Bulgaria, situated in the eastern Balkans, has been undergoing a slow and painful transition to a market economy since the end of Communist rule.
A predominantly Slavonic-speaking, Orthodox Christian country, Bulgaria was the birthplace of the Cyrillic alphabet, which was created there towards the end of the 9th century.
It was long influenced by Byzantine culture then was part of the Ottoman Empire for 500 years before gaining its independence in the 19th century.
After the Second World War it became a satellite of the Soviet Union, but is now a member country of the EU and Nato.
President: Rumen Radev
Rumen Radev became Bulgaria's fifth democratically elected president when he was sworn in for a five-year term in January 2017.
A former air force commander, Mr Radev is a relative newcomer to politics who ran as an independent candidate with the backing of the opposition Socialists.
His victory in the presidential election led to the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and early parliamentary elections.
Mr Radev has pledged to maintain Bulgaria's position as a member of the European Union and Nato, while also improving historically important ties with Russia.
Prime minister (interim): Stefan Yanev
A former defence minister and an ally of President Radev, General Yanev formed an interim government in May 2021 to oversee elections slated for July.
This followed inconclusive elections in April, and the resignation of long-serving conservative Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. He had been under fire over his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and failure to tackle persistent corruption.
Global media giants have a stake in Bulgaria's lively broadcasting market. TV is the most popular medium.
International media group CME runs bTV, Bulgaria's most-watched channel. Scandinavian company MTG operates national station Nova TV.
There are several private regional TVs and many private radio stations. Cable and satellite are the main distribution platforms. Media ownership is concentrated among a handful of individuals.
Some key dates in Bulgaria's history:
1018-1185 - Bulgaria is part of Byzantine empire.
1396 - Ottoman Empire completes conquest of Bulgaria. Next five centuries are known as era of the "Turkish yoke".
1876 - Nationwide uprising against Ottoman rule is violently suppressed.
1878 - Treaty of San Stefano - signed by Russia and Turkey at the end of their war of 1877-78 - recognises an autonomous Bulgaria.
1908 - Bulgaria declares itself an independent kingdom. Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha assumes title of tsar.
1914-18 - First World War. Bulgaria allies itself with Germany. Some 100,000 Bulgarian troops are killed, the most severe per capita losses of any country involved in the war.
1939-45 Second World War - Soviet army invades German-occupied Bulgaria in 1944. Soviet-backed Fatherland Front takes power.
1947 - New constitution along Soviet lines establishes one-party state.
1991 New constitution proclaims Bulgaria a parliamentary republic and provides broad range of freedoms.