The meeting’s agenda also included improving regional legislative frameworks, staffing systems, ethnological monitoring, socio-cultural adaptation and migrant integration.
Speech at a meeting of the Council for Interethnic Relations
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues,
Our meeting is devoted to implementing state ethnic policy in Russian regions. The majority of them are characterised by ethno-cultural and religious diversity; this fact is well-known. And we shall discuss what is being done at the local level to ensure interethnic peace and accord.
We have already established the good tradition of holding our Council’s meeting in a given Russian region. Today we are in Ufa, where we are celebrating the 225th anniversary of Catherine the Great’s decree establishing the Muslim Spiritual Assembly. This decision contributed to the self-organisation of Russia’s Muslim community and, of course, its fruitful development in order to serve society and our country.
This event played an important, very important role in strengthening Russian statehood, contributed to creating a common spiritual and cultural space, and to establishing the values and traditions that unite us. It is our duty to preserve this unique heritage, support interethnic harmony, and respond adequately and competently to new, contemporary challenges and problems.
Colleagues, we identified specific areas for joint work at the Council’s first meeting. They were integrated into the National Ethnic Policy Strategy through to 2025, approved in December 2012. The Government has adopted the relevant implementation plan for 2013–2015, and the programme Strengthening the Unity of the Russian Nation and the Ethnic and Cultural Development of the Peoples of Russia, which provides funding for regional programmes. For the first time we are using a so-called targeted programme approach to addressing ethnic issues. This was an initiative of our Council members; they suggested it at our meeting in Saransk. It is laid out in the documents I just mentioned.
Today, special importance is given to active, meaningful efforts taken at the local level, and regional and municipal authorities’ strive to enforce the new National Ethnic Policy Strategy, taking into account, of course, each territory’s specific nature and unique qualities.
However, we must admit that this work has been progressing too slowly so far; plans for implementing the federal Strategy have included only one third of the Russian Federation’s regions. Let me repeat, we are talking only about plans, about the first imperative measures, and if we analyse the actual work that has been done, things appear even more discouraging.
In addition, 21 of Russia’s regions have adopted their own strategic documents. But here, too, the situation is suboptimal: most of the documents are clearly outdated.
Russia is a federal state. We generally recommend that regions create their own plans or documents to supplement the federal ones. However, as you know, the Russian Constitution specifies that the federal structure is based on a consolidated system of state power, and this requires consistency and coordination of actions between all levels of authorities when resolving nationwide challenges.
”Today, special importance is given to active, meaningful efforts taken at the local level, and regional and municipal authorities’ strive to enforce the new National Ethnic Policy Strategy, taking into account each territory’s specific nature and unique qualities.“
Interethnic relations certainly fit into this category. They are one of the most important, complex and sensitive issues requiring our close joint attention.
We must remember that ethnic discord usually originates at a local level, in places where it needs to be blocked pre-emptively. Unfortunately, the heads of those regions often prefer office work, which is of little or no use, particularly if it is impossible for people to meet with the relevant administrators.
For example, as you know, in Biryulevo, residents’ discontent had been building up for years. People complained to the police, to the local authorities and to district leaders. What are the authorities for if they do not want to know about the local situation, if they do not take any measures and are not hearing the people? All this leads to terrible conflicts, including on an ethnic and religious basis, as well as attempts to resolve those conflicts using unlawful means.
It is also unacceptable to turn a blind eye to unlawful actions by foreign nationals who violate migration legislation and commit crimes. This, too, is clear; I have already spoken about it many times. Let me stress again that each area, market and home is the responsibility of an individual person, a specific leader, business proprietor or official. And it is unacceptable for anyone to eschew this responsibility.
A few days ago, the Federation Council passed a law on identifying the powers of regional and municipal authorities and their responsibility in the occurrence of interethnic conflicts, with consequences that include the dismissal of administrators who are unable to prevent conflicts. The law has been signed.
I have already stated at our Council meeting in Saransk that such conflicts often arise from day-to-day occurrences. And if people of different ethnicities are involved, these clashes can instantly be used by extremists, radical groups and individuals for fuelling ethnic tensions and achieving their selfish political aims. The media and online communities often pick up and propagate the hyped-up “ethnic” version and interpretation of the conflict. Thus, consciously or due to stupidity and professional incompetence, they make the situation even worse.
I am certain that most of these conflicts could have been avoided if the local authorities had listened to the people’s requests and opinions and resolved the problems that occur fairly and promptly.
”One-time emergency measures to prevent interethnic conflicts are ineffective. We need modern, system-wide measures and approaches that are reflected in the new National Ethnic Policy Strategy.“
Let me repeat: one-time emergency measures to prevent interethnic conflicts are ineffective. We need modern, system-wide measures and approaches that are reflected in the new National Ethnic Policy Strategy. It will come into full force only when it is sought after by the regions, when it becomes a real guide to action, to painstaking, systematic efforts to strengthen interethnic harmony.
Let me stress that regional plans for implementing the National Ethnic Policy Strategy must be substantive, reflecting the needs and particularities of each specific area. Nobody is ever in need of empty paperwork, and it is particularly true in this case.
It is also imperative to create a system for monitoring interethnic relations and assessing risks and measures for preventing possible conflicts on a common, methodical basis. Here, the role of the academic and expert community is quite important.
A research centre has already been created following my instructions to monitor interethnic relations in Southern Russia and the Volga Federal District. I believe every region should use the rich potential of our academic community and engage in dialogue with civil society institutions and ethnic and cultural associations.
I want to once again ask the Plenipotentiary Envoys to the federal districts to do more than just track and monitor the situation. We need to help regional and municipal authorities analyse the state of affairs in interethnic matters and work with them to resolve difficult problems, if they occur.
Particular attention should be given to employment issues. The people appointed as deputy governors and those responsible for interethnic relations should have a modern understanding of this area and should be capable of putting together a team of competent administrators, establishing direct dialogue with individuals and public associations. All this requires outstanding personal skills and extensive professional expertise.
Colleagues, let’s discuss the concrete measures needed in order to train and retrain government and municipal officials working in the field of interethnic relations and migration policy.
”It is also imperative to create a system for monitoring interethnic relations and assessing risks and measures for preventing possible conflicts on a common, methodical basis. Here, the role of the academic and expert community is quite important.“
In recent years, we have seen a trend of increasing tension in the relations between local residents and migrants. This is true for both immigrants from other countries and people relocating from various regions within Russia.
Today, the Federal Migration Service and the Regional Development Ministry are responsible for helping migrants adapt and integrate. But we must admit that we are seeing few positive changes in this area. Meanwhile, we must work more actively on a local level. Perhaps we should consider drawing up labour maps that outline the needs of Russian regions for additional labour. However, the greatest attention should be given to migrants’ social adaptation and creating the necessary conditions to achieve this. Such adaptation centres have been established in Tambov and Orenburg, and according to initial expert assessments, they can provide good results.
In conclusion, I want to talk about the suggestion to create an annual nationwide public award For Contributions to Strengthening National Unity in Russia. I think this can be a good incentive for people whose work relates to the crucial and highly sensitive field that is interethnic relations.
Let’s begin our work.
Vladimir Putin: Let’s round things up now. I want to thank you for our work together and for this discussion.
Let me say a few words in conclusion. I will not get into a debate with some of the participants in today’s meeting, though the urge to argue was certainly there. However, we are here not to argue but to listen to what each of us has to say and carry out the proposals that you come up with in our practical work through the presidential bodies and the Russian Federation Government.
The subject we are dealing with is a very big issue not just for Russia but for practically all developed countries. You know how serious these problems are in Europe, North America and other parts of the world. Some of our colleagues in Europe have spoken of their ethnic policy’s failure over the last decade. We cannot allow ourselves to even contemplate such an outcome because Russia is a multi-ethnic country.
”We therefore must make use of all the positive experience and good things that were built up over these decades, make use of our advantages as a multi-ethnic and multi-faith country, which should give us a solid foundation for development.“
I met today with Muslim spiritual leaders and said what I have repeated on many occasions, namely, that our Muslims are Russians, our citizens, and this is their only home. We can say the same of every people living in the Russian Federation. Russia is the biggest part, but nonetheless only a part of the former homeland that we all shared, the Soviet Union. That we developed as a multi-ethnic and multi-faith country does create some problems, but it also gives us unquestionable huge advantages. We therefore must make use of all the positive experience and good things that were built up over these decades, make use of our advantages as a multi-ethnic and multi-faith country, which should give us a solid foundation for development.
Certainly there are problems, quite serious ones too. Unfortunately, we see that there is a lack of ability and sometimes even a reluctance to put things in order and find competent solutions. This lack of ability comes from the fact that we never knew such problems in the past because we lived in a single big country without any borders between us. Now we have borders and we have become separate countries. We have visa-free travel at present. We can consider the introduction of visas, but the question is, would this make things any better? Another problem is that the corruption that we rightly discussed here today could move from the markets to the borders instead. The issue is one of resolving the problems we have been talking about today in professional, competent and firm fashion.
I cannot but agree with the colleagues who say that we must improve our labour laws. This is indeed the case. What we are seeing, after all, is more like wild capitalism letting out another belch – forgive the crude metaphor – something not much different to the auctions for shares that were carried out with assets at one time. Using cheap migrant labour is above all an economic problem. But there is certainly a need for firm, consistent and civilised measures to put the situation in order. We can and must achieve results here.
I do not think that we have any problems we cannot overcome. They are all issues that can be resolved. But to do this, we first need to think and to set out our proposals. This is why we are meeting today.
I thank you very much for taking part not only in today’s meeting but also for your involvement in general in reflecting on these problems and looking for solutions. It probably won’t be possible to implement every proposal, but we will analyse them, sort through them and will give practical implementation to feasible ideas.
Thank you very much.