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History of Bulgaria
Coat of Arms of Bulgaria
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Prehistory
Odrysian kingdom
Roman Thrace
Old Great Bulgaria
First Bulgarian Empire
Byzantine Bulgaria
Second Bulgarian Empire
Early Ottoman Bulgaria
Late Ottoman Bulgaria
National Awakening
Tsardom of Bulgaria
People's Republic of Bulgaria
Republic of Bulgaria

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By the time the impact of Mikhail Gorbachev's reform program in the Soviet Union was felt in Bulgaria in the late 1980s, the Communists, like their leader, had grown too feeble to resist the demand for change for long. In November 1989 demonstrations on ecological issues were staged in Sofia, and these soon broadened into a general campaign for political reform. The Communists reacted by deposing the decrepit Todor Zhivkov and replacing him with Petar Mladenov, but this gained them only a short respite. In February 1990 the Communist Party, forced by street protests gave up its claim on power and in June 1990 the first free elections since 1931 were held, won by the Bulgarian Socialist Party (the new name of the Communist Party). In July 1991 a new Constitution was adopted, in which there was a weak elected President and a Prime Minister accountable to the legislature.

Like the other post-Communist regimes in eastern Europe, Bulgaria found the transition to capitalism more painful than expected. The anti-Communist Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) took office and between 1992 and 1994 carried through the privatisation of land and industry through the issue of shares in government enterprises to all citizens, but these were accompanied by massive unemployment as uncompetitive industries failed and the backward state of Bulgaria's industry and infrastructure were revealed. The Socialists portrayed themselves as the defender of the poor against the excesses of the free market. The reaction against economic reform allowed Zhan Videnov of the BSP to win the elections in 1995. The incompetence and the misguided policies of the Socialist government quickly exacerbated the economic conditions and in 1996 the economy fell into hyperinflation, while many banks went bankrupt. In the presidential elections of that year the UDF's Petar Stoyanov was elected. In 1997 the BSP government collapsed after a month of nation-wide protests and the UDF came to power. The new Democratic government headed by Ivan Kostov enjoyed strong support, but allegations of corruption and impotence to cope with some of the serious problems in the country caused widespread frustration. The electorate became increasingly dissatisfied with both parties.

This impasse provided an opportunity for the former Tsar Simeon II, who had left Bulgaria as a nine-year-old boy in 1946. He returned in 1996 as a wealthy 59-year-old businessman under the name Simeon Sakskoburggotski (a Bulgarian spelling of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha). Sakskoburggotski formed a new party, the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV), and swept away both major parties in the elections of June 2001. As Prime Minister he has followed a strongly pro-western course, with Bulgaria joining NATO in 2004 and the European Union in 2007. Economic conditions improved somewhat, although economic growth was still slow and unemployment and emigration remained high. Progress in other problem areas, such as corruption, education, health care and organized crime, was also limited.

In the parliamentary elections in 2005, the BSP gained the largest share of the votes, followed by NDSV. However, none of the parties had enough seats in Parliament to establish a government on its own. After more than a month of negotiations, a coalition was formed between BSP, NDSV and MRF (Movement for Rights and Freedoms). Although divided by deep ideological and political differences, the three parties were united by a major goal: accomplishing the reforms necessary for joining the European Union in 2007. Ineffective administration and high-level corruption remain serious problems.

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