Chornovil legislation would criminalize Freemasonry

April 24, 2003, 12:10 a.m. |
Prison terms of from 3 to 15 years could await persons found to be a member of the nonprofit international fraternal organization ment.

People’s Deputy Taras Chornovil submitted the bill on Feb. 7, days after Socialist Party chief Oleksandr Moroz held a news conference denouncing a group of 300 Masons he said were serving in government and military posts. He said that membership in the organization was incompatible with government service.

He identified the Order of St. Stanislas, which counts numerous high-ranking government officials among its members, as a Masonic organization. The order is not affiliated with Freemasonry, though both are non-profit charitable organizations.

Chornovil, a member of parliament’s centrist Our Ukraine bloc, said that he wants to amend the country’s year-old criminal code to make membership in a Masonic lodge a criminal offense. The bill provides for prison sentences of up to 15 years for those determined to be members of the international fraternal organization. Membership alone could bring a three-year prison sentence. If the member were a government official, longer sentences of up to seven years would apply. High-ranking government and military employees, including the president, could draw the maximum 15-year sentence.

In explanatory documents accompanying his bill, Chornovil called Freemasonry a “totalitarian democratic organization” and said that Freemasonry should be outlawed because Masons “observe their own internal documents as well as orders from the heads of their organizations above the country’s laws.”

Chornovil alleged that Masons “are obliged to take an oath that overrides their duties as citizens,” and that they pose a danger to the government because they openly declare plans to develop the future order of the world.

Materials distributed by Chornovil also alleged that the fraternity sought to recruit influential government officials, which posed a threat to the nation’s statehood and the lives of the Ukrainian people. It said that the group observed rituals that damage people’s mental health.

If the bill is enacted, Ukraine would be the only democratic nation to have criminalized the fraternal organization.

The European Court for Human Rights has ruled that Masonry is not a secret or criminal society or an illegal organization. It also ruled that it is illegal to discriminate against a person on the ground that he is a member of a Masonic lodge.

Nevertheless, parliament’s Committee on Organized Crime and Corruption has recommended that the bill be adopted on first reading.

Representatives of Ukraine’s Masonic organization, known as the grand lodge, were unavailable for comment. The head of the Ukrainian lodge was killed in an automobile accident on April 9.

An American Mason familiar with Masonry in Eastern Europe, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that attitudes toward the organization in Eastern Europe are worse than in Western Europe.

“Official Communist ideology taught that Freemasonry was a dark and powerful force within the capitalist global government. That teaching has certainly left its impact on the population,” he said.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Freemasonry has been introduced or restored in the Russian Federation and most Eastern European countries with the help of European and American lodges.

In 1993, France’s Grand Lodge chartered a lodge in Paris for the purpose of initiating Ukrainians. In 1996, a lodge was established in Kyiv and two years later another lodge was chartered in Kharkiv. Both lodges are administered from France.

In 1998, Italy’s Grand Lodge chartered three lodges in Ukraine: two in Odessa and one in Kyiv. By 1999, the Italian Grand Lodge chartered three additional lodges in the country and formed what is now the Grand Lodge of Ukraine.