Meeting of Council for Interethnic Relations 2012-08-24 19:40:00 Saransk Vladimir Putin held the first meeting of the Presidential Council for Interethnic Relations in Saransk. The Council includes representatives from all of Russia’s ethnic and cultural associations, scientific and expert communities, and heads of federal government agencies. Before the meeting, the President took part in celebrations marking the 1000th anniversary of the unity of the Mordovian people with the peoples of the Russian state. * * * President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues, friends, I welcome you all to Saransk. We all know that a big celebration is underway here at the moment to mark the 1000th anniversary of the unity of the Mordovian people with the Russian people, with other peoples of Russia. I spoke about this just before at the public event. I think this is an important national event given that we live in a multi-ethnic and multi-faith country. Most important of all though, is that over the many centuries of life together, we have not lost the greatest pillars in the foundation of our life and the life of each of our peoples. We have not lost our national culture, language and traditions. Russia has always been famed for and proud of its cultural diversity, and this has always been the source of its strength. It is crucially important that we have managed to preserve this diversity through the centuries. We are not at a public meeting now, but at a more down to earth event, and so I will allow myself to give a few figures. According to the 2010 national census results, there are 193 peoples and ethnic groups in Russia today speaking 171 languages. Of these languages, 89 are taught in the state school system. I think I can confidently say that no European country offers such a level of protection of citizens’ ethno-cultural rights. It is symbolic that the Council for Interethnic Relations should be holding its first meeting here amidst this festive celebratory atmosphere. The Council was established, as you recall, in June, with the main task of serving as an effective mechanism for cooperation between the state authorities and the public in this very sensitive and very important area. This Council must become a forum where we can discuss frankly the current issues in interethnic relations, without having to smooth over the thornier edges. We need to draw people representing all of the various public and political forces into these discussions, not reject anyone, and study and analyse the competing proposals, except for blatantly extremist proposals. All reasonable and substantive ideas should be incorporated into the work to develop modern policy approaches that will help us to achieve and strengthen interethnic harmony and peace. I hope that the non-governmental organisations and national-cultural autonomous regions that you head will be active partners and show interest in working together with the state institutions. Today, we need to outline the main strategic directions for our work together. Let me say what I see as the main priorities on which we should focus our attention. First, we must strengthen Russia as a unique world civilisation. We must remember that our country has traditionally always had regional diversity, ethno-cultural and religious diversity, and over the centuries this has been preserved, not suppressed. This diversity’s continued preservation today is not just the guarantee that Russia’s statehood has a solid foundation, but is also our great competitive advantage. No other country in the world has such a wealth of peoples and languages. In Europe, for sure, no country can match us here, and I think even in the United States it is so. True, the USA is a land of immigrants, but still, I think that no other country has Russia’s diversity. At the same time, we are fully justified in speaking of the key cementing role played by the Russian language and by the Russian people and its great culture. Let me make the point clear that neither religion nor ethnicity must divide Russia’s peoples and citizens. On the contrary, we must create the environment that gives equal opportunities to all of our citizens. We are all citizens of this country and we are all absolutely equal in rights. This brings me to my second priority: we need to strengthen our multi-ethnic people’s sense of civic unity. Lately, I, and my colleagues, so I am told, have made frequent reference to the Soviet period. Let me say that nostalgia for the past is perfectly explainable. We must take into account the positive experience built up over past decades. I add — given that I myself have made public reference to the Soviet period — that we must take care at the same time not to idealise anything, and this includes the Soviet Union’s interethnic relations policies. Looking back at the project to forge a “new historic community” – the “Soviet people”, we can say that this project was never completed, and not everyone accepted it. There will never be complete and total agreement on such issues. But the most important thing of all, on which we should focus today, is the need for qualitatively new approaches that take into account modern developments in society, in government, in our country and the world. Of course it is not possible to mechanically reproduce something from the past, and sometimes it is counterproductive to try to do so. Whatever the case, the result will not be effective. But we must nevertheless assess the past for the positive experience it offers and take this into account. The complex, multidimensional problem we are working on today cannot be resolved with an executive order or a law, although naturally, a corresponding regulatory framework must be created. We will nevertheless need a great deal of time, effort, analytical work, discussions and reflection. I believe the Council should make a sizable, possibly decisive contribution to this process, and here, I count on your active help. The third priority is harmonising interethnic relations and preventing interethnic conflicts. Russia’s unified territory has been built over the course of centuries, as I have already stated twice today. However, the values of interethnic harmony were not a gift from our ancestors that will last forever. Such traditions must be constantly maintained. Moreover, life moves forward; new challenges, risks and threats arise. And this requires the highest level of attention from the government and our society, as well as some fairly meticulous day-to-day work. Let me stress that we do not have the right to ignore any negative tendencies that occur in this sphere, and we must understand that conflicts may not only weaken the state, but also destroy its very foundations. Today, more and more often, under the guise of developing democracy and freedom, various nationalist groups are raising their heads. They participate in rallies, work on the Internet and among teenagers and students, using slogans of “Russian,” “Tatar,” “Caucasus,” or other “regional” nationalism. In essence, they are all pushing and provoking separatist tendencies inside our nation. It is important to suppress this dangerous influence. And together, we must make tolerance, respect toward the culture and way of life of other individuals, other peoples, other ethnicities one of the key notions in our society. I ask the Council members to present suggestions on how to organise work in this direction at universities, schools and preschools. This is particularly relevant for major cities and regions that have large ethnic and cultural communities of working migrants. Furthermore, we can see that often, the root of conflicts occurring seemingly on an ethnic basis is something entirely different – citizens’ distrust of the authorities and government. The widely known events in Kondopoga, Sagra, and Manezhnaya Square in Moscow are, first and foremost, the result of inaction by law enforcement agencies and irresponsible bureaucrats. Corruption and prejudice among representatives of state bodies, and their inability to provide justice and defend people’s interests, are fuelling ethnic conflicts and tension; and for some people, it is directly advantageous to channel citizens’ indignation over injustice and transform it into interethnic conflicts. I want to emphasise that supporting interethnic harmony, assuring prompt and competent resolution of potential conflicts, promoting dialogue between members of different communities and advocating tolerance must become a priority at all levels of government – particularly, to a large extent, municipal governments. It is at the local level, in specific cities, towns and villages, that the absolute majority of potential conflict situations and problems occur. And it is there that we can and must effectively resolve them, or better yet, timely and adequately react to them and prevent them. I also ask you to give interethnic issues close, special attention – actually, I will not only ask but also give corresponding instructions to the presidential plenipotentiary envoys in the federal districts. Clearly, it is also imperative to have citizen oversight. I feel that such mechanisms can be created with the help of our Council. I believe the Council can initiate expert evaluations of legislation and key decisions in interethnic relations. To do this, cooperation with the State Duma, regional parliaments, and relevant ministries and departments would be expedient. The next challenge is to ensure the successful integration and adaptation of foreign and domestic migrants. Migration plays a significant role in many nations around the world. Russia is no exception. We are already in second place after the United States in terms of the number of migrants coming here, and like other nations, we have encountered problems with interethnic tension. That is why, to make use of the positive potential the migration has – and that potential is great, — we must modernise the entire system of migration management. It is very important to create adequate conditions for integrating migrants, defending their rights and freedoms and assuring their social protection. At the same time, the migrants must also abide by Russian laws and migration rules, respect our traditions, culture, and rules of behaviour of the regions they are coming to. Only this kind of mutual respect can give us harmony, rather than create close ethnic groups. Let me stress that the ethnic communities themselves should play a particular role in migrants’ adaptation, taking migrants under their patronage, providing social support and, most importantly, using the infrastructure of their cultural and educational centres to teach their compatriots about the traditions and customs of the region where they come to live and work. Naturally, they will need support from the government as well, and here, we do need a dialogue between the various structures of civil society and government. Russia strives to ensure the cultural integration of migrants, to accelerate their assimilation based on our nation’s culture. Thus, we need to specify objectives to the Government and regional leaders to create a network of state bridging programmes for migrant workers and their children. And our Council could participate in this work. I ask you to get involved in putting together a reading list of 100 books recommended for schoolchildren and university students outside the mandatory school curriculum. It should include works that touch on the traditions of mutual respect between different peoples and ethnic groups that have historically resided within the Russian Federation’s territory. Colleagues, Managing interethnic relations is a challenge for governmental and social structures. And the national policy strategy that we will need to develop and adopt should not be formed in isolation, exclusively on a bureaucratic level. It is very important for it to be based on extensive public discussion, including within the framework of our Council. Gathered here are highly qualified specialists and respected leaders of ethnic associations who could take charge of this process and actively participate in it. * * * Vladimir Putin: This is a very solid gathering today. You are all experienced people fully immersed in the issue and the substance it entails. But I do not want us to meet simply once or twice a year, discuss things and then go our separate ways. I hope very much, as I said at the start, that we can put the potential of everyone here to good use so as to resolve this issue of such importance and sensitivity for our country – the issue of strengthening interethnic relations. The speakers today talked about establishing the Council’s working mechanisms, and we will most certainly discuss setting up specific working groups for the different areas. The heads of these working groups will form the Council’s board, which will meet more regularly and discuss in closer focus the various aspects of this big and multifaceted issue. Comment: Together with the ministers. Vladimir Putin: Yes, together with the ministers. By the way, some ministers are here today, but we will also invite other ministers with whom you think we should discuss matters that come under their responsibility. I am sure that the heads of our ministries and agencies will be happy to take part in this work because it will also provide them with a form of feedback on their ministries’ and agencies’ work and on the actual situation at the practical level, thus enabling us to make adjustments to the government’s work. And finally, I want to thank all of you for agreeing to take part in this work together. Thank you everyone.