Vladislav Surkov spoke during the discussion on Modernisation: the Material Resource for Freedom.
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First DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF OF THE PRESIDENTIAL EXECUTIVE OFFICE VLADISLAV SURKOV: The state cannot get the process of social change running, no matter what name we give it, if we cannot provide a practical motivation, if people do not feel the benefits for themselves. Many of those who left for the West in their time went there to consume, to shop in the supermarkets, and not to the Louvre. Everyone knows this full well. And so the sooner we explain how each and every individual can benefit from modernisation the more people will support these efforts.
This will not be easy, because modernisation in the classic sense – upgrading and development of infrastructure – is very costly, a lot more costly than Skolkovo Innovation Centre. When production modernises, living standards rise, and this is obvious straight away. Our strategic aim is to take Russia into a higher rank of countries. We are closer to the poor countries today. As President Dmitry Medvedev has said on numerous occasions, so long as we have a raw materials-based economy we will not be able to achieve this and will just keep coming back to where we started. A poor person today lives better than a poor person in the thirteenth century, but is still a poor person nonetheless. Today, we must show as many people as possible that modernisation will bring better living standards. This is very important and very much needed.
What we need therefore are active social groups motivated to modernise. We do not have this kind of group on any large scale in our society at the moment, and have been relying on administrative efforts to set things in motion. If we recall the 1990s, no matter what out attitude to that time, there were very strongly motivated social groups then: people were willing to risk their lives to pull the country forward. Yes, they were a minority, but they were so resolute and motivated that there was no need to prove to them the advantages of democracy and the market economy. They knew this already.
We talk more often about innovation than about replacing and upgrading technology, not because innovation is more important, but because it is less well understood in our country. At our present stage of development we can work on upgrading our economic infrastructure, but innovation is something that our businesspeople do not understand yet.
Our businesspeople do not always have the motivation or quite simply the money to modernise production. In many cases it would be practically impossible to modernise facilities, and would be easier to demolish them and build new ones. Private sector enterprises do not have the resources to overhaul whole huge sectors such as shipbuilding and machine building.
In this context, the absence of a social group motivated not in theory but in practice to carry our change is one of our biggest challenges. There are few private sector projects in Skolkovo so far, and we cannot change their mentality overnight.
The groups with an interest in modernisation should be our engineers, scientists, business community, and foreign specialists. There is some positive movement in this direction, and we hope soon to see people with a real interest in modernisation, including in modernising and upgrading industry. If our industry is lagging a century behind our innovations will also lag a century behind. It is not possible to create new technology with an outdated technical base. We must become more international in this respect. Just 20 years ago, no one could have dreamed that top managers from Western companies and foreign engineers would be working in Russia, but today this is perfectly normal.
We should attract foreign scientists, but our universities and Academy of Sciences have done nothing so far. We are doing all we can to attract foreign specialists, but without result so far. Still, we will definitely break down this barrier. We need social groups that will see their own direct financial interest in modernisation and will come running to join it, seeing in it a new Klondike. The state authorities are not passively waiting for these groups to emerge, but are actively helping to form them with the help of tax breaks for innovative businesses, co-financing for research and development, and incentives for research universities.
Of course, our political system also requires certain development. Technological modernisation is often contraposed to political modernisation, but I think it is wrong to put it in these ‘either or’ terms, for it seems foolish to try to say what is more important – technology or the parliament?
The goal of equipping all election polling stations with electronic equipment is a straightforward task, and in this sense has more significance than a million articles.
There is no need to convince us that these are good things. We are aware of this. But we have not learnt to create new technology yet, and so we still need to talk about it more. The state has always played a major part in this work. If the state machine breaks down and collapses into chaos, no modernisation will be possible. An ineffective state has never succeeded in carrying out modernisation.
I categorically disagree with those who say that we do not have democratic institutions. We do have institutions and they are functioning now and were functioning even during the 1990s. They were young then, immature, still in the process of formation, afflicted with corruption, but they did function, and they saw the country carry out very complex reforms, kept the Caucasus from being torn from us, and ensured succession of state power. Today’s institutions are a lot stronger and more effective than those of the 1990s, though they are also not without their problems. Democracy always criticizes its institutions. This is normal, but I do not agree that we should tear them apart. On the contrary, we should treat them with respect.
Our institutions need to develop and improve, but our democratic system must be stable in order to carry us forward. If we keep carrying out endless and primarily ruthless in nature political reforms we would end up hostage to our most primitive instincts and erode our democracy’s foundations.
Addressing the Global Policy Forum in Yaroslavl, the President said that democracy is a society that requires greater national wealth. I think that technological progress played a big part in developing democracy, and technology gives people the chance to be free. If resources are scarce, the opportunities available to society and the state authorities shrink accordingly. In pursuing our technological modernisation objectives we therefore must work too on strengthening our democracy’s economic foundations. Democracy is stable only in prosperous societies. If we develop a non-linear and complex economy composed of engines able to work independently of each other, our political system will become more developed.