On the evening of the 5th June we attended a lecture invited by our language tutor, dr Kovachev of Sofia University, who was also the main speaker. Until then, we knew hardly anything about Bulgarian literary traditions, and, respectively, about our tutor’s academic research. To our surprise, not only did we learn about the writers in question from dr Kovachev’s slide-show presentation, but also through the words of their closest relatives (!), who accepted organisers’ invitation. Thus we had the chance to listen to anecdotes about Metodi Koussev, SSEES lecturer, from his son and hear about Pierre Rouve’s working habits from his wife. Both of them are British citizens, but with a great understanding and sentiment for Bulgaria, who they were somewhat bound to befriend and who influenced their lives to a great extent. These two personalities would have made the event intellectually stimulating enough but soon another character was introduced. This was the figure of Georgi Markov, a writer and journalist for BBC World Service, Radio Free Europe and Deutsche Welle. A 30 minutes extract from a 2012 documentary ‘Silenced’ about the infamous ‘Bulgarian umbrella’ case. Interestingly enough, some of us heard about the ‘umbrella murder’ before from fellow Londoners; they, however, were unable to tell us who the victim actually was. To demystify the aura, it was Markov who was incised with poison by an unidentified man with an umbrella on the Waterloo Bridge in 1978. Nobody was ever prosecuted for committing this crime, even after the fall of the communist regime. This added a sensational twist to the meeting’s atmosphere, as well as inspired us to discover Bulgaria’s modern history for ourselves.
It turned out, that Bulgaria, at least culturally, has more links to Great Britain than it might be suspected. Even before the II WW, in the 20s and 30s, immigrants of Balkanic origin successfully contributed to the British culture, as the example of Michael Arlen, the author of the scandalous at the time novel ‘The Green Hat’, shows us. Bonds of the latter and also Pierre Rouve to Hollywood proved to be yet another incentive to study Bulgarian history. I think I am allowed to express on the behalf of the whole group how lucky we felt that this particular event happened to take place during our Danubian cruise and especially because it focused on a group of intellectuals who have resided here, in London.