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.


  1. Fascinating post and lovely photos.

  2. Fascinating post and lovely photos.

  3. Thank you Linda. The photos are not mine. They are from Wikipedia or Facebook.