Georgi Markov

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Georgi Ivanov Markov

Georgi Ivanov Markov (Bulgarian: Георги Иванов Марков) (March 1, 1929 - September 11, 1978) was a Bulgarian dissident. Markov originally worked as a novelist and playwright, but in 1969, he defected from Bulgaria, then a communist state under the leadership of President Todor Zhivkov. After moving to the West, he worked as a broadcaster and journalist for the BBC World Service, Radio Free Europe and the German Deutsche Welle. He criticised the Bulgarian communist regime many times on radio and it is speculated that as a result of this, the Bulgarian government decided to dispose of him, requesting KGB assistance to do so.


[edit] Life in Bulgaria

Georgi Markov was born on March 1st 1929 in Knyazhevo, a Sofia neighborhood. In 1946 he graduated from high school and began university studies in industrial chemistry. Initially Markov worked as a chemical engineer and a teacher in a technical school. At the age of 19 he fell ill with tuberculosis which forced him to periodically attend various hospitals. His first attempts in writing occured during that time. In 1957 he published “The Night of Celsius”. Soon the novel “The Ajax Winners” (1959) and two collections of short stories (1961) saw the light. In 1962 Markov published the novel “Men” which won the annual award of the Union of Bulgarian Writers and he was subsequently accepted as a member of the Union – a prerequisite for a professional career in literature during the Communist times in Bulgaria. Georgi Markov started working at “Narodna Mladezh” publishing house. The story collections “A Portrait of My Double” (1966) and “The Women of Warsaw” (1968) secured his place as one of the most talented young writers of Bulgaria. Markov also wrote a number of plays but most of them were never staged or were removed from theatre repertoire by the Communist censors: “To Crawl under the Rainbow”, “The Elevator”, “Assassination in the Cul-de-Sac”, “Communists”, “I Was Him”. The novel “The Roof” was halted in mid-printing since it described as a fact and in allegorical terms the collapse of the roof of the steel mill “Lenin”. Markov was one of the authors of the popular TV series “On Every Milestone” which created the character of the Second World War detective Velinsky and his nemesis the Resistance fighter Deyanov.

During that time and despite the ban of some of his works Georgi Markov was an acclaimed author who among other writers and poets the Communist leader Todor Zhivkov tried to co-opt and coerce into serving the regime with their works. During that period Markov led a bohemian lifestyle which was unknown to most Bulgarians.

[edit] Writer and a dissident

In 1969 Georgi Markov left for Italy where his brother lived. His initial idea was to wait until the clouds around the ban of his plays cleared, but he gradually changed his mind and decided to stay in the West; especially after September 1971 when the Bulgarian government refused to extend his passport. Markov moved to London where he learned English and started working at the Bulgarian desk of the BBC (1972). He tried to enter the film industry hoping on help from Peter Uvaliev but was unsuccessful. Later he also worked with Deutsche Welle and Radio Free Europe. In 1972 Markov’s membership in the Union of Bulgarian Writers was suspended and he was sentenced in absentia to six years and six month in prison for his defection. His works were withdrawn from libraries and bookstores and his name was not mentioned in the official Bulgarian media until 1989. The Communist Secret Service started Markov’s file under the code name “Wanderer”. In 1974 his play “To Crawl under the Rainbow” was staged in London while in Edinburgh the play “Archangel Michael”, written in English, won first prize. The novel "The Right Honourable Chimpanzee", coauthored by David Philips, was published after his death. In 1975 Markov married Annabelle Dilk. The couple has a daughter, Alexandra-Raina, born a year later. Between 1975 and 1978 Markov worked on his “In Absentia Reports” analysis of life in Communist Bulgaria. They were broadcasted weekly on Radio Free Europe. Their criticism towards the Communist government and personally towards the Party leader Todor Zhivkov made Markov one of the most hated enemies of the regime. “The Reports” were published in Bulgaria after the fall of the Communist government in 1990. In 2000, Markov was posthumously awarded with Stara Planina ordain “for his significant contribution to the Bulgarian literature, drama and non-fiction and for his exceptional civic position and confrontation to the Communist regime.”

[edit] Death and investigations

Agents of the Bulgarian secret police assisted by the KGB had previously made two failed attempts to kill Markov before a third attempt succeeded. On September 7, 1978 (the birthday of Todor Zhivkov), Markov walked across Waterloo Bridge, which crosses the River Thames, and was waiting at a bus stop on the other side, when he was jabbed in the thigh by a man holding an umbrella. The man apologized and walked away. Markov would later tell doctors that the man had spoken in a foreign accent. The event is recalled as the Umbrella Murder.

Markov recalled feeling a stinging pain from where he had been hit by the umbrella tip. When he arrived at work at the BBC World Service offices he noticed a small red pimple had formed and the pain from being jabbed had not gone away. He told at least one of his colleagues at the BBC about this incident. That evening he developed a high fever and was admitted to hospital where he died three days later.

Due to the circumstances and statements Markov made to doctors expressing the suspicion that he had been poisoned, Scotland Yard ordered a thorough post mortem examination of Markov's body. At the post mortem, forensic pathologists discovered a spherical metal pellet the size of a pin-head embedded in Markov's calf.

The pellet measured 1.52 mm in diameter and was composed of 90% platinum and 10% iridium. It had two holes with diameters of 0.35mm drilled through it, producing an X-shaped cavity. Further examination by experts from Porton Down showed that the pellet contained traces of ricin toxin. Even if the doctors treating Markov had known this it would have made no difference because there was no known antidote to ricin poisoning.

Image:Markov umbrella.PNG
The umbrella that killed Markov

Ten days before this murder, another Bulgarian citizen, Vladimir Kostov, was shot in Paris. Doctors found the same kind of bullet in his skin. However, it seems that the sugar coating of the bullet protecting the ricin content was damaged during the shot or before, and thus, only a tiny portion of the poison got into his blood, causing fever only. Kostov reported that the shot came from a man carrying a small bag, but no umbrella. This story suggests that the "umbrella" was a pure invention of the British media. The main reason for this was the declaration of Markov who saw the umbrella but never said he was shot by it. However, forensic experts declared that the probable "gun" that shot the bullet was probably very sophisticated, another reason to believe in State action.

A book describing the whole story and facts was writen by Vladimir Bereanu and Kalin Todorov. The book has been removed from sale but is still available.

Several high profile KGB defectors, such as Oleg Kalugin and Oleg Gordievsky have confirmed that the KGB was behind the assassination, even presenting the Bulgarian assassin with alternatives such as a poisonous jelly to smear on Markov's skin, but to this day no one has been charged with Markov's murder, largely because most documents relating to Markov's death were probably destroyed. The leading newspaper The Times reported that a Dane of Italian origin named Francesco Gullino (or Giullino) is the prime suspect and notes that the Bulgarian statute of limitations runs out in 2008.<ref>Times Online(UK) article revealing Giullino as the umbrella killer by Jack Hamilton and Tom Walker. June 05, 2005</ref>

A British documentary, The Umbrella Assassin, <ref>"The Umbrella Assassin"</ref> interviewed people connected with the case in Bulgaria, Britain and America, and revealed that the prime suspect, Gullino, is alive and well, and still travelling freely throughout Europe.

Markov's grave can be found in a small churchyard at Whitchurch Canonicorum in Dorset.

[edit] Trivia

  • The Scottish postpunk group Fingerprintz recorded a song for their 1979 album The Very Dab that was inspired by Markov's assassination. The name of that song is "Wet Job", and the song itself references how Markov "was waiting for a bus [..] in the rush hour" when he was assassinated (the song also mentions that the deed was "a hit").
  • In the Tom Clancy novel Red Rabbit, the assassination of Markov is a topic of much discussion in the story. A minor character in the novel is revealed to be the killer, a Bulgarian operative named Boris Andeyevich Strokov. Strokov is hired by the KGB to carry out an operation to assassinate Pope John Paul II. At the end, Strokov is caught and assassinated by the British SIS.
  • An episode of Quincy, M.E. has Dr Quincy stabbed with a poisoned pellet. At the end Quincy survives and the killer is caught.

[edit] Publications

[edit] References


[edit] External links

de:Georgi Markow fr:Georgi Markov he:גאורגי מרקוב lv:Georgijs Markovs pl:Georgi Markow fi:Georgi Markov sv:Georgi Markov zh:喬治·馬可夫

Georgi Markov

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