GEORGI MARKOV COMES BACK TO BULGARIA, SYMBOLICALLY

by Anthony Georgieff

Cold War victim gets honoured by larger-than-life statue

georgi markov statue.jpg

Bulgaria has notoriously failed to help solve one of the most gruesome crimes of the Cold War, the 1978 assassination in London of dissident writer Georgi Markov. No one has been brought to justice. Yet, in 2014 the writer got honoured, at least symbolically, by the erection of a statue of him, placed in one of the squares in the Lozenets quarter in Sofia.

The statue was sculpted by Plovdiv sculptor Danko Dankov and paid for by a Bulgarian emigre doctor in the United States, Georgi Lazarov, acting through his St George Foundation.

Markov's English widow, Annabel Dilke, and his brother, Nikola, were present, as well as three of Bulgaria's four presidents: Zhelyu Zlelev, Petar Stoyanov and Rosen Plevneliev. Many citizens, including former friends of Markov's and former emigres, were also in attendance.

Georgi Markov, who would have been 85 this year, was a successful writer under Communism. Gradually, however, he got disenchanted with the Communist system and defected to the West, in 1969. From 1972, he worked for the Bulgarian Section of the BBC World Service in London. His In Absentia Reports About Bulgaria, perhaps the most insightful and often pugnacious analyses of life in Communist Bulgaria, were broadcast in the period 1975-1978 on Radio Free Europe, the US radio station in Munich beaming news and reports to the Communist nations of Eastern Europe.

In September 1978 he was attacked and assassinated while walking on Waterloo Bridge in Central London. The incident, one of the most ominous in the history of the Cold War, went down as the Umbrella Murder.

There is little doubt that the Communist secret services in Bulgaria acted with the technical assistance of the KGB to "neutralise" the man who had become Communism's most outspoken critic.

Through the years, the Umbrella Murder case became incredibly complicated. Through the 1980s, when Bulgaria was still Communist, Sofia denied any involvement. In the early 1990s, when the new Bulgarian leadership was in office, promises for cooperation were made. At the same time, most of Markov's files were destroyed, thus eliminating most of the evidence.

An investigation finally started in Bulgaria, but it dawdled and never produced any conclusive results. In the 2000s the case was terminated for statutory limitations. The physical killer of Georgi Markov remains at large.

In today's Bulgaria Georgi Markov is a divisive figure. Owing to the massive Communist propaganda that still reverberates through society, many people think that Markov was in fact a double agent, who was killed by the Western services, in collaboration with the CIA. Some more exotic theories suggest that he died of a rare disease after being scratched by his cat. But since when do cats eject ricin-filled pellets into their owner's thighs?

In fact, subscription to the Murder-by-Communist-Bulgaria or Murder-by-the-West theory has become a rather sinister litmus test for people's anti- or pro-Communist inclinations in modern Bulgaria.

Markov's work and, hopefully, the monument will live on. The statue is accompanied by two poignant sentences, possibly a unwitting paraphrase of Jean Cocteau: "The living close the eyes of the dead. The dead open the eyes of the living."

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