History of Freemasonry
The ethnic area inhabited by Serbs during their arrival to the Balkan Peninsula in the 7th century AD exceeds significantly the borders of both the previous and today’s Serbian states. Only Yugoslavia was such a state creation that united the entire Serbian ethnic space. In the period between the 14th and 19th centuries, a part of the Serbs was under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the other part under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. Only the 20th century brought complete liberation and unification to the Serbs when a unified state was created with other South Slavic brother-nations, in 1918.
Already by the end of the 18th century, Freemasonry was appearing in areas inhabited by Serbs, both within the Austro-Hungarian Empire and in the Ottoman Empire. Many prominent Serbs were joining the Brotherhood.
The first indirect traces regarding the formation of Masonic lodges in Belgrade date back to the writers’ memoirs of the late eighteenth century. It was the time when Serbia was still under Ottoman rule. Although there is no direct archival material, it is known that there was a lodge in Belgrade at that time. Its members included such prominent people as the Vizier of the then Belgrade Pashaluk Hadji-Mustafa Pasha, Serbian Orthodox Church Metropolitan Metodius, Serbian uprising leader Janko Katić, merchant Petar Ičko, as well as Greek poet and patriot Rigas Feraios. The relationship between the Serbs and Turks in this Lodge, whose name, unfortunately, did not reach us, is nicely illustrated by the fact that Hadji-Mustafa Pasha was called “Serbian mother” by his contemporaries.
Turkish Dahijas, renegade Janissary officers who rebelled against the Sultan, seized power in the Belgrade Pashaluk in 1801, killing Hadji-Mustafa Pasha. Petar Ičko went across the Sava river to the nearby town of Zemun, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. He aimed to avenge Pasha’s murder and organize the struggle for the liberation of the Serbian people. To achieve this goal he sought the help of his Freemason friends, most notably Metropolitan Stratimirović, who, as a Masonic brother, provided him with diplomatic support to deal with the unfavorable status of Christians in the Pashaluk of Belgrade.
To organize an armed rebellion, Petar Ičko established a connection with Freemasons Aleksa Nenadović and Janko Katić, as well with Karadjordje (Eng: Karageorge) Petrović, the future liberator of the people from Turkish rule and the founder of the Karadjordjević dynasty, who was not a Freemason. Unfortunately, the Dahijas learned that an uprising was being prepared, which in 1803 led to the retaliation and execution of Brother Aleksa Nenadović. However, the violence only intensified resistance against the Turks and led to the First Serbian Uprising of 1804, a.k.a. “The Serbian Revolution” as some historians name it. Thanks to Freemasonry connections, Petar Ičko played exceptionally as a negotiator, and the leader of the uprising, Karadjordje Petrović, later appointed him the first mayor of free Belgrade.
Dositej Obradović also played a significant role in the work on the liberation and enlightenment of the Serbian people. It is believed that he was initiated into Freemasonry in Trieste. Although Dositej had distinctly anti-clerical views, another prominent Serbian Freemason, founder of the famous Karlovci Gymnasium (comparable to Grammar School in Britain) in 1781, Metropolitan of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Stefan Stratimirović, received him with all honors in the Karlovac Metropolitanate.
The collapse of the uprising in 1813 led to the fact that Freemasonry activity died out by the middle of the nineteenth century. Around 1848, the existence of another Lodge in the Belgrade Fortress was noted. The name of that workshop was “Ali Koč”. Members were both Turks and Serbs and one of them was the famous Serbian poet Simo Milutinović Sarajlija.
Some historians, and especially the historians of Freemasonry, believe that Serbian Prince Mihailo Obrenović was a Freemason. During his exile from Serbia, the prince maintained regular contacts and had close relationships with Garibaldi and Mazzini, who were Freemasons. This is supported by the fact that the creation of the first completely Serbian lodges was under the direct influence of Italian Freemasons. During the Serbian uprising in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1875, some of the leaders were initiated into Freemasonry under the direct influence of the Italian Garibaldines and especially Giuseppe Mazzini, the ideologue of the Risorgimento – a movement for the unification of Italy and the overthrow of Austro-Hungarian rule. During the Serbian-Turkish war of 1876, it is known that there was a military lodge in Belgrade, whose name is not preserved in the chronicles. After the departure of volunteers, among whom were also Italians, the first Serbian Lodge with the name “Svetlost Balkana” (Eng: The Light of the Balkans) was formed in the same year. It worked under the protection of the Great Orient of Italy, and its founders were the Italian consul in Belgrade, Luigi Joannini, and a volunteer soldier Icilo de la Bona, previously the head of the extinct military lodge.
Another Serbian Lodge which worked under the protection of the Grand Orient of Italy was called “Srbska Zadruga” (Eng: The Serbian Cooperative), founded in 1881. Among its members was physician Laza Paču, Ph.D., who will become a successful Minister of Finance of the Kingdom of Serbia two decades later. Both Lodges had to be put to sleep because of the Timok Rebellion (1883) and the turbulent political turmoil that followed, reflecting on the Serbian Freemasons of the time. However, in the same year, and again under the influence of the Great Orient of Italy, the Lodge “Sloga, Rad i Postojanstvo” (Eng: Harmony, Work, and Persistence) was formed, which consisted mainly of former members of the “Light of the Balkans” and the “Serbian Cooperative” Lodges.
Dissatisfied with the support of the Grand Orient of Italy, some members of the Lodge “Sloga, Rad i Postojanstvo” formed the Lodge “Pobratim” (Eng: Blood Brother) in 1891, under the protection of the Symbolic Grand Lodge of Hungary. Some of them were just accepted into the Brotherhood at that time, but they would later write out magnificent pages of the Serbian masonic movement and give a significant contribution to the development of the whole society. Those were the professor of the Great School – a predecessor of the University of Belgrade, Andra Djordjević, the industrialist George Weifert and the composer Stevan Mokranjac. From Belgrade, masonic work soon spread to the south of Serbia. This process was initiated in the Lodge Pobratim by the calculated reception and relatively fast promotion of several Brothers who then requested regular release and, in 1892, formed in the city of Niš a new Lodge “Nemanja” which also worked under the protection of the Symbolic Grand Lodge of Hungary.
Another prominent Brother form Lodge Pobratim, Svetomir Nikolajević, a writer, politician, professor, and member of the Serbian Royal Academy, became the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Serbia in 1894.
Many very prominent figures in the fields of culture and education, science, art, politics, nobility, and clergy, were Freemasons and made an immeasurable contribution to the progress of the young Serbian state during the 19th century. There are clear indications that the first Constitution of the Kingdom of Serbia (the so-called “Sretenje Constitution”) from 1835 was created with the decisive influence of Serbian Freemasons. Today, the Republic of Serbia celebrates its Statehood Day on the day of the adoption of this, at that time one of the most liberal constitutions in Europe. Very clear masonic symbols are noticeable on its title page.
The May coup (1903), i.e. the coup in which the murder of King Aleksandar Obrenović and his wife Queen Draga took place, still raises historical doubts about the participation of Freemasons in it. Although there is no reliable evidence that the organizer of the execution, Dragutin Dimitrijević Apis was a member of any masonic lodge, the German intelligence service and propaganda tried to prove his masonic affiliation as part of continuous anti-masonic activities until the end of World War II.
However, it seems that a number of Freemasons strongly supported the change of dynasty in Belgrade. What can be reliably claimed is that the man who will become the new king of Serbia after the coup – Peter I Karadjordjević, became a Freemason during his years in exile in France. The conspirators established contact with Peter through his school friend Nikola Hadzi Toma, an industrialist and a member of the Pobratim Lodge. Nikola conveyed an offer to Peter to accept the Serbian throne. It is also known that Brother George Weifert gave a contribution of fifty thousand dinars intended to support the families of those conspirators who would die in the coup. Along with them, four other members of Pobratim Lodge took part in the conspiracy, but based on the available data, it seems that they acted as individuals, dissatisfied with the really bad socio-political situation in Serbia.
The reaction of the European, and especially the British political public and the court in London to the assassination of the king from the Obrenović dynasty, was more than unfavorable for Serbia. The crucial role in easing Britain’s attitude towards the new government in Belgrade was played by the diplomatic representative in Rome, Milovan Milovanović, who was admitted to the Brotherhood in Italy. His close ties with Italian Freemasons opened many official doors for him. During 1904 and 1905, the attitude of the European public towards Serbia was softened and relations gradually normalized.
A crucial step towards the full independence of the Freemasons in Serbia and the creation of the Grand Lodge was the position of the Symbolic Grand Lodge of Hungary during the so-called Annexation Crisis. Since 1906, Austria-Hungary has been forging plans to annex Bosnia and Herzegovina. The former ambassador to Rome, and the then Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia, Milovan Milovanović, received confirmation of that intention thanks to Masonic ties as early as the beginning of 1908. The Masons even informed the Serbian government of the exact date of announcing the disputed decision. However, official Belgrade did not believe in the information received. On the other hand, the so-called “Young Turk Revolution” in Istanbul and the weakened Turkish position in Bosnia only convinced Vienna that no democratization and elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina should be allowed. In that area, the Serb population was in the majority at that time and expressed a desire for territorial annexation to the motherland of Serbia. That is how Austria decided to annex the whole of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which brought the Balkans to the brink of war.
According to historical sources, there was a strong anti-Austrian mood in Belgrade on October 7, 1908. Masses were willing to oppose the Austrian annexation of neighboring Bosnia even armless. At such a moment, carried away by national ideals, Serbian Freemasons asked for the assistance of the Symbolic Grand Lodge of Hungary, under whose protection only the Pobratim Lodge actively worked. However, the request was refused with the explanation that it was a political issue, and that interfering in it was contrary to masonic principles. The conclusions of the Pobratim Lodge, adopted at the Lodge meeting on October 10, 1908, and causing far-reaching consequences were a reaction to such a position of the Hungarian Grand Lodge. The following decisions were made:
Such a radical break-up with the Symbolic Grand Lodge of Hungary was a favorable ground for the further spread of Freemasonry in Serbia and the expansion of contacts with other obediences abroad. Several members of the Pobratim were released to form the Lodge “Ujedinjenje” (Eng: Unification) in 1909, under the protection of the Grand Orient of France, and to the great delight of the French ambassador to Belgrade Leon Deco, who became a member himself.
The Pobratim Lodge was also the Mother Lodge for the Lodge “Šumadija”, which was solemnly consecrated on July 7, 1910. Although it was under the protection of the Grand Lodge of Hamburg, Šumadija Lodge had an exceptional collaboration and coordinated its work with Pobratim Lodge.
As we mentioned, Pobratim Lodge did not work under the protection of any Grand Lodge abroad, and at that moment there was no supreme masonic authority in Serbia. However, immediately after the decisions from October 1908 and separation from the Symbolic Grand Lodge of Hungary, the fraternity undertook all the necessary steps to obtain protection for independent work. With that aim, and under the protection of the Grand Lodge of Romania, the Chapter of the Rose Croix of the 18° of Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite was founded. It was an organization of Scottish Rite higher degrees, which certain Pobratim Lodge members received from the Supreme Council of Romania.
Considering that the Capital was formed in March and that the Ujedinjenje Lodge was formed in February, it is obvious that the Serbian Masons aspired to achieve independence through the establishment of institutions and bodies of the Scottish Rite. Counting on the existence of a minimum of three lodges, they strived for full independence of St. John’s system and the formation of an independent Grand Lodge of Serbia.
In 1910, just before the outbreak of the Balkan Wars, besides the Supreme Council of Romania, the Great Orient of Turkey also offered assistance in achieving the final independence of Serbian Freemasonry. However, at the beginning of 1911, the Freemasons of Serbia decided that the Supreme Council of Greece would be the preferred grand masonic authority to ensure the final independence. This was probably due to the extremely close and intimate relations between the two nations.
Although at that time there was a minimum of three Lodges in Serbia – “Pobratim”, “Ujedinjenje” and “Šumadija”, the strong connection of Ujedinjenje Lodge with the Grand Orient of France prompted the Serbian Freemasons to reawaken the Lodge “Sloga, Rad i Postojanstvo” in mid-February 1912 and revive the work in it with the full consent of the Grand Orient of Italy, under whose protection the lodge was initially founded in 1883. The Italian Grand Masonic authority was completely concordant to placing the Lodge under the protection of the future Supreme Council of Serbia, for the sake of which its reactivation took place.
Finally, on May 9, 1912, the special delegate of the Supreme Council of Greece, Brother Cephalas, elevated ten of our Brothers (George Weifert, Svetomir Nikolajević, Jovan Aleksijević, Milutin Perišić, Dimitrije Janković, Petar Šrepalović, Manojlo Klidis, Petar Pačić, Dimitrije Mijalković, and Pavle Horstig) to the 33° with the power of his Masonic Authority, thus establishing the Supreme Council of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Serbia.
On the same day, at the joint work of Pobratim and Šumadija Lodges, a decision was made to place Pobratim, which until then worked as an independent lodge, under the protection of the Supreme Council of Serbia, and for the Šumadija Lodge to request release from the protection of the Grand Lodge of Hamburg and to place itself under the protection of the Serbian Supreme Council as well. On the next day, at the second solemn session of the newly formed Supreme Council, the Greek patent on the formation of the Supreme Council of Serbia was read and Brother George Weifert was elected the Most Powerful Sovereign Grand Commander of the Supreme Council of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Serbia.
The final recognition of the independence of Serbian Freemasons who adopted the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite followed at the International Conference of the Federal Supreme Councils of the Scottish Rite, held in October 1912 in Washington D.C., hosted by the Supreme Council of the Southern Jurisdiction of the U.S.A. From that moment on, all lodges in Serbia (except Ujedinjenje Lodge, which was still under the protection of the Grand Orient of France) operated under the protection of the Supreme Council of Serbia.
With the outbreak of the Balkan Wars, and then the First World War, Serbian Freemasons fulfilled their primary obligation to the state, which is why organized Masonic work ceased until 1918.
The end of the First World War led to the collapse of Austria-Hungary and the unification of the South Slavs – Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes – into a mutual Kingdom. Its territory consisted of the Kingdom of Serbia and the Kingdom of Montenegro, joined by the southern provinces of the former Austria-Hungary, inhabited by the Slavic population. Such major changes led to a strong need to unite and reorganize Freemasonry. On June 9, 1919, an extraordinary assembly of all Serbian, Croatian, and Slovenian Lodges was held in Zagreb, Croatia. All of them have been previously released from the relevant authorities: some Lodges from the Supreme Council of Serbia and others from the Grand Symbolic Lodge of Hungary. This paved the way for the proclamation of the Grand Lodge of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes – Yugoslavia as the Supreme Masonic Authority in the newly formed state, with its seat in Belgrade.
The first Grand Master became the Governor of the National Bank, George Weifert, while his deputies were Dr. Adolf Mihalić from Zagreb and Professor Sveta Stojković from Belgrade. Historical sources record that the Grand Lodge Yugoslavia had about 300 members at the beginning of its existence. During the second decade of the twentieth century, Yugoslav Freemasonry flourished. This fruitful period culminated in 1926, when the International Masonic Congress was organized in Belgrade under the name “In the Sign of Peace” (In Serbian: “U znaku mira”). The patron of the gathering was the International Masonic Association, and it was attended by representatives of twenty national Obediences from fifteen European countries, as well as representatives of two overseas Obediences.
In Yugoslavia between the two world wars, Freemasonry was made up of the elite of all social classes, in cultural as well as in economical and political senses, regardless of religion. Although this fact will surprise some people, Freemasonry in Yugoslavia also had representatives of the clergy in its membership: Orthodox and Roman Catholic higher priesthood, as well as rabbis.
In those years, a large number of charitable institutions were created: an orphanage and an educational center for children from southern Serbia – the “Saint Sava Society”, were established in Belgrade. The institution for deaf-mute children “Kralj Dečanski” (Eng: The King of Dechani) was opened. “Fondacija Sveti Đorđe” (Eng: The Foundation of Saint George) was formed to help children and invalids of the war. A Home for the Blind and an educational center for youth has been established in Zemun. An action was organized to help the unemployed, as well as alliances to fight begging, tuberculosis, and the like.
In the mid-thirties of the twentieth century, there were about a thousand members of the Obedience who worked in over twenty Lodges. In addition to philosophically based works, the activities of the Lodges expanded to the study of historical, economic, and social problems.
However, due to the strong pressure of Nazi Germany on Yugoslavia, the Freemasons concluded that the Yugoslav authorities would ban and dissolve Freemasonry. Recognizing the inevitability of new world conflict and realizing that the attitude of the authorities towards the Freemasons would be extremely unfavorable, the Grand Lodge Yugoslavia has made the difficult decision to ‘put itself to sleep’ on August 1, 1940.
During the communist period, Masonic work in Yugoslavia was not possible, but the flame of Light was maintained by the courage and enthusiasm of some Brothers, members of pre-war Lodges in an informal way and out of sight of the authorities. On the other hand, a large number of our people joined Obediences abroad, mostly in Europe and North America.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the first, seemingly democratic winds in Serbia, the Freemasonry was restored with the reactivation of the Grand Lodge “Jugoslavija”, on June 23, 1990. However, it will soon become obvious that the historical circumstances were extremely unfavorable for that act. Yugoslavia was gliding unstoppably towards its dissolution. Terrible social, political, and economic circumstances in Serbia in those years reflected themselves inevitably on the Serbian masonic scene as well. The initial enthusiasm was replaced by divisions which lead to the decay of the Grand Lodge “Jugoslavija” and the emergence of new Grand Lodges.
Due to such circumstances and conditions in which Freemasonry in Serbia has developed again in the last few decades, the Brothers in our country today are moving towards the Light in several Оbediences.
The Brotherhood of the Grand Masonic Lodge of Serbia has decided to walk its path together with the Brothers from the CONFEDERATION OF GRAND LODGES OF EUROPE AND THE MEDITERRANEAN (CGLEM), to which it belongs, as a full member, since 2011.
Our sincere wish is: may all the Brothers in Serbia be accompanied by good fortune and success on the way up the Winding Staircase!
Knowledge itself is power
I think, therefore I am
To him who knocks it shall be opened
And light shines in the darkness
(the) stone (which was) rejected (has become) the head (stone) of the corner
Always towards better things