For example, would a high schooler in Bulgaria in the 80s had the occasion to go to school with Arabs or Africans... either exchange students, immigrants, children of diplomats, etc?

I'm assuming yes and that this is a dumb question, but I have never seen these groups represented as being a part of the society.

....or Persians....

I'm asking because I am writing a ficticious story and trying to determine if my settings/characters ring true or if I should change something...

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    Why focus on Arabs and Africans, which don't really have a large representation in Bulgarian demographics. The more obvious (and largest) ethinc groups for which communist era segregation might have been an issue would be Turks and Kurds, which are a sizeable minority in the country (and I believe tend to segregate into separate villages, although I don't know if that is by law, unofficial presure or just long standing history) – PhillS Jun 27 '17 at 18:43
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    there is no sizeable kurdish minority in BG. – arved Jul 5 '17 at 14:08
  • @PhillS - what made you think this is about segregation? – cipricus Dec 8 '20 at 11:05
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In the 1980's Bulgaria was nominally Communist to appease the neighboring USSR, but was effectively an autocracy. This made them one of the most unfree societies in the world, and drastically suppressed their economic opportunities as well. So it is tough to imagine why anyone with no family ties there would have wanted to immigrate.

However, there were ethnic minorities there. In fact, a large part of what eventually brought down the Communist State was a nasty crackdown on the Turkish minority that sent a third of a million of them fleeing the country. Today the country is ethnically roughly 10% Turkish, and roughly 5% Roma. However, both communities at the time were suffering under forced assimiliation policies, which included things like banning use of their languages. So if a Bulgarian did happen to have a Turkish or Roma classmate, its highly unlikely they had a chance to use the experience to learn much about another culture.

  • Even if someone wanted to immigrate to Bulgaria, it's highly unlikely they would be allowed to - communist states used to be extremely racict. However for diplomats and their families this could have been possible maybe ?! There could also have been soviet workers working here for some reason, if the country needed support. – Bregalad Jun 27 '17 at 20:09
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    "nominally Communist to appease the neighboring USSR" -- in what sense was it more nominal than all the other soviet satellites? – sds Jun 27 '17 at 20:10
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    All Soviet satellites were dictatorships with virtually identical phraseological covers. Differences were merely cosmetic. Finland was a very special case: USSR attacked it twice (1939 and 1941) and failed to occupy it both times. – sds Jun 27 '17 at 21:11
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    @T.E.D. I don't know why do you think the Soviet line wasn't a dictatorship. Finland was not an Eastern Bloc country in the sense as the countries behind the iron curtain – Greg Jul 5 '17 at 17:41
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    A very unfortunate turn of phrase: Bulgaria was nominally Communist to appease the neighboring USSR, but was effectively an autocracy. This made them one of the most unfree societies in the world. Bulgaria was the most obedient, for better or worst, to the USSR. (Their secret services had no autonomy and no power of their own, hence the chaotic mafias that proliferated there after the fall of USSR — unlike in Romania, which had the 'Securitate' and afterwards got a more state-controlled corruption). – cipricus Dec 8 '20 at 10:43

The Turkish minority in Bulgaria is homegrown, they are not immigrants. I think they are not perceived as "foreign" or "racially distinct".

Most cultural exchange with people from foreign countries happened with the socialist brother states (Russia, Cuba, Angola etc.), but this would be mostly on university level or other high skilled jobs. (e.g. There is a documentary on the Belene power plant which features a guy from Cuba who decided to stay after the communist regime collapsed)


I am more familiar with the Romanian situation, but African and Middle East countries with "Marxist" orientation used to sent engineers to follow specialization courses and students to study in communist Europe. This was part of an effort to avoid dependence upon the former masters of Western Europe during the process of post-colonial modernization. The visiting 'specialists' had no time to integrate the local society, as they stayed for months, weeks or even days. Students stayed for longer periods (years).

On the whole, in spite of the official discourse about socialist friendship, theses states were focused on maximizing control over their citizens, and change of residence or citizenship between socialists countries was totally discouraged.

Considering students:

As said by @Arved: European communist countries used to welcome university students from communist countries, and from countries that were aligned at some point with the communist block.

I know of students of Syria, Iraq, Algeria, Libya and Tunisia studying in Romania in fields like engineering (especially in oil production) and medicine — and, more surprisingly, even of an Ethiopian studying theology in Bucharest in the 1960s!

Students were coming for specific universities. I'm not familiar with Bulgarian universities. In Romania, the oil industry and medicine were the most sought-after. In Bulgaria it might have been shipping or some other industry.

Here is a map of the "socialist-leaning" states. (The presence of Portugal there is odd. The closer the geographical vicinity of a country, the greater the chance of having students from there).

enter image description here

But: all these were people coming for their university studies, not people living there, with high school children. Among these students, there were no Iranians I guess, in Bulgaria. (Before the Islamic revolution, the Persian regime was anti-communist. Ceausescu's Romania had at some point good relations with the Islamic republic: but that was exceptional and short, and sending students to an atheist country was improbable.)

Diplomats' children were not normally studying in local schools, but in special ones.

Considering immigrants:

There were some communists from Greece emigrating to some countries (Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Romania) after the military crackdown against communists there.

Considering people of black-African and Arab descent:

Again from my Romanian experience: there were some cases of male students from the aforementioned countries that had children with local women (usually colleagues). Most of these children never left. Maybe this situation could fit the OP's story.


Bulgaria is an ethnically whole country. An exception are the Turkish and Gypsy minorities who came to Bulgarian lands from Asia during the medieval Turkish Islamic invasion of Europe. There has never been an Arab, Kurdish or African minority in Bulgaria. During the socialist rule in Bulgaria from 1944 to 1989, people of other ethnicities and races were highly tolerated, people of Turkish origin were admitted without admission to the universities and then hired with a job advantage. There were thousands of Africans from Cuba, as well as thousands of Vietnamese workers working in Bulgaria.

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    Welcome to History:SE. Sources to support your assertions would greaatly improve your answer. – sempaiscuba Sep 20 '19 at 12:56

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