Georgi Markov began his career as a novelist, playwright, short story and screenplay writer, and literary critic. He was eventually drawn to nonliterary types of essays, such as social and political pamphlets, documentary articles, and reviews, partly by circumstance, partly because of his acute sense of social injustice. The publication of his first novel Muzhe (1962; Men) made him an instant literary star and Communist Party favorite. His later novels and plays, some of which were banned from publication—e.g.
Velikiat pokriv (The great roof) and Pokushitelite (The assassins)—marked him, however, as a social iconoclast and political outcast. This alienation led him to defect to England, where he joined the Bulgarian section of the BBC World Service, and also wrote for the German radio station Deutsche Welle (German wave) and broadcast over Radio Free Europe. In these broadcasts he was harshly critical of the communist system.
An accomplished literary critic who focused on the Bulgarian National Revival period (a century of growing national awareness between 1762, and 1878), he set out to write both personal essays and social and political commentaries. Following the tradition of his impressive literary predecessors and famous essayists Khristo Botev, Liuben Karavelov, and Pencho Slaveikov, he wrote powerful, heartfelt pamphlets in which he released years of pent-up thoughts and emotions.
Markov’s output as a literary critic includes major studies of the Bulgarian poets Dimcho Debelianov and Geo Milev– Dimcho Debelianov: Literaturen ocherk (1962; Dimcho Debelianov: a literary sketch), Geo Milev: Izbrani proizvedenia (1971; Geo Milev: selected works). Both are extensive biographical and literary studies, at once illustrating the predominant form of literary essay of the socialist realism period and representing a significant departure from it. Both were issued by the finest publishers of literary criticism in Bulgaria, Bulgarski Pisatel’ (Bulgarian writer) and the Institut za Bulgarska Literatura (Institute for Bulgarian literature at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences) and exemplify the canon of literary criticism at its best. Markov follows the established model for literary essays of that period, demonstrating how history molds the individual, but he does not stop there. Contrary to some trends in literary criticism of the socialistrealism period, he does not present literary figures as solely the product of their social or historical medium. He does not deny the importance of individual sensibility or damn it as a literary flaw. He retains his professional integrity and moral dignity, treating the more personal side of literary works with understanding and respect. Moreover, he does not ascribe to these writers political aspirations and communist ideals they did not necessarily embrace. His greatest accomplishment in the literary essay remains his adherence to the truth in a society where personal and public history were rewritten to conform to the communist dogma.
Markov’s nonliterary essays carry his professional honesty and civil candor to heights unimaginable to most of his contemporaries. In Zadochni reportazhi za Bulgaria (wr. In exile, pub. 1990; Broadcasts about Bulgaria), known in the West as The Truth That Killed (1983), and Kogato chasovnitsite sa spreli: Novi zadochni reportazhi za Bulgaria (wr. in exile, pub. 1991; New broadcasts about Bulgaria), he comes across as a captive sentenced to 40 years of silence who has finally broken loose and regained his right to speak. He confesses it is his “privilege and duty” to tell the world the truth about Bulgaria, that it is a “sovereign republic without sovereignty, a popular democracy without democracy, a country leading a lifeless social existence, numbed by heavyhanded police methods, a country having a faceless literature and crippled art.” The two volumes comprise 167 short broadcast essays and include poignant political pamphlets, critical essays, historical surveys, humorous stories, sociological studies, brief portrait sketches, memoirs, and literary anecdotes. They are expressions which pour out the feelings and thoughts of a suffocated author. Form is unimportant, for form, metaphors, symbols, and allegories have come to signify to Markov the communist regime’s weapons of deception. He felt it his duty to tell the truth without the usual literary embellishments or Party jargon, simple and unadorned.
In essays in The Truth That Killed—“Partia i rabota” (“The Party and Work”), “Biografia na vlasta” (“A Biography of the Regime”), “Nie te napravihme pisatel” (“We Made You into a Writer”), “Sreshti s Todor Zhivkov” (“Meetings with Todor Zhivkov”)—Markov talks about those who parade as genuine believers in the communist utopia. These people humiliate and deprive others of all human rights, surround themselves with sycophants, and are incompetent, cynical, and hypocritical. They demoralize the people and ruin the country’s economy. Filled with the sense of their divine invincibility, they go through life following the lifestyle of the world’s most corrupt form of ruling autocracy. In essays such as “Porazheniata na kulta” (1984; “The Ravages of the Personality Cult”), “Tsenzurna dialektika” (1984; “The Dialectic of Censorship”), “Zad fasadata na osmi mart” (1990; Behind the fagade of Mother’s Day), “Prostitutsiata” (1990; Prostitution), “Sled kulturnata revoliutsia” (1990; After the cultural revolution), “Zashto horata kradat” (1990; Why people steal), and “Zhenite na Varshava” (1990; The women of Warsaw), Markov analyzes phenomena such as the paranoid fear of the “enemy,” the personality cult, the all-pervasive atmosphere of suspiciousness and apathy, Party patriotism, the system’s reliance on self-censorship and informers, the disintegration of family relations and the exploitation of modern woman, the cheating of the country and the robbing of its people. He also depicts ordinary rankand- file Bulgarians, who have survived hundreds of years of internal and external domination thanks to their common sense, down-to-earth realism, and ability to see through their rulers’ hidden agendas. They have also miraculously retained a healing sense of humor, as expressed in essays like “Kiro i drugite” (1984; “Kiro and the Others”), “Da se prezhivee niakak” (1984; “To Endure Somehow”), and “Spasitelniat smiah” (1984; “The Saving Grace of Laughter”).
Markov developed a theory of the perversion of language similar to that of George Orwell. He wrote to express his thoughts rather than demonstrate his commitment to the Party. He used words in their original meanings to tell the story of a people subjected to an unprecedented brainwashing through the use of an official “antilanguage,” a highly developed and formal language of cliches adopted to misinform and distort the truth.
Markov brought the Bulgarian language back to life, restoring its colorful vitality from the deadly kingdom of “black and white.” Once again a voice, kindred to the wellknown Bulgarian literary and public figures of the National Revival period, uttered the unthinkable “the king is naked,” toppling from the communist Olympus all fake claims to freedom, independence, equality, and prosperity, as well as the Party’s claim to absolute superiority and historical supremacy over all other forms of government. Markov went much further than the legendary tale: he actually explained in his essays that the king is not only naked, but also ugly and mean.
If Georgi Markov were Russian or Czech, he might be known as one of the best essayists from Eastern Europe. As it is, if he is known at all, it is because he was assassinated with a poisoned umbrella as an exile in London. This fact in itself is a testament to the power and importance of his writing for those who knew it and feared it.
Bulgaria’s Alistair Cooke and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn broadcast his “letters from Bulgaria” in order to disclose the moral perversity of the politics of hate instilled by the communist aparatchniks in Bulgaria. Like Cooke, he reached the hearts and minds of millions of Bulgarians to tell them revealing stories about their country and their rulers.
Like Solzhenitsyn, he had to suffer the consequences of his intelligence and moral integrity. And unlike anyone else, he had to pay for his essays with his life.
Georgi Ivanov Markov. Born in 1929 in Sofia. Studied at the Polytechnic, Sofia, 1947– 51, qualified as a chemical engineer. Imprisoned for political beliefs, 1950–51. Worked in a metallurgy factory, 1952–59, and as a chemical engineer. Began writing novels and plays. Elected to the Bulgarian Writers’ Union, 1962. Left for Italy after one performance (a preview) of his play The Man Who Was Me, June 1969; moved to England, 1971.
Worked for the Bulgarian section of the BBC World Service, broadcasting a weekly column about British cultural life, and for Radio Free Europe, from 1975, and Deutsche Welle. Married Annabel Dilke (third marriage): one daughter.
Awards: Bulgarian Literary Prize, for Muzhe^ Edinburgh Festival Award, 1974.
Died (after being stabbed with a poisoned umbrella, probably by the Bulgarian secret police) in London, 11 September 1978.
Essays and Related Prose
The Truth That Killed, translated by Liliana Brisby, 1983; as Zadochni reportazhi za Bulgaria, 2. vols., 1990
Kogato chasovnitsite sa spreli: Novi zadochni reportazhi za Bulgaria, 1991
Other writings: three novels (including Muzhe, 1961), a thriller with
David Phillips (The Right Honourable Chimp, 1978), plays, and works on Bulgarian literature.
Moser, Charles A., “Georgi Markov in the 19605,” Slavonic and East European Review 67, no. 3 (July 1989):353–77
Smolyantisky, Solomon, “For the 70th [sic] Birthday of Georgi Markov: Probing Life,”
Soviet Literature 4, no. 397 (1981):163–70
Todorov, Kalin, and Vladimir Bereanu, Koi ubi Georgi Markov, Sofia: Sibiia, 1991
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