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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Local Rotary Club Sticks to Its Small Town Ideals

MTVladimir Ovtchinnikov performing at a Rotary Club Moscow International benefit concert at the French ambassador's residence.
With the gong of a bell, Josef Marous slipped out of his role as the chief local representative for the German firm ThyssenKrupp AG and into the purple sash and medallion that are his costume as president of Rotary Club Moscow International.

At the French ambassador's residence on a recent Friday night, Marous held a short club meeting to initiate six new members and then rang the bell again to signal the end of business and the beginning of a charity concert and dinner to raise funds for the club's many youth programs.

Moscow International, which was chartered last year, is the fifth Rotary club to open in Moscow since the era of glasnost. Based on a movement started in the American Midwest that stresses small-town ideals of fellowship and service, Rotary International has expanded into 160 countries worldwide and includes 1.2 million people in more than 30,000 clubs. Seventy-five clubs now operate in Russia -- and those numbers are growing each year.

Moscow International's members bear a resemblance to their brethren in sister organizations sprinkled across the United States in that groups are usually composed of a community's leading professionals. The club takes its name from the original practice of rotating meetings between members' offices.

A half a world away from Chicago, where Rotary was founded in 1905, Moscow International's official language is English but the chatter at most club events is Italian, French or German. Most of Moscow International's initial members were recruited from the ranks of the European Business Club, and its current members include the consul general of Switzerland, the German general director of BASF's Russian business, a Russian adviser to Chukotka Governor Roman Abramovich and the Belgian owner of a Moscow T-shirt company.

Most meetings are held on Wednesday nights, no longer in members' offices but in the Katarina hotel. Marous said that usually a guest speaker addresses the group on a topic of the club's concern -- such as AIDS or orphanages -- and then the members share some cocktails and conversation.

At the recent Friday meeting, Moscow International added its first Canadian, Alex Miadelets, to its ranks of Europeans, Russians and two Japanese. Like Moscow's other four Rotary clubs, Moscow International has no American members, which Marous attributes to a fading interest in charity among American expatriates.

Marous said the parent club, Rotary International, is no longer an American organization but rather has become truly globalized. This year's president was Thai lawmaker Bhichai Rattakul and next year's will be Nigerian lawyer Jonathan Majiyagbe.

True to its name, Moscow International is more a global cross section than the city's other four clubs -- Moscow, Moscow Rosika, Moscow Capital and Moscow Kremlin -- which are composed mainly of Russians.

"We formed Moscow International because we wanted to give our attention to young people, which other clubs in Moscow don't focus on," Marous said.

"It was also a problem for prospective members who moved to Moscow and didn't speak Russian," he said.

Rotary has a reputation for being secretive and somewhat Masonic. The organization's rules are filled with peculiar particulars -- among them, clubs must only draw two members from any profession, must have a minimum membership of 25 people, must signal the beginning and end of meetings by ringing the club bell, must present an attendance card if a missed meeting was made up in another club and must charge members a fee if they come to meetings without the club's wheel-shaped pin affixed to their lapel.

Marous said the club's intentions are fraternal. "Rotary is just like the old clubs in England, where friendship between members and brotherhood were the most important things," he said.

Moscow International is focused on eight main projects with budgets from $5,000 to $25,000 to help specific youth organizations. The club funds its projects mostly through charity events, such as the Friday concert, which featured two students from the Gnessin musical school, Amara Magda on piano and Lyubov Ulybyscheva on cello, followed by four pieces played by pianist Vladimir Ovtchinnikov.

The club holds three to four such evenings per year; next up is the Russian Rotary children's musical competition on Nov. 18, which will be the final stage in a fellowship competition between six 8- to 12-year-old students around Russia.

To join the Rotary Club Moscow International or attend a concert, contact Josef Marous at 258-1140 or