Hungarian Freemasons as “Builders of the Habsburg Empire” in Southeastern Europe
In the 1890s, Hungarian Freemasonry began to expand its sphere of influence in southeastern Europe. The establishment of lodges in the southeastern border areas and even outside the Kingdom of Hungary exemplifies this expansion. When devising explanations for this policy, the Hungarian Freemasons made use of colonial and imperial discourses to justify expansion into the “Orient” with reference to the alleged civilizing role they attributed to Freemasonry. They divided the world into two parts from a cultural-civilizational point of view: one where Freemasonry was already established and flourishing and another where this form of community and social practice was not yet known or established. This discourse was entangled with political, economic, and academic practices that were prevalent among the Hungarian Freemasons. Masonic activities and discourses therefore merit consideration in the cultural and social context of their time and analysis from the perspective of new imperial histories, especially since the importance of the discourses and political symbolisms used in the expansion and maintenance of imperial structures has already been pointed out by many historians and scholars of cultural studies within the framework of New Imperial History and postcolonial studies
With a view to the undertakings of Hungarian Freemasons in the Balkans, this paper asks whether Hungarian Freemasons can also be considered “Builders of the Habsburg Empire.” This question is particularly relevant given that Freemasonry was only permitted in the Hungarian half of the Dual Monarchy. Thus, Hungarian Freemasons acted as both national and imperial actors, and they did so independently of Vienna. As the framework for my discussion here, I focus in this article on the discourses and activities of the Symbolic Grand Lodge of Hungary and the contributions of the most relevant actors, such as the Turkologist Ignácz Kúnos and the journalist and deputy director of the Hungarian Museum of Commerce, Armin Sasváris.