Murder mystery vexes ex-Soviet bloc
The death of Bulgarian writer Georgi Markov in 1978 raises questions about Europe's lingering ties to communism.
While Bulgarian émigré Georgi Markov walked over Waterloo Bridge in London on Sept. 7, 1978, a passerby bumped into the well-known critic of his native government. A stinging pain shot through Mr. Markov's calf, and four days later he was dead.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Investigators initially thought an assassin, hired by the communist regime in Bulgaria, jabbed him with a poison-tipped umbrella. But later reports suggested a spring-loaded pen, probably KGB-designed, had fired a ricin-tipped pellet into his leg.
Today much of the Markov murder remains shrouded in mystery. The case, however, is just one of many unsolved mysteries spurring intense debate in Eastern Europe between critics and defenders of the communist system.
Though the days of Soviet control are but a distant memory, revelations about who was once a spy or informant continue to rock the region. Many communist-era officials remain in power and continue to hold onto a number of secrets about the past, not only to protect themselves and their allies, but the reputation of the former dictatorships.
Earlier this month, Milan Kundera, the Czech author of "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" and a noted critic of communism, was accused of reporting a Western intelligence agent to authorities 58 years ago. Mr. Kundera emerged from 23 years of public silence to deny the charges.
For Markov's brother, Nikola Markov, finding the truth about Georgi's murder is no longer personal, he says, it's now about enabling broader social justice.
"My brother's murder is not a criminal case, but a political case," says Nikola. "I'm not looking for the killer, but [the person] who ordered and organized it. And who was guilty? The system. I want to show the world what the communist system really was."
Scotland Yard reopened its Markov investigation earlier this year. But even 18 years after the fall of the communist regime in Bulgaria, Markov's supporters charge that the nation's security service consistently block or undermine their attempts to find more information.
Most recently, the Bulgarian government's chief investigator dismissed the death as due to a British "medical blunder."
Bulgarian investigative journalist Hristo Hristov has researched the case since 1992, when he was a young court reporter covering the trial of Bulgaria's intelligence chief, who was sentenced to 11 months in jail for destroying key Markov-related files. The case piqued his curiosity about Markov and his prodigious body of work.
With Bulgaria's first open-archive law in 1997, Mr. Hristov determined to take a deep look into the case, despite rumors that all files about Markov had been destroyed.
This past summer, after a three-year court battle, he finally extracted 97 secret files that detail the KGB role in Markov's murder. The files comprise the heart of his second book on the Markov case, which he just published last month.