Bulgaria's diplomacy has hit hard times.
The bold decoration on an alcohol factory near Ihtiman has done what many believed to be an impossibility – rousing the Knights Hospitallers out of the quiet charitable existence they have led since the Second World War, and forcing them to take bold action. Bogdan Patashev, first secretary of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta in Bulgaria, lodged an angry protest with the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry. According to the note, the medal adorning the factory is the same symbol used by the Knights Hospitallers, an order founded in the 11th Century to care for sick pilgrims in the Holy Land. The order has no territory of its own, but considers itself a sovereign entity and has observer status in the United Nations. The knights have had diplomatic relations with Bulgaria since 1994.
The reason for the order's displeasure is clearly visible if you travel on Trakiya motorway. Near Ihtiman the Almagest distillery is decorated with a huge Maltese-style white cross against a red background. The knights consider this cross their official symbol, and after several years of unsuccessful attempts at persuading the factory's management to remove it, they felt impelled to approach the Foreign Ministry.
"No, we haven't asked them, but I argue that the symbol on our façade is a cross made of swallows tails on a Saxon shield, which isn't anybody's trademarked sign, let alone that of a state," Yuliyan Belchev, Almagest's executive manager, who is accused of purloining the emblem, told the Sega daily.
He explained that he used the cross only because heraldry is his hobby. According to Sega, however, the Knights suspect that some secret freemason among Almagest's management is behind the factory's use of the symbol.
Belchev has promised to remove the cross and substitute it with another. However, the company's website, www.almagest-bg.eu, remains covered with white crosses on red shields.
We hope that the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry will find a solution to this problem. We all know what happens when diplomatic options are exhausted.