Huddled in the warm dining room of Hotel Partizan overlooking the snow-laced Low Tatra mountains, three Brezno businessmen, mobile phones close at hand, plot a strategy to establish a Lions Club for their city of 22,000. Needed are the endorsement of the Banská Bystrica club and nine additional members culled from the area's men of means.
What attracts people to the US-based Lions Club goes beyond the group's stated mission "to serve and protect the nation's intelligence, liberty and safety." The club also acts as a means for businessmen to exchange contacts in a social but orderly environment.
It is this perk that drives Peter Medveď, owner of a wood trading company, in his mission to start a club in central Slovakia's Brezno. "This town needs something that can get businessmen to communicate with each other in a positive way," he said. "It's not just about making contacts, though of course that's beneficial, but about helping people in need."
Names like Igor Presperín, former mayor of Banská Bystrica and current member of parliament, former Dukla Banská Bystrica football coach Peter Benedik, and Ján Gerach, one of the lawyers for famed Mafia boss Mikuláš Černák, all appear on the membership list of the Banská Bystrica club, and have lured Medveď to the cause.
While the Brezno Lions Club has yet to be born, the parent club in Banská Bystrica has been in existence since 1991. Gynaecologist Milan Urban brought the Lions Club to Slovakia after spending five years as a diplomat and active Lions member in Zambia. "I could see how the club helped people," he said. "It was very satisfying, and I thought that a Lions Club would really work in Slovakia."
The all-men's club in Banská Bystrica consists of 30 members ranging from lawyers to construction site managers and restaurant owners. They sit around in the upstairs conference room of Hotel Lux in Banská Bystrica, drink beer, and swap stories every two weeks before getting down to the formal business of helping people. "It's not a club for rich people," said Ján Požgay, the current president. "We do what we can to help the community. We could do more, but we do more together than we could ever do alone."
The club may not be rich, but it has the means to help young people in particular. The club is keen on sponsoring school children to study abroad, as well as donating time and money to the region's orphanages. "Members are people who won't miss a few thousand crowns from their wallets," said Urban, adding that two million crowns had been donated since 1991.
Lions clubs also exist in Košice, Nitra and Bratislava, while the main body changes between the Czech and Slovak Republics.
However, the three Brezno would-be Lions have a lot of work ahead of them. They need 12 members to officially begin activities, numbers which Medveď expects to have by June, 2000.