Georgi Markov and The Bulgarian Umbrella


I wrote a post about some of the things that you probably didn’t know about The Americans and as I was researching things to write about, I came across Georgi Markov and the Bulgarian umbrella. If you remember the season 1 episode where the Jennings had to plant a microphone in the office of the Secretary Of Defense, then you probably remember the scene where Elizabeth used an umbrella to poison a male student so they could manipulate his mom to do the planting.

As I reported in my previous post, that scene was directly inspired by Georgi Markov’s assassination. Markov was a Bulgarian dissident writer, a former playwright and novelist in his country of origin. When he got the chance to relocate to the West, he became a journalist and broadcaster for BBC World Service. He used his job to write sarcastic criticism against the incumbent Bulgarian regime. Because of this, it’s highly speculated that the Bulgarian government ordered for his assassination. It was done with the help of the KGB and executed by an unknown person who is connected with the Bulgarian secret service. Markov was killed by being poisoned with ricin. It was fired into his leg via an umbrella (called the Bulgarian Umbrella) at the Waterloo Bridge. He felt a sharp pain in his thigh, though little of it and died three days later.

The assassin wasn’t caught but a suspect has emerged; a spy known in Bulgarian files as Agent Piccadilly. His real name is Francesco Gullino, a Danish national with Italian roots. Gullino worked for the communist regime using his antiques business as a cover.

His whereabouts used to be unknown until a film-maker tracked him down to an obscure Austrian town. Although he admitted that he worked with the Bulgarian secret service called Darzhavna Sigurnost (DS), he denied any involvement in the Markov’s assassination.

Gullino was 60 when he was interviewed by the film-maker. He was asked if he was still in touch with his old Bulgarian secret service handler. “Yes I know him, but this is an intimate question because I was really in that [secret service] branch.” The antiques dealer replied:

“I have got nothing to do with this story.

“I’m sorry, I wish I could give you a straight answer but… but think for a moment: If I was, if I were the murderer, you think I should, I just say it? You know my theory about the truth.”

Gullino earns his living through his antiques dealership supplemented by a pension from the Danish government. However, around 1978 he was paid thousands of pounds by the Bulgarian secret service. According to official filed, he was paid £30,000 by the DS between then and the collapse of Communism in 1990.

It’s alleged that the DS ordered Gullino to live in Copenhagen in in 1978, the year Georgi Markov was murdered.

Markov’s wife, novelist Annabel Markova spoke in the documentary:

“I wish, that, when people talk about it in the west, they wouldn’t say ‘Oh the guy, that got stuck by an umbrella’, they’d say ‘oh the great writer’, you know. The writer was so brave, that he risked his life to tell the truth, this would be fantastic.”

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