulgarian character in terms which might well be envied by other peoples. Patient and hard-working, unassuming and conciliatory, though ready to defend himself when the occasion requires, sober in manner but with his moments of light-hearted enjoyment, and above all hospitable with the generous hospitality of the Slavs, the Bulgarian is always a good companion and a sure friend in case of need. Physically, although fair hair and blue or grey eyes are found in Bulgaria, the dark type is predominant. The men are tall and sturdy, hard workers and capable of great exertion. The women, in the words of Laurent Pouqueville, are "of extraordinary beauty, adding the advantage of tall stature and noble bearing to regular features and handsome proportions".
In this country of long-standing rural traditions the reorganization of agriculture was one of the main problems which confronted the socialist regime when it took over.
Before the second world war the Bulgarian countryside was parceled out into large numbers of small units. In 1934 the number of separate farm holdings was 1,100,000, more than 63% of them with a cultivable area of less than 5 hectares (12 acres), which occupied barely 30% of the arable land of Bulgaria. The large proprietors owned 10% of the holdings, with an average area of over 10 hectares (25 acres), and thus possessed a third of the total cultivable land. It is estimated that four fifths of the population were engaged in agriculture. For each square kilometer of arable land there were 116 workers in Bulgaria, compared with 72 in France, 52 in Germany and 17 in the United States. In 1944 the socialist regime was faced with a country split up into no fewer than 12,000,000 separate units with an average area of rather less than three-quarters of an acre.
After the agrarian reforms introduced by Stambolijski (1879-1923) the tendency was towards a high degree of specialization of crops. In 1935 Bulgaria grew 12 times the 1925 output of oil-producing plants, 25 times the crop of cotton, 900 times the quantity of strawberries. The emphasis was put on the development of fruit crops which were better adapted to meet the needs of Germany, the main consumer of Bulgarian products. Stambolijski maintained that Bulgaria was destined to become the "California of Europe", and suggested that Germany would finance a scheme for increasing the area devoted to orchards. At the same time, the great reformer secured a decree limiting the area of holdings in land to 30 hectares (75 acres).
Moreover many peasants had only the most primitive equipment. In 1934 there were in the whole of Bulgaria only 694,681 ploughs, almost a quarter of which were wooden, and barely 1500 tractors. There was only 1 harrow for every 9 ploughs, and most of the Bulgarian peasants had to do their harrowing with branches of hawthorn. Chemical fertilizers were scarce and expensive. The system of irrigation was rudimentary, a total of some 75,000 acres of land being irrigated.
After 1944 the government inaugurated a policy of collectivization of land, following the example of the Soviet Union, which now became a considerable supplier of agricultural machinery. In 1946 was promulgated a law on the ownership of land, based on the principle — "The land belongs to those who cultivate it". More than 250,000 hectares (625,000 acres) belonging to the large landowners were distributed to poor peasants, and no one was allowed to own more than 20 hectares (50 acres), or 30 hectares (75 acres) in certain regions.
Of all the socialist countries Bulgaria has made the greatest progress in collectivization; for if the state farms and cooperative farms are taken together the socialist sector accounted for 99.3% of the total area (1963), compared with 70% in Rumania, 80% in Czechoslovakia, 30% in Hungary and 25% in Poland. The cooperative farms are based on the use of means of production belonging either to the cooperative organization or to the state. These means of production are concentrated in "machine and tractor stations" (M.T.S.) provided with modern equipment appropriate to the particular crops cultivated. In 1960 there were 212 M.T.S. in Bulgaria. But although the means of production are in collective ownership the land remains as the private property of the peasant. This provision was dictated by psychological considerations, recognizing the Bulgarian peasant's instinctive attachment to his land, and has been a considerable factor in the success of the socialist regime in country areas.
Bulgaria's advanced position in this respect has made it possible to carry out further experiments. Some cooperative farms have been grouped in larger units, thus promoting uniformity in the treatment of the land and in the forms of organization. Thus in 1958 there were 3290 cooperative farms (92.3% of agricultural land) worked by 1,244,000 families, but in the following year, as a result of a large number of amalgamations, the number of cooperative farms had fallen to 981 (95% of agricultural land) for 1,296,000 families. The number of state farms has increased steadily in the last ten years or so: from 49 in 1955, to 54 in 1958 and 85 in 1965. The state farms have an average area of 4115 hectares (10,164 acres), the cooperative farms an average area of 3864 hectares (9544 acres), the figure being based in each case on the position in 1963, after the amalgamations. Individual holdings now represent only an insignificant proportion of the total: the pre-war figure of 1,100,000 had fallen to 560,376 by 1955, to 61,283 by 1958, and to 10,314 by 1963.
Increased collectivization is accompanied by increasing mechanization (12,295 tractors and 1363 combine harvesters at 1952; 24,283 tractors and 4118 combine harvesters at 1963). The use of mineral fertilizers shows a no less spectacular rise — 97 kg per 100 hectares in 1948, 415 kg in 1952, 1028 kg in 1956 and 3652 kg in 1963. There has also been a corresponding development of irrigation (66 irrigation dams in 1963, compared with 12 in 1957; 2,190,000 acres of irrigated land in 1963, compared with 1,040,000 in 1957, and 90,000 in 1939). The total irrigated area was planned to reach 5,000,000 acres in 1965, representing 43% of the total arable land.
Much experience, too, has been gained in methods of increasing yields and developing improved strains. The production of cereals has steadily increased (1,663,000 tons of wheat in 1938; 1,729,000 tons in 1950, and 2,930,000 tons in 1965). Bulgaria now produces 20% more meat than in the immediate post-war years, and 10% more milk and wool. There are more than a million cattle and over 10 million sheep. The output of fodder crops is expanding. But it is in the increased production of cotton, tobacco, sunflower seed, fruit and vegetables, grapes and wine that Bulgarian agriculture finds its particular vocation and makes its special contribution to the complementary economies of the Eastern and Danube countries.
To an even greater extent than the reorganization of agriculture, the development of industry has been the main element in the economic plans of all the People's Republics.
In the past Bulgaria, a typically agricultural country, was industrially backward, with an industry consisting mainly of small units (textile mills, flour-mills, canning factories). Plant was primitive in the extreme, and output was at the mercy of fluctuations on the international markets. Heavy industry was practically non-existent. The available capacity of electric power was less than 42 kW hours (1939) per unit.
Apart from the main centers of industry at Sofia, Plovdiv and Gabrovo, this rudimentary industry was widely and unevenly scattered throughout the country, thus making it impossible to achieve the best use of labour and other resources. Moreover many sectors of industry (particularly mining, foodstuffs and pottery) were seasonal in character. This led to unemployment and to the uneconomic use of machinery, which was operating at less than full capacity. And finally the Bulgarian economy was dominated until the last war by the great monopolies of western Europe. From the industrial point of view, and particularly in mining, cement production, textiles and confectionery, Bulgaria was merely a kind of economic appendage to European, and in particular German, capitalism.
Immediately after the establishment of socialism steps were taken to nationalize industrial undertakings and banks; and the principle of planning was introduced in order to coordinate the different sectors and the different stages of economic reconstruction. Within a few years the respective proportions of agricultural and industrial production were reversed: 75.3 and 24.7% in 1939, these had become 32.8 and 67.2% by 1956, when industrial production had become twice as great as agricultural production, 27.5 and 72.5% by 1960, and 21.7 and 78.3% by 1963. Industrial production advanced at a rapid rate in the field of consumer goods, but the increase was more striking still in the output of the means of production. In relation to 1939, the index of production of consumer goods rose successively to 166% in 1948, 468% in 1956, 793% in 1960, and 1000% in 1963, but the corresponding figures for the means of production were 329%, 1400%, 2700% and 3900%, the combined index being 203%, 740%, 1200% and 1700%.
The rise in industrial production per head of population can be measured in the following figures: 30.5 kwt of coal and lignite per head in 1957, compared with 6.9 kwt in 1939; 253 lb of cement in 1957, compared with 79 lb in 1939; 22 yards of cotton goods in 1957, compared with 6 yards in 1939; and 33.7 lb of sugar in 1957, compared with 8.8 lb in 1939. If we consider the various forms of power supply, we find that the production of coal, which determines to a considerable extent the progress of the economy, rose from 2.2 million tons in 1939 to 26 million tons in 1965. By 1980 the figure is excepted to reach between 80 and 85 million tons. Oil, too, is refined and systematically prospected. The present output is about 200,000 tons; the first large petro-chemical plant has been brought into operation, with a capacity of 2 million tons of petroleum products a year; and it is planned to achieve by 1980 an output of the order of 4 million tons of oil and 2600 million cubic yards of natural gas.
The most striking progress has been made, however, in the field of electric power. The total capacity of Bulgarian power stations, which was something under 111,000 kW in 1939, had been multiplied more than tenfold by 1963, and the output of electric power had increased 35 times (10,200 million kW/h in 1966, compared with 266 million in 1939). In 1964 the output of electric power was of the order of 10,000 million kW/h, and by 1980 it is due to reach between 50,000 and 55,000 million kW/h. And finally the mining of mineral ores and metalworking have achieved substantial development only since the establishment of the present regime. The "Lenin" metalworking plant, the copper factory at Pirdop, the lead and zinc combine at Plovdiv, and the lead and zinc works at Kardzali are all of recent creation. The copper factory at Medet and the metalworking plant at Kremikovtzi, near Sofia, are due to come into production shortly, and Bulgaria will then be one of the leading countries in the world in terms of metal production.
In 1965 Bulgaria produced 49,000 tons of copper, 93,000 tons of lead and 65,000 tons of zinc — fields in which the output in 1939 was nil. The expected output for 1980 is 70,000 tons of copper, 140,000 tons of lead and 85,000 tons of zinc. For the past ten years and more the country has been able to meet its total needs for these three metals. The annual output of iron ore (585,000 tons in 1965) is sufficient only to meet 80% of the national requirements, but it will be possible by about 1968 to supply the full requirements within Bulgaria.
Increased attention is also being paid to the building industry, which is using an increasing proportion of prefabricated panels, and to the chemical industries, which are contributing to the expansion of agriculture. The textile, leather and foodstuffs industries are also following the general trend.
Communications and Trade
Apart from the railways, which were well developed, the communications of Bulgaria before the Second World War were just as backward as its industry. Until 1944 the country had no civil aviation of its own; its small fleet of merchant shipping was used by Germany and was sunk during the war; and the road network had many deficiencies.
The railway system now has a total length of 3547 miles, compared with 2749 miles in 1939. Connections with Rumania and the Soviet Union have been improved by the construction of the Friendship Bridge near Ruse. Some lines have been electrified (Sofia-Plovdiv, Ruse-Gorna Orjahovica-Pleven), others have been double-tracked (Sofia-Mezdra, Sindel-Varna). There is now almost three times as much rolling stock as in 1939. Output has been increased: in 1963 the goods traffic was 8 times that of 1939, the passenger traffic 6 times as great.
The road system has improved rapidly, and much work is in progress. Almost half the road mileage is asphalted or paved (7450 miles out of 17,500). The tourist travelling by car can reach every town in Bulgaria without any difficulty, although he will be well advised to consult a road map before undertaking trips into the mountain areas.
All parts of Bulgaria are now covered by public transport (country routes serving 4629 places, and 89 undertakings in towns). In 1963 the country services carried 138,200,000 passengers. Passenger traffic is 9 times as great as in 1941, goods traffic 26 times as great.
River and sea-going shipping services are in course of development. The Bulgarian fleet is still of modest size, consisting of 166 ships, including 128 cargo ships, with a total tonnage of 250,000. By 1980 the Bulgarian shipping fleet is expected to exceed a million tons. The present fleet is responsible for a considerable part of the trade with other countries: in 1963 it transported 2,199,000 tons of goods, compared with 173,000 tons in 1948. The number of passengers carried is now more than a million per year, compared with only 29,000 in 1939.
Air transport now also provides excellent services. Bulgarian civil aviation has been created in recent years with the help of the Soviet Union, and the TABSO company now maintains regular services on the Sofia-Plovdiv-Stara Zagora-Burgas-Varna, Sofia-Gorna Orjahovica-Varna-Burgas, Sofia-Ruse and Sofia-Haskovo routes. There are international services connecting Sofia with Moscow, Berlin, Warsaw, Vienna, Paris, Stockholm and Algiers. The number of passengers carried in 1965 was 509,000, compared with 40,000 in 1952. In addition TABSO has connections with air lines in the Soviet Union, Rumania, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Eastern Germany, Austria, France, Switzerland and Holland, so that services are available to every corner of the world.
Since 1944 Bulgaria's external trade, which until the Second World War was mainly with Germany, has been principally with the Soviet Union. In 1947, in order to stop the introduction of foreign capital into Bulgaria, the government made external trade a state monopoly. In consequence it has been possible to plan imports and exports in accordance with the laws governing the economy of socialist countries.
The total volume of external trade has grown steadily since 1939, the value having increased from 116.7 million levas in that year to 568.8 million in 1955; 1408 million in 1960 and 2067 million in 1963. Exports and imports are always approximately in balance: in 1963, for example, exports represented 49.7% and imports 50.3%. In the field of imports there has been a more considerable increase in machinery and industrial equipment (23 times as much in 1963 as in 1939) than in consumer goods (13 times as much in 1963 as in 1939).
Bulgaria also imports ferrous metals, raw materials for the textile industry, and petroleum products. Among luxury (or semi-luxury) articles, Bulgaria is showing increasing interest in cars, motor-cycles, television and radio sets, watches, cameras and sewing machines. The country's exports are of remarkable range and diversity. Bulgaria supplies foreign countries with ships (both river- and sea-going), railway wagons, tractors, combine harvesters and specialized industrial equipment. The exports of industrial products, which were practically nil in 1939, now represent something like 40% of the total. The foodstuffs industry still accounts for the greatest share of the export trade, with 51.5% in 1963 (compared with 62.2% in 1939). The main items are jams and jellies, tinned meat and fruit, wine, fruit juices and tobacco. Unprocessed agricultural produce, which represented 37.5% of total exports in 1939, accounted for only 12.3% in 1963. Nevertheless this sector shows a significant increase in absolute terms (twice the 1939 figure), though this is much below the rate of increase for other products (11 times the 1939 figure). Bulgaria's main exports in this sector are vegetables and fruit (over 200,000 tons of tomatoes in 1963 and the same quantity of grapes, 300,000 tons of fresh vegetables and another 300,000 tons of fruit). And finally Bulgaria is one of the largest exporters of tobacco (70,000 tons a year) and sunflower seeds (70,000 tons a year), as well as the largest exporter of attar of roses.
Whereas in 1955 trade with the capitalist countries was barely more than 10% of the total, it is now approaching 20%. Among these countries Bulgaria's best customers are the German Federal Republic, Austria, Italy, Britain, France and Belgium. Among the socialist countries Bulgaria's largest trade is with the Soviet Union (roughly 75% of the total).
Addendum: We continue our review series on Geography of Bulgaria. The material presented above is taken from "Nagel's Encyclopedia Guide - Bulgaria" (1963), which although written from standpoint of Western authorship still reflects the idiosyncrasy of the Cold War era. Hence remarkably enough, Bulgaria before the Second World War is out-posted as just another semi-artisan country from the East and being totally dependant on engineering and other technical expertise from the Soviet Union — something, which we totally disagree with regard to the existing documentary and other analytical sources. As recommended before, see previously written articles on geography from items on Marin Devedjiev, Ignat Penkov, Spass Razboynikov and Kapiton Smirnov.
From the first textbook on world geography — a translation book "Zemleopisanie" (1878) from russian scholar K. Smirnov, which gives detailed description of the bulgarian ethnos numerically, by towns and by districts — to the primer book by Prof. A. Ishirkov, "Bulgaria ~ with geographical notes" (1910), have barely passed 30 years. In that historical period, the development of the modern Bulgarian state was rather clumsy in stipulations of culture and self-apprehension. The Bulgarian ethnos was still divided and most of its territories lied in neighboring Balkan countries. The sick-man of Europe, the Ottoman Empire, by the beginning of XX century was unwilling to separate with its Balkan Peninsula domains. Thus, the Balkan Wars that ensued was something inevitable.
Within such a brief outlay, it is impossible to give full apprehension to the development of geographical science in Bulgaria. We should concentrate here on the subject of Educational Geography and leave some theoretical considerations for further discussions. Contemplating on the term "educational geography", the author of these lines have in mind a specific cohort of textbooks written for the purposes of Secondary School (i.e., 18+ years of graduation age). This prerequisite is necessary to make, since later literature bear the mark of professional maturity and much of it is written under auspices of the "Bulgarischen Geographischen Gesellschaft" in the 1920s and 1930s. However, the teaching contingent of cadres in Bulgarian geography retained its constant flow throughout the years. The Teachers Institute within the Ministry of Education was a separate pedagogical organization and its geographical branch was meant especially for young and adolescent readers.
By making such explicit demarcation and we wish to enumerate in passim several titles that are strictly educational textbooks for 3-4 grades of Secondary School. No mention is made here on specialized monographs in economic and/or anthropological geography. For convenience purposes, we have divided the publishing period in two parts:
— Before-After the WWI, but timeline propagate to editions even published before Liberation War (1878) and from printers abroad. The bulgarian language geography books are rather parsimonious on details for Bulgaria. They tend predominantly to give introductory knowledge on the subject, 1) physical geography with general characteristics, mountains, plains and valleys, climate, hydrography, flora and fauna; and 2) population geography with demography, agriculture, industry, communications and trade. On such a canvas it becomes easier to distinguish what was taught in preparatory schools, the quality of the educational process and the subjects of the educational curriculum. Notable for Bulgaria is the fact that geography was not yet fully differentiated from kin disciplines. For instance, it seldom bear the name "Otechestvoznanie" (i.e., fatherland knowledge, transliterated from bulgarian) and is modeled in communion course together with Civil Education and some History. Definitive textbooks in Geography, except for some translations, are rare. We can mention for the booklist V. Gochev's "Geography with atlases" (1908-12, in 3 vols.), A. Yordanov's "Otechestvoznanie" (1908), B. Baychev's "Otechestvoznanie" (1910), I. Milanov's "Primer geography" (1920), and I. Rankov "Primer geography" (1922).
— Before-After the WWII, but time period is delineated to some 20-30 years after the Paris Peace Treaties. The number of quality textbooks, both in terms of polygraphists and contents, rises here exponentially. But we wish to put the attention of the censor somewhere else. Bulgaria was a defeated estate in both World Wars, deservedly or not. Consequently much lamentations were spelled on lost territories, nationhood et cetera. Our personal reflections are connected with a predominantly Anglo-Saxon world that was formed in the first half of the 20th century. On behalf of the Foreign Office at the British Empire and its main Exchequer, much blood was shed in every corner of the world. Thus main figures of the British Policy (i.e., people like Lloyd George, Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill) have shaped to a larger extent the vision of modern Geography in the way we perceive it today. Their follies were sometimes on a grand scale and contributed to give a faceless expression to loser countries like Bulgaria. There is much more to be found in geo-politics, but we resist further enquiries and stick to the theme as closely as possible. For the period under consideration we mention for the booklist titles from geography authors Dimitar Kostov, Alexandra Monedjikova, Sava Popov, Jecho Chankov and Tianko Yordanov, ditto.
Pictures 1, 2, 3 & 4: Sample illustrations on the text above.
(i). Territories claimed by Kingdom of Bulgaria before Balkan Wars — Western lands, courtesy: B. Baychev (1910).
(ii). Territories claimed by Kingdom of Bulgaria before Balkan Wars — Dobrudja lands, courtesy: B. Baychev (1910).
(iii). Territories claimed by Kingdom of Bulgaria before Balkan Wars — Thrace lands, courtesy: B. Baychev (1910).
(iv). Territories lost by Kingdom of Bulgaria after WWI — South Dobrudja, South-East Thrace, Western lands in Strumitza, Vranya, Tzaribrod and Zaychar, courtesy: I. Milanov (1920).
Copyright © 2009 by the author.