Et was a historical figure, but nobody could have guessed that at the time. In 1950, 182,571 people were born in Bulgaria. Thereafter, so many were never born in the same year in the Balkan country, even if the country’s population continued to grow for several decades. In the mid-1980s, 8.95 million people lived in Bulgaria, the highest population the country had ever reached. At the time, communist propaganda was spreading the slogan that the Bulgarians would soon be nine million people.
But there never were that many. In 1989 there was no growth for the first time, since then the population has fallen from almost nine million to 6.5 million. So few people lived in Bulgaria since the end of World War II. And of those who now live in the country, many will still experience that in Bulgaria’s population statistics there is a five before the decimal point – as it was last in the 1930s.
In no other country in Europe has the population shrunk faster in the past three decades. At first glance, these are devastating numbers, which have been confirmed by the recently published preliminary results of the 2021 census.
Two “killer factors” minimize the population
The reason for this is the interaction of two “killer factors”, as a Bulgarian demographic scientist once put it: a low birth rate combined with high emigration. Women in Bulgaria have about as many children as women in Germany, around 1.6 on average. The so-called fertility rate – the average number of children that a woman gives birth to in her lifetime – is thus also in Bulgaria well below the statistical value of 2.1, which would be necessary in developed countries to keep the population constant without immigration.
The fact that more than 1.5 million Bulgarians have left their homeland since 1990 – 390,000 are registered in Germany alone – exacerbates the trend. A third reason: rich Western countries can compensate for their declining population through immigration, but almost nobody moves to Bulgaria, the poorest member state of the European Union. When the country was admitted to the EU in 2007, the emigration trend increased even more – after all, it was now much easier to settle in western countries.
Bulgaria is not alone in Eastern Europe with its population decline. Almost all formerly socialist countries face similar difficulties. Eastern Europe has lost more people since the fall of communism than in the two world wars combined. One of the few exceptions is Slovenia, which was able to increase its population by about five percent through immigration from the other states of the former Yugoslavia. In most other Eastern European countries, on the other hand, the demographic data only know one direction – it is downwards. What does this mean for a state and a society? What does it psychologically do to a people?
The big cities are still growing
The population decline has not yet made itself felt in the Bulgarian capital, on the contrary. Due to influx from the surrounding area and the Bulgarian provinces, Sofia’s population has steadily increased, in the past decade by almost 200,000 to almost 1.5 million people today. The country’s other larger cities – above all Plovdiv, Burgas and Varna on the Black Sea – have either maintained or increased their population.