Georgi Markov was a true writer. Someone who wrote because he wanted to, not because he was paid. So when the Bulgarian Communist regime censored his novels, screenplays, and theatrical plays, Markov did what many Cold War-era artists were forced to do: he defected.
Shortly after arriving in London in 1971, Markov took a position with the BBC World Service and pointed his talents back toward the Kremlin. He weaponized his pen, criticizing Soviet rule, and their interference across Europe. In response, Moscow weaponized another everyday implement: an umbrella.
One morning in September 1978, as Markov waited at a bus stop on his way to work, he felt a jab and a sharp sting in his right thigh. He turned, expecting to see a bee or some other culprit. Instead, he saw an umbrella move swiftly away from his leg. Markov’s eyes climbed past the umbrella and the arm holding it, until they made contact awkwardly with the other man’s eyes. The stranger looked away, muttered an excuse, then scurried suspiciously to a waiting car.
Four days later, Markov was dead.
The cause was familiar to anyone familiar with the past 100 years of Kremlin history: poison. Ricin was delivered into the bloodstream of the writer through a pellet smaller than a sewing pin. The “bullet” was projected by the umbrella gun, and contained two tiny holes capped by sugar. Once the sugar melted, the ricin poured out of the holes and into the victim.
Sadly the stuff of spy novels, Markov’s assassination remains emblematic of the Kremlin’s murderous interference across all of Europe’s borders. No matter where you are—whether in Russia, Berlin, or the UK—if you differ from Moscow, they will find you. And they will kill you. Some things never change.
Markov in happier times – before the Kremlin decided he shouldn’t have a different opinion