Georgi Markov's killing: 45 years on

site.btaGeorgi Markov Taught Us that There Is No Greater Value than Freedom - Writer Zahari Karabashliev

Georgi Markov Taught Us that There Is No Greater Value than Freedom - Writer Zahari Karabashliev
Georgi Markov Taught Us that There Is No Greater Value than Freedom - Writer Zahari Karabashliev
Georgi Markov in Sienna, Italy, April 1972 (BTA archive photo)

Georgi Markov taught us that there is no greater value than freedom and no stronger weapon than truth, writer Zahari Karabashliev told BTA on the 45th anniversary of the death of Bulgarian dissident writer, playwright and journalist Georgi Markov.

Markov was stabbed in the leg with a poison-tipped umbrella by an unknown attacker in London on September 7, 1978. Four days later, on September 11, he died of poisoning, possibly with ricin, in London's St. James's Hospital. 

According to Karabashliev, there are still unknown facts surrounding the writer's killing. 

"There should be no statute of limitations for this crime. And the key to the truth about this murder can probably still be found. There are probably people who still know what, how, when, who, etc. ... But the party omerta still holds," he said.

In his words, Georgi Markov stands out for his clean, clear and beautiful writing, for the simplicity of his expression and for using language as an instrument of truth. 

Among the writer's most significant works, according to Zachary Karabashliev, are The Women of Warsaw, The Roof and In Absential Reports. "Georgi Markov was a phenomenon in world literature," he said.

"I feel only regret that the venom of his enemies reached him in London and he left no more work that would place him where he belonged in the world: next to Kundera and Solzhenitsyn," said Karabashliev.

From engineer to writer

Georgi Markov was born on March 1, 1929 in the village of Knyazhevo, now a Sofia suburb. He studied chemistry and in 1951 graduated as a metals engineer in Sofia. He worked as an engineer at metal factories and taught at the Technical School of Ceramics and Glass in Sofia. During his student years he was diagnosed with TB which later allowed him an early retirement at the age of 29. He continued to support himself by writing. 

Markov's literary debut was a short story, The Whisky Recorder, which was published in a newspaper. He was also the author of Cezier's Night (1957), the science fiction novel The Winners of Ajax (1959), the collections of short stories and novellas "Inquiry" and "Between Day and Night", the novel "Men" (1962), "The Portrait of My Double" (1966) "The Women of Warsaw" (1968), etc. From 1963 to 1969, he also wrote nine plays staged in Bulgarian theatres.

It is believed that his first open clash with the authorities was over his novel The Roof (1962), which was banned and was published long years after the 1989 change of the political system, in 2007. In 1967, the play To Crawl Under the Rainbow was removed from the repertoire of the People's Army Theatre in Sofia, and two years later the plays I Was Him and Communists were banned.


In June 1969, Markov travelled to Italy, and a year later settled in London. One of the possible reasons for his emigration was a potential opportunity to screen his novella The Women of Warsaw. 

In 1972, he started work as an editor in the London-based Bulgarian service of the BBC. In his first years as an emigrant (1971-1973), he also wrote essays and commentaries for Deutsche Welle radio. During this period Markov was expelled from the Union of Bulgarian Writers and his books were seized from libraries in Bulgaria. 

It is believed that during about that time the communist State Security Service started compiling his dossier codenamed "Wanderer". At the end of 1972, he was sentenced in absentia to six and a half years imprisonment as an enemy of the state.

In Absentia Reports from Bulgaria

In the 1973-1978 period he also collaborated with Radio Free Europe and in late 1975 it started broadcasting his In Absentia Reports from Bulgaria, which were highly critical of the communist regime and the political elite in the writer's home country.

His reports have been published in various volumes in book form since his death. In 1980-1981, In Absentia Reports were published in two volumes in Zurich and a Bulgarian samizdat appeared about the same time. His Literary Essays were first published in Paris in 1982 and in Bulgaria in 1990, after the fall of the regime.

The Bulgarian Umbrella case

The assassination of Georgi Markov became one of the emblematic crimes of the Cold War, becoming known as the Bulgarian Umbrella case.

The destruction of his State Security files in 1990 and what seemed like official obstruction hindered efforts to find the perpetrator and the mastermind. 

A book published in 2008 by Bulgarian investigative journalist Hristo Hristov, however, shows close links between the Bulgarian secret services and the Soviet KGB over the murder. It also points to the likely perpetrator: Italian-born Dane Francesco Gullino with the code name Piccadilly. 

According to Hristov, the investigative journalist, the motive for Markov's killing was that he broke the taboo on personally criticizing Bulgaria's communist leader Todor Zhivkov, who at that time was "bathing in a cult of his personality", to use Hristov's own words.

In 1993 Gullino was located in Copenhagen and interrogated in the Danish capital by detectives of Scotland Yard and Bulgaria. After the interrogation, Denmark formally requested the Piccadilly file from Bulgaria in order to be able to detain him and hand him over to Britain for investigation in the 1978 Markov murder case. However, the Bulgarian prosecution service refused to hand over the requested documents and thus hindered the international investigation. 

The Bulgarian case into Markov's killing was closed in 2013 due to the expiration of the prescriptive period.

On December 11, 2000, Markov was posthumously awarded with the Order of the Balkan Range, First Class, for his contribution to Bulgarian literature, drama and journalism, for his outspoken citizen's position and for speaking out against the totalitarian regime.




By 16:04 on 02.03.2024 Today`s news

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