Exclusively for Serbian Playboy the Grand Master of the Regular Grand Lodge of Serbia, Dr. Čedomir Vukić, for the first time publicly speaks candidly about Freemasons in Serbia, Masonic secrets and political influence.
Interview: Perica Gunjić
Photo: Marko Cvetković
Many different, albeit unconnected sources, confirm that Tito was probably initiated in Italy or France between two world wars. One detail is definitely true, and that is that his funeral was certainly the biggest gathering of the most influential freemasons in the world.
Someone could ask: what brings together freemasons and playboy?, and the connection is fairly easy to find as Playboy was at one point publicly crucified by many “well-intentioned” people and was persecuted just because it erased boundaries.
More than anything it is a great adrenalin rush. You know, the whole ritual. When you are blindfolded for about an hour and a half and you are facing yourself during the whole time and then when you are enlightened. It helps you advance as a human being, an individual and a sharing member of the community.
On that April morning, famous restaurant in Zemun, Stara Kapetanija, was unusually decorated. Chairs and tables were pushed against the walls and the center of the room was carpeted with a chessboard-like rug with symbols drawn into the field (to symbolize harmony born out of the balance of opposites). There were spears on the rug, small replicas of Doric columns, and in front was a hammer lying on a stone. All over the room, in the spirit of the ritual about to take place, classic Masonic symbols were carefully positioned. The Bible and drawing compass dominate. In front are the flags of Serbia and Regular Grand Lodge of Serbia (RGLS).
Around fifty elegant men mostly in their thirties, members of RGLS, together with their guests from Macedonia, wearing white shirts, black suits with bowties and white gloves (a symbol of purity) are waiting for the beginning of the initiation ritual of new freemasons. If we disregard the unusual scenery these gentlemen would never be connected to the mystique related to the most famous movement in world history around which myths and legends were created, which was persecuted by all totalitarian regimes, which was a hated enemy of the Catholic Church for hundreds of years and which numerous books describe as the main conspirer with the purpose to rule the world.
On the contrary, these people did not look mysterious at all. They were relaxed, friendly and very open for journalist’s questions. The first thing they’ll tell you is to disregard all the prejudice and that the purpose of their gathering has nothing to do with the widespread legends about freemasonry, that spreading brotherhood, peace and tolerance is the basis for their actions.
The same values are emphasized by the first among equals, Dr Čedomir Vukić, the Grand Master of the 33rd order of the Scottish order (in their terminology: Grand General Inspector) and Knight Templar, which is the very top of the freemason aristocracy that only the chosen can reach. Mr Vukić, dressed for the occasion in freemason insignia, an apron and a necklace which may be worn only by those from the very top of the freemason pyramid is one of the key people in the awakening of free masonry in Serbia during the nineties. He is diligently preparing the scenery in Stara Kapetanija, reminiscent of a theatre play with a detailed script where there is no place for improvisation, and where, once the ritual starts, every participant will have a very precise part and will say pre-prepared sentences. Everything in this ritual is about symbolism and allegory, while conversations about politics are forbidden.
The Grand Master, a vital and talkative 58 year old has a PhD in economics, is one of the rare people from Serbia who have access to the most important institutions in the world and is a friend with a number of influential people at the top of politics and economics of the most developed countries. He is an honorary member of over 30 freemason’s lodges in the world, from Australia, through Europe, to Canada and the USA. He has traveled the world and in his words has been received as a brother everywhere, with greatest hospitality. The oath of freemasons is so strong that friendships between those who recognize each other, mostly by the badges they wear or special signs of recognition through the use of specific terms in communication develop with every step.
Mr Vukić has had a rich career during which he was the vice president of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, he worked for the government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, was the CEO and CFO in several companies, Southeastern Europe representative of American Corporate Funding…
Everyone who has learned about freemasonry only from conspiracy theory books, movies and newspaper stereotypes will be surprised by his openness and great energy: he keeps fit by swimming and exercising in the gym of Belgrade Hyatt hotel.
Without any hesitation or conditions he agreed to speak to Playboy in spite of the fact that such public appearances of Serbian freemasons have been highly unusual since the Second World War. On the contrary, almost half a century of persecution, first by the Nazis and their associates in Serbia, and then by the communists, has developed a tendency in Serbian freemasons not to appear in public, unlike the western world where this is not unusual.
Grand Master Vukić emphasizes that he wants to bring freemasonry closer to the modern world, that openness is one of his priorities and that there are no secrets in his work, other than the secrets of the ritual itself. Only the members of the lodge can participate in the ritual, and he is reluctant to reveal the names of the freemasons in Serbia during the last 20 years, unless they have given him their permission.
After being asked what’s with all the mystery and secrecy Mr. Vukić, as well as the Deputy Grand Master, respectable Belgrade lawyer Dalibor Strnad, say that, in fact, there is no special secret at all: its only about the basic respect for the privacy of the members. Everyone is free to publicly declare themselves as freemason if they choose to do so. They point out that RGLS is an officially registered citizens organization and that the public can access the rules of the organization which are also available at www.rglserbia.org
Playboy: How did your interest in Freemasonry begin?
Vukić: At University I learned first information about freemasons. I have been interested in the topic for a long time. While studying the history of civil law and human freedom I came across a unique stamp of free masonry, which is more than obvious in the struggle of the people for basic rights and progress of the civilization. The knowledge that the revival of freemasonry in Serbia was being prepared was what finally drew me to this movement, to which I will dedicate my life.
Playboy: Did you have any prejudice before you decided to join free masons?
Vukić: I knew that the brotherhood was an organization with secrets and that it is based on three major principles: brotherly love, eternal struggle for the truth and doing good things for your fellow human beings. I was never moved by rumors by certain interest groups who are not interested for this planet, which is the home of all living beings, and human kind to make a step further into a better future. Their intention was always to present freemasonry in the negative light, blaming the movement for negative events throughout history, since the beginning of the world until now and by exploiting negative examples amongst free masons, those rotten apples, who have deceived not only their brothers, but also everyone else by inventing various untruths.
Playboy: How and when did you become a Freemason?
Vukic: I applied for the brotherhood in 1990 and was initiated in 1991, as one of the first members of the Grand Lodge of Yugoslavia.
Playboy: What are your impressions from the initiation?
Vukic: Most of all it is a great adrenalin rush. You know, the ritual, when you are blindfolded for about an hour and a half and you are faced with yourself the whole time. When you go through that kind of enlightenment it helps you advance both as a human being, an individual and a selfless member of the community. Everyone who goes through initiation feels similar excitement, When you are faced with all the symbols when you realize that everything is in the earth, air and water, the Master of Ceremony, who guides you through initiation, presents a brotherly hand that leads you to your goal.
Playboy: How did you advance up the hierarchy?
Vukic: My road was the same as the roads of many of my brothers for decades and centuries before me, bumpy and turbulent, but such was also the road of our beloved and tortured Serbia. I’ve worked hard with my brothers to follow the principles of freemasonry, guided by the idea of a better tomorrow, first for those closest to me and then for the whole humankind, because freemasonry is a universal and international brotherhood and so are its ideas.
Playboy: How did you become the grand master? How did you reach the 33rd degree of the Scottish order an become Knight Templar?
Vukić: You become the Grand Master by being chosen by your brothers. The role is arbitrary, it serves to protect the tradition and old rules and it has a time limit. The only way to get titles or to advance is through selfless work and involvement in the brotherhood. The first three degrees of the Blue or St. Johns masonry, to which most of the worlds freemasons belong, are the same all over the world. No one can become a master before passing these three steps. The first is to be an Entered Apprenticee, which lasts for a year, after that you become a Fellow, and then the Master of Johns order (the name comes from the part of the ritual when the hand is placed on an open Bible, on the chapter about St. Jonh the Baptist).
Playboy: What does reaching such a high position in freemasonry mean? What kind of privileges and which duties do you have?
Vukić: To be the first among equal brothers is a wonderful recognition and it represents the crown of brotherly love and trust. There are many obligations, a working day sometimes doubles in time, but freemasonry helps a men divide his time between work, study and rest, for which you also use knowledge and tools of the old masters as guidelines.
Playboy: How did you prepare for the awakening of freemasonry in Serbia in the beginning of the nineties?
Vukić: The government of SFRJ allowed the creation of groups of citizens in 1986, the so-called non-government organizations, as one of the first steps towards democracy and respecting the main principles of the declaration of the United Nations on human rights and freedoms, in order to improve its image as a communist-democratic and not totalitarian, repressive, government. These circumstances led to the awakening of the Grand Lodge of Yugoslavia, with selfless assistance from brothers abroad and a group of freemasons of Yugoslav origin.
Playboy: What was the state of Serbian Freemasonry at the time? The country was divided into those for and against Milošević, supporters and objectors to the war with our neighbors, was freemasonry divided along similar lines?
Vukić: One of the duties of a freemason is to obey the laws of the country he lives in above all else, to be a patriot and to complete the tasks his country puts before him with honor. Unfortunately, freemasonry was then once again marginalized and the only thing the brothers could do was to influence the academic part of the society to resist the ideas of destruction and devastation and to find a peaceful solution. Unfortunately, words were replaced with guns.
Playboy: Were there people from Miloševićs government belonging to the Masonic lodges?
Vukić: Not from the very top, but, as always, there was an interest from certain intelligence circles for the actions of freemasons. What was happening within the brotherhood at the time clearly shows that there were attempts to, if not destroy the organization, then at least to diminish its influence on the factors which could inspire a different history of Serbia at the end of 20th century.
Playboy: How could Milosević’s supporters who were freemasons at the same time believe in his politics of isolation and conflicts and belong to an international movement which stands for the brotherhood of men?
Vukić: Who were freemasons. That was well said. Being initiated into the brotherhood and truly being and living like a freemason are completely different things. Brotherhood is sometimes naïve in its innocence; it opens up to you honestly and completely and sometimes it happens that a man, led by his own ambition and opportunism defames the reputation of the brotherhood. Then it takes time and effort to restore this reputation, leaving a scar that never heals in the heart of every brother. But brotherhood is stronger than evil-thinkers and their actions.
Playboy: Who were the most influential freemasons during the nineties?
Vukić: A number of intellectuals, writers, painters, publicists, lawyers, doctors, a number of brothers who have contributed to the preservation of normal social life through humanitarian, social and cultural work in the time of the greatest struggle of the Serbian people since the First World War.
Playboy: Could you tell us some names?
Vukić: Without their consent – no.
Playboy: What was your relationship to Tito? Was he a freemason, was he really initiated by Winston Churchill in Naples in 1944?
Vukić: The complete biography of Josip Broz Tito from his childhood until he became the leader of the communist party is mystical, as are biographies of various people with similar life paths who managed to rise to positions of earthly power in historically turbulent times. On the other hand, Tito knew how to fulfill expectations of the many and everything that he and his associates did indicates that he was close to and present in the freemason circles worldwide. Many different, although unsupported, sources confirm that Tito was probably initiated in Italy or France, between two world wars. One detail is absolutely true and that is the fact that his funeral was definitely the biggest gathering of the most influential freemasons in the world. Winston Churchill was a freemason, as were most of the officials of the allied countries.
Playboy: Were there freemasons in the opposition parties during the nineties?
Vukić: Yes, of course. However, their names can not be made public by other brothers, and it is left to every individual to announce his belonging if he chooses. Family as a basis for a healthy society is the only institution outside the brotherhood which should be informed about a person’s freemasonry, because wives and daughters of our brothers become our sisters and their sons are thus also our brothers.
Playboy: Did freemasons influence the political, economic and military leadership of the country during the nineties? Do they have that kind of influence today?
Vukić: The brotherhood is not an institution which imposes its opinions, puts pressure, or influences individuals and groups. On the contrary, freemasonry is opposed to imposing opinions by oppression of the people. Freemasons fulfill their ideals through personal involvement and the rest of the world has the right to decide whether they want to follow these ideals. As was the case with the creation of the French civil society or building of the American nation of free people equal before God which gave a chance to citizens to create a better world through their own efforts in other parts of the planet where there was dictatorship and peoples lives depended on the will of one man. This process still lasts in some countries.
Playboy: How did Serbian freemasonry become so divided?
Vukić: Opportunism and ambitions of individuals triumphed over justice, honor, ant traditional values of every god fearing man, because freemasons are human as well.
Playboy: Which Lodges of today are legitimate successors of the old Serbian Lodges?
Vukić: The Regular Grand Lodge of Serbia and all the lodges operating under its protection are legitimate successors of the Grand Lodge of Yugoslavia which was self closed in 1939.
Playboy: What differentiates your lodge from other lodges in the country?
Vukić: Obeying freemason’s tradition and strict rules. There can be only one Grand Lodge on a territory of one country which will have jurisdiction on the whole territory and will operate through working lodges, each with its own jurisdiction. In order to accomplish this and to avoid confusion created by self-proclaimed freemasonry institutions and so-called grand lodges as well as other organizations using our symbols, interpretations and names, the rules of freemasons demand that the grand lodge has to be registered and recognized by authorities of the state in which it operates and whose citizens are members. Regular Grand Lodge of Serbia has such registration and the documents are available to all citizens of Serbia.
Playboy: Before the Second World War freemasons acted almost publicly – the King, Prime Minister, army leaders were freemasons. Why does the public today see freemasonry as a cult or even an occult organization?
Vukić: Freemasonry can develop only in free societies, among free people. Oppressive and totalitarian regimes have always persecuted freemasons everywhere. Development of freemasonry also takes time.
Playboy: How much does the secrecy of the rituals you practice contribute to this image?
Vukić: Freemasonry uses completely benign drama rituals, verbal and nonverbal, which follow old rules and use customs and tools of old stonemasons as allegorical guidelines.
Playboy: How do movements which maintain mystery survive today at all, because there is such a cult of transparency and openness and it is the age of TV, the internet, Big Brother when even intimacy is on public display? Can freemasonry, in spite of rituals which have not changed for centuries, communicate with modern times?
Vukić: Of course it can. Freemasonry has also adjusted and tries to approach people with the intention to explain how it is possible, without any conspiracy, for two people who might not have met otherwise to become friends and perhaps brothers. This interview is one of the ways. Someone could say: “What brings together freemasons and Playboy.” But it is very easy to find the connection, because Playboy used to be a magazine which was publicly crucified by many “well-meaning” people just because it erased borders created by not so well intending people, showing the natural beauty of a woman and breaking taboos, fighting for human freedoms, right to personal beliefs, right to participate in the cultural life, right to education, freedom of expression, which are all written in the declaration of UN and which are ideas that freemasonry fights for.
Playboy: Certain freemason fractions in the world have adjusted their organization to the demands of time. You still stick to the rules which were created almost 300 years ago. I have seen many young, modern people among the members of your lodge. How you reconcile the strictness of rituals and faithfulness to tradition with modern life and times?
Vukić: They say you are born a freemason, you do not become one. I deeply believe in that, with all my heart. Freemasonry does not care about age, the only condition is for the candidate to be over 21. Rituals are always young and modern because they nurture discipline and teach a man to find his inner peace and a true measure in life, a form of golden standard..
Playboy: Freemasons are successful people who have certain influence in society. Does that mean that someone who is, for example, a pop star and leads an unconventional rock’n’roll life can also become a freemason?
Vukić: Yes, freemasonry is a society of equal opportunity and as such it rises above prejudice.
Playboy: In what ways do famous people support your goals in public?
Vukić: By personal example, humanitarian work, doing good deeds.
Playboy: It is a historical fact that freemasonry was very influential, from creation until today. It is known that a number of US presidents were members, that the US originated and gained such power under the influence of freemasons, and that there are Masonic symbols on the dollar bill. Many conclude, and not only because of this, that the new world order and globalization are projects of the freemasons. What do you think about that?
Vukić: Today a person from Greece or Portugal can travel to Ireland or Finland, far north, without borders. He can exchange technology with other people, communicate, cooperate and work for a better life. Globalization is a concept which helps people to overcome differences and rich nations help poorer nations in building a better life. Let’s remember Berlin wall, the iron curtain, barbwires which divided people. And how those people used to live.
Playboy: Is it a coincidence that on our dinar bills, among the greatest people in Serbian history, all were either freemasons or were strongly connected to Masonic organizations.
Vukić: It is no coincidence. These are the people who have marked the golden age of the rise of the Serbian state and people. It is a fact that they all belonged to the brotherhood of freemasons.
Playboy: What is the place of Serbia on the freemason map of the world? In what way should the country be integrated into contemporary trends?
Vukić: Just like Serbia, we are donig all we can to change the bad image which was created during the last 20 years. Freemasons in Serbia have an exceptional treatment in communication with their brothers abroad, which gives us an opportunity to clarify the situation which is often vague for someone who does not live in this region.
Playboy: One of the most prominent freemasons during the nineties, Zoran Nenezić, in his book Freemasonry in Yugoslavia from 1764 to 1980 claims that freemasons aspire to the accomplishments of their global goals and maintaining complete control in the economic, political and cultural institutions of the contemporary world. It’s a fact that many politicians, generals, police officers, journalists and other influential people are freemasons. Do freemasons rule the world? Or do they at least significantly influence events in major countries?
Vukić: Certain modern interpreters of the history of freemasonry who have summarized historical documents from the nineties until now prematurely make judgments and qualifications about issues without an important historical distance.
Playboy: Many NATO generals are freemasons. Are there any in our army? How do soldiers-freemasons act?
Vukić: A very conspiratory question. There probably are some.
Playboy: How can freemasons help Serbia today as it is the last in line to enter EU, behind Albania and Montenegro?
Vukić: In all possible ways. From diplomatic contacts to personal involvement.
Playboy: Is it true that there are Serbian freemasons who are members of some of the most important European and world organizations and who work there in the interest of our country?
Vukić: Yes it’s true. I can not tell you who they are.
Playboy: How big is the influence of freemasons in Serbian institutions? According to our information they are in the ministries, in the parliament amongst the academics, in the police, and bankers and businessmen… How do they accomplish the goals of freemasons?
Vukić: Exactly by having a positive influence in their professions and all social and cultural spheres of life.
Playboy: How has being the grand master of the regular grand lodge of Serbia influenced your private life? How do your friends, relatives, neighbors react?
Vukic: After two decades of my acting as a freemason many of them will find out now, after this interview.