During the meeting the President noted, in particular, the need to step up the efforts to restore cultural institutions in Sevastopol and Crimea.
The President also thanked the participants for their constructive work in their fields over many years. Vladimir Putin emphasised that the resolution of many issues discussed at the meeting “will take a long time but work on them should by all means begin and begin today.”
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Beginning of meeting with public figures, scientists and cultural workers of Sevastopol and the Republic of Crimea
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon,
We had a meeting a couple of years ago with a different, but a similar group of people. I will not give long monologues, but I must certainly make some sacral statements about the importance of Crimea, Sevastopol and this place where we are now – Chersonese – for Russia, its culture and its spiritual code in the direct sense of this word.
As you know, we have a federal targeted programme on the development of both Crimea and Sevastopol. I do not know to what extent – I mean I know, of course, but maybe we are not as sensitive as you to judge to what extent – this programme takes into account everything that is linked with the cultural aspect of life in Crimea and Sevastopol. Maybe we have missed something or fallen short somewhere.
Moreover, there is a federal part and a regional part, and I am sure, life shows that often there is no attention, or not enough attention paid to emerging problems. They are not analysed in the same way as specialists do.
Here we are meeting with specialists. Mr Medvedev and I wanted to meet with you and discuss all issues of your concern.
Well, that is all for my monologue. If Mr Medvedev wants to add something, he is welcome. If not, let us start a direct engaging conversation.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev: I will listen.
Chairperson of the Legislative Assembly of Sevastopol Yekaterina Altabayeva: Mr President, may I start?
Vladimir Putin: Of course.
Yekaterina Altabayeva: My name is Yekaterina Altabayeva, and I am the Chairperson of the Legislative Assembly of Sevastopol.
Mr President, Mr Prime Minister, guests,
We are very happy to welcome you to Sevastopol. We are proud to say that today Sevastopol is a separate entity of the Russian Federation, a city of federal importance.
Mr President, my first words will be addressed to you. On behalf of all Sevastopol residents I would like to convey our tremendous, sincere gratitude for the difficult decisions you took in 2014. We needed those decisions very much. We probably do not even realise the burden of responsibility, the heavy burden you shouldered. But, thank God, everything went down well. And Sevastopol, a city with a Russian soul, is back in its Fatherland.
It is certainly a city with a special destiny. It was born in 1783 and was razed to the ground twice: during the Crimean War in the 19th century and in the 20th century during the Great Patriotic War. However, the spirit of Sevastopol cannot be killed. And this is the reason why even during the hard times under Ukraine it proved impossible to rob us of our mother tongue and our history.
Of course, we think about the roots of this amazing phenomenon: the spirit of the Hero City Sevastopol. And we believe they lie back in the depth of centuries because Sevastopol was born in the land that had absorbed the culture of civilizations and peoples that lived and created their customs and cultures over millennia.
Undoubtedly, our honours grew with the prayers and selfless labour of Andrew the First Called, St Clement of Rome, Cyril and Methodius. We always remember that St Vladimir was baptised in our land. And it was here that the fire of faith was born that united Slavic tribes and forged the unique Russian character and the national unity.
But Sevastopol, undoubtedly, also grew out of the deeds and creativity of many generations of people who lived here, who founded Sevastopol, built it up and celebrated it. I may be saying banalities, but the spirit of our city was undoubtedly enriched by the best of Russia, its spiritual powers that were later forged into Sevastopol’s special spirit.
We certainly cannot omit mentioning that some outstanding names from Russian history are among the founders of our city: Catherine the Great, Grigory Potemkin, Alexander Suvorov, Fedot Klokachev. And only four years after the city was founded, Catherine the Great came here, to the magnificent Taurida, to the city she called a city worthy of admiration. And even Russia’s evil-wishers in her entourage, such as French Ambassador Count de Segur, wrote that it was astounding that 20,000 kilometres from the capital, in a land that just became part of the country, a city was built, a fleet was created, residents settled down and a port was built. This is a great feat, an extraordinary endeavour.
We can find some of the most illustrious names from the Russian history among the people who built Sevastopol: Fedor Ushakov, Alexei Greig, Mikhail Lazarev. Of course, in the mid 19th century Sevastopol was not a capital, it was not a provincial centre or even a district centre, but it was as attractive and significant as the capital city itself. Even after it was destroyed in the middle of the 19th century (just as it was seen by our enemies in August 1855), it produced an impression of vigorous activity. An English officer wrote in a letter home: “Even the ruins left of the city make a tremendous impression. Probably everyone would love to be born, live and die in such a city.”
Of course, the spirit of the city’s defenders makes up the spirit of Sevastopol, and these are thousands of outstanding names, but, first and foremost, our renowned admirals are at the forefront of this constellation: Vladimir Kornilov, Pavel Nakhimov, Vladimir Istomin. It was about them and some perhaps unknown defenders of Sevastopol that Archbishop of Kherson and Tauride Innocent spoke about in his sermon in June 1855, when he was here in Sevastopol: “From now on, when I preach to my flock, I will not have to go far to seek examples of high spirit and virtue. I will tell my flock: come here and kneel before your brothers, who defend the spirit of the faith, and worship them. This place is holy!” There is hardly anything that can be added to these words.
The only thing I would like to say is that during the Great Patriotic War, this unconditional tradition of exceptional endurance, courage and heroism was carried on. The defenders of Sevastopol and the city’s liberators made an enormous contribution to what we call the Sevastopol spirit. What took place here in our land cannot be called anything other than mass heroism. It turned out so that Sevastopol, of course, without any doubt, is the Black Sea Fleet’s base: the city is inseparable from the fleet; the city and the fleet make up a single whole. Naturally, this is Russia’s outpost on its southern borders. But, apart from that, Sevastopol has always been both a cultural and a scientific centre. Thousands of great names of Russian and foreign literature are linked with our city. People may not have lived here for a long time, but, when they came here, they took a strong liking to the proud beauty of Sevastopol. They paid a tribute to it in their art and spoke about a city for the whole of Russia, for the whole world.
How could we betray our past, our history? How could we not protect the spirit of this land, the integral part of the Russian world’s spirit, from being destroyed? I think that these were the feelings that, although, subconsciously, led Sevastopol residents to Nakhimov Square, in the heart of Sevastopol, on February 23, 2014, and our admirals stood behind us.
I believe that Sevastopol’s destiny is about preserving historical memory, passing it down through generations, and uniting all those people who create, protect and educate Russia through their work. I would really like for young people, children and teenagers, and not just adults, who know life, to feel the spirit of Sevastopol. I believe that we really need the programme for Russian regions to send young people here for three to five days and not only in summer, but during the whole year, so that they can see it with their own eyes, walk on this ground and feel its spirit.
Dmitry Likhachev once said how a citizen should be brought up: he must see his Motherland, walk on the land, see it with his own eyes, get a taste of the land – then a citizen would be brought up. I believe the huge potential of this land must never go to waste. It should be extrapolated to our generation, because there is no future without it. We really do not want Sevastopol to lose the role it played in the past; we want it to bring all the benefit it can bring to the great Russia.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
Ms Altabayeva, we may think we know everything about Sevastopol, but we miss out many things. Sevastopol used to by a city of union subordination during the Soviet time, where the fleet’s base was located. Pursuant to various contracts on the cusp of the Soviet Union’s dissolution, everything that was part of union subordination passed on to Russia, but Sevastopol was forgotten. It is a very unique thing. It was simply forgotten. Strange, but it is a fact.
Yekaterina Altabayeva: Mr President, this is why everything that happened in 2014 – there are simply no words to describe it.
Vladimir Putin: Yes. This is restoration of historical justice, absolutely. But as for the role Sevastopol played in the history of our state, it is, of course, unique, huge. And of course, this is a very good example for young children. We could think about arranging youth tours through the Ministry of Tourism. We have to talk. We will think how to do this.
Yekaterina Altabayeva: Thank you very much.
Vladimir Putin: But the city has to be restored to make it attractive.
Yekaterina Altabayeva: Infrastructure needs to be created. Yes, we understand this.
Vladimir Putin: The city needs to be restored. Everything needs to be restored: the utilities infrastructure, the appearance. The historical sites need to be restored too, of course.
Chersonese, the place where we are right now, is one of such sites. Mr Medvedev and I have just talked about it. We could think about giving Chersonese a special status as a cultural site. It should become a Russian Mecca of a kind. The point is not just that Prince Vladimir was baptised here; what is more important is that afterwards the Russian state started to become centralised. Yes, of course, we know that by that time Novgorod and other parts of ancient Rus had already developed statehood. But there was no ideological foundation for uniting Slavic tribes into a united Russian nation and strengthening the unified national Russian state on the basis of several components, which are well-known: a common market, a common language, common faith and the power of the prince. These are the four main components, which led to the actual creation of a relatively modern, by the standards of that time, unified national Russian state and in fact, the creation of the Russian nation as such. In this regard, Chersonese, the place where we are right now, is of unique importance for our state, for our people and for our statehood.
But as for the big Sevastopol, we spoke a lot about it with the Acting Governor today, and a lot of things will have to be done. I believe that our colleagues will get back to specific issues. But let’s not forget what Sevastopol means for Russia.
Yekaterina Altabayeva: Thank you very much.