The author is Professor of Humanities – Moscow University Touro.
By all accounts, Freemasonry in Russia dates back to 1731, when Captain John Phillips was appointed as the provincial grand master of Russia. Under the guidance of the “Royal Arch” in England, all Masonic activity in Russia was really organized by a “liaison” communicating instructions from this very elite lodge: his name was Anderson.
From the very beginning, only the best and the brightest were selected to become Russian Masons. At the time, that meant – of course- initiating aristocrats. The basic idea behind Freemasonry – the initiates were told – was to make “good men” even better so that the “good works” of these men would benefit society.
However, shortly after the lodges in Russia were established a problem arose: the Russian Masons wanted to know the identity of the “Top Mason” in England giving out orders. All Anderson would tell them was that instructions came from “the unknown superior”. Not recognizing that as a definitive and clear answer, the aristocrats became disillusioned and abandoned freemasonry. The early lodges simply closed down.
Interest in Freemasonry would return later on during the reign of Tsar Alexander I. Deeply spiritual and contemplative, Alexander enjoyed philosophizing with the exiled French senator, diplomat and scholar, Joseph de Maistre – a Jesuit-trained Scottish rite Mason. De Maistre was a mystical “spiritualist” and their very private talks about Freemasonry profoundly affected the impressionable Tsar.
When Alexander’s troops triumphed over the Grand Armee of Napoleon and entered Paris in 1815, Alexander gave specific instructions to his officers to socialize with the French Masons there. What the Tsar did not know was that these particular French Masons were highly political – espousing liberal, anti-monarchist views and shouting “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” while drinking with their new-found friends from abroad.
Shortly after their return home, these very same Russian officers began planning an uprising against the Monarchy! Alexander I was no longer around, however, having been buried at the St Peter and Paul Cathedral. Some insisted he was still alive and had simply walked away from his “day job” to became a reclusive monk (Interestingly, Soviet authorities opened up his coffin in the 1920s only to find it empty).
The new Tsar – Nicholas I – would decisively crush this uprising on Senate Square in St Petersburg in 1825. The brave and idealistic rebels – now known collectively as the Decembrists- were almost all Masons dedicated to giving up their lives in order to light a “spark” and change society for the better.
The Russian poet and playwright Alexander Pushkin – also a Mason – did not manage to join the Decembrists in their quixotic adventure, but he was very sympathetic to the cause. He was certainly not alone in this regard. I specifically mention him here because eight years later Pushkin would write a short story entitled “the Queen of Spades”. Critics to this day believe this to be a supernatural fantasy about avarice and gambling, but it is actually much more.
In reality, the “Queen of Spades” (later to become an Opera by Tchaikovsky) is a clever riddle in which the author reveals the “secret Masonic code” which is used to unlock the true meaning of sacred texts like the Bible and Koran.
On a personal note: while researching Russian Freemasonry as a graduate student oh so many years ago, I felt a powerful urge to find out the identity of that “Unknown Superior” mentioned earlier. “Why was Anderson so reluctant to divulge his name?”
I contacted the Scottish rite Masons in Chicago at the time and began visiting them at their local lodge adjacent to the Newberry Library. The brothers were quite affable and gregarious, but they themselves were unable to help me out in my search for the truth. Over time, I was finally introduced to someone who was considered an expert in Russian Freemasonry! I could feel that the Holy Grail was within my grasp.
I asked him – point blank- if it was possible to reveal to me the identity of the illusive and mysterious “unknown superior”. “Yes, oh yes”, he replied, and then paused for a suspenseful moment… “You see…let me put it this way, it was either the Prince of Wales or … an extra-terrestrial. I will leave it up to you to decide which one to believe”.
That was not, of course, a definitive and clear answer. Was it perhaps another clever riddle?
The Government should buy a number of privately-owned direct provision centres as a “priority” as it would be more “cost effective” for the State to run the facilities for asylum seekers, international protection officials have said.
The savings arising from owning the accommodation centres rather than paying private contractors to do so “could be considerable”, departmental briefing documents provided to Minister for Children and Integration Roderic O’Gorman last year state.
The vast majority of direct provision centres are currently owned and run by private companies, with accommodation providers having received some €1.6 billion since 1999, including €183 million last year.
The latest figures show some 7,150 people are in the system of seven State-owned sites and 39 private centres. A further 24 commercially-owned premises are being used to provide emergency accommodation for asylum seekers.
The briefing document, released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act, says that housing people seeking asylum in State-owned centres would provide the “best protection from the vulnerability of present market reliance”.
“They are also much more cost efficient to run, and the State owns the asset,” it notes.
The document suggested that State centres should aim to accommodate 5,000 people, and “allowing the private sector to supply the rest is regarded as an achievable and reasonable target”.
The purchase of existing centres from private providers “to immediately boost the State’s footprint in this area should be considered as a priority,” the internal document said.
“Some service providers may be open to this and the market appears to be favourable at present,” it said.
The internal briefing suggested the department could then seek private companies or NGOs to run the centres, which would be a “competitive cost option”.
Ongoing maintenance for centres owned by the State was also “badly needed,” as current pressures on the Office of Public Works (OPW) meant it was not possible “for immediate repairs to be done if required”.
“In exploring the model of more State centres, we need to agree and acquire a capital budget,” the briefing stated.
“State land does not require planning permission for new centres as the Minister has a power under the Acts, whereby the OPW can grant the planning permission and this is usually a three-month process. It is not subject to appeal.”
The document says that State centres “can also have a bigger footprint as it will be a permanent fixture in the locality”. In recent years a number of plans for private providers to open direct provision centres in regional towns have been met with protests from locals and anti-immigration activists.
Mr O’Gorman’s department has sought to reform the direct provision system and is seeking to replace the network of centres with a new system of accommodation and supports by the end of 2024.
A department spokesman confirmed the State has not bought any new centres since the briefing note was written. The spokesman said under the planned overhaul of direct provision, asylum-seekers who arrived into the country would initially be housed in a number of reception and integration centres.
Asylum-seekers will spend a maximum of four months in the reception centres before moving into housing secured through Approved Housing Bodies.
“These centres will be State-owned and purpose built to provide suitable accommodation for approximately 2,000 people at any one time, to cater for the flow-through of the 3,500 applicants over a 12-month period,” he said.
Attached by a strap to a safety lanyard, 27-year-old Nathan Paulin slowly progressed barefoot on a line stretched across the river between the Eiffel Tower and the Chaillot Theatre.
He stopped for a few breaks, sitting or lying on the rope.
Paulin holds an umbrella as he performs, for the second time, on a 70-metre-high slackline spanning 670 metres between the Eiffel Tower and the Theatre National de Chaillot. (Photo by Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP)
“It wasn’t easy walking 600 metres, concentrating, with everything around, the pressure … but it was still beautiful,” he said after the performance on Saturday.
He said obtaining the necessary authorisations had been a difficulty for him, plus “the stress linked to the audience, the fact that there are a lot of people”.
Photo: (Photo by THOMAS COEX / AFP)
Paulin, holder of several world records, performed the feat to celebrate France’s annual Heritage Day – when people are invited to visit historic buildings and monuments that are usually closed to the public.
He said his motivation was “mainly to do something beautiful and to share it and also to bring a new perspective on heritage, it is to make heritage come alive”.
He had already crossed the River Seine on a tightrope, on Heritage Day in 2017.