President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, everyone,
As you know, I have signed an executive order establishing the Presidential Council fro Interethnic Relations. The composition of the Council has been approved. I would like to note that the majority of the Council’s members are not government officials but civil society representatives, heads of national and nongovernmental organisations, experts and academics.
I believe this approach is logical and I think you will agree with me because the issues of interethnic development, interethnic harmony, require an open and broad approach that is at the same time extremely delicate and competent. The Council has become a platform for professional discussions that will help us arrive at strategic and substantive national policy decisions.
At the same time the Council is called upon to serve as a feedback mechanism: its members must be in constant contact with national associations, diasporas and the federal and regional authorities to give an objective and reliable assessment and to bring your conclusions to the agencies that will then be able to provide a timely response to potential risks and threats that can cause ethnic conflicts.
I think it is important that we begin this work without further delays. The period of parliamentary and presidential elections and elections to the federal government agencies has come to an end. As you know, I devoted a great deal of attention to this issue in my election programme. I believe this is one of the key priorities for Russia’s welfare and its future.
There are several points that I believe deserve our special attention.
”The issues of interethnic development, interethnic harmony, require an open and broad approach that is at the same time extremely delicate and competent.“
First, I ask all Council members to take an active part in the effort on drafting the National Strategy for the Russian State Policy. This document must be finalised by the end of this year. Naturally, it will be adopted only after a broad public debate.
It is essential to take all the details into account when drafting the Strategy: the issues of education, information regarding historical events, culture, promoting Russian and other languages of the peoples in our country. This is a very sensitive issue and it is vitally important. We have always been proud of our cultural diversity, which is the backbone of our multi-ethnic nation. It rests not on one, two or three pillars but on a great multitude of pillars. Therefore, we must treat our heritage with the utmost care.
Unfortunately, there are problems in this area and we have people here who have been working with these issues for many years and you know for yourselves that entire languages are disappearing. It would seem a language is something eternal but that is not so. In the previous decades, even in Soviet times, despite the criticism of that period, and there is a great deal that deserves criticism, but I know firsthand that a lot of attention and funds were allocated to support the publication of magazines and books in minority languages, and this caring attitude made it possible to keep the cultures of small nations alive. Unfortunately, much has been lost in recent years.
Second, I have already talked about the importance of mechanisms to monitor the situation in the sphere of interethnic relations, including those that will reveal the inefficiency, incompetence and lack of responsibility among some government officials, who violate people’s individual rights and interests. As we know, it is the injustice, corruption and outright prejudice that often become a breeding ground for interethnic tensions, and unfortunately, some people like to stir up ethnic tensions. So I would ask Council members to interact with human rights organisations and other civil society institutions. Together we must adjust the mechanisms for the prevention of potential conflicts and dispute resolution in cases that have an ethnic aspect.
Third. I will ask Council members to join in the examination of the legislation on ethnic and migration policy. In particular, this applies to draft laws aimed at increasing the liability for violations of migration legislation. Our legislation must be clear and undemanding for respectable citizens, including those who come to Russia from abroad, and hard on those who ignore our laws and cultural and behavioural norms accepted in Russian society.
”Together we must adjust the mechanisms for the prevention of potential conflicts and dispute resolution in cases that have an ethnic aspect.“
Finally, I hope that the Council will play a constructive role in developing interethnic, inter-faith and intercultural dialogue, in promoting society’s consolidation around a principled position – a decisive rejection of any manifestations of separatism, national and religious extremism and radicalism.
In conclusion, I would like to stress once again: national accord, strong interethnic ties, peace and harmony are defining issues for our society and for the integrity of the Russian state. In fact, it is a foundation for a stable and sovereign Russia, for tackling long-term challenges in the economy, social sphere, nation-building and foreign policy. Every step taken in the field of interethnic relations must be meticulously verified, accepted by society and effectively implemented. The cost of errors and inconsistent actions is extremely high. Therefore, I have great hopes for our common, intense and highly meaningful work.
I have known many of you for a very long time, for many years, as very decent people, champions of efforts in this area of our public life, who know the problem well. That is all I wanted to say at the outset. Once again I want to emphasise that I have great hopes for our effective joint efforts.
I think it was a very good idea we heard just now on establishing a festival showcasing folk arts of different Russian regions and ethnic groups.
”National accord, strong interethnic ties, peace and harmony are defining issues for our society and for the integrity of the Russian state. It is a foundation for a stable and sovereign Russia, for tackling long-term challenges in the economy, social sphere, nation-building and foreign policy.“
Udmurtian grandmothers, as you know, gave a striking demonstration recently of how much attention this can attract and how close it is to the hearts of all people in Russia. And I am sure that everybody, regardless of their ethnic background, watched not just with curiosity but also with great enthusiasm the way these grannies from Udmurtia represented our multinational country at an international cultural event that had never witnessed such performances. Therefore, I think we could use this experience to realise your proposal. Let's think about it and write it up it in the near future.
In general, I think we are on the right path. I very much hope that all members of the Council will work actively. It is already clear that you have a lot of ideas and proposals and your assessments are profound and absolutely correct. I am confident that we will be able to achieve a great deal together in culture and in improving administrative procedures.
What is very important, and I would like to return to this issue one more time and focus your attention on this, our legislation must be fully in line with and adequate to the challenges and threats we face – in fact, not just Russia but all the other countries, too. This does not mean that we should simply toughen legislation but it must be adequate to the threats we face.
Somewhere legislation may be tightened, but in any case it is vital that such laws must be debated by the public and that representatives of various nations and ethnic groups participate in improving Russian legislation. We must make sure that people living in any part of the country, including the indigenous nations and those who have moved to those areas, realise that all civil society organisations have taken part in adopting relevant laws, that they have expressed their opinions and consider the adoption of such legal acts to be timely and appropriate for present day demands.
This is very important, and our efforts should be directed at ensuring that society accepts the laws and the improvement to the current legislation that are necessary not only to make us feel more confident and stable, but also to build the prosperity of our country. I am certain that our efforts will be successful.