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Blagoevgrad - Provinces of Bulgaria
 

BLAGOEVGRAD

Blagoevgrad Province , also known in certain contexts as Pirin Macedonia , is a province (oblast) of southwestern Bulgaria. Part of the wider Macedonian region, it borders four other Bulgarian provinces, as well as Greece and the Republic of Macedonia. It has 14 municipalities with 12 towns. The province's major city is Blagoevgrad, while other significant towns include Bansko, Gotse Delchev, Melnik, Petrich, Razlog, Sandanski and Simitli.

Geography

The province has a territory of 6,449.5 km² and a population of 341,245. It is the third largest in Bulgaria after Burgas and Sofia Provinces and comprises 5.8% of the country's territory. Blagoevgrad Province includes the mountains, or parts of, Rila (highest point of the Balkans — Musala summit, 2925 m), Pirin (highest point — Vihren summit, 2914 m), the Rhodopes, Slavyanka, Belasitsa, Vlahina, Maleshevo, Ograzhden and Stargach. There are two major rivers — Struma River and Mesta River — with population concentrations along their valleys, which are also the main transport corridors.

Map of Blagoevgrad Province showing the municipal subdivisions and centres Vihren Peak in Pirin mountain
Tevno Vasilashko Lake in Pirin Kamenitsa Peak and lake Tevno ezero in Pirin
Bansko Ski Zone as seen from Razlog Dzhengal Peak in Pirin up-close in late April
The defeat of the army of Tsar Samuil of Bulgaria in the medieval Battle of Kleidion Fresco from the Church of Theodore Tyro and Theodore Stratelates in Dobarsko, 1672
The Rozhen Monastery from the outside The Rozhen Monastery, inner yard
Melnik and the famous sand pyramides The Church of the Holy Trinity in Bansko
Varosha, the old quarter of Blagoevgrad View from the center of Blagoevgrad

Climate

The climate varies from temprerate continental to Mediterranean in the southernmost parts. Natural resources are timber, mineral springs, coal, construction materials, including marble and granite. The beautiful and preserved environment is widely considered an important resource. A number of national parks and protected territories care for the biodiversity. Arable land is 38.8% and forests constitute 52% of the province's territory.

Municipalities

Blagoevgrad Province is divided into the following municipalities:

  • Bansko
  • Belitsa
  • Blagoevgrad
  • Garmen
  • Gotse Delchev
  • Hadzhidimovo
  • Kresna
  • Petrich
  • Razlog
  • Sandanski
  • Satovcha
  • Simitli
  • Strumyani
  • Yakoruda

Economy

The region is characterized with diversified economic branch structure: food and tobacco processing industries, agriculture, tourism, transport and communications, textile industry, timber and furniture industries, iron processing and machinery industry, construction materials industry, as well as pharmaceuticals, plastics, paper and shoes production. Approximately 10% of the population is unemployed (close to the national average). There are 4 major hospitals in the province.

With its railway line and road connection, the region forms the heart of the land-based trading route between northern Greece, Bulgaria and Romania. Since the early 2000s the province enjoys a mini boom in trade from thousands Greek day-trippers from across the border, purchasing cheaper goods and services (dental, opticians, etc.). The region has also attracted Greek manufacturers who moved their production line from Greece, especially to Petrich. It was an important tourist destination during the communist years for East Germans and is slowly picking up again. The unique town of Melnik was once a wealthy centre built on the back of exiled phanariots from Constantinople. Now it is a centre for wine production and offers eco-tourism.

Infrastructure remains relatively underdeveloped, especially regarding road and rail communications. It remains an important target for potential EU funding. There are two major infrastructural projects in the region. The Struma motorway, which is planned connect the capital Sofia and the Greek border, is going to run through the valley of the Sruma River, and will be ready in a few years. The second project is the airport of Bansko. The cost is estimated at around €30,000,000.

Culture, education and monuments

Historical and archaeological monuments include the ruins of antique Thracian and Roman settlements, Early Christian basilicas, medieval Byzantine and Bulgarian towns, monasteries and fortresses, as well as many preserved buildings and whole villages — examples of the architecture from the Ottoman period (like Melnik, the Rozhen Monastery and Bansko).

A theatre, a library with 345,000 tomes, and an opera house are situated in the provincial centre, Blagoevgrad. There are art galleries in Bansko, Blagoevgrad and Sandanski. Many small cultural institutions, chitalishta, are dispersed around the province. The Pirin State Ensemble is the most prominent among the numerous folklore and music bands. There are 10 museums in the province that preserve the rich historical, ethnographic and archaeological heritage. Cultural events include the Theatre Festival in Blagoevgrad, the Jazz Festival in Bansko and the Melnik Evenings of Poetry.

The Southwestern University and the American University in Bulgaria are situated in Blagoevgrad; the latter is the second largest American university campus in Europe and is located in the former headquarters of the communist party. Annually the city draws around 10,000 students from the country and abroad. The number of schools in the province is 182.

Demographics

According to the 2001 census, the population of the province consists of 286,491 Bulgarians (including a number of Muslim Bulgarians), 31,857 Turks (also including a number of Muslim Bulgarians), 12,405 Roma and 3,117 ethnic Macedonians, among others. 4,242 people did not specify their ethnicity.

268,968 of the province's residents are Eastern Orthodox, 62,431 are Muslims, 1,546 — Protestants. 7,018 people did not idenfity their religion in the census.

Bulgarian is the mother tongue of 306,118 people, Turkish is spoken by 19,819, while 9,232 identified as speakers of Romany. 2,921 specified their mother tongue as "other" and 2,424 did not identify their language.


Sport

Blagoevgrad Province is currently one of the best-represented provinces in Bulgarian football, with 3 teams playing in the Bulgarian A PFG (second only to Sofia with 4) — FC Vihren Sandanski, PFC Belasitsa Petrich and PFC Pirin 1922 Blagoevgrad. One more team from the province, PFC Pirin Blagoevgrad (as distinct from Pirin 1922), began the 2005/06 season in the highest Bulgarian division, but disbanded shortly afterwards due to financial problems.

Owing to the alpine features and accessible location, the northern and eastern regionof Blagoevgrad Province is also a centre of winter sports. The main centre is Bansko which is becoming a leading skiing resort at European level with rapidly rising property prices.


Pirin Macedonia

This province roughly corresponds with a region also known as Pirin Macedonia, which is regarded by some nationalists from the Republic of Macedonia as a foreign-occipied part of their irredentist concept of United Macedonia. Nevertheless most of the Macedonian mass media (source) and major political figures (source) systematically spread information with two basic elements - denial or negativization of the Bulgarian past in slavic Macedonia (some key examples for such denial of any bulgariannes are cases like Saint Clement of Ohrid, Tsar Samuil of Bulgaria, Miladinov Brothers, Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, Gotse Delchev, etc.) and claims for recognition of vast ethnic Macedonian minority in Pirin Macedonia with accusations of violations of its human rights.

Today the idea of “united” Macedonia is espoused only by more marginally nationalistic parties and organizations in the Republic of Macedonia. According to Macedonian ethnic human rights activists Chris Popov and Michael Radin the probable number of ethnic Macedonians is about 200,000, after Krasimir Kanev from Bulgarian Helsinki Committee it is between 15,000 and 25,000 (source) and according to personal evaluation of a local ethnic Macedonian political activist, Stoyko Stoykov, it is between 5,000 and 10,000 (source).

Only a negligible 3,117 of the province's population of 341,173 described themselves as ethnic Macedonians in 2001, Bulgarians being an overwhelming majority of 286,491 (the official data in Bulgarian here). However, some have complained that in recent censuses the option "Macedonian" is not listed as an option (only the three major ethnic groups are), although people are allowed to write it in themselves (the questionary could be seen here, see section ?14), which means that the actual number is disputed by Macedonian nationalists or their supporters.

This low number of ethnic Macedonians in the region is explained by supporters of Macedonism as being a result of repression. They also assert that the number of Macedonians in the province was much larger as recorded by the 1948 and 1956 censuses, claiming that then-Stalinist Bulgaria recognised a distinct Macedonian minority and allowed free self-determination (and implying this is not the case today). This is explained by Bulgarians as being part of the Comintern's and the Bulgarian Communist Party's policy of the time, which supported a USSR-backed admission of Bulgaria to Yugoslavia with the corresponding incorporation of Pirin Macedonia into the Macedonian Socialist Republic. With the easing of this trend the idea of promoting a separate national consciousness in Pirin Macedonia lost support from the authorities.