Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Who is a Bulgarian?

If you’ve read the previous three blogs, you now know where Bulgaria is, what language and alphabet they use there, and the basic demographics of the country.  Now I’m going to go into a few contributions that Bulgaria has made to the world.

This week I will start with sports.  I decided to cover sports because I got quite a few comments about this guy after I posted his picture last week.

His name is Grigor Dimitrov, and he is one of the best tennis players out there.  He is also (you guessed it) Bulgarian.  He is currently ranked as one of the top ten tennis players in the world.  As he is still quite young, I would not be surprised to see him crack the top 5.

Bulgaria also boasts some great soccer players.

Hristo Stoichkov was one of the greatest soccer players in the world in the 1980’s and 90’s.  He led Bulgaria to the world cup semi-finals in 1994 and was named European footballer of the year.

A more recent example of a great Bulgarian soccer player is Dimitar Berbatov who has played for several major clubs around Europe including Manchester United.  (For those of you who don’t speak soccer, Manchester United is one of the great European soccer clubs.  Think New York Yankees or Green Bay Packers, but for soccer.) Barbatov has also established a foundation to help young talented Bulgarians.  One of the beneficiaries of this foundation was Grigor Dimitrov himself.  Dimitar is an athlete with talent and heart.

One of my favorite Bulgarian athletes is Yordan Yovchev.  He is a world champion gymnast who has competed in 6 summer Olympic games!  (Yes, you read that right.)

Bulgaria also has a championship rhythmic gymnastics team.  Last year they won the world championship.  Keep an eye out for them at the 2016 Olympic games.

Sasha would not let me write a blog about Bulgarian athletes without mentioning Ivet Lalova.  Lalova has repeatedly won European championships for her sprinting ability, as well as represented Bulgaria in multiple Olympic games.  All this while overcoming a serious leg injury early in her career that would have ended many athletes dreams of ever competing again.

No list of Bulgarian athletes would be complete without mentioning Stefka Kostadinova.

In 1984 she set the world record for woman’s high jump.  She then went on to break her own record . . . three times!  Her current record is from August 30, 1987 at 2.09 meters.  To give you some perspective, she easily could have jumped over Scotty Pippin, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson.  (But not Patrick Ewing.  That guy is just huge.)  She holds the record to this day.  She is currently the president of the Bulgarian Athletic Federation.

There are many other talented Bulgarian athletes out there, and I’m sure if any of my Bulgarian friends are reading this they would add several to the list.  As I write this, Sasha keeps reminding me of more and more, but I have to stop at some point, so I will stop here.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What is a Bulgaria? Part III: Ethnicity and Religion

Bulgaria has three major ethnic groups across the whole country.  As an American, this seems nearly homogeneous to me.  We had at least four ethnic groups on just my block when I was a kid.

By far the largest ethnic group in Bulgaria is the Bulgarians (big surprise).  They make up about 85% of the population.  (The percentages presented in this blog are estimates and are not intended to represent official current and up to date demographic data.)

This is what an average Bulgarian looks like.

The second largest group is the Bulgarian-Turks.  These are Bulgarian citizens of Turkish decent.  Most of them come from families that have lived in Bulgaria for generations.  They still speak Turkish at home, but are citizens of Bulgaria.  Bulgarian-Turks make up about 8% of the population.

The third largest ethnic group is the Gypsies (or Roma as they are often called in Europe).  They make up about 4-5% of the population.

The remaining few percentage points of the population are made-up of miscellaneous smaller ethnic groups.  I, for example, would fall into this section of the pie chart, as I am an ethnic American who cannot identify with any of the other three major groups.  My father-in-law endearingly calls me a як българин (mighty Bulgarian), but that does not change the fact that I am and always will be an American and in a small minority in my adopted country.

That is the ethnic make up of Bulgaria.  What about the religious make-up?  Most Bulgarians would call themselves Orthodox, though what this means in practice is widely varied.  Some are regularly practicing orthodox that show up at church every week.  Others are Easter and Christmas orthodox who show up twice a year.  Others are christening-wedding-funeral orthodox that go to church only when a family member is baptized, married, or buried.  If someone in Bulgaria tells you they are orthodox, what they actually believe and practice may be widely different from their neighbor who also calls himself orthodox.  It seems to be more the national religion than a belief that most hold to.  It is not uncommon to even come across an orthodox person who practices, paganism.  (Their words, not mine.)

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is the heart of Bulgarian Orthodoxy.

The second largest religious group is Islam.  Most of the Muslims are from the group of Bulgarian-Turks that I mentioned above, though there are some ethnic Bulgarians who also identify as Muslim.

The Banya Bashi Mosque is located in the heart of Bulgaria's capital.

These two religious groups make up close to 95% of the population.  The remaining percentage points are made up of various groups.  Less than 2% are evangelical Bible believing Christians.  (Which is, by the way, what I am.)

Location, language, ethnic and religious demographics: look at you.  You are becoming a regular Bulgarian expert.