The Bulgarian people has a thousand-year old history. According to the latest population census, carried out in December 1992, the number of Bulgaria's population has been found to be 8 487 317. Subsequent estimates have shown that for the seven years following the census the number of this country's citizens has decreased - chiefly as a result of economic emigration to the EU countries, Northern America, and Turkey. The total number of Bulgarians abroad - natives in the adjoining countries, or emigrants of different periods - is about 3 million people.

In spite of the fact that Bulgaria, like most countries in the world, is characterized by a large ethnic and religious variety, the major portion of its population, 86 per cent, are Slavonic-speaking Bulgarians. Almost all of them are Christians, but there are Muslims too. Those who identify themselves as Muslim Turks represent 9.5 per cent of the population. In the minority groups, ethnic identity and religion do not always coincide, and variations or uncertainty in the declared ethnic self-identification are often witnessed. Thus, for example, Gypsies, the third large ethnic group (roughly 3,7 per cent) speak several very different dialects; some of them are Christians, others - Muslims; at the same time, they may have any one of the following self-identifications: Gypsy, Slavonic-speaking Bulgarian, or Turk. Furthermore, here live small numbers of Armenians, Jews, Russians, Slovaks, Greeks, Wallachians, Kutzowallachs, Karakachans, Tartars, Gagaouzes, Circassians, Kazalbashes, etc., varying from about ten thousand to only several hundred. These larger or smaller groups together form the Bulgarian nation. Under the Bulgarian legislation, they have all rights and opportunities to reproduce their original identity.

Inside the ethnic groups there is also an astonishing variety from region to region, including differences in customs and dialect. Slavonic-speaking Bulgarians, for example, can be distinguished as Shopps, Macedonians, Dobrudzhans, Thracians, Rhodopians, Pomaks, Kapans, Graovians, Torlaks, and many others. In some cases these distinctions are perhaps ... more than 15 centuries old, i.e. they come directly from various tribes who lived in this part of the Balkans at that time.

But this is only part of it!

Bulgarians are predominantly a Slav people and, consequently - closest relatives of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenians, as well as of the Russians, Ukrainians and Byelorussians, of the Czechs, Slovaks and Poles. But Bulgarians are nonetheless a Balkan people, so that there are numerous examples in their language, traditions, folklore, cuisine, customs, mentality, culture, and value system, of relationships and interactions with all their neighbours - Greeks, Roumanians, Albanians, Turks, etc.

The present-day Bulgarian lands were crossed in the times of the Great Migration of Peoples by Celts and Goths, Avars and Huns, Magyars and Koumanians, and by many others tribes. During the next centuries here settled Germans, Jews ... The crusaders passed through these parts too. All these "travellers" have left their traces in the country's characteristics and practices of today. It is assumed, however, that in the formation of the Bulgarian nationality (Slavonic-speaking Bulgarians) in the 7th-9th centuries, Slavs played the fundamental part, while the role of Turk Proto-Bulgarians, Hellenized and Romanized Thracians was less important.

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