The steep decline of Bulgaria’s population in its post-Soviet era

A tobacco factory in Vidin, Bulgaria, abandoned after it was privatized following the fall of communism. (Yana Paskova)
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It was the gripping decay of airports, schools, and businesses that once stood as pillars of prosperity that grabbed Bulgarian-born photojournalist Yana Paskova. After the fall of the Berlin wall and communist rule in Bulgaria in 1989, much of the country’s infrastructure and jobs also weathered away, and with them, the population steadily declined over the next 25 years. Paskova recently revisited Kanitz, a small Bulgarian village along the Serbian border to document just a fraction of the impact depopulation has had.

Bulgaria has the most extreme population decline in the world — mostly due to post-1989 emigration — combined with a high death rate and low birth rate. There are so few people of child-bearing age here that population statistics project a 30-percent decrease by 2060, from 7.2 million to just over 5 million. In other words, Bulgaria’s population declines by 164 people a day, or 60,000 people a year; 60 percent of them aged over 65. Experts on distribution of E.U. funds cite the high concentration of investments and resources in certain regions at the expense of others as a contributing factor.
In 2012, depopulation pushed 172 towns to the verge of extinction, and completely erased 24 from Bulgaria’s map. I explored one such village on the Serbian border. Of approximately 50 houses, only three were populated, totaling its inhabitants to six. I was also grabbed by a regional airport, now completely defunct, a former tobacco factory, and an abandoned school. As depopulation further saps the nation of its men and women, these visions of severe structural and industrial decay sadly become increasingly common – and so, with each visit, I witness more and more of my country  vanishing.
Photos and text by Paskova. Paskova’s project is supported by a grant from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

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