FOUR YEARS OF EXPERIENCEVladimir Slivker
How and when did the St. Petersburg Neva Rotary Club appear? Who laid the first foundation stones? Whose support and what kind of support did it receive at the stage of its foundation? Who was the first, second, third, etc. president of the Club? The answers to these questions go into the past and, naturally and sadly, tend to be forgotten if they are not recorded at once.
At that time we had a vague idea about Rotary. We learned about Rotary from foreign Rotarians during our scientific trips or personal visits abroad. For many of us the very word "Rotary" sounded unusual. We should do justice to Yuri Kholkin who collected many materials on Rotary given to him by American Rotarians, and starting from the first meeting, spoke to us of the most important things about Rotary.
He said that it was an exciting and wonderful chance of a true service to the community, not restricted by the frames of political, religious, ethnic or any other preferences. The very idea of a club where people were joined by the wish of service (not the former pharisaical social work under the close guidance of the authorities which used to set the teeth on edge) here rested on the favourable soil of some Russian scientific intelligensia.
At that time there were three Rotary clubs in Russia: in Moscow, Irkutsk and St.Petersburg. So when we learned about them, we invited Andrei Ibragimov, the founder of the St. Petersburg Rotary Club, to one of our meetings. We felt it was very important for us to meet with this man, a real Rotarian. From the first few minutes of our acquaintance we saw in him a sincere enthusiast of Rotary, who knows and highly values Rotary aims, rules and traditions.
In May 1991 Paolo Costa, President of RI, visited St. Petersburg on his way to Moscow where he was going to present a Rotary medal to Mikhail Gorbachev.
The Board of Directors of our club, which at that time did not even have the status of a "Provisional Rotary Club", was introduced to the President of RI and to Jorma Lampen (Finland), District 1420 Governor, who accompanied him in that trip.
Later we understood that it was a far-sighted decision of RI not to be in a hurry to register our club. Indeed, at that time we were not yet ready. We had to pass a long the way of learning, understanding and realizing what Rotary is, what its aims are, how these aims are achieved.
It so happened that in 1991 members of the Colchester Rotary Club (Great Britain) were on a tourist trip to St. Petersburg. Having learned from their guide Nickolai Devyatkin about our club, they came to our meeting in the House of Scientists. It was the first and unforgettable meeting which led to many years of fruitful cooperation in joint Rotary programs of our two clubs.
Rotarian Michael Siggs, the leader of that group, has become one of the closest friends of our club. Recently he has been elected one of our three honorary members. The Colchester Rotary Club became our sponsor-club and, in accordance with the rules of Rotary, gave invaluable support for our Club's recognition.
Our other sponsor-club was the Boardman Rotary Club (Ohio, USA), whose member Prof. Howard Mettee is a very energetic enthusiast of Rotary in Russia. He came here as a Rotary volunteer and shared his rich experience of Rotary activities, and helped with the establishment of our Club.
In 1992-1993 Rotary year Matti Lappalainen (Finland) became Governor of District 1420, which at that time Russia was a part of. And again, with the support of our Rotary friends from the USA and Great Britain, we addressed RI asking it to recognize our club.
Finally in the late 1992, our documents were accepted for consideration by the European office of RI in Zurich. Since that time the club received the status of a Provisional Rotary Club and the right to use the Rotary emblem.
Unexpectedly for us the information of our Club, most probably favourable, became available to Rotarians who visited our city. So, since approximately the second half of 1991 till present days each of our Thursday meetings has been attended by a few foreign rotarians. One of them was Urpo Oksanen, a member of the Kalio Club from Helsinki. After he got acquainted closer with the members of our Club and its programs, and, of course, as we understand, having consulted his Club members, Urpo said that the Kalio Rotary Club could be our additional sponsor-club. Of course, this offer was accepted by us with gratitude. Thus we had a third sponsor-club.
This wonderful event took place at the "Pribaltiyskaya" Hotel, and was attended by about a 100 foreign guests - our Rotary friends from the USA, England, Finland and Germany.
Besides the President of RI and Matti Lappalainen, District Governor, Mr. Stuart Jack, Consul General of Great Britain in St. Petersburg, attended the ceremony. Presidents of the sponsor-clubs gave each of our 25 members Rotary badges and warm greetings.
From that time the policy of RI in respect to the development of Rotary in Russia has changed from the position of cautious waiting to an active support. Already in August 1993 the Dubna Rotary Club was recognized, in 1994 - the clubs of Vyatka and Nizhny Novgorod and the club of Minsk (Belarus). At present there are 15 clubs recognized by RI in Russia (West of the Urals). Giving justice to the enormous intellectual potential of Russia the RI Headquarters took a decision to make Russia, west of the Urals, and Belarus a Presidential Extension Territory, which is a non-districted area, headed by Presidential Extention Administrator (PEA). Our first PEA was Nikolai Ehlers, Past-Governor from Wuppertal (Germany), an experienced Rotarian, a brilliantly educated man with the perfect knowledge of Russian (as well as most other European languages), also a Professor of medicine and law.
During the two years when Nikolai Ehlers was our PEA, he not only actively contributed to the establishment of new Rotary Clubs in Russia, but he also made many efforts to organize and develop joint programs of Russian and German clubs, especially in the sphere of exchange of school students and young people. The event which concluded his activities as a PEA (this year he has passed his responsibilities to our new PEA, Jorma Lampen) was the creation of an Austrian-Russian-German Rotary Committee, one of whose members is our Rotarian Henrietta Archangelskaya. The aim of this committee is to organize and support joint international Rotary programs. Nikolai Ehlers became a good friend of our Club and was elected its honorary member.
At present there are 36 active and 3 honorary members in the Club, among them there are 24 (out of 25) Charter members. Andrei Tchougounov, our first President, is now working in the USA. He continues to be an active Rotarian in the Ligonier Rotary Club and is now its President as well. Thus Rotary has not lost any of the Neva Club charter members, and continues to seek new ones.
Photo by Alexander Borisov.