As a current resident in Bulgaria, I have experienced Freemasonry from both sides of the world.
Maintaining ongoing direct contacts with my Mother Lodge, Henty #279 as well as the United Grand Lodge of Victoria, I return to Melbourne on a fairly regular basis. Upon making the decision to move to Bulgaria, I initiated direct contact with the United Grand Lodge of Bulgaria after having obtained the necessary permission and agreement by the United Grand Lodge of Victoria.
The United Grand Lodge of Bulgaria was very accommodating and supportive, providing me with a list of Lodges both in Sofia and also in the country’s second largest City, Plovdiv, where I live. This enabled me to make contact with Lodges and attend Meetings.
Having already enjoyed the opportunity and benefit of visiting a number of Lodges around the world when traveling, it came as no surprise to see how friendly and pleasant members of the Bulgarian Lodge were when I showed my interest in becoming a part of their organization.
Although the workings in the Lodge have differences, the basic system does not vary greatly. One Lodge that I attended in Plovdiv is actually the only Lodge so far that has its own permanent premises. All other Lodges in this fairly good sized city use temporary facilities.
Speaking with the Brethren I found out that Freemasonry in Bulgaria is new in terms of modern Freemasonry having only existed since the fall of Communism some twenty years ago. This fact made me interested in researching to what extent there had been Freemason activities in this beautiful country before Communism.
In the process of researching the history of Freemasonry in Bulgaria, my amazement at what has transpired in this country over very many years – the pain and suffering Freemasons have endured, but in spite of that having persisted and survived, never giving up – has filled me with a great sense of admiration for all Freemasons in Bulgaria. That made me want even more to document the history and what our fellow Freemasons in Bulgaria have been through to share with you what I believe is a great story of Masonic survival, speaking extremely highly about the value of our Craft in terms of what we stand for and the contribution we are making in doing what we do.
Documented Freemasonry first appears in Bulgaria in the beginning of the 19th century. At the time, Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire where many Turkish high-ranking officers and servants of the Sultan led organized Masonic life, but did not allow Bulgarians to join in.
Ivan Vedar, a prominent person in Bulgarian history, is considered to be the real founder of Bulgarian regular Freemasonry. He studied the principles of Freemasonry during his travels across Europe and was initiated into a British Lodge in Istanbul. Vedar also has an interesting background at various times being a teacher, doctor, sailor and librarian, demonstrating a strong sense of commitment and determination.
Immediately after the Liberation of Bulgaria in 1878, Ivan Vedar began organizing the first Bulgarian Regular Lodge and initiated into Freemasonry several fellow citizens from Ruse. When their numbers became sufficient, the new Bulgarian Freemasons requested the establishment of their own Freemason society.
The possibility of forming an independent Grand Lodge of Bulgaria started being researched in 1914 and finally, on January 7th, 1918 the first Grand Lodge of Bulgaria was proclaimed under the sponsorship of the Grand Lodge of France with General Alexander Protogerov as its first Grand Master.
Lodges were established in many cities across Bulgaria with more than 500 Bulgarian men being initiated– scientists, politicians, factory owners, bankers, merchants, diplomats and army officers. Seventeen Bulgarian Prime Ministers are known to have been Freemasons with the Grand Lodge playing an important role in all aspects of life in the country.
The Grand Lodge of Bulgaria became a founding member of IMA (International Freemasons Association) in 1921. In 1936, the Supreme Council of the High Degrees and the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite was established, conferring degrees numbered 4 up to 33.
Bulgarian Freemasonry began facing some difficult times with the arrival and establishment of the Nationalist and Fascist ideologies in Europe in the 1930s. Using their influence, the Bulgarian media launched mass discrediting of Freemasonry. Despite the efforts of Grand Lodge, backed by several civic organisations, to defend and maintain the legal existence of the Brethren, the Act for the Defence of the Nation was passed in 1940, banning Masonic societies in Bulgaria.
The Grand Lodge of Bulgaria dissolved itself and all Lodges even before the Act was passed, with documents and properties being transferred out of the country.
The process of resurrecting organized Freemasonry in Bulgaria began almost immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall and was carried out along two parallel lines – the first was the installation of the “Grand Lodge of Bulgaria” (1992) by the Grand Lodge of Yugoslavia, itself installed by the GL AFAM of Germany two years earlier (1990). In 1997 the GL AFAM of Germany installed a second Grand Lodge in Bulgaria – the GL AFAM of Bulgaria. The two Grand Lodges were by the standards adopted by the UGLE in 1929 of regular origin and as such sought and received recognition by different Grand Lodges in Europe and North America.
In 2001 the two Grand Lodges united to form the current and only Regular Grand Lodge in Bulgaria – the United Grand Lodge of Bulgaria. On the 10th of June 2004 the UGLE extended its formal recognition to the UGLB. This act was soon after followed by the Gland Lodges of Scotland and Ireland! The UGLB is currently on the Seniority list of the UGLE with year of installation 1992 – the year of installation of the Grand Lodge of Bulgaria!
In just over twenty five years since Freemasonry was revived, Bulgaria has seen some amazing developments – one such event was the very noteworthy act of merger of a splinter group of Masons that had left the former GL AFAM of Bulgaria in 2000, which existed unrecognized by any Masonic authority for 15 years and which finally applied for “regularization” into the UGLB. This event was witnessed by a number of foreign Masonic dignitaries – The Grand Masters of Germany, Russia and Spain as well as Grand officers from Turkey, England, Italy and North America!
In that not very long period of time, Freemasonry in Bulgaria has grown from, in effect, nothing to some 128 Lodges scattered around the Country with 4,000 members and currently 230 new candidates at various stages of being checked; there are several Lodges where either English or German is the principal language spoken.
The past 25 years have been a period of ups and downs, of intensive self-search and many smaller or greater triumphs for the Grand Lodge of Bulgaria. The re-emergence of Freemasonry in Bulgaria has more or less followed along the lines of the re-emergence of Freemasonry in most of Eastern Europe.
Having enjoyed the benefit of attending several Masonic meetings, it is amazing to witness the enthusiasm, dedication and commitment that is so obvious.
There is no doubt that Freemasonry in Bulgaria has a bright future ahead of it.
By RWBro. Jeffrey Carswell, PJGW
Photo: Annual Communication of the UGLB, Grand Master, Grand Officers, Masters of Lodges, Brethren.