A Captivating Mind | The Nation


A Captivating Mind

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There have been no theater productions, either. Playhouses in Sofia, which once vied to stage Markov’s work, do not offer any of his plays in their repertoire. Only last year did the Ivan Vazov National Theater finally put on a chamber production of To Wriggle Under the Rainbow, directed by Asen Shopov, the very same person who directed the play in 1967, when the government shut it down and exiled Shopov to Burgas. With a bushy white beard and resolute blue eyes, his face furrowed with wrinkles, the director still exudes an air of rebellion. “Markov continues to be pushed to the side, and lots of forces are trying to prevent his popularization, his public acceptance,” he says. “What I can tell you, though, is that his play is living a second life.”

Indeed, the house is often sold out. In a dilapidated TB sanatorium at the close of World War II, right before the Soviets take over, several men—a doctor, a philosopher, a painter and a landowner, among others—are waiting for their end, engaged in listless conversation and cynical jokes. “The hope for some kind of change is false and your noble instincts are illusory,” the philosopher tells the doctor. “Everything will be exactly the same as it has always been…same people, same time, only the set will change.” But everything changes when, during the night, a wounded woman—a partisan—is brought in, her lungs riddled with bullets. The men are transformed as they put on their best clothes and start taking care of her, touched by her sacrifice. The mood does not last long: at the end of the play, it is revealed that each of the men has sent a letter in secret to the local police chief denouncing the woman’s presence.

* * *

The past year in Sofia has been marked by daily anti-government protests against a coalition led by the Bulgarian Socialist Party (proud heir of the BCP), initially sparked by the controversial nomination of a 33-year-old media mogul with a shady past as head of the State Agency for National Security. Amid the protests, Markov’s work has been experiencing something of a revival. Newspapers often reprint his essays; social media networks are full of links to his work; and on September 7, 2013—the thirty-fifth anniversary of his murder—several hundred protesters marched in downtown Sofia, a few of them holding umbrellas in the air, before kneeling for a minute of silence in front of the Bulgarian Parliament. Some compared the importance of Markov’s work to that of Edward Snowden. As Manol Peykov, one of the biggest Bulgarian book publishers, recently wrote on his Facebook wall: “Georgi Markov’s In Absentia Reports is the most profound and comprehensive documentary book of the communist period in Bulgaria. It needs to be read by everyone who wishes to understand why we’re living the life we’re living.”

Last year also marked the official broadcast on Bulgarian National Television of Silenced: The Writer Georgi Markov and the Umbrella Murder, a feature-length documentary by the German director Klaus Dexel. The film rehashes many of the known facts and theories about Markov, but its primary focus is not the writer himself so much as the hunt for his supposed assassin, Francesco Gullino, code-named “Piccadilly.” Amazingly, after a pan-European investigation, Dexel tracks Gullino down in a small town in Austria, where he still works as an antiques dealer. In a tiny apartment full of old paintings and statuettes, the director sits down on a couch to interview him. Wearing a flat black leather cap, grown old and pudgy, Gullino answers questions in broken German and English, nervously laughing all the time and petting his lap dog. The conversation is something of a farce, as if taken directly from one of Markov’s absurdist plays:

Dexel: Were you in London at the time Georgi Markov was killed?

Gullino: It’s possible.

Dexel: Are you sorry Georgi Markov was assassinated?

Gullino: What can I do?

Dexel: But you know the truth.

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Gullino: Why should I tell the truth? You give your truth, what you think about others, but the actual truth you keep for yourself, don’t you?… Why in general should one say the truth? What for? You live so well with lies.

Dexel: Were you the murderer of Georgi Markov or not?

Gullino: I’ve got nothing to do with this story… I’m sorry… I wish I could give you a straight answer…but… think for a moment… if I were the murderer, do you think I should say it? You know my theory about the truth…. The little I know of this Makarov [sic] is… that it was nothing important…. Of course I read many versions. Some try to put him as a new Pasternak or Solzhenitsyn, or something like that. He wasn’t.

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