Victoria Å eligo – The New President of the IWC

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Photography by David Mercer

What is your background, how did you come to be in Russia now?

I received a degree in economics and worked in a large corporation as an economist in Slovenia for a few years. We came to Russia because I am the spouse of the ambassador of Slovenia to Russia. This is my first posting, and it is a tremendous responsibility, the role of ambassador’s wife is a job in itself, however I am enjoying it immensely.

What is your feeling about Russia and Russians in these uncertain times?

I think that we should not forget that Russia is a newly formed country; it has a history of 24 years. Russians for me are not just citizens of a great nation, but also people with a strong cultural heritage with their own traditions. It is comfortable to be here, because people are educated, they speak English, and they are friendly. That’s my opinion. It is a tremendous experience to be in Russia now because one can witness, step by step, the formation of a new country.

How can we expats come to understand Russia and Russians?

I think the most important thing is to be friendly and unassuming. The understanding follows from that. For example, I would suggest to a young mother who has just arrived with a small child to look at local Russian kindergartens so that her child can share and understand the local language and culture. This would be more useful for the child than to sign him or her up to an international kindergarten or school where there are going to be only expats. I would advise expats to get out of Moscow, see what life is like beyond MKAD in the smaller places. Fly to Archangelsk, or Irkutsk, which are great. Take a reindeer ride; these are experiences which you are never going to experience anywhere else. Flights are reasonably priced and there are hotels with English speaking staff. Go on a holiday to lake Baikal for example.

Even in Moscow, instead of taking taxis and being driven around everywhere, take your dog out for a walk every day, then you will explore the city in a complete different way

How did you start to become involved with the IWC?

It is a tradition of the IWC that every spouse of an ambassador being posted to Moscow automatically becomes a member. When I moved in Moscow two years ago, Isabella Zajączkowska was the president of IWC, and she invited me to her residence and we talked and made friends. She explained what a great job the club does. This year I received an invitation from the Steering Committee of the IWC to come and have a talk. While I was talking to the ladies there, I realised that I had never met such dedicated people. They were so eager, talented and professional. I was really proud to become the president.

What are the main difficulties that you can see at the moment facing the IWC in Moscow?

Well we are facing two major problems. The first is that a lot of people are leaving to go back home, so a lot of committee members are gone. We are also facing a drop in the number of members in general. The second problem is that we are trying to stay as non political an organisation as possible, and that actually is quite difficult. We feel that we need to concentrate on culture and fellowship, because that is what can connect countries again. We are going to make our club as transparent as is possible, so we are going to undergo an audit from one of the top auditing companies here. These are the main issues, which need to be tackled.

What direction would you like to take the IWC in?

Well you are going to laugh but I would really like to throw a real party! Not a fundraising event or the ball, which is very official, but a party from nine to midnight for anybody who can hire a nanny and or put the kids to bed early. That is an idea that has come to my head recently and I think I am going to be able to convince the girls to be able to do it. There will be drinks and dancing for our members.

My husband’s secretary gave me a great idea; to do one of our Meet and Greet meetings inside the Tretyakovskaya gallery. I have already talked to people and theoretically it is possible. I would also like to make the club more connected to our members and the diplomatic community, so that everybody can see the whole picture. Members of each different committee have to see what is happening on other committees.

What would you say to non-members of the benefits of joining and helping the IWC?

Well the first benefit as I mentioned before, is that if you come to the club, which is for guys also now, you can find friends. With all of our modern technology, people are staying at home much more. There is a lack of personal communication. The IWC offers a format where you can come and talk to real live human beings, and I think that this is a great benefit! This is particularly relevant if you happen to be a girl with a career who has followed your partner or husband to Moscow. After all the excitement of moving here, after two months you realise that there is actually nothing to do! Just drinking coffee and walking around gets boring, even shopping is not that great because it is 30% more expensive here than in Western Europe. So you have nothing to do, and then the possibility arises to come and work as a volunteer with the IWC, and then you become occupied here. You are actually helping people, and that is a great benefit for other people and also for yourself.

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