CLAUDIU IONESCU
talking to

Grand Master of Grand Lodge of Russia

 

Most Worshipful Grand Master, let us begin the interview with a general overview of the Russian Freemasonry.

The Grand Lodge was consecrated in 1995. The National Grand Lodge of France gave us the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Ritual, in Russian.
We currently have 41 Lodges in 19 cities in Russia, Belarus, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. Most of the Lodges operates Scottish Ritual, but we have other rituals: one Lodge – Emulation, three Lodges operate the French Ritual and one operate the Italian Ritual.

The Grand Lodge of Russia currently has 1200 brethren. This year we’ve opened a new lodge in Veliky Novgorod and we’re planning to open new Lodges in Samara, Mohocikovo, Anapa, Pskov, Kaliningrad, Novosibirsk and Tyumen. Cities that already have lodges are Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Saransk, Kazan, Krasnodar, Bishkek, Perm, Tashkent, Minsk, Sochi, Tbilisi, Nijni Novgorod, Rostov-on-Don and Voronezh.

But the history of the Russian Freemasonry is very old. Freemasonry first entered Russia in 1731, when the first Grand Master was named – he was John Philips, an English General in Russian Army. From that point on, freemasonry started spreading through Russia, but there were hard times, too. In 1822, freemasonry was banned by Imperial Decree. All masonic gatherings were forbidden and the freemasons went into slumber. This was a result of the influence of the French Revolution, but also of the Napoleonic wars, when Russian soldiers came to Europe – many officers of the imperial army were freemasons. The authorities of the time thought that freemasons were bringing liberalism into the country, which was not accepted by the Russian imperial power. As a result, Freemasonry was banned.

After the Red Revolution there was another ban. There were no official decrees banning Freemasonry, but it never existed in the USSR. In schools (universities, institutes) and in textbooks, freemasonry was pictured as connected to international imperialism, as the power of the rich who want to rule the world; it was supposedly aimed at subjugating all nations. When the USSR crumbled, the older generation – people over 50 – were mistrustful of freemasonry. People under the age of 50 have a different attitude. Their education was not based on the books of the USSR, and that is why the average age among freemasons nowadays is around 37-38. There are also people from the older generation, professors, people with two or three degrees, people who know how to read properly and are able to understand what is true and what is not, but unfortunately, they are relatively few in number.

 

What international recognitions does the Grand Lodge of Russia have?

It would be easier for me to tell you the Lodges that haven’t yet recognized it: the Scandinavian countries – Sweden, Norway and Iceland – and a few Lodges from Brazil. We are recognized by all the other Lodges in the world.

 

What are the relations between the Grand Lodge of Russia and the political power in Moscow?

We have very good relations with the administration of the Russian Federation. We are officially registered at the Ministry of Justice. Our brethren work in various fields, we have artists, businessmen, policemen, people who work in the army or in local and central administrative structures.

 

Russia is a multiethnic and multiconfessional country. Are there brethren from all these religions in the Russian Freemasonry as well?

Of course, we have brethren from all these religions in the Grand Lodge of Russia. In Russia there are many people who belong to the Orthodox cult, to the Islamic cult. There are also Buddhists (two republics where Buddhism is practiced) and there are also Catholics and Protestants.

 

What sort or projects does the Russian Freemasonry develop?

The Grand Lodge of Russia has many social projects, but each individual Lodge also has its own projects. For example, in Saransk, where the Lodge is called Fyodor Ushakov, the brethren tend the foster homes. They don’t just help with money and other things, they also communicate with these children directly. In Moscow there is the Citadel Lodge, where the brethren tend a medical center for hearing-impaired children. The brethren help purchase hearing aids for these children. Another Lodge in Moscow tends a medical center for visually-impaired children.

History tells us that the Russian (Cyrillic) script was brought to Russia by two Bulgarian monks, Saints Cyril and Methodius. In the center of Moscow there is a monument in their honour. Every year, on the 24th of May, our brethren bring flowers and wreaths, thereby honoring the memory of these teachers of the people who brought the light of learning into Russia. This way, the Bulgarian brethren are very pleased too.

 

Please tell us about the international activity of the Grand Lodge of Russia.

The Grand Lodge of Russia is the mother Lodge to the Grand Lodge of Armenia. Together with the Grand Lodge of Washington DC, we have established the Grand Lodge of Armenia. The Grand Lodge of Azerbaijan was consecrated by us as well, alongside the Grand Lodge of Washington DC.

 

I know there are countries in the ex-Soviet space where freemasonry is frowned upon by the authorities.

There are problems in Azerbaijan. Armenia has no such problems. Kazakhstan has no problems either, the organization is registered. In Kyrgyzstan there is a Lodge in Bishkek. There is a small problem in Belarus, the Lodges are making efforts, they’ve submitted the documents for the registration with the Ministry of Justice but haven’t received any answer in two years.

In Uzbekistan they’ve registered the Grand Lodge of Uzbekistan with the Ministry of Justice, no problems there, but they still don’t have the required number of masters in order to establish a Lodge. They still need one year of work.

We intend to help open freemasonry in Syria. We have ten Syrian freemasons who received their initiation in Moscow.

 

Are there any differences between Eastern and Western freemasonry?

I think in the East, in Russia and the rest of Eastern Europe, the relations between brethren are closer, friendlier. In the West – maybe it’s just my impression, but they seem colder. Of course, it could be just an impression. Maybe it’s also because of the differences between cultures. People in the East are more hospitable, they have the culture of the table: sitting together at the table, eating together, drinking together.

 

In an international conference, Thomas W. Jackson said that the main threat against regular freemasonry is irregular freemasonry.

I am a radical opponent of irregular freemasonry. I think there should be no relations of any sort with the irregulars. It’s a bit like what happened with the company Adidas: in the 90’s, China came up with Abibas – the irregular Adidas.

 

What other threats are there against freemasonry in the 21st century?

We don’t dream about the future, we don’t think about what we want 100 to 300 years from now, we haven’t set any goals. In Russia we think that the heart of the masonic values was conceived 300 years ago. We don’t talk about what values will be necessary 300 years from now. This topic isn’t discussed in any masonic meeting. That’s the first problem. I have already mentioned the second problem: white lodge or black lodge, something must be decided about the irregular lodge. Another aspect that should not be neglected is the recognition of several lodges within the same territory – Italy, Greece, Brazil, Mexico.

 

What are the qualities of a masonic leader, of a Grand Master? I’m sure you’ve met straw leaders as well.

On the one hand, a Grand Master should be tolerant, on the other there are moments when he should be severe with regards to fulfilling rituals and traditions and generally observing the masonic laws established 300 years ago.

Many uninitiated people who become entered apprentices think that this is a super-democratic organization. I would compare our democracy to the constitutional monarchy in the UK. An Apprentice cannot do everything, nor can a Master. A Master has less rights than a Worshipful Master; a Worshipful Master has less rights than an officer, a Grand Officer has less rights than a Grand Master. This is normal and should be observed as such. This is the tradition of hierarchy. I see many people now saying “I’m a freemason just as you, that means we’re equal and have equal rights.” True, my vote is equal to that of any Master, but there are problems discussed and voted upon only by Officers. Now, when democracy in Europe is very developed, the uninitiated who come into Freemasonry think that the same democracy should be applied here as well. People have only just been accepted in our ranks and think they know all that a Grand Master should do and what Grand Officers should do. This is unacceptable, the masonic traditions must be observed: the apprentice keeps quiet, the apprentice’s main lesson is silence etc.

A Grand Master should be a man with a sense of balance, a higher education, he should be cultured, a good diplomat and a good psychologist, a fine connoisseur of social sciences, he should have strong relations with the local and central authorities, a big and strong family, a wife, children, grandchildren… I think family is one of the values of freemasonry, it is a Christian value cherished in all religions.

 

As a political person, what’s your take on the world crisis, where do you think we are headed?

As you know, in 2008 I was an independent candidate during the presidential elections in Russia. My opponents were Medvedev, Zhirinovsky and Zhyuganov. I only received 0.3% of votes, which is very little for Russia, but a lot in actual figures – 1 million votes. In 2007 I was elected Grand Master of Russia, something I did not hide during the political elections that I took part in. At that point, the information was used against me, certain photos were made public. This damaged my ratings. On an international masonic level, however, the fact that I ran for the elections was beneficial for the Russian Masonry because many people found out that there are freemasons in Russia. This helped the Russian Masonry internally as well, because people found out that we exist, they found out who we are and what our aspirations are and realized that, if a mason runs for presidency, then Masonry is something serious. I personally make a clear distinction: we are either discussing masonry or we are talking politics. I have my own political views, but I would not want them to influence the rank of Grand Master. There’s a saying in Russian: put the pork chops on one side and the flies on the other.

 

Let’s now approach the problem of Russia from a geopolitical standpoint. There is now this current of Eurasianism in which Russia has a huge weight.

Chamberlain dreamt of a Europe stretching from the English Channel to the Bering Strait. I am of the same opinion, because many people with European visions and conceptions reside within this territory. In the Russian far east, the inhabitants are 70% European, many Ukrainians. From 1870 onward, land started being given away for free in those areas, just like in the United States. I don’t look at Europe from a geographical standpoint, as only stretching to the Ural or the Caucasus Mountains. Combining the wealth of Russia with the technology of Europe would mean huge progress and well-being for everyone. This conceptually enlarged Europe would have all the resources it needs and advanced technology and would be completely and utterly independent. The European and Russian elites should reach a consensus. These things can happen only if there is trust on both sides. We can take Germany and France as an example: the fighting and enmity between them have dissolved into the European Union. We’re all human. But we shouldn’t neglect the fact that a friendship between Europe and Russia doesn’t sit well with the Americans, nor with the Chinese, nor with Iran. If we analyse the last 150 years we find out that, if Russia is on good terms with Germany, all Europe is at ease.

 

Please give us your masonic CV and your layman CV.

I was initiated in May 2000. My godfathers (parrain) are the former Grand Master of Russia and the one who was Grand Master at the time, i.e. George Dergachev and Denisov. In 2001 I became master. In 2005 I was the first Worshipful Master of the Citadel Lodge, no. 27, in the east of Moscow. In 2006 there was a division within the Russian masonry, but I was chosen Grand Almoner by both groups. I wasn’t even in Moscow at the time. In 2007 an international delegation came to Moscow – Thomas Jackson, Alan Englefield and Robert Heyat tried to have the two groups reach a consensus. This is what they told them: “Trust Bogdanov, because both sides have elected him. This means he can be your Grand Master”. All 37 Masters who were in Russia at the time took a part in the voting. There were some who voted against me, but they chose to leave afterwards. Now we have 1200 Masters. I am a 33rd degree, I am Member of the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite. I am a 95th degree in the Memphis Misraim rite. I was First Principal in the Royal Arch. We have an English chapter since 2010 and we go on our path.

I was born in 1970, in the town of Mojainsk, near Moscow. My hometown is famous for the battle with Napoleon in 1812. Many masons took part in the battle, both in the Russian army and Napoleon’s army. Every mason fought for his country, but after the battles ended they helped each other. The Russian freemasons would help their French brethren who were captured and vice-versa, just like in the American Civil War, where masons from the North would help their brethren from the South.

I am married and have three boys. The oldest has been a mason for seven years now, he entered when he was 18. I asked the lodge he was initiated in to keep my son at the rank of entered apprentice for as long as possible, so he can learn. He was an apprentice for six years. I wanted him to learn and understand what Freemasonry is.

During the time of the Soviet Union I attended the military school for aviation engineers for three years, in Latvia. In my third year, as I didn’t see eye to eye with the communist ideology, I was kicked out from both the party and the school. This happened in 1989. In 1990 I was accepted at the Academy of Economic Studies, but dropped out and began a career in political consulting. I presented my graduation thesis in 1999. In 2001 I received my PhD in Political Sciences at the University of Moscow. I worked for two years in the executive committee of the United Russia Party. I specialise in parliamentary, presidential and guvernatorial elections, for both left- and right-wing candidates. I offer consulting work in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and the Baltic Countries.