The event is designed to discuss and find solutions to issues affecting Russia’s northwest, the Volga and Urals regions, such as industrial development, preserving water resources, raising the quality of housing and utilities services, and building up effective and transparent local self-government.
The previous day, implementation of the President’s May 2012 executive orders and other topical issues were discussed at five theme-based ONF working groups: Society and the State Authorities: Direct Dialogue; Education and Culture as the Basis of National Identity; Quality of Everyday Life; Honest and Efficient Economy; Social Justice.
More than 400 people are taking part in the forum, including civil society activists, experts, state officials, and journalists.
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Excerpts from transcript of the plenary session of the interregional forum Action Forum. Regions
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon friends,
This is the second time that the Russian Popular Front has organised this Action Forum. Regions interregional forum that we are taking part in today. I know that this time many people have come from the Volga region, the Urals, and from the northwest – from 21 different regions in all.
Let me note again that this sort of interregional event has proven itself a very useful and effective format. We get together not simply to discuss general but important items on the agenda, but to really examine issues and find solutions.
You may have noted that not everything goes as planned (we will talk more about this), but nonetheless, these meetings help the Government and the Presidential Executive Office to formulate policies, draft amendments to federal laws and propose new bylaws. In other words, such events are actually instruments of what is essentially direct democracy, and they work with great effect.
We applied the same logic in Stavropol in January, when we met with your colleagues from the North Caucasus and Southern federal districts and discussed in detail such issues as employment, interethnic relations, housing and utilities issues, the healthcare sector, and the fight against corruption.
I asked the ONF to monitor the implementation of all the instructions issued following that forum, and I hope this productive work will continue today and produce practical solutions.
One more point I would like to make is that these forums offer you an opportunity to discuss things with your colleagues from other regions and federal districts, exchange experience, and share your own work. This gives us a clearer picture of the country’s life today and the common concerns we all share, even in the remotest corners of this country. This kind of integral systemic approach is very important for the effective implementation of our national agenda and for setting new objectives.
We will hold two more forums of this kind in the upcoming months – one in Yakutia and one in Crimea. Once this is done, we will review the most pressing issues at the national Action Forum event, which will take place at the end of the year.
Let me take this opportunity to thank the Republic of Mari-El for its hospitality. This is a place with ancient traditions and a rich culture. The name of the capital, Yoshkar Ola, means ‘red city’, which in Russian is synonymous to ‘beautiful city’. The city was founded more than 400 years ago and is one of the centres of this country’s diverse culture – the Finno-Ugric culture in this particular case.
Thank you for your attention. Let us begin our work.
Vladimir Putin: (replying to a question on developing domestic tourism) We have a federal programme for supporting domestic tourism. I think the funding has ended now, but this does not mean that the programme’s planned measures have ended too. We will most certainly continue this programme, especially now, when we know that people have difficulties visiting the destinations they were used to, Egypt, for example. We know that our tourists would be welcome there, but I think the authorities there still have much to do to guarantee security. And there is also Turkey, with which our relations have changed not through any fault of our own. Unfortunately, the Turkish authorities have not managed so far to stop the passage of various armed groups from neighbouring countries. It seems they have links of their own with these groups.
But domestic tourism offers us truly inexhaustible, limitless prospects. Our task is simply to create the right conditions, because it is obviously not enough to just show people pictures of some beautiful lake and invite them to come there, when you can’t even reach the place, can’t fly there, can’t drive there. There need to be convenient travel options for reaching these destinations, and people need to have at their disposal all the modern travel conveniences. This was the objective of our programme to develop domestic tourism, which offered quite decent money – I do not recall the exact figures now – for developing infrastructure and subsidising private initiatives to develop tourism facilities.
This programme has produced good results in Altai Territory and Altai Republic, and in some other regions. Of course, given our country’s size, this is insufficient, and we will most certainly continue our work in this area.
Vladimir Putin: (replying to a question from public movement Volunteers of Victory) First of all, I agree completely with your assessment. It is not a matter of national snobbery when we refer to the Great Victory in World War II and the Great Patriotic War, but is a matter of principle and substance. Above all, we have the right to take pride in what our forebears and our country achieved.
Second, and no less important and relevant, when we look back over those tragic and heroic years, we must do everything we can to ensure that nothing like this ever happens in our country’s history again. We have already heard here today that without knowledge of our history, we cannot build our relations with the future. We have therefore worked in this area and will continue to do so.
Now, on the question of whether this [the Immortal Regiment of Russia march] will become a tradition or not, it was a public initiative, not an idea dreamt up by the authorities. Incidentally, when I took part in the march last year, I made this decision at the very last moment. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to do it or not. I took with me a photo of my father that I had close by. It all wasn’t even planned in my schedule for that day. I would not want this initiative, which was a sincere idea that came from people’s hearts, from the nation’s heart, to become a bureaucratic event. But if this movement does develop and does become a tradition, we will support it in every way we can.
As for my participation, let’s wait and see. I am always with the Immortal Regiment in my heart, and am certainly a member of this regiment, but as for what my schedule will look like, and it is a rather busy schedule, I will have to wait and see. I will certainly be in one way or another though with those who will traverse our towns and villages, follow our streets and remember their relatives, the dead and the living, and thank them, bow low before the victors in this terrible global butchery, bow low before those who were ready to give their lives to defend their homeland.
Vladimir Putin: (replying to a question from blogger Sergei Kolyasnikov on the information war against Russia) There is just no end of getting used to this information confrontation. You perhaps do not remember every moment, but I do. During the active operations and tragic events in the Caucasus, I heard and saw so much about myself that what is happening now is nothing new. You are right, of course, Sergei, in that this is our opponents’ reaction – let’s call them that – to the fact that Russia has grown stronger. Few have any need of a player that is independent, sovereign, quite effective, knows its worth, has its own interests, and is capable of making these interests known. They try to put such a player in his place, besiege him to some extent.
If we were to keep our heads down and sit quiet, play along and nod in agreement, we would make everyone else happy, but we would gradually lose our importance. Once we lose our importance, I think we would then start losing our sovereignty and our prospects for the future, and this would be an irreplaceable loss. We will never allow this, and everyone should understand it.
After all, we do not seek anything other than what belongs to us. We are ready to look for compromises. We understand that the world does not consist of our interests alone. Other countries also have their interests. But if we want to live in harmony in this world, we must take our partners’ interests into account too, and they must do likewise. Over this last 15–20 years, they have forgotten that we have interests, and when they saw us taking a stand, declaring our interests and defending them with firmness, they started looking for ways to sting and pinch.
Russia has a very diverse and genuinely talented community of journalists. Our opponents got very worried when they saw that there are things that really do unite everyone here. I would not be surprised if, after seeing the Immortal Regiment event, they try to think up something for May 9, knowing it is an amazing demonstration of our multi-ethnic country’s unity, and then they will try to think up something for the State Duma elections, and later for the presidential election too. You don’t need crystal balls to see that this is certain to happen. But the value of people such as yourself and others who share our views is that you are completely independent from the state.
We will support with pleasure people who share our views and work towards strengthening our statehood, economy and social sector. But this work is much more effective and productive when it is done by independent groups, public organisations and independent journalists.
Our opponents also get worried when they see how effectively a substantial part of our media community works. They have started waging a struggle against our media community now. They say that what we produce is propaganda, while everything they produce is free journalism. They say that everything our journalists do to defend our national interests is all just Kremlin propaganda.
We see that these double standards have found their way here now. This is all in the logic of defending one’s interests. This is nothing surprising, but there are nonetheless red lines one should not cross. We should not cross these lines ourselves, but we will also not let others cross these lines with respect to us. We already showed this just recently.
Vladimir Putin: (replying to a question on opening cinema theatres in small towns) This sector is completely commercial now. During the Soviet years, the state subsidised it, but this is no longer the case. In small towns with small populations, this really is a problem and there are towns with no cinemas at all.
Some problems arise out of our modern life, in particular from the internet. The thing is, you can watch all the films you want online and not have to go to the cinema. If people do go to the cinema, they want special services, something extra, but it costs to provide these services. This is one problem.
Second, this sector is entirely in private hands. Unfortunately, these businesses show more foreign films than Russian, and in this respect we lag behind many countries that have taken effective measures to support their film industries. We should do the same, all the more so as we are fortunate that this industry is still alive and has bright prospects ahead.
As it is organised currently, support comes through a fund set up in this area to allocate grants independently. The state makes the funding available, but the specialists then distribute it themselves. We also have a council for supporting cinema, headed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
These formal matters are not the issue, of course. The issue is how to organise effective work in this area. I think this is a very important area and there are several projects that should improve the situation, especially in small towns.
We will need to work on it further, examine this complicated question of financing. I completely agree with you that the issue is important, and it is just a matter of setting our priorities, deciding where and how the state should offer support. The priority should go above all to Russian films.
Vladimir Putin: (replying to a question on import replacement in the construction sector) Regarding the sectors you mentioned, the Government’s anti-crisis plan provides support for the sectors that carry the main burden or suffer the most from the current situation with the exchange rate difference, and yes, the construction sector is on this list.
The biggest recipient of funds is the automotive sector, followed by agricultural engineering and others. The technology transfer centre that is to start work will, I hope, produce effective results in your case too [in construction technology].
Let me say though that our aim is not to try to replace all imports. This would not be the right road. We need to develop our own versions of the critical technologies that serve as a base for economic development in general, and defence sector technology, of course. But we cannot and should not try to substitute all imports. This would be the wrong road to take.
Vladimir Putin: (replying to a question on preserving cultural heritage and the work of regional cultural heritage preservation bodies) It would be hard to imagine Russia without this material cultural heritage. We spent a lot of time in reflection and debate on how best to divide this responsibility and what to transfer from federal to regional level.
I think that those who took the decisions back then overlooked one very important aspect, however, namely, that action and oversight functions cannot be in the same hands. These functions should be divided, and this is something we will definitely come back to. Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention.
Colleagues, I hope you will forgive me, but regrettably, I must return to Moscow. Please do not be disappointed. Honestly, I find this discussion with you very interesting and useful. I want to thank you for your work, thank you for all you are doing, and I hope that we will continue this cooperation in the future.
Thank you very much.