A few months ago some incomplete entries about the renewal of Masonic lodges in Slovenia and Croatia appeared in Croatian newspapers. More than fifty years after the prohibition of Masonic activities in Croatia these indications provoked understandable public curiosity as well as numerous speculations and guessing. Who are Croatian Freemasons and what is Freemasonry in general - we are talking about it with one of the leading Croatian Freemasons, who on this occasion wanted to remain anonymous, with the motives that the readers will understand.
After more than fifty years Croatian Freemasons are on the scene again, aren't they? Local newspapers recently published, from Italian sources, that Italian Freemasons helped the restitution of Masonic lodges in Zagreb and Ljubljana, as well as, in almost all countries of Centrale and East Europe where after World War II Freemasonry could not work?
NN: Yes, it is true that the Masonic Lodge in Zagreb is being restored, as well as in other capitals of Middle and East Europe. To be fair, we cannot say that "Freemasons in Croatia are on the scene again". It is in the nature of Freemasonry that it does not act on the scene, in front of the public. But, it acts and has influence on all aspects of society, as all over the world, Also, we couldn't say that Italian Freemasons influenced restitution of Freemasonry in Croatia, but the Austrians' did.
For the local public, with exception of those who read Mužić's book about the history of Freemasonry in Croatia, Freemasonry is a big enigma, something that is even discussed of - and discussions have already started - with aversion and prejudice. What is actually Freemasonry or why Freemasons today?
NN: First of all, Freemasonry is neither a political organization, religious sect, anti-religious movement nor business enterprise. A masonic lodge is, we could say, the school of respect and tolerance, and even more - the school of parliamentarism and democracy. It can be useful to remind everybody to the fact that every democratic country today has masonic lodges, while in non-democratic and totalitarian regimes Freemasonry has always been forbidden and persecuted. The situation is the same even today and in that sense renewal of Freemasonry in Croatia is one of the signs of democracy and integration into the world.
By definition, only "honorable man with good reputation" can become Freemason and according to the Statute of masonic Lodge the members are obliged not only to abide laws of their country but also to work for its benefit. Why Freemasonry today and here? I think we already answered that question. Freemasonry is one of the characteristics of the modern, liberal and democratic country. There is nearly six million Freemasons in the world today and you would be surprised to hear who of the famous persons in politics, culture and economy... are Freemasons. We could even say, without any exaggeration, that the influence of Freemasonry in today's world is great.
What is today's relation between Catholic church and Freemasonry? Have the misunderstandings from the past been adjusted?
NN: As it is well known, Vatican was ordering excommunication for Freemasons for entirely 245 years. But in 1982 Pope John Paul II, with the new codex Iuris Cannonici, canceled that excommunication. Since than it can be said that there are no problems and misunderstandings between the Church and Freemasonry. On the contrary, their relations are today characterized by mutual respect and tolerance.
One of the widely spread ideas about Freemasonry says it is a secret, mystic and cultic society. How much of this is true and how does one become a Freemason?
NN: There is an American business proverb that says: "Don't call us, we'll call you". In a way, that could be said for the receipt in the masonic lodge. The candidate can, however, express his wish to become a Freemason, but he cannot be promoted without a recommendation of the two Lodge members who know him and guarantee for him. Candidates are discussed in the Lodge and the receipt is secretly voted by white and black ballots. One black ballot (i.e. negative opinion) postpones the candidature for one year. The candidate who gets two or more black ballots during the secret voting can never be accepted in the Lodge.
So, the conditions are very strict. But it is only one of the Masonic rituals. What about others?
NN: Yes, Freemasonry has its symbols and rituals, a whole system of allegories. By one definition Freemasonry is a moral order of honorable men, who incorporated freedom, fraternity, equality, tolerance and later on charity into it. A Freemason mainly thinks about himself, he "works on himself", develops himself. By Masonic terminology he is a raw stone who aims towards perfection. A Masonic Lodge is a school of respect and tolerance while the value of Freemasonry is in spreading such highly civilized behavior outside the Lodge, among "profane" people. It needs to be specially emphasized that no Freemason should have any material benefit from his Masonic activities.
Freemasonry have a long tradition among the Croats?
NN: Yes. Untill 1940, when Freemasonry in Croatia was forbidden, there were ten lodges with more than five hundred members working only in Zagreb. Regardless of its long tradition (the first Masonic Lodge in Croatia and actualy in the Balkans was established in the city of Glina in 1764, by Croatian officers who returned from seven-year-long war; the Master of the Lodge was Count Ivan Draskovic) Freemasonry in Croatia today, so to speak, has to start from the beginning. In that sense I would particularly like to point out that today's Croatian Freemasons have nothing in common with that part of prewar Freemasons in Zagreb lodges with Yugoslav orientation. It is also worth mentioning that today's Croatian Freemasons have no connection with the so called Grand Lodge of Yugoslavia which has been restored two years ago and nowadays works in Belgrade.
How were the Masonic lodges in Zagreb restored in the first place?
NN: Croatian Freemasons connected themselves with Viennese Freemasons and after thorough preparations brought light into Deputy Lodge "Illyria" in Vienna (21 March 1992). Beside Croatian some Austrian Freemasons, who wanted to help us, entered this Lodge. Consequently, at this moment there is still no formal lodge in Zagreb. The Freemasons of Zagreb are working in lodges of Klagenfurt, Graz and Vienna. The rules are such that in order to establish the Lodge in Zagreb there has to be at least forty Freemasons here in Zagreb out of which seven should be Masonic Masters. Namely, Freemasons are at first Apprentices, than Fellow-masons and Masters at the end. After that third, Master's degree, they can progress further on untill the 33rd degree of the Scottish Rite or the 7th degree of the Royal Arch. At this moment we have about twenty Freemasons in Zagreb. In the moment when we come to the number of at least seven masters (and we expect that to happen by the beginning of the next year) we will cancel the Deputy Lodge and we will open an independent one in Zagreb.
Who are Croatian Freemasons?
NN: As I already said, any honorable man with good reputation, established in his profession or creative work can become a Freemason. Every Freemason is allowed to declare himself in public as a Freemason, but should not ever say it for any other Freemason. This is a rigid rule that is strictly followed and it is, at the same time, the basic secret, value and acting power of Freemasonry. Although we still do not formally have our Lodge in Zagreb, we, Croatian Freemasons are already active: among other things we have recently joined some humanitarian campaigns. Namely, Freemasons want to help that, among myriad progressive European ideas, our common idea of freedom and piece tolerance and humanism finds its confirmation.
That, of course, is not the only field of Freemasons' activity?
NN: As Freemasonry in general, Croatian Freemasonry as well had significant influence on political, economical and cultural-scientific destiny of Croatian civilization in the past. It is the same nowadays. Bearing in mind the already mentioned fact about the great influence of Freemasonry today on the world politics and economy, and knowing how their mutual contacts and confidence are developed, it is needless to emphasize that Croatian Freemasons could also play a significant role in the postwar rebuilding of Croatia. They, for sure, see themselves in that role too.