Friday, 28 March 2008

Russian freemasonry today recalls Tolstoy

In Tolstoy’s novel War and Peace the character Pierre Bezukhov joins the Russian Freemasons. Bezukhov is seeking in masonry a mystical connection that can reconcile two prevailing Russian currents of thought, that of the Westernisers and that of the Slavophiles. The character naively expects the secrets of the craft to deliver some manner of revelatory self-knowledge. This expectation inevitably leads to disillusion as Pierre finds something which simply reflects the structures of Russian society in which he is already an unwilling participant.

“Under the Masonic aprons and insignia he saw the uniforms and decorations at which they aimed in ordinary life.”

Pierre’s disappointment is brought to mind by the Moscow Times’ article exploring freemasonry in Russia. During Soviet times freemasonry ceased to exist. It was one of the many independent organisations opposed by the Communist authorities. More recently Democratic Party presidential candidate Andrei Bogdanov provided a whiff of conspiracy for Russian voters, openly functioning as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Russia.

The truth behind Post Soviet masonry in Russia seems to be more prosaic than the febrile imagination of Russian nationalists would allow. It functions as a social club and networking facility for businessmen. Although the organisation has re-established itself in the years since 1991, it has a relatively small membership and shows little sign of re-kindling the enthusiasm it enjoyed with the nobility in th 19th century.

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