Bulgaria Closes Cold War Poison Umbrella Murder Case

Sep 12, 2013
Originally published on September 12, 2013 4:48 pm



One of the most sensational assassinations of the Cold War may never be solved. Who stabbed Georgi Markov with a poisoned umbrella tip? The exiled Bulgarian dissident died after someone jabbed his thigh on September 7th, 1978 on London's Waterloo Bridge. Markov died four days later from what was believed to be ricin poisoning. No one has ever been arrested or charged in the case. And Bulgaria's chief prosecutor closed it yesterday after 35 years.

For more, Diana Ivanova joins us from Bulgaria. She's a documentary filmmaker and a former reporter for Radio Free Europe. And take us back to September 1978, what happened on Waterloo Bridge?

DIANA IVANOVA: What we know today is that Markov walked on the bridge and it was somebody who touched him with an umbrella. And Markov died from the poison that was in his body.

SIEGEL: Now, Georgi Markov was not only a writer. He was also a broadcaster for the BBC's Bulgarian Service, I believe, for Radio Free Europe. It was widely suspected that the Bulgarian communist regime had him removed. There was an investigation. Were there ever any concrete leads?

IVANOVA: Well, the suspicion is, of course, that the Bulgarian state security was involved. No evidence has been found. But several years ago, one of the officers of the Russian secret service, KGB, just confirmed that it was an assassination that was coordinated with the KGB and the Bulgarian state security, but was kept secret. In all these years, the Bulgarian investigation didn't go much forward.

And actually nobody is surprised in Bulgaria that this case is closed, because nobody really believes in the wish of the Bulgarian prosecution to find out what happened. But the interesting story for me is that there is a huge wave of interest in Markov in Bulgaria. His books are widely read at the moment. There is a recent documentary made on Markov. So in a way, even though the state couldn't make progress in the case, it seems that the Bulgarian society is waking up and he is becoming more and more popular in Bulgaria today.

SIEGEL: But Georgi Markov's death occurred 35 years ago. It was during the days of the old regime, the communist regime in Bulgaria. Why would anyone in Bulgaria today be protective of that information when we are in the post-communist era of Bulgarian government?

IVANOVA: Well, first of all, we have to know that many of the files of the secret police have been destroyed - more than 80 percent at the beginning of the '90s. The second important thing for the people to know is that the files of the secret police have been opened just recently, in 2006. So in a way, the whole Bulgarian society is still living with many secrets about the old regime and what happened exactly there. And we have going back to a kind of ignorance about the past.

SIEGEL: Ms. Diana Ivanova, thank you very much for talking with us today.

IVANOVA: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Diana Ivanova, who is a Bulgarian documentary filmmaker, used to be a reporter for Radio Free Europe. Now she spoke to us from Sofia, Bulgaria.



This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.