Bulgaria regained its independence in 1878 as an autonomous principality and was proclaimed a fully independent kingdom in 1908.
During 1912 and 1913 it became involved in the Balkan Wars, a series of conflicts with its neighbours, during which Bulgarian territory varied in size. During World War I and later World War II, Bulgaria found itself fighting on the losing side.
Bulgaria fell within the Soviet sphere of influence after World War II and became a People's Republic in 1946. Communist domination ended in 1990, when Bulgaria again held multiparty elections.
The president of Bulgaria is directly elected for a 5-year term with the right to one re-election. The president serves as the head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces.
The president is the head of the Consultative Council for National Security and while unable to initiate legislation, the President can return a bill for further debate, though parliament can overturn the president's veto with a simple majority vote.
The Bulgarian unicameralparliament, the National Assembly or Narodno Sabranie, consists of 240 deputies who are elected for 4-term stretches by popular vote. The votes are for party or coalition lists of candidates for each of the nine administrative divisions.
A party or coalition must garner a minimum of 4% of the vote in order to enter parliament.
Parliament is responsible for enactment of laws, approval of the budget, scheduling of presidential elections, selection and dismissal of the prime minister and other ministers, declaration of war, deployment of troops outside of Bulgaria, and ratification of international treaties and agreements.
Since 1999 Bulgaria consists of 28 regions (oblasti, singular - oblast), after having been subdivided into 9 provinces since 1987.
All are named after the regional capital, with the national capital itself forming a separate region:
Bulgaria is comprised of the classical regions of Thrace, Moesia and Macedonia.
The southwest of the country is mountainous, containing the highest point of the Balkan Peninsula, the Musala at 2,925 m, and the range of the Balkan mountains runs west-east through the middle of the country, north of the famous Rose Valley.
Hill country and plains are found in the southeast, along the Black Sea coast in the east, and along Bulgaria's main river, the Danube in the north. Other major rivers include the Struma and the Marica in the south.
The Bulgarian climate is temperate, with cold, damp winters and hot, dry Mediterranean summers.
Bulgaria's economy contracted dramatically after 1989 with the loss of the Soviet market, to which the Bulgarian economy had been closely tied.
The standard of living fell by about 40%, but is expected to reach the pre-1990 levels by the end of 2003.
In addition, UN sanctions against Yugoslavia and Iraq took a heavy toll on the Bulgarian economy.
The first signs of recovery emerged in 1994 when the GDP grew and inflation fell.
During 1996, however, the economy collapsed due to poor economic reforms and an unstable banking system.
Since 1997 the country has been on the path to recovery, with GDP growing at a 4-5% rate, increasing FDI, macroeconomic stability and EU membership set for 2007.
The current government, elected in 2001, has pledged to maintain the fundamental economic policy objectives adopted by its predecessor in 1997, i.e., retaining the Currency Board, practicing sound financial policies, accelerating privatisation, and pursuing structural reforms.
While economic forecasts for 2002 and 2003 predict continued growth in the Bulgarian economy, the government still faces high unemployment and low standards of living.
Bulgaria is holding accession talks with the European Union, hoping to join in 2007.
Most Bulgarians (83.9%) are at least nominally a member of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, the national Eastern Orthodox church.
Other religious denominations include Islam (12.1%), Roman Catholicism (1.7%), Judaism (0.8%), with Protestant, Gregorian-Armenian, and other faiths numbering 1.6%.