FREEMASONRY IN YUGOSLAVIA, 1764–1992
Zoran D. Nenezic, 33°
Sovereign Grand Commander
Supreme Council, 33°, of Yugoslavia
Ohridska 16, 1100 Belgrade, Yugoslavia
The first Lodge of Freemasonry was founded in Glina (Krajina) on the territory of present-day Yugoslavia in 1764. The first Master Mason was Count Ivan Drashkovic. Members of the first Lodge included an Archbishop of the Orthodox Church; Stefan Stratimirovic, a Serb; and Stefan Vujanovski, a Serbian writer. Soon thereafter, however, his Royal Highness Joseph II of Austria (1741–90) responded to the great pressure of the Catholic Church at that time. Consequently, he closed the first Lodge, and Freemasonry was not restored in those parts of Yugoslavia until the very end of the nineteenth century.
The Masonic Lodge in the Belgrade (Serbia) portion of Yugoslavia, sprang upon the historical stage at the end of the eighteenth century. At that time, the country was partly under the domination of the Turkish empire.
However, not only were Turks members of the Masonic Lodge, but Greeks, Rumanians, and Serbs also joined. Among the latter the most important of the Lodge members were national leaders and scholars such as Petar Ichko; the Duke Janko Katic; the Popovic brothers; and all the participants of The First Serbian Uprise that started some years after the Turkish invasion.
The most eminent Freemason of that period was a Serbian educator, writer, and orthodox clergyman Dositej Obradovic. His educational and humanistic work made undeniable and unforgettable impressions in the culture of the Serbian people. He was the first Minister of Education in recently liberated Serbia (1810), and while occupying that very important post in the newly formed Serbian government, he succeeded in implementing an elementary principle of Freemasonry—separation of the public school system from intervention by the church.
Sima Milutinovic-Sarajlija, another very important Serbian writer of the first half of the nineteenth century, entered the Lodge of Kishnev (Russia). He was influenced in this decision by the famous Russian writer Alexander Pushkin. Sarajlija was the tutor of Petar II Petrovic Njegosh, the future ruler of Montenegro, an orthodox priest and great Serbian writer.
This educated ruler of the Serbian country of Montenegro had a great influence on the national and freedom-loving feelings of his people and of other southern Slavs as well. He became a Mason under the direct influence of his tutor, Sarajlija.
The members of "Ali-Kotch" Lodge, existing in Belgrade in the 1850s, were, among others, the well-known leaders in recently liberated Serbia—Toma Vuchic-Perishic and Avram Petronijevic. Also, several members of the Lodge acted as political emissaries of the Polish nobleman, Count Adam Chartorski.
The influence of Slovak Frantishek Zah, who later became the Minister of Serbian Defense and a member of the Lodge established in Belgrade, made the most significant and decisive effect on the formulation of the Serbian national and liberation program Nachertanije.
Duke Mihailo Obrenovic, another liberal Serbian ruler, was a Mason as well, and he guided the character and scope of his governance in the best Masonic traditions of humanity and tolerance.
The envoys of the well-known Italian mIlitary commander and Mason, Giuseppe Garibaldi, founded a Masonic Lodge in Belgrade in 1876. Called Luce dei Balcani (The Light of the Balkans), this Lodge became the inspiration for future Lodges in Belgrade and Serbia.
Its membership consisted of influential men from various walks of life; many were writers, professors, painters, merchants, and politicians. Through patient and dedicated work, these Brethren spread Masonic ideas and founded new Lodges, such as Pobratim Lodge (Blood Brothers) in Belgrade.
The tradition of Probatim Lodge is very important to Yugoslavian Freemasonry. Its numerous members were public workers of great stature who embodied the essence of democratic, cultural, and economic prosperity throughout Serbia. Unfortunately, Austria-Hungarian and German aggression at the very beginning of World War I curtailed the activities of these Brethren.
The names Andra Djordjevic, Minister of Education; Laza Pachu, Minister of Finance; Milovan Milovanovic, Minister of Foreign Affairs; Prince Alexander Karadjordjevic, future King of Yugoslavia; Djordje Weifert, future Sovereign Grand Commander of The Supreme Council, 33°, of Serbia and the first Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Yugoslavia; Stevan Sremac, writer; Stevan Mokranjac, composer; and other members of the old Serbian Lodges are still remembered as the founders of humanitarian, educational, and noble deeds.
The contributions of Masons—Serbs, Croats, and Slovenians—in the realization of the first and mutual State of South Slavs were important and indispensable. In many aspects, the country was a result of the dedicated work of several generations of Masons. Freemasons of the 1918 Yugoslavian union were Brothers Svetozar Pribichevic, Bogumil Voshnjak, Milan Marjanovic, Ante Tresic-Pavichic, Roko Jokovic, Hinko Hinkovic, Nikola Stojanovic, Veljko Petrovic, Pavle Popovic, and Duke Zhivojin Mishic, military commander of Serbian army, 1914–1918.
Immediately after the creation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Sloveninans, the Grand Lodge of Yugoslavia was established with Djordje Weifert, 33°, serving as the first Grand Master.
Until August 1940, under the protection of the Grand Lodge of Yugoslavia, 27 Lodges were active and had 2,500 members. Yugoslavian Freemasons of that period left behind great representations of their philanthropic work and charitable organizations and institutions. Religious and racial tolerance, public education, and antifascism were just a few of the characteristics of the noble members of Yugoslavian Lodges between the two world wars.
In August 1940, however, due to the strong influence of the Catholic Church and the pro-German politics of the Yugoslavian government, the Grand Lodge of Yugoslavia "put to sleep" Yugoslavian Freemasonry. Bro. Vojin Matic, who was then a member of the Grand Lodge Committee and who is currently Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Yugoslavia, was charged with the sad duty of closing the Grand Lodge.
In April 1990, however, Probatim Lodge was reestablished. In June 1991, Luce dei Balcani Lodge was also reestablished with a new Master, Ill. Branislav Dimitrijevic, 33°. The restoration of these two historic Lodges set the stage for the reestablishment of the Grand Lodge of Yugoslavia which took place in June 23, 1990, in Belgrade.
Participating in the ceremonial installation and "Bringing in of the Light" were Grand Master of the Grand Lodge, Vojislav Gachic, 33°, and Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Germany, Ernst Walter. After 50 years of darkness, Masonic Light was brought back to Yugoslavia!
In the process of establishing the Grand Lodge of Yugoslavia, of very precious help were Brethren Z. Lemberger, 32°, and D. Dzepina (both from Duseldorf, Germany), V. Pavlovic 33° (Saarbrucken, Germany), B. Dzeletovic, 32° (Canada), M. Ilinchic, 32° (Hannover, Germany), M. Genchic (Koln, Germany), V. Velchic (Munchen, Germany) and S. Ceran, 33° (Luxembourg).
Then the Conference of Grand Masters of Mason in North America (February 1991, San Diego, California) made the decision to recognize the Grand Lodge of Yugoslavia. For advancing this cause, all Yugoslav Freemasons are grateful to Ill. C. Fred Kleinknecht, 33°, Sov. Gr. Com. of The Supreme Council, 33°, of the Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction, U.S.A.; Ill. Douglas Lemons, 33°, S.G.I.G. in California, and Brother Arnold Herman, 32°, K.C.C.H., the personal representative S.G.C. Kleinknecht in Eastern Europe.
As a symbolic token of gratitude, Yugoslav Brothers, on their Annual Assembly of the Grand Lodge of Yugoslavia held in June 28, 1991, chose esteemed Brethren Kleinknecht and Lemons as Honorary Grand Masters and Brother Herman for the Honorary Grand Orator for their great contributions in strengthening and stability of the Masonic Order in Yugoslavia.
Four Lodges, consisting of approximately one hundred members, work under very difficult conditions. Renewed Masonic work is carried on in the country that is, after nearly fifty years of communist dictatorship, amply encumbered with dramatic events and growing nationalisms and clericalisms in all its federal units. These conditions finally brought about an absurd civil war, great suffering of the civil population, destruction, devastation and demolition of all civilizational contacts between the nations. The actual and current task of the Yugoslav Masons is work on the implementing and spreading of tolerance, humanism, freedom and democracy, human rights, new relationships, and a civilized way of living.
The spreading of the principles of regular Freemasonry, as a philosophic and symbolic movement, is the obligation of Masonic Brethren in Yugoslavia. Our enthusiasm, will, and perseverance are undisturbed though we meet in the apartments of Brothers, since all our Masonic Lodges and Temples were destroyed either by German bombings of Belgrade during the World War II of in the period of socialistic dictatorship.
The belief of all Yugoslavia Brethren in Masonry's mission of freedom, democracy, tolerance, and moral sense is very strong. This belief makes them zealous workers aware of the fact that only by patient dedication, the continuous chiselling of raw stone, can the construction of the Temple of humanism and humanity can be achieved.
The generous help we had and have from The Supreme Council, 33°, Mother Council of the World, Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Southern Jurisdiction of the USA and Ill. C. Fred Kleinknecht, 33°, is a great stimulus. The creation of the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rites of Yugoslavia, as the continuation of the Supreme Council of Serbia, was ceremoniously performed by Sov. Gr. Cmdr. C. Fred Kleinknecht on November 23, 1991, in Prague. This is only one of many confirmations of the Brotherly love and solidarity we had experienced from our American Brethren.
All that is the reason we believe we will obtain our dream, a modest Temple in Belgrade for the Grand Lodge and the Supreme Council of Yugoslavia. The creation of this much-needed Temple will be a great step forward for the future of the Masonic Order in our homeland, for the future of the country itself, for the future of freedom and democracy.
This short review may, therefore, be considered as our solemn promise to every Brother in the United States of America and around the world to dedicate all our future Masonic work in Yugoslavia to the principles of peace, tolerance, freedom.