Enjoying both a long history and strategic location bordering Turkey and the Black Sea, Bulgaria is (along with neighboring Romania) the most recent member of the EU. After emerging from a transition period marked by occasional violent acts between mafia groups, the country has successfully repositioned itself as an emerging tourist destination and real estate market for Northern Europeans, though corruption and organized crime remain issues of concern.
Bulgaria takes pride in its history, having existed as a nation-state since the early Middle Ages and, before it, as part of the ancient Thracian kingdom. This legacy has left it with a robust sense of nationalism and a wealth of archeological and architectural riches. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church is the country’s major religious institution, though small minorities of Bulgarian Muslims exist, as do more substantial ethnic Turkish ones- holdovers from the Ottoman period.
Bulgaria today faces unique challenges, such as continuing poverty and a declining birthrate (something that may affect the ethnic make-up of the country and interrelations between ethnic Bulgarians, Turks and Roma). But the country can also count on unique opportunities: its maritime placement and historic relationship with Russia are balanced by NATO and EU membership, making it a coveted strategic partner. However, the aftershocks of the 2015 migrant crisis have maintained sentiment among some EU members to continue the country’s exclusion from Schengen Zone membership.
Although it was not on main Balkan Route during the migrant crisis, Bulgaria has seen a continuous trickle of migrants from Turkey and will continue to orient itself towards this threat in the upcoming period. Continued political pressure from both the West and Russia will be both a political challenge and point of leverage going forward.
Relations with the EU and NATO concerning Russia and vice versa; dealing with new security challenges following the migrant crisis; instability in politics and business, new political parties and social movements; involvement in regional security matters during a time of pressure on Western Balkan neighbors.
Forward Planning: Points of Interest
- Regional strategy, political ramifications and impact on the country’s role in the Western Balkans, following the coup attempt and ‘color revolution’ in Macedonia
- Potential effects on Bulgarian of the European migrant crisis
- Media and political discourse relating to the country’s perceived positioning vis-a-vis Russia and the West
- The character of governmental foreign policy aspirations to play a role in the region, especially with issues involving Macedonia and its name dispute with Greece
- Social and equality issues that will be used by new political grassroots initiatives