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Geographic location and contemporary state borders of Bulgaria

Localização geográfica e fronteiras estatais contemporâneas na Bulgária
Localisation géographique et frontierès étatiques contemporaines à Bulgarie
Ubicación geográfica y fronteras estatales contemporáneas en Bulgaria
Slavi Dimitrov


O artigo examina a localização geográfica da Bulgária sob o ponto de vista astronômico e natural mas, principalmente, em termos econômicos e políticos a fim de retraçar suas mudanças territoriais entre 1878 a 1945 — incluindo suas relações com os vizinhos Romênia, Sérvia, Macedônia, Grécia e Turquia. Após o fim da Guerra Fria, a nova situação geopolítica internacional modifica o diálogo entre os países balcânicos. Suas fronteiras e áreas limítrofes tornaram-se zonas de intensa cooperação, e o resultado disto é um processo de integração regional (Balcãs) e continental (Europa), facilitado pela adesão da Bulgária à OTAN e à União Européia.

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1In this paper, the object of research is the geographical location of Bulgaria, and the possibilities that it offers. The geographic location of Bulgaria reflects its spatial relation to different geographic objects of economic importance (countries, regions, seas, big rivers, straits, etc.). It is a category which consists of mutually related and mutually dependent elements (subcategories). Some of the subcategories are changeable (economic and political state), others are comparatively stable (astronomical and natural environment).

2Bulgaria is situated in South-East Europe, in the North-East part of the Balkan Peninsula. So, it is an European and Balkan country, and a country which belongs to the Black Sea and the Danube regions. Besides, it lies at the crossroad between Europe, Asia, and Africa, close to world markets and regions, rich in raw materials, which predetermines its strategic place on the maps of Europe and the Balkan Peninsula (Fig.№1). The geographic position of Bulgaria explains the interest of its neighbours, USA, Russia, and the West-European countries to its territory, in the past and nowadays (ГЕОГРАФИЯ..., 1997).

Figure 1: Geographic Location of Bulgaria

Figure 1: Geographic Location of Bulgaria

Source: Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) – World Factbook, 2014.

The location of a country can be geographical, geoeconomic, and geopolitical.

3The astronomical geographic location is defined in relation to the Greenwich meridian (longitude) and the equator (latitude). The astronomical geographic location of Bulgaria is defined by its endmost points (Table №1). The length of the country between these points is about 520 km аnd the width – about 330 km. Bulgaria is closer to the equator than to the North Pole, which determines its climate and natural conditions. The country is situated in the southern part of the North Temperate Zone, with some subtropical influence over its climate. This location in the transitional zone between the two zones gives its reflection over the climate, the soils, the flora and the fauna.

Table 1: Coordinates of Bulgaria’s endmost points


North latitude

East longitude


The mouth of the Timok River




Veykata peak, The South-East Rhodopes




Kitka peak, Kraishte







Source: Пенин, Р. ПрироднагеографиянаБългария, С., Булвест, 2007.

4The natural geographical location is closely related to the astronomical location and reflects the relation between the territory of the country and the important elements of physical geography: oceans, seas, navigable rivers, mountain chains, plains, etc. The hydrosphere elements that influence the territory of Bulgaria are: the Atlantic Ocean, the Black Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea. The Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea are important climate factors because huge air masses originate over them and are carried away by the Icelandic Low and Mediterranean tropical-like cyclone. The Mediterranean influence is decisive for the climate in the southern parts of the country. The influence of Black Sea is tangible in the zone which is situated 40 kilometers inland from the shore. That influence determines the specific Black Sea climate, the diverse flora and fauna. The Danube River, as a factor of physical geography, is very important with its water resources, which are used for irrigation, production of electricity, water supply for the factories, and fishing; as well as for its diversity of species.

5The natural geographic location reflects the influence of the mountain chains situated outside the Bulgarian territory, too (the Dinarides and the Carpathian Mountains). The Dinaric Alps and the Pindus isolates the country from the influence of the Adriatic Sea and the West part of the Mediterranean Sea; and the Carpathian Mountains hold up the oceanic air masses form North-West (in this way, they create a rain shadow in the Danubian Plain). In conclusion, we can say that, due to the favourable natural geographic location of Bulgaria, a change, from north to south, in the climate, soil, and vegetation components of the natural environment is observed, which favours its economic development (ГЕОГРАФИЯ..., 2002).

6The economic geographical location comprises transport, trade, and touristic geographic location. It shows the relation between Bulgaria and objects of economical significance (regions rich in raw materials, markets, international highways, connections with other countries).

7The Bulgarian geo-economical localization, in terms of transport, is very favourable. Being a part of East-central Europe, Bulgaria is a crossing point and a transitional zone between West Europe, the Near and the Middle East, and the Mediterranean region. The country is crossed by the routes from the Commonwealth of Independent States to South Europe and Africa and several other transport corridors: Germany – Czech Republic – Hungary– Romania – Bulgaria – Greece/Turkey (through the Danube Bridge); Albania – Italy – Slovenia – Croatia – Serbia – Macedonia –Bulgaria (which connects the Adriatic and the Black Sea); as well as the Rhine – Main – Danube Canal. The international highways from West and Central Europe (through Belgrade – Sofia – Svilengrad) to the Near and the Middle East; from the Baltic Sea (through Moscow–Кiev –Bucharest – Ruse – Sofia – Thessaloniki) to the Aegean Sea and to the Adriatic Sea (Sofia – Skopje – Durrës) also go through the country. Of great importance is the route Constanța -Varna–Burgas – Tzarevo – Malko Turnovo– Istanbul. Bulgaria is connected to the Trans-European Transport Network through the routes Berlin – Prague – Budapest –Sofia – Thessaloniki – Istanbul and Durrës–Tirana – Skopje–Sofia – Varna – Burgas. Besides the automobile transport, the main transport directions are served by railroads, too.

8Besides, the long Black Sea coastline of Bulgaria connects it with all countries from the Black Sea Region. The Danube River connects all East-European countries to the West-European waterways. The importance of the river grew after the above-mentioned Rhine – Main – Danube Canal was put into operation (September 25th, 1992).

9Bulgarian customs and border checkpoints also help the functioning of the transport network. In 2015, the total number of the checkpoints is 23 (5 on the Serbian border, 3 on the Macedonian border, 6 on the Greek border, 2 on the Turkish, 5 on the Romanian, and 2 on the Black Sea cost) (Fig. №2).

Figure 2: Contemporary borders of Bulgaria, border checkpoints, and free trade zones

Figure 2: Contemporary borders of Bulgaria, border checkpoints, and free trade zones

Source: own production

10The number of the border checkpoints and its relation to the total length of the border can be used as a measure of the frequency of cross-border connections only to some extent. It is logical that connections with neighbour countries prevail over connections with other countries. Generally speaking, the more developed two or more countries are, the more intensive the contacts between them are, that is why the number of the checkpoints on the border between them is more numerous, especially if it is a land border (КОЛЕВ, 2008). Such is the case for the Spanish-Portuguese border which is the oldest one in Europe, and between two checkpoints there is a distance of 16 km (ДИМИТРОВ, 2015); from Table 2 one can see that the shortest sectors between two border checkpoints are on the border between Bulgaria and Macedonia, and the longest ones are on the Bulgarian-Greek border.

Table 2: Average length between two border checkpoints on the Bulgarian border – 2015

Neighbour country






The Black Sea

Length, km







Source: Колев, Б., Националното географско пространство на Република България, „Херон прес”, София, 2008, p. 135.

11The development of Bulgaria as a member of the European Union, alongside with all other necessary reforms, will increase the connections between Bulgaria, its neighbour countries, and the countries from the whole Europe (КОЛЕВ, 2008).

12The Economic geographic location changes throughout different historical stages. Nowadays, Bulgarian foreign trade is oriented towards European countries. The country profits from its membership in the World Trade Organization (since 1996), the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, the economic organizations of the United Nations, and the European Union (since 2007). Very important is the transit transport of people, goods, and information through the country. The free economic zones in Dragoman, Vidin, Burgas, Ruse, and Plovdiv bring some import incentives that stimulate development of trade in the country (ГЕОГРАФИЯ, 2002).

13The favourable location of Bulgaria is a factor of great importance for its development into a world tourist destination. In the country, there are great opportunities for both the transit and the active recreational international tourism due to the significant natural, cultural, and historical sightseeings. In 2014, 7.3 million foreign tourists visited it (НСИ, 2014).

14The political geographic location of Bulgaria is formed by its relations with different political communities which reflect Bulgaria’s political connections, and outline its borders.

15The importance of the contemporary strategic and geopolitical location of the country should be estimated in the context of the democratic changes in East Europe in the 90’s of the 20th century. After the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, Bulgaria looked for new ways to ensure its military and political stability, and for a new place in the Balkan region, shaken by conflicts. The new military and political conditions required the creation of a new geopolitical strategy, new political priorities and principles for the country which should guarantee good relations with its neighbours. The present geopolitical situation, and its entry into NATO in 2004, gives the country new advantages.

16The political geographic situation of Bulgaria is in close relation to its political borders. The political borders of a country depend on the concrete stage of its social and political development (КАРАСТОЯНОВ, 1997).

17Friedrich Ratzel (РАТЦЕЛ,1897), one of the founders of the modern political geography, considers the state borders to be a ‘peripheral organ of the state, organically connected to the country’s territory’. Dronchilov (ДРОНЧИЛОВ, 2003) states that the borders of a country completely reflect its historical fate.

18The notion ‘political borders’ acquired a new meaning at the present stage of social and economic development. Due to the opposition between East and West Europe, until 1989 the Bulgarian state borders were used rather as barriers. That led to political and economic isolation of Bulgaria regarding the developed European countries, and depopulation of frontier territories. After 1989, the character and the functions of the political borders changed. Instead of dividing, they began unifying the countries, trying to integrate the interest, the capitals, and the efforts of neighbour countries, which is characteristic of the relations between democratic states. The total length of the Bulgarian borders is 2245 km. 1181 km of them are land borders, 686 km are river borders, and 378 km – sea borders (see Table №3).

Table 3: Length of Bulgarian state borders in kilometres



Land border

River border

Sea border

With Romania to the North





With the Black Sea to the East





With Turkey to the South





With Greece to the South





With Serbia to the West





With Macedonia to the West





Total length





Source: География на България. Физическа и социално-икономическа география, ФОРКОМ, (2002), p. 16.

19To the North, Bulgaria borders Romania. From the Timok’s outfall to the town of Silistra (470 km) the North border of Bulgaria follows the Danube River. The latter gives serious opportunities for the water transport. It is the largest international water road which connects Bulgaria and the countries from West and East Europe. This enables the trade between the above-mentioned countries. The regions near the Danube have the possibility to develop some industries which use a lot of water and import raw materials (producing of electricity, woodworking, chemical industry, etc.). That is why the ferries between Vidin and Calafat and between Oryahovo and Bechet (the largest in the Bulgarian-Romanian part of the river, which connects Thessaloniki and the Central-European countries), as well as the bridge between Ruse and Giurgiu are of so great importance. In 2013, a second bridge on the Danube was built – between Vidin and Calafat. The ports of Lom, Vidin, and Ruse have significant economic importance, too. The port of Lom ensures the import of goods for the internal parts of the country. The Danube River is used for watering too, as well as for tourism, since along the river there are a lot of historical settlements and fortresses, as well as the lake Srebarna near Silistra.

20The land border between Bulgaria and Romania (139 km long) crosses Dobrudzha, from Silistra to the village of Vama Veche on the Black Sea cost. The Dobrudzha plain enables the building of highways and railroads. This border is crossed by the Razdelna–Kardam – Medgidia – Ungheni railroad (the shortest way between Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Russia), the Istanbul – Burgas – Varna – Constanța highway, an electric transmission network from Ukraine, and a gas-pipeline from Russia.

21A serious problem is the pollution of the Danube’s water, of the city of Ruse, and of the towns of Nikopol, and Silistra. The governments of Bulgaria and Romania and several government and non-government organizations work for its solution. Another problem is the security of the Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant. The perspectives for the development of the region should include an increase of the quantity of goods that go through the free trade zones in Vidin and Ruse and improvement of the transportation system through the border (ГЕОГРАФИЯ, 1997).A second nuclear power plant is going to be built near the town of Belene.

22To the east, Bulgaria borders only the Black Sea – from cape Kartal (south of Vama Veche) to the outfall of the Rezovska River (total length – 378 km). The width of the coastal waters is 20km. The Black Sea has a strategic importance: through the Bosphorus strait and the Dardanelles it is connected to the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, and in this way oil, coal, coke, iron-ore, wood are imported into the country. The majority of the goods come from Russia and Ukraine. Through the ferry Varna-Illichivsk, the economic relations between Bulgaria and Ukraine improved. The Black Sea coast turned into an important economic zone. The chemical industry, the engineering industry, etc. are being developed. In the Black Sea, the fishing industry is being developed too. Its main centres are Burgas, Varna, and Sozopol. Significant amounts of salt, iodine containing algae, etc. are obtained. The Black Sea coast provides perfect conditions for tourism. Besides the beaches, there are possibilities for medical tourism, scuba diving, fishing, and so on. There are some problems, however, regarding the Black Sea. The biggest one is the pollution of its waters caused by the polluted big rivers, such as the Danube, the Dnieper, the Dniester, and the lesser ones flowing into the sea from the Bulgarian territory. Due to the limited self-cleaning abilities of the sea, the fish quantity has decreased, and the changes in the biocoenosis are scaring. Another serious problem is the landslide and the industrial pollution around Varna, Devnya, and Burgas.

23To the south, Bulgaria borders Turkey and Greece. The border between Bulgaria and Turley (259 km) begins from the outfall of the Rezovska River and follows it to the west. Then, it crosses Strandzha and the Tundzha River and reaches the Maritza River at Kapitan Andreevo. The border between Bulgaria and Greece(493 km) begins from the Maritza River, crosses the Arda River, then bends to the west and crosses the Rhodopes (through the Makaza Pass, Tzigansko Gradishte peak, etc.). After crossing the Dospat and the Mesta rivers, it follows the Slavyanka Mountain, crosses the Struma River (near Kulata), and following the ridge of the Belasitza Mountain reaches Tumba peak. Despite the rugged terrain, important highways and railroads cross this borders: the highway between West Europe and the Near East (the part from Belgrade to Istanbul) through Kapitan Andreevo border check point. Of big importance is the international highway Constanța – Varna –Burgas – Malko Turnovo – Lozengrad – Istanbul. The Makaza Pass and the valleys of the Mesta and the Struma rivers connect Bulgaria with the Aegean Sea. On the Bulgarian-Turkish border, there are three border checkpoints: Malko Turnovo, Kapitan Andreevo and Lesovo. Besides, there are old roads that could be restored.

24The relations between Bulgaria and its south neighbours are good nowadays, unlike the relations during the communist regime.

25To the west, Bulgaria borders Macedonia and Serbia. This border is 506 km long. It begins from Tumba peak, crosses the Strumeshnitza River, then follows the ridges of the Ograzhden, Malashevska, Vlahina, and Osogovo mountains, passes through Kitka peak, the region called Kraishte, the valley of the Dragovishtitza River, Milevska Mountain, the Erma River, Ruy Mountain, and the valley of the Nishava River. Then it follows the ridge of the West Stara Planina and reaches the valley of the Timok River and the Danube. On the border between Bulgaria and Macedonia, there are three border checkpoints: Zlatarevo, Stanke Lisichkovo, and Gyueshevo. During this research, a railroad connecting the two countries has not been built yet. Such one is going to be built between Gyeshevo and Kumanovo.

26At Kalotina, the west border is crossed by the above-mentioned international highway (and by a railroad)which connects West Europe and the Near East via Belgrade, Sofia, and Istanbul. At present, the border checkpoints between Kula and Zaječar as well as between Вregovo and Negotin are not used efficiently. The Bulgarian part does not mind the restoration of the connections between Belogradchik and Knjaževac, Tran and Klisura, Dragovishtitza and Bosilegrad, either. The free trade zone near Dragoman should be used more efficiently. The regions near the west border of Bulgaria are economically weak, the demographic situation and the social infrastructure are bad (ГЕОГРАФИЯ, 2002).

27So far, the Bulgarian state borders have been presented. However, it is more important to estimate their importance regarding the economy of the country. In order to do this, a method created by Simonov (СИМОНОВ, 1970) and developed by Kolev (КОЛЕВ,2008) is used. On the whole, it consists of a comparison between the total length of the border between two countries and its relation to the total lengths of their land borders. If the total length of a country’s land border is designated by S, the total length of its neighbour is designated by S1, and the length of the common border between them is designated by D, the relation between them is designated like this:

28D and D.

29S S1

30This relation can comprise one of the three types below:

31D=D, D<D or D>D .

32S S1 S S1 S S1

33When there is an equation (complete or approximate), then the common border between the two countries is equally important for them. Otherwise it has a greater importance for one of the two countries. It must be stated that this method is used only for comparison between land borders or river borders, and the necessary initial information is shown in table №4.

Table 4: Length of the land borders of Bulgaria and its neighbours in km


Common border with Bulgaria

Total length of its borders



















Source: Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) – World Factbook, 2014.

34Here, the total length of Bulgaria’s land borders (including the Danube) is designated by S, the total length of the land borders of its neighbours is designated by S1, and the border between Bulgaria and all of its neighbours is designated by D (КОЛЕВ, 2008). When these symbols are replaced by the numbers, shown in the table, and the necessary calculations are made, one can see the following relations:

35D (Bulgaria-Macedonia)= 148= 0,082and D (Bulgaria-Macedonia) = 148= 0,193.

36S (Bulgaria) 1808 S1 (Macedonia) 766

37Otherwise, 0,082 < 0,193, which means that the border between Bulgaria and Macedonia has a greater significance (more than two times) for Macedonia than for Bulgaria. This was proved during the embargo against former Yugoslavia. Regarding the border between Bulgaria and Serbia, the relation is as follows:

38D (Bulgaria-Serbia)=318= 0,176and D (Bulgaria-Serbia) =318= 0,137.

39S (Bulgaria) 1808 S1 (Serbia) 2322

40Obviously, 0,176 > 0,137, which means that the common border is more important for Bulgaria than for Serbia. For the former, this is the shortest land road to Central and West Europe, and for the latter, it is the shortest way to Turkey, the Near and Middle East.

41The calculation regarding the Bulgarian-Romanian border shows the following results:

42D (Bulgaria-Romania)=608= 0,336and D (Bulgaria-Romania) =608= 0,242.

43S (Bulgaria) 1808 S1 (Romania) 2508

44Since 0,336 > 0,242, one can see that this border is more important for Bulgaria. Undoubtedly, this is true mostly for the Danubian part of the border which connects Bulgaria with many European countries not only to the West but also to the East.

45A more interesting and unexpected result is seen regarding the Bulgarian-Greek border:

46D (Bulgaria-Greece)= 494= 0,273 and D (Bulgaria-Greece) =494= 0,404.

47S (Bulgaria) 1808 S1 (Greece) 1222

48Since 0,273< 0,404, that means that the common border is more important for Greece than for Bulgaria. This could be explained with the fact that this longest part of the Greek land border gives that country the most important possibilities for cooperation not only with its neighbours but with the rest of the EU countries.

49The calculation concerning the Bulgarian-Turkish border shows the following:

50D (Bulgaria-Turkey)=240=0,133 and D (Bulgaria-Turkey) =240= 0,091.

51S (Bulgaria) 1808 S1 (Turkey) 2548

52The inequality 0,133 > 0,091 makes it clear that the common border is more important for Bulgaria than for Turkey whose foreign trade is carried out mostly by sea. It is obvious that this border is the only connection between Bulgaria and the countries from the Near and the Middle East (КОЛЕВ, 2008).

Formation of the Bulgarian territory throughout the centuries.

53In this respect, most important for the economic, political, and cultural development of the country is its crossroad location (on the border between Europe and Asia). Even during the time of The First Bulgarian State the country suffers from its geographic location and the historical conditions, being a neighbour of the Byzantine Empire which ruled over Bulgaria for about two centuries. The geographic and political situation on the Balkans change when they are conquered by the Turks. For centuries Bulgaria is dependent from the Ottoman feudal system which is characterized by strong central power. This feudal system slows down the Bulgarian social and economic development in comparison to other European countries. After the end of the 18th century the Bulgarian social development is strongly influenced by the so-called Eastern Question. For more than two centuries the Balkans and South-East Europe are a problematic area of rivalry between Russia and the Western Great Powers. The first official document which shows the borders of the Bulgarian political territory is the Sultan’s Decree from 1870 which establishes the Bulgarian Exarchy. The Bulgarian political borders are outlined again by the Great Powers after the April Uprising and the Constantinople Conference (1876-1877 г.). After the Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878 г.), the Preliminary Treaty of San Stefano determines the first official ethnic borders of the new Bulgarian state in whose territory is included Northern Bulgaria, including Southern Dobrudzha (as far as the line Cernavodă– Мangalia), and Southern Bulgaria – 160 000 km2 (Fig.№3).

Figure 3: The Bulgarian territory according the resolutions of the Preliminary San Stefano Treaty and the Congress of Berlin

Figure 3: The Bulgarian territory according the resolutions of the Preliminary San Stefano Treaty and the Congress of Berlin

Source: Bulgaria-San Stefano (1878) byTodorBozhinov.png

54At the Congress of Berlin (1878 г.), the Berlin Treaty is signed, which divides Bulgaria in two parts: Principality of Bulgaria (including Northern Bulgaria and the region around Sofia, covering an area of 63 000 square km), and Eastern Rumelia (a tributary subject of Turkey). After the Unification of Principality of Bulgaria with Eastern Rumelia, (covering an area of 98 000 square km), the Bulgarian borders are recognized by all Great Powers but the country has no exit to the Aegian Sea. After the Balkan War and the Treaty of London (1913), Turkey gives back to Bulgaria a territory of about 23 000 square km,and Macedonia is divided between Greece and Serbia. The region around the Pirin Mountains and the Western Outlands are annexed to Bulgaria, and its territory covers about 111 000 square km. The dissatisfaction in the country from the outcome of the Balkan War leads to a new war –the Second Balkan War in which Bulgaria is defeated. According to the judgments of the Treaty of Bucharest, Bulgaria is deprived of Southern Dobrudzha (7700 square km), Eastern Thracia, Aegian Macedonia, and the Western Outlands, and its territory is diminished to 103 000 square km. The Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine divides Bulgaria again and it is deprived of Southern Dobrudzha (which is given to Romania), the Western Outlands and Macedonia (given to Serbia), and Eastern Thrace (given to Greece). In this way, about 50 000 square km, inhabited by Bulgarians, are taken of Bulgaria. In 1940, Southern Dobrudzha is given back to Bulgaria (according the resolutions of the Treaty of Craiova). The Bulgarian territory spreads over 111 000 square km again. In the period between 1941 and 1945, Macedonia and Aegian Thrace are temporarily annexed to Bulgaria, but after the Treaty of Paris (1947) they are given back to Yugoslavia and Greece (ГЕОГРАФИЯ, 1997).

55After the end of the Cold War, the new geopolitical situation on the Balkans and in Europe leads to changes in the relations between the Balkan countries. Their borders and the border areas turn into zones of intensive cooperation. As a result, there is a process of regional (Balkan) and continental (European) integration of Balkan countries, including Bulgaria. This process is facilitated by Bulgaria’s membership in NATO and the EU.

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Título Figure 1: Geographic Location of Bulgaria
Créditos Source: Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) – World Factbook, 2014.
Ficheiro image/png, 27k
Título Figure 2: Contemporary borders of Bulgaria, border checkpoints, and free trade zones
Créditos Source: own production
Ficheiro image/png, 230k
Título Figure 3: The Bulgarian territory according the resolutions of the Preliminary San Stefano Treaty and the Congress of Berlin
Créditos Source: Bulgaria-San Stefano (1878) byTodorBozhinov.png
Ficheiro image/png, 176k
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Referência eletrónica

Slavi Dimitrov, «Geographic location and contemporary state borders of Bulgaria »Espaço e Economia [Online], 7 | 2015, posto online no dia 12 abril 2016, consultado o 27 fevereiro 2021. URL:; DOI:

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Slavi Dimitrov

Ph. D. Associate Professor in the St. Cyril and St Methodius University of Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria. Email:

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Espaço e Economia – Revista brasileira de geografia econômica est mise à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d’Utilisation Commerciale - Partage dans les Mêmes Conditions 4.0 International.

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