The meeting was attended by the senior staff of the Presidential Executive Office and federal bodies of executive power, the leaders of ethnic communities, heads of NGOs and representatives of the expert community.
The Presidential Council for Interethnic Relations was established following the Presidential Executive Order No 602 On Ensuring Interethnic Unity. The same Executive Order instructed the Presidential Executive Office and the Government to draft a National Ethnic Policy Strategy, which was approved last December.
The event took place at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Centre. Before the meeting, Vladimir Putin viewed the museum's expositions.
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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues,
I am sure that like me you have already visited the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Centre, where we are meeting today, and I am certain that it has not left anyone indifferent.
Israel has a similar museum, though a more modest one. In my opinion, our colleagues have succeeded in creating an outstanding institution, which will attract the interest of many people in our country of diverse ethnic backgrounds and will make an important contribution to addressing the issue we have gathered today to discuss.
The last time we met was last August in Saransk, when we agreed to discuss current issues and our general approach, our strategies in the work for which this centre was established.
I would like to reiterate that our core objective is to enhance peace and harmony in the multiethnic Russian society, so that our people feel that they are citizens of a single country regardless of their ethnicity and religious beliefs.
”Our core objective is to enhance peace and harmony in the multiethnic Russian society, so that our people feel that they are citizens of a single country regardless of their ethnicity and religious beliefs.“
I see this as key to the sustainable and successful development of our nation. This approach was laid out in the new National Ethnic Policy Strategy. This document was adopted in December 2012 following a broad public discussion.
Currently the Government is drafting a plan to implement the Strategy. However, we have a great deal to achieve to make it work and to make sure that it does not remain a kind of declaration of intent. In this regard I would like to draw your attention to several points.
First. The Russian language, our national language, is the fundamental basis of national unity in our country as the language of interethnic communication. It shapes a common civic, cultural and educational environment, and every citizen of the Russian Federation must speak this language, and speak it well. However, in order for people to study the Russian language, it is essential to create the necessary conditions for this and to improve them continuously.
Much has already been achieved as part of the federal targeted programme the Russian Language 2011–2015. In total, 2.5 billion rubles [about 83 million] will be allocated for this purpose by 2015. But it would not be right to rely exclusively on this one programme. We must increase support for Russian as a native language and to promote it at the federal level and in all regions without exception.
Our focus on the Russian language seems to be such a natural thing but it may sometimes appear that we underestimate its significance for our nation and for our state. People often take it for granted and think that it will always exist and develop of its own accord.
However, if we take a look at some remote communities on the outskirts of the Russian Federation, I am not at all sure that we will find the same knowledge of the language there as in big cities. Meanwhile, this situation is destroying our country and creating problems for people because they want to study and work in areas where Russian language is in demand. There are many other aspects of this process that I will not go into now.
”The Russian language, our national language, is the fundamental basis of national unity in our country as the language of interethnic communication. It shapes a common civic, cultural and educational environment.“
Let me remind you that we celebrate the Russian Language Day every year on Alexander Pushkin’s birthday. But this event is not marked at the level that it deserves. Many people don’t even know that such a holiday even exists.
I think the Government should submit some considered proposals on ways to mark the Russian Language Day in 2013 and in the future; not perfunctory, but meaningful suggestions to commensurate to the scale and significance of the issue. I hope that the Council will also join in these efforts.
The second point is the role of schools in shaping the culture of interethnic relations and strengthening mutual respect between them. This requires systemic, integrated and creative efforts, which must meet children’s interests and needs, and be consistent with modern reality. I emphasise that formal moralising is totally unacceptable and ineffective here, and can sometimes even be counterproductive.
Perhaps we should think about introducing common history textbooks for Russian secondary schools, designed for different ages but built into a single concept and following a single logic of continuous Russian history, the relations between all its stages and respect towards all the episodes of our past. Naturally, specific examples must be used to demonstrate that Russia’s destiny was built on a union of different peoples, traditions and cultures.
I should add that school textbooks must be written in good Russian (I started with this point), and must be free from internal contradictions and ambiguities. This should be a mandatory requirement for all teaching materials.
It would be best if the work on the history textbooks that will be used by schools nationwide involves experts not only from the Education Ministry but also from the Russian Academy of Sciences, as well as two of the oldest Russian public associations that are now resuming their activities: the Historical Society and the Society for Military History.
Next. Today Russia has 989 registered ethnic cultural autonomies. In addition, there are numerous ethnic associations, unions and regional associations. All these organisations have tremendous humanitarian potential and can become an effective platform for ethnic and cultural exchange.
I stress that in accordance with the new provisions of Federal Law On Non-Profit Organisations, such entities are now eligible for state aid as socially oriented non-profit organisations.
Moreover, I believe the presidential grants to be awarded in 2013 and subsequent years must include funding for projects aimed at improving interethnic relations.
This practice must be introduced at the regional level, where Governors should institute their own forms of grant support.
”It is important for us to decide on providing state support for the projects related to national history. Everyone must learn the true story of our country’s unification, the joining of Russian lands into a single powerful multiethnic state, and not all kinds of pseudo-scientific, biased speculations on the subject.“
In general, it is important for us to decide on providing state support for the projects related to national history. Everyone must learn the true story of our country’s unification, the joining of Russian lands into a single powerful multiethnic state, and not all kinds of pseudo-scientific, biased speculations on the subject.
Many countries evolved in different ways, but the vast majority of modern civilised countries are seeking integration because it is an opportunity to radically increase competitiveness and survival of individual nations in the modern conditions.
Russia is no exception, and that is especially true since we all live within a single state. We must cherish and multiply this source of strength, but we must do it through subtle, effective modern methods, and people must understand that all these efforts are to their benefit.
We must involve experts in this work, who will compile a list of historical dates related to the unity of the peoples of Russia and put together a calendar of events for at least the period from 2013 to 2025, widely publicise these events in the media and academic publications, as well as in educational and cultural spheres.
We should support the efforts of the student volunteer movement to revive the cultural heritage of the peoples of the Russian Federation, hold conferences on history, ethnology and ethnopolitics for students and young researchers together with the institutions of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Russian Academy of Education, and so on.
Naturally, we must also support creative projects aimed at strengthening the unity of the peoples of Russia, our historical and cultural identity: films, documentaries and animated films, and radio and television programmes.
I want to emphasise that the state should not support blatant propaganda but choose truly outstanding, subtle, talented works – then and only then will we get a result. One good example that I have talked about many times in the past is the My Planet TV channel, which is being launched by National State Television and Radio Company jointly with the Russian Geographical Society.
I ask the Government to analyse these issues and to consider a package of measures to foster strong interethnic relations through the media and the Internet.
Fourth. The federal programme Strengthening the Unity of the Russian Nation and the Ethnic and Cultural Development of the Peoples of Russia should become a significant resource for the support of public initiatives. The programme for 2014–2018 is currently being drafted by the Government.
In addition, it is important to involve the business community and private sponsors in humanitarian projects. I suggest that today we talk about different ways of implementing this.
Fifth. Our civic chambers operating at different levels also have great potential. Together with state and municipal civic councils, they could promote a dialogue between the Government and civil society on the implementation of national policies.
”We must strive for our national sports to be included in the Olympic disciplines. Most importantly, they must become popular in Russia and develop as mass, widely available activities.“
Finally, the sixth. In the near future Russia will host several major sporting and political events. In sports, Kazan will host the XXVII World Summer Universiade this summer, the XXII Olympic Winter Games will be held in February 2014 followed by the Paralympics.
These events will certainly give a strong new impetus to the development of sport in our country, both professional and amateur sports. It is extremely important that all these positive changes have an impact on our national sports, reflecting the culture and the spirit of the peoples of Russia.
I would like to note that today the Sports Ministry’s official register contains only five such sports, as if there are no others. In fact, there are more than sixty of them, and over 85,000 people are involved in them – this is only the official figure, and I am sure that the real number is much higher. Let’s not forget that all the world famous Olympic sports started out as purely national disciplines.
Naturally, we must strive for our national sports to be included in the Olympic disciplines. Most importantly, they must become popular in Russia and develop as mass, widely available activities.
Let's start our discussion. Thank you for your attention.
(On the issue of the Schneerson Library): I am sorry to see that the debate over this issue has reached a confrontational level following what I think were unlawful decisions made by another country’s courts. The Schneerson Library does not belong to any particular Jewish community. It belongs to the Russian Jewish community too, and indeed to the Russian Federation above all. We would not like to see the situation end up in a dead end.
I want to make it clear that the Schneerson Library is not a single entity. From the legal point of view it consists of two parts. As I understand it, one part of this library was collected by a collector, well, in one sense anyway, he was a clergyman but also a collector and he put this part of the library together in Russia in the nineteenth century. This part of the library was nationalised following a decision by the Council of People’s Commissars [the government] of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic immediately following the revolution in 1917. This is a very important aspect of the whole problem because if we agree to hand over Russian property to someone else – and the library was declared to be Russian property – we would open a Pandora’s Box.
I am not discussing now whether the Soviet government was right or wrong when it nationalised a huge amount of property after the 1917 revolution, but almost 100 years have passed since then and we live today with the circumstances that resulted. If we were to open this Pandora’s Box now and start satisfying these sorts of claims there would be no end to them and no telling what the consequences might be. Maybe the time will come when we would be able to do this, but I think that right now we are absolutely not ready for this and it would be impossible.
The second part of the library was brought from Germany as war trophies, and as you know, decisions on trophy goods taken out of Germany have already been made. Of course we would like to find a solution that would above all benefit those with an interest in these spiritual treasures. What sort of solution could we envisage?
We are here right now at the Jewish Tolerance Centre, and we could think of a way of housing the library here, say, at Russia’s Jewish Tolerance Centre. I would be ready to send the relevant instructions to the Government and the Ministry of Culture. As for the legal aspects of organising this, it would be a matter for the experts to discuss. In any case, we could guarantee full access to the library for all who wish to use it. I think this would be a big step forward and a means of reaching a solution with those who really do want to settle the issue and not use it as a pretext for stirring passions and provoking confrontation.
If we could all sit down together, together with members of Russian Jewish organisations and representatives of the Hassidic community in the USA, and try to settle the issue – really try to settle it instead of aggravating it – I am sure that we would find a solution.