Last year Freemasons legally renewed their work in Croatia, after half a century long prohibition of their activity. They are registered at Croatian Ministry of Administration as a civil association under the name of Grand Lodge of Croatia headed by Branimir Horvat, typographer and art historian. The motive for this interview with Branimir Horvat are recently frequently mentioned ideas on the renewal of some kind of Yugoslav association, all the more as part of Croatian public believes that in the past Freemasons helped the creation of Yugoslav state.
Mr. Horvat did not want his photo to be published with this interview claiming that Freemasons consider newspaper interviews should not be used for their personal promotion.
If it is not a secret, how many Freemasons are in Croatia?
The number of our members is constantly increasing, but not too fast, since it is not easy to become a Freemason. It is not a mass organization. We take care and check whom we take among us. Our members should respect the principles and obligations of Freemasonry. The Reception procedure could last for more than one year.
Before 1940 when authorities of Banovina Croatia prohibited the work of Freemasons, what was a cession to Axis Forces, there were five hundred of Freemasons in Croatia. To reach this number again it will take a few decades of work.
Is Croatian organization of Feemasons accepted as an equal member of international organization?
The Grand Lodge of Austria founded the Lodge in Croatia. We are still under its protection, although we work completely independently as Croatian Lodge. According to the rules, to get internationally recognized Masonic organization, one country has to have a certain number of members and at least three lodges which with the help of one existing Grand Lodge can then form their own Grand Lodge. It is necessary to have a defined number of Master Masons for each Lodge to operate.
Masonic organization in Croatia is now just about to get international regularity. Austrian Grand Lodge informed us that it would assist in establishing our three lodges this autumn (1995). But, between establishing the Grand Lodge and getting its international regularity sometimes it can pass as much as two years. It is complex and slow procedure, due to the thorough check of the new organization and its members. For the Croatian Lodge this procedure is going on successfully. I once already said that the international recognition for one Grand Lodge has the same importance as the reception of one country to the United Nations.
How actual political conditions influence international acceptance of the Croatian Lodge?
Distrust towards Croatia that exists in some circles, reflects on Freemasons, too. Although Freemasons do not actively deal with politics we should bear in mind that the entire today's life is penetrated with politics.
It is believed that Freemasons took part in establishing the first Yugoslavia. In your opinion, what was their role?
Yugoslav idea originated among Croats in the 19th century as a counter-balance to the anti-Croatian policy of Vienna and Pest. It was believed that it would be easier to cut off Croats from Germanic and Hungarian influence if they lived in an association with other South-Slavic nations. On the eve of falling to pieces of Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, Yugoslav idea was getting more and more supporters both internationally and in Croatia. In a few words, Yugoslav Board was founded with a few members Freemasons. They were not majority in this board, but their influence was dominant due to their relations with some English politicians Freemasons. Among the Croats in this Board was Freemason Ivan Meštrović, but at his old age he lost his illusion about the Yugoslav policy.
It cannot be said that Yugoslavia was created by Freemasons. It was created by political interests in Europe after World War I. The central forces were defeated and among responsible politicians there were also some Fremasons. From this point of view that period has still not been researched enough. It would be worth analyzing whether those people were later on satisfied with Yugoslavia. It should not be forgotten that in 1918 the majority of the National Council approved the integration of Croatia into Yugoslavia. Stjepan Radić was one of the rare politicians who were warning that Croats should not run recklessly to Belgrade like sheep without a shepherd. Well, are Freemasons to be blamed for the foundation of Yugoslavia and for the fact that it was such a country?
Founding multinational countries, at all costs, on the area of Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, was a mistake. Not only Yugoslavia fell apart, but also Czecho-Slovakia, which was at a significantly higher civilization level and where differences between Czech and Slovak people were much smaller than between the two dominant nations of ex-Yugoslavia.
At the end of World War I nobody thought that it is a political decree that which puts two dominant nations, belonging to two different civilization backgrounds, into the same country. Frauds and lies started at the very beginning. Croatian politicians thought they united to an equal footing association, and Serbian politicians thought they liberated and won Croatian areas. And so it was till the year 1990.
Were there different views on Yugoslavia among Croatian Freemasons?
Yes. They appeared immediately after the foundation of Yugoslavia. The differences were so great that one part of Croatian Freemasons separated from official Masonic organization in Yugoslavia and established their own lodges. Those lodges were not internationally recognized.
Why such differences arose?
A considerable part of Croatian Freemasons did not accept the relations that existed inside Yugoslavia. The strongest Masonic center was in Zagreb, Croatia. But, by establishing the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes and due to Masonic rules, the Croats in Zagreb had to adjourn their Grand Lodge in Zagreb that existed during Austro-Hungarian Monarchy since 1918, because Croatia was autonomous province. Namely, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was one political unit, so only one Grand Lodge could exist that could be recognized by the Grand Lodge of England.
When Masonic headquarters moved to Belgrade, the opposition in Zagreb was so strong that many people stepped out from lodges. They established the Grand Lodge of Croatia, that worked according to all Masonic rules but was not internationally recognized. This part of Croatian Masonic history has still not been researched enough and it will not be researched easily since in the eve and at the beginning of the World War II all documentation about this period was destroyed.
The continuation of which prewar Masonic fraction are today's Croatian Freemasons?
Of none. Croatian Freemasonry today is completely new. There is no connection with the Freemasonry in Yugoslavia before World War II, since we do not even physically represent the continuation of it. Freemasonry was prohibited for half a century and when we started to establish new Croatian Freemasonry no living members of prewar lodges were known. That is why prewar Freemasons with their attitudes or choices could not influence the selection of today's members.
Croatian Freemasons are from the very beginning citizens of free and independent Croatian state and they have been selected as Croatian citizens. The Austrian Grand Lodge established its Deputy Lodge in Zagreb with the aim to renew Freemasonry in Croatia at the moment when Croatia was already an internationally recognized country.
One of the basic Masonic commitments is to abide the laws of their country and to protect internal piece. When looking for Freemasons, we were looking among loyal Croatian citizens. I will not propose somebody if I am not sure that his attitude about Croatia is like mine. People are always choosing people alike and always take care whom they will let into their company. We should however be aware that mistakes are always possible and that is why our internal sanctions exist.
Today, there are again certain ideas about the renewal of some kind of Yugoslav association. The Croats abandoned this idea but its center was transferred to Belgrade. These ideas have the support of some international circles, but foreign politicians are not bringing them out openly but indirectly, from behind. What are your experiences in this matter?
In my personal contacts I have not met any supporters of those ideas and I am particularly talking about Austrians who are close to us. My opinion is that those ideas about the renewal of some kind of Yugoslav association are probably actualized to prevent the strengthening of association of Central European countries.
Is it possible that the Masonic organization, internationally or locally, adopts decision about the work on the renewal of any Yugoslav association?
Such a decision can not be adopted in any regular organization that is recognized by the Grand Lodge of England. The purpose of Freemasonry is not dealing with politics, but with oneself, with spiritual values, humanistic and ethical-philosophical aims. We are interested in encouraging tolerance and democracy, in the promotion of humanity and charity. Your questions show that many people do not understand the very essence of Freemasonry. If Freemasonry dealt with politics it would be ruined a long time ago. A certain policy is for a certain period of time and has limited duration, but Freemasonry exists since the year 1717.
But, why is there a restraint towards Freemasons in one part of Croatian public? What is your opinion about the doubt that Croatian Freemasons could take a part in the act of imposing some kind of Yugoslav association to Croatia?
I am quite sure that Croatian Freemasons will never take part in that. I speak for myself, but I know all Croatian Freemasons. None of them has such initiatives.
The war in the Balkans is a heavy burden for the world. The majority of people abroad does not care how it will finish. They just want peace. I am currently writing a short review of Croatian history at the request of the Grand Lodge of France and in order to inform their members. Namely, the press will never state a fact that Croatia as a country existed already in the 7th century, that in the 9th century we got the famous Pope's letter and that in the 11th century Croatia was an eminent factor to be considered when making military alliances. We allways were and remained Croatia, although existing within other countries. We had the continuity of sovereign rights which we finally used in the year 1991.
Why those doubts about Freemasons? They come from ignorance, lack of information, out of certain interests or old prejudices. It will take long time before the attitude towards Freemasons in Croatia changes.
And this will last till Croatia is not fully stabilized, won't it?
Yes. By the way, the Croatian state does not have any prejudices towards Freemasons. That is very important to us. Many skeptics will change their attitude when they realize such approach of the Croatian state towards Freemasons.
Do you have any contacts with the Freemasons in Belgrade, who established their Lodge in 1990?
We cannot have any relations with the Freemasons in Belgrade, till there is no relation between our countries. We, the Croats, will not ask for establishing relations, because we were those who were humiliated, especially with this last aggression on Croatia. Although Freemasons do not deal with politics, I have to say that our condition for any contacts with the Freemasons in Serbia is the prior resolving basic issues between the two countries and than between the Freemasons on both sides. These basic issues include the attitude towards aggression, humiliation, ethnic cleansing, disapproval of Croatian right to its territory and similar. The Austrian Grand Lodge is familiar with this condition because we told them openly and clearly about it.