Due to the strong political, cultural and religious ties between the two nations, (the majority of Bulgarians and Greeks practice the Eastern Orthodox faith), Greece and Bulgaria today enjoy excellent diplomatic relations and consider each other a friendly nation. Both countries are members of the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the European Union, and NATO, with Greece being a strong supporter of Bulgaria's Euro-Atlantic integration and entry to the Schengen Area. Bulgaria and Greece share common political views about the Balkans, the enlargement plans of the European Union and the rest of the world, with the first being a supporter of the latter's stance on the Macedonia Naming Dispute. Modern relations between the two countries were established in 1908 and are regarded as excellent.
The common heritage of both nations played a significant role in the close relations between the two countries, ever since the Medieval Ages, between Southern Slavs and Byzantine Greeks (the Byzantine Empire played a prominent role in spreading of the Orthodox Christianity to Bulgaria and the rest of the Balkans). The Byzantine Greek missionaries Cyril and Methodius from the city of Thessalonica were the founders of the Cyrillic Alphabet and the first literary language of the Slavs, from which the modern Bulgarian Language evolved.
In the late 14th century - early 15th century, both Bulgaria and Greece came under Ottoman rule for nearly five centuries. During this period the Bulgarian Patriarchate was abolished and the Greek Patriarch of Constantinople was declared by the Ottoman Sultan as the spiritual leader of all the Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire, regardless of their ethnicity. In the 19th the Bulgarians began a struggle for the restoration of an independent Bulgarian church, which met with stiff opposition by the Constantinople Patriarchy. While the Bulgarian Orthodox Church was restored in 1872, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, mostly due to pressure from the Ottoman Porte, refused to recognize it until much later, at 1945, and especially after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the end of the Balkan & World Wars.
In the earlier 20th century the relations were affected by periods of intense mutual hostility. Since Bulgaria's independence in 1908, Greece and Bulgaria took part in three major wars in opposite coalitions, the Second Balkan War, the First World War and the Second World War, plus the Cold War, and they even fought a "Stray dog war" in 1925.
After the Second World War, the relations between Greece and Bulgaria have been flourishing, and as the Greek President Konstantinos Tsatsos said during the Bulgarian leader Todor Zhivkov's visit to Athens in April 1976, "the old controversies have been forgotten and the hatchet buried forever". Greece became a firm supporter of Bulgaria’s EU membership and was the fifth EU member state and the first old member state to ratify the Accession Treaty. Since Bulgaria joined NATO in May 2004, Greek-Bulgarian relations have been developing on all fronts, and the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs describes relations between Greece and Bulgaria as "excellent".
Bilateral relations & cooperation
Diplomatic relations were established in 1908. Bulgaria has an Embassy in Athens and Greece has an Embassy in Sofia. Greece is the top investor and one of Bulgaria's main trade partners. Both states are co-operating in many fields, such as political, judicial, energy and tourism. There are regular high-level visits between the two countries, and frequent contacts between the two countries' governments and the local authorities on various matters concerning individual sectors, such as the control of flow of the Maritsa River (also known as Evros) of which the overflow during times of strong rainfall, threatens the towns and villages in the regions it flows through. Big projects currently in running between the two countries include the touristic development and the gas pipelines. Official meetings between the two governments and the Presidents of the State are frequent and the armies of both states cooperate and are co-training in a regular basis as part of the NATO training programme.
Greek and Bulgarian university professors have created the "Hellenic Educational Association of Sofia" after the collapse of Communism in Bulgaria which assists the Bulgarian students who learn Greek. Also the "Federation of Cultural and Educational Associations of Sarakatsani of Bulgaria" helps the 15,000 Sarakatsani Greeks in receiving education on Greek Language and Culture. There are more than 2,000 Greek university students in Bulgaria which constists one of the largest groups of foreign university students in Bulgaria.
In the Greek language, Bulgaria is called Βουλγαρία (Vulgharia) and the Bulgarians are called Βούλγαροι (Vulghari). In the Bulgarian language, Greece is called Гърция (Gartsiya) and the Greeks are called Гърци (Gartsi).
Historically, there have been sizable Greek and Bulgarian communities in the territories which form present day Bulgaria and Greece respectively. These communities today are mostly non-existent due to the population exchanges between Greece and Bulgaria which were directed under the Treaty of Neuilly in 1919.
According to the 2001 census, there were 35,104 Bulgarian citizens in Greece, constituting 4,7% of all foreigners in Greece. However, that number has risen since then, as in 2003-2004, Bulgarians accounted for 9,8% of residence permit holders in Greece, out of which 473 were students and 2,059 were married to EU nationals. In the academic year 2002-2003, there were 2,873 non-ethnic Greek citizens of Bulgaria in Greek state schools. There are numerous publications in Greece for the Bulgarian community, including the bilingual newspaper България днес/Βουλγαρία σήμερα (Bulgaria today).
According to the 2001 census, there were 3,408 Greeks in Bulgaria. This figure most likely includes, former political refugees, remnants of the population exchanges, students, and businessmen and their families. In addition, there were 4,108 Sarakatsani
Greece and Bulgaria regularly exchange visits of senior dignitaries and officials. Notable official visits include:
- The President of Bulgaria Georgi Parvanov to Greece (05-07/11/2003)
- Working visit by Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Sakskoburggotski to Athens (31/10-01/11/2002) and attendance at the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony (13-17/08/2004).
- The President of the Hellenic Republic, Kostis Stephanopoulos to Bulgaria (11-13/10/2004)
- Meeting between the two Presidents in Thessaloniki (11/04/05)
- Working visits by Foreign Minister, Petros Molyviatis, accompanied by Deputy Foreign Ministers Valinakis and Stylianidis to Sofia (16/11/2004) confirm the excellent level of bilateral relations.
- The Greek President, Karolos Papoulias, met with his Bulgarian counterpart, Georgi Purvanov, in Thessaloniki (11/4/2005), immediately upon taking office, and visited Bulgaria within the framework of the Regional Forum on Cultural Corridors in Southeast Europe, which took place in Varna (20-21/5/2005).
- Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis paid a two-day visit to the country (19-20/5/2005) at the invitation of Bulgarias Minister of the Interior at the time, G. Petkanov.
- The President of Bulgaria Rosen Plevneliev to Greece (4–5 July 2012)
- The Prime Minister of Bulgaria Boyko Borisov to Greece (17 December 2012)
The main Inter-State Agreements signed over the past 15 years are as follows:
- Avoidance of Double Taxation on Income and Capital (Athens, 15/2/1991)
- Police Cooperation (covering clandestine immigration, terrorism, organised crime, and police training) (Athens, 8/7/1991)
- Cooperation between Ministries of Defence and Armed Forces (Athens, 28/11/1991)
- Agreement on Seasonal Workers (Athens, 15/12/1995)
- Agreement on the Waters of the River Nestos (Sofia 22/12/1995)
- Agreement on the Opening of Three New Border Posts and Arterial Road Links between the two countries (Sofia 22/12/1995)
- Military and Technical Cooperation (March 1998)
- Scientific, Educational and Cultural Agreement (Sofia 12/6/2002) (in application of Article 13 of the Bilateral Cultural Agreement (Athens, 31/05/1973)
- Five-Year Development Cooperation Agreement within the framework of the HIBERB (development Aid to Bulgaria of 54,29 million euros) (28/08/2002)
- Bilateral Environmental Protection Agreement (Athens, 01/11/2002)
- Aviation Agreement (Athens, 01/11/2002)
- Scientific and Technological Cooperation Protocol (Athens, December 2002)
- Greece–Bulgaria European Territorial Cooperation Programme
- 2007 enlargement of the European Union
- Greeks in Bulgaria
- Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Bilateral relations between Greece and Bulgaria
- Bulgaria and its neighbours: a hundred years after independence
- Πληθυσμός κατά υπηκοότητα και φύλο Σύνολο Ελλάδος, αστικές και αγροτικές περιοχές: Απογραφή πληθυσμού της 18ης Μαρτίου 2001
- Hellenic Migration Policy Institute (ΙΜΕΠΟ): statistical data on immigrants in Greece
- Republic of Bulgaria: National Statistical Institute: 2001 census