A Bulgarian umbrella is an umbrella with a hidden pneumatic mechanism which injects a small poisonous pellet containing ricin. It has a hollowed stalk in which the pellet neatly sits.
Such an umbrella was used in and named for the assassination of the Bulgarian dissident writer Georgi Markov on 7 September 1978 (the birthday of the Bulgarian State Council chairman Todor Zhivkov, who had often been the target of Georgi Markov's criticism) on Waterloo Bridge in London. Markov died four days later. It was also allegedly used in the failed assassination attempt against the Bulgarian dissident journalist Vladimir Kostov the same year in the Paris Métro. The poison used in both cases was ricin. Both assassination attempts are believed to have been organized by the Bulgarian Secret Service of the time of the Cold War with the assistance of the KGB.
These two cases inspired the 1980 French film Le Coup du parapluie (The Umbrella Coup) directed by Gérard Oury and starring Pierre Richard, and Bulgarian writer Stefan Kisyov's novel The Executioner. A type of this umbrella is used even in poliziottesco Italian movie The Police Can't Move in 1975.
A Bulgarian umbrella was featured in the 2013 The Americans episode, "The Clock". A similar assassination (and attempt) were central to the plot of the 1978 Quincy, M.E. episode, "Hot Ice". The 2010 episode "Marionette" of Fringe begins with an organ thief administering a paralytic with an umbrella. In the AMC series Breaking Bad, season 2, episode 1, Walter White shows his accomplice, Jessie, a small bag of castor beans which he explained, the ricin can be extracted from and which was effectively used to assassinate a Bulgarian journalist by poisoning him with ricin delivered through the tip of an umbrella.
In Yes, Prime Minister, Bernard Wooley suggested in "A Diplomatic Incident" episode the use of a Bulgarian Umbrella to kill a French puppy that was intended as gift to the Queen, to prevent a diplomatic incident caused by quarantine regulations.
- The Bulgarian Umbrella: The Soviet Direction and Operations of the Bulgarian Secret Service in Europe by Vladimir Kostov, Harvester Press (1988)
- The Global Investigative Journalism Casebook ed by Mark Hunter for UNESCO (2012)
- A Spy's London by Roy Berkeley and Rupert Allason, Pen & Sword Books (1994)
- Communication in Eastern Europe: The Role of History, Culture, and Media in Contemporary Conflicts ed by Fred L. Casimir, pub by Lawrence Erlbaum (1995)
- Holdsworth, Nick (23 March 2013). "Prime suspect in Georgi Markov "umbrella poison" murder tracked down to Austria" – via www.telegraph.co.uk.
- Richard Edwards, Crime Correspondent (19 June 2008). "Poison-tip umbrella assassination of Georgi Markov reinvestigated". Telegraph.co.uk.
- "How an assassin bungled a deadly umbrella plot".
- "Bulgarian umbrella - Gadgets Now". Gadget Now.