The Bulgarians

Although not in large numbers, the Bulgarians have been the southern neighbors of the Romanians for centuries. They are a varied community in respect to religious confession, but united in matters of language and culture. Short historyThe Catholic Bulgarians from Banat form the oldest ethnic community of this group in Romania, and are known under the name of "pavlicheni", i.e. Paulicians. The "pavlicheni" or "paulicieni" were members of an Eastern Christian community that opposed the sacraments, and were deported from Mesopotamia to Thrace by the Byzantines in the 9th century. Making contact with the Slav population that was already settled in the Balkan area, they formed an ethnic, and religious, group that spoke the Slavic language and advocated the Paulician heresy (from an Orthodox perspective). Eventually, they were converted to Catholicism by missionaries in the 16th century, but kept the name of the denomination as the name of their ethnic group. The Paulicians settled down in Banat after they had emigrated in large numbers from Kiprovet, after the defeat of the Bulgarians' revolt against the Ottomans that had broken out in 1688 in that town near Vidin (in western Bulgaria). The ruler of Walachia, Constantin Brancoveanu (1688-1714), welcomed the refugees and allowed them to settle down in Craiova, Campulung, Ramnic, Bradiceni and Targoviste. The Tartar invasion of 1690 forced some of them to take refuge in Brasov and Sibiu, where they were treated with hostility by the Protestant (Lutheran) Saxons. The conquest of Banat and Oltenia by the Austrians in 1718 brought more protection to the Bulgarian refugees. But after the defeat of the Habsburgs in 1739, Oltenia was once again integrated into Walachia, and part of the Bulgarians settled down in the Austrian part of Banat, while the rest settled down in Transylvania, in Deva, Sibiu and Vantu de Jos (Alba). As a result of the negotiations between the Paulicians and the imperial authorities, they settled down in 1738 in the area of the ancient locality Star Bisnov (called today Dudestii Vechi-Timis), and in 1741 they found Vinga / Vinica (Arad). This settlement of Bulgarians, who came from the villages around Nikopol by the Danube, obtained the status of a city, and enjoyed privileges as commanded by the Empress Maria Theresa in 1744. The third settlement of the Bulgarians in Banat was Brestea, formed in 1842. After a short period of time in which they depended on the "Serbian Principality" within the Habsburg Empire, the Paulicians lived under the administration of the Hungarians starting with 1867, and during the Austro-Hungarian regime. Bucharest and Belgrade negotiated the issue of Banat at the end of World War I (1918), and as a result the Catholic Bulgarians stayed within the Romanian borders, as the state took over most of the province. Between the wars, many Bulgarian families from Vinga moved to the nearby cities of Arad and Timisoara, and their number in the rural areas decreased. The decrease of the population became even more obvious once the communist regime was installed in Romania. After collectivization, in view of the fact that many land-owning families were dispossessed of their land, everybody moved to Arad or Timisoara, where they found a place to work. In the last decades, due to the political and economic conditions, many families moved to Timisoara. The heterogeneous demographic structure, the high level of economic and cultural development in the area, the privileges obtained from the Habsburgs, the lower assimilation pressure they were subjected to, and the lobby of the Catholic Church, were factors that favoured the prosperity and preservation of the small ethnic community of the Bulgarians from Banat. The Catholic faith, and the original culture which also exists in written form, contributed to the fact that there is now an ethnic group that shows a strong will to preserve its own identity. Yet there are also Orthodox Bulgarians in Oltenia, Muntenia (Walachia) and Dobrogea. Their fate has always been more connected to that of their mother-land, both for geographical reasons and for reasons of confession. Just like their Catholic countrymen, the forerunners of the Orthodox Bulgarians from Romania emigrated to the north of the Danube because of the wars against the Ottomans at the end of the 18th century, and the beginning of the 19th century. Considering the cultural and historical relationships between the two neighboring countries, the Romanian Principalities played an important role in the movement of national liberation of the Bulgarians. National heroes of Bulgaria like Vasil Levski, Hristo Botev, Liuben Karavelov and Gheorghi Rakovski lived for long periods of time in Bucharest and Braila, where they edited publications in Bulgarian and organized military groups that were sent south of the Danube. The first Bulgarian Cyrillic primer was edited in 1824 in Brasov, Transylvania. In 1869, the Bulgarian Literary Society, the forerunner of the BulgarianAcademy, was established in Braila. The process of natural assimilation of the Bulgarians from Muntenia and Oltenia was stronger than with the Bulgarians from Banat. That's why at the 1992 census only 2000 people declared themselves Bulgarians.  The contemporary period Nowadays, this population is made up of two main communities which are distinct from one another in terms of culture, history and structure. The Bulgarian community from Banat is of Catholic faith, and that of the Bulgarians living in the south of the country, that is, in Oltenia, Muntenia and Dobrogea, is of Orthodox faith. These groups of the Bulgarian diaspora share the ethnic origin, the language, certain features of their folklore, and their agricultural character. They differ in the geographical position, religion, cultural peculiarities and distinctive dialects, historical fate and the degree to which they have maintained their ethnic character. The Bulgarians living in the north of the country, in Sighetu Marmatiei, account for 0,55 % of the population together with the other minorities such as Jews, Germans, Slovaks, Czechs, Armenians, etc. Since the fall of the communist regime in 1989, the Bulgarians of Romania have enjoyed a coherent frame with material support from the government, in which they could run activities for preserving their national identity. Taking into consideration the geographical and religious criteria, two organizations were set up: in Banat there is a Banat Romania-Bulgaria Union, with its headquarters in Timisoara, and in Bucharest there is a "Brastvo" Community of the Bulgarians in Romania, which was initially called the Cultural Association of the Bulgarians. According to the guarantees of the democratic Constitution, the Bulgarian minority contributes to the political process of decision-making, as it has had a reserved seat in the Chamber of Deputies from the first legislature (1990-1992).  Traditions The fact that Bulgaria was under Ottoman domination from the end of the 16th century led to an intensification in the efforts of its inhabitants towards preserving the values of their traditional culture. One of the most famous holidays in Bulgarian communities is "Martisorul" (the amulet of March), which resembles the Romanian custom. The legend of the amulet of March is very old, from the time of the Khan Asparukh, who had shown the Bulgarians the way to their present country in 681 A.D. When his sister Huba and his brother Boian were held prisoners, Asparukh sent a hawk to them which had a white thread tied around its foot, so that they would know that he'd help them escape. The two managed to escape, but close to the Danube shore, Boian was killed by their pursuers. Huba released the hawk, which now had a red thread around its foot, from the blood of her brother, so that the Khan learned about his brother's death. When Asparukh found out what had happened, on the 1st of March 681, he ordered his soldiers to wear a thread of white wool and one of red wool for good fortune. Ancient civilizations believed that the two, or multi, colored amulet possessed magical powers. The white color of the thread represents the woman, and symbolizes a long life, while the red color of the thread represents the man, and symbolizes physical strength. Coins, hair from the horse's tale, beads, garlic, carcasses of snails and other objects are hung by the two twisted threads in order to create a protecting amulet (called "martenita") against evil spirits. As in Moldavia and Bucovina, in some Bulgarian communities it is a custom for girls to offer their boyfriends a simple two-colored thread. The Bulgarians wear these amulets throughout March on their lapels or around their wrists, but there are also certain social peculiarities: unmarried women wear the amulets on the left side of their dresses, spinsters wear them on the little finger of their left hand, and married men wear them on their right socks. Giving up the amulets was connected to practices of weather forecast, as they were hung on trees that were about to blossom. This is how the transition from winter to spring is marked, along with the belief that things will be better in the current year. The most spectacular holiday in the popular Bulgarian calendar is that of Baba Marta, which, along with that of Baba Dochia, impersonates spring. At the end of February, Bulgarians clean up their houses because Baba Marta only visits tidy houses. Old people should not get out of the house too early because Baba Marta wishes to see young girls and women first. On the last day of February, children from the country make a huge bonfire. They shout "Baba Marta, I warm you up today and you shall warm me up tomorrow!" and they gather around the fire and shout around, and when the fire dies out, they jump over it. The fire has to burn as long and high as possible, so that Baba Marta feels cozy, because she also symbolizes the sun that can burn people's faces. The Bulgarian Baba Dochia is an old and helpless woman who has an iron stick to prop herself up with. Bulgarians think that she has a very unstable temperament: when Marta smiles, the sun shines in the sky, and when she frowns, bad weather comes. People believe that wearing an amulet in March helps them stay healthy all year long, as the saying goes: "If you don't wear an amulet, Baba Marta will bring evil spirits into your house!" Bulgarians also love roses, and older generations might recall the sweet scent of Bulgarian rose perfume.

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