Excerpts from transcript of joint meeting of the Council for Culture and Art and the Council on the Russian Language
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues,
We have gathered today in St Petersburg, which has a very concentrated cultural programme these days. The International Cultural Forum is taking place here, and the closing ceremony of the Year of Russian Cinema will be held here in the evening. I would like to wish productive work to all participants of these events.
Today, we are holding a joint meeting of the Council for Culture and Art and the Council on the Russian Language in this wonderful, beautiful hall. This format was not chosen by accident. We are going to talk about the consolidation of the country’s integrated cultural space and its foundations – the Russian language and classical Russian literature, which have always determined the common spiritual and moral values of the peoples of the Russian Federation and helped us preserve our cultural code and pass it on to the future generations.
Moreover, the diversity of our mother tongue and the humanitarian values reflected in the best examples of Russian literature help us gain a deeper insight into the wealth of Russian culture as a whole, its historical significance for Russia and the entire world and, of course, our inclusion in our homeland’s destiny.
Much has been done to enhance the status of the Russian language and literature in the past few years. Owing to system-wide measures in schools and universities, active support of reading, film adaptation of classical literature and educational media projects, more and more people are choosing meaningful, so to say intellectual leisure.
It is enough to say that almost 120 million people visit museums every year. I do not know whether any other country comparable in population size has such figures, but I doubt it very much.
Theatres are also becoming more popular, gathering 39 million spectators per year, as well as theatre festivals devoted to our great writers: Chekhov, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and a more modern galaxy of authors, such as Shukshin.
Not to miss a premiere and to regularly attend exhibitions and classical music concerts is becoming not only a matter of savoir vivre but an urgent need for Russians. It is very important to preserve this positive attitude in society.
Naturally, we will continue to support major socially important cultural projects, as well as our leading creative groups and educational institutions.
At the same time, state support alone is not enough to involve a broader audience, especially young people, in the world of high, insightful art. I touched upon this in my Address [to the Federal Assembly] yesterday, as you might have heard. We need new, original interpretations of classical works in cinematography, theatre, television and social networks. This is a task for the people of art: to create contemporary works while preserving the content of the original, its moral message and our rich and evocative language.
I spoke about my position on interfering in creative processes, and I want to reiterate that the freedom to create should be inviolable. However, all freedoms have their alternate side, namely, responsibility. We know it very well. This, actually, is acknowledged by all renowned philosophers.
Artists, “the rulers of our hearts,” have a special responsibility in everything they do. On the one hand, any disruptive behaviour, any attempts to sabotage a play or exhibition are absolutely intolerable and should be punished in accordance with the law. And we will do so. At the same time, the creative community – especially the creative community – should acknowledge the line between a cynical, insulting provocation and an act of creativity.
Renowned and respected people of art have gathered here today. I hope that you will voice your opinions on these issues.
I have no doubt that in accordance with the adopted Basics of the State Cultural Policy we will be able to develop and implement programmes that will boost the development of projects related to the preservation of cultural heritage and the Russian language in academic, folk and contemporary art.
There will be many volunteers, I am sure. By the way, Mr Mironov had a birthday recently. We all wish him a happy 50th birthday, and in that spirit I’ll give him the floor first. Mr Mironov, go ahead please.
Actor and Artistic Director of the State Theatre of Nations Yevgeny Mironov:
Mr President, ladies and gentlemen.
I can state with confidence that modern theatre in Russia is on the upswing. I am particularly pleased to say that it is not limited to the two capitals. Gone are the times when the alluring lights of the capitals literally devastated regional cultural life and lured actors away not only from small towns but even from regional centres.
At present there are about 700 theatres in our country. New, very powerful theatre centres are being established in Yekaterinburg, Perm, Yaroslavl, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk and Saratov, to name a few. It has become fashionable to go to premieres in these cities. Plays staged by local theatres are depriving the masters in the capitals of their “golden masks.” Theatre festivals in Voronezh and Omsk, for example, have become more competitive with the cultural offerings in the capitals due to their extensive programmes.
The Federal Touring Support Centre is three years old. It was established by the Ministry of Culture at your initiative, Mr President. It helps arrange exchanges of guest performances not only for Russian companies but also for theatres from former Soviet republics. As far as I know, there are about 30 tours per year.
We see all the interesting things happening in theatre in small cities, which have 150 professional companies in 53 regions. City theatres of Novokuibyshevsk, Minusinsk, Glazov, Kudymkar and Lysva have become famous throughout the country.
The State Theatre of Nations has developed a programme in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture, which is aimed at meeting theatres’ creative needs, from supplying them with qualified teachers in different areas of theatre to helping compile their repertoire. The best companies from all parts of the country get together for an annual festival of small city theatres.
Quite recently we received very good news. I understand that the State Duma adopted a decision that means a lot for us, as it adds support for small city theatres to the state budget that is being now discussed. I hope this initiative of MPs will also receive your support, Mr President.
Long gone are the days when the theatre was just the usual three: drama theatre, children’s theatre, and puppet theatre. Many cities now have successful modern drama centres, such as in Yekaterinburg; and documentary theatre centres and modern dance centres, such as in Kostroma. Supporting independent projects and promoting a variety of theatrical forms to compete for audiences are important for ensuring an exciting and productive future for our theatres.
All these efforts focus on our ability to achieve one of the most important goals for federal policy on culture, which is to raise regional theatres above their provincial level, consolidate Russia’s cultural space, and promote theatrical and cultural life in the regions.
However, there are a number of long-standing issues. Salaries remain a problem for regional actors. It is important, first, to resolve this problem; and, second, it should not be resolved by cutting creative personnel jobs or closing theatres. Sometimes such ideas are voiced. On the contrary, it is imperative to preserve the theatre network in our country, because we take pride in our theatres.
Mr President, the theatre community clearly sees a need for more children's theatres, which account for only about 10 percent of the total number of state and municipal theatres. Children’s theatres are a place where the audiences have their first experience of the theatre. Art shapes our outlook on life, the spiritual meaning and value behind the life of an individual and the entire nation. Childhood is a critical stage in this process. Unfortunately, public funding of children’s theatres traditionally has been lower than for regular theatres. Children’s theatres cannot increase revenues by raising ticket prices. They don’t have the same ability as drama theatres to raise ticket prices, and besides children's theatres should remain affordable to as many children as possible. The situation with puppet theatres, of which there are just over 100 in our country, is even worse. Salaries in some regions are as low as 10,000 to 19,000 rubles a month.
I would like to make another very important point. Sorry if I am repeating myself. Participants in the recent meeting of Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Sergei Kiriyenko with artistic directors of Moscow and St Petersburg’s leading theatres discussed questions that are the subject of widespread debate, and my colleagues asked me to make this appeal to you, all the more so since you touched on very important issues today and in your Address to the Federal Assembly yesterday.
The problem of education in the arts, from a young age, and understanding the language of art has become particularly urgent recently. This is true of everyone – both ordinary spectators and government officials in the provinces. The level of culture in the provinces is often higher than the national average and it is important to make sure that this disparity, which is nothing tragic, leads to normal dialogue rather than an order shouted by minor officials.
As you know, Mr President, in the last few months the theatre community has become worried over restrictions on artistic freedom. These apprehensions are largely the result of illegal actions of some officials, including those in the provinces, that simply banned a number of shows, citing representatives of this or that civic organisation.
We are equally concerned over the actions of different activists, who go virtually unpunished after rushing into theatres during plays that caused disapproval or destroying displays at exhibitions. Contemporary art is always provocative but this does not mean that it should hurt someone’s feelings.
However, if no law was violated, evaluations of a piece of art should only be made in a professional, civilised and respectful atmosphere. We believe that in complex times society should rely on the opinion of the professional community, people whose achievements and names have earned them unqualified authority. I know Valery Fokin wanted to speak about this and offer a proposal.
We know your view, Mr President, and that of the leadership of the Presidential Executive Office. It coincides with the view of culture professionals. Artistic freedom is stipulated by law in our country, and nobody is going to repeal it. So, the ban on certain works of art, if their content is proved to be unlawful, can only be imposed by a court. Bullying over works of art should be stopped by law enforcement agencies. However, it seems to us they are not always willing to act. We would like – and we thank you for addressing this issue – the government to ease these concerns and fears felt by the professional community.
As we know, the State Duma is discussing a draft law on combating vandalism introduced by Stanislav Govorukhin. Hopefully, it will be adopted. On the other hand, you are absolutely right: as culture professionals, we understand the extent of our responsibility and, being engaged in public activity, we can come under fire, including harsh criticism. This is absolutely normal, we must bear this responsibility. And also, culture professionals should have a respectful dialogue with society that promotes positive values. We should think about the aesthetic education of the audience, which should start in school. Pushkin was completely right in saying that “the audience forms dramatic talents.” Today, we are lacking a degree of balance, and this issue could be on the agenda of a future meeting of the Presidential Council for Culture and Art. Thank you.
President Putin: Thank you very much.
I think that we will repeatedly return to the issue of financial security, wages and the like.
As for the concerns about artistic freedom. You said there are attempts to forbid things. We meet quite seldom, so I would like to have a meaningful dialogue – who tried to prohibit something and when?
Yevgeny Mironov: Perhaps you know that the play “Jesus Christ Superstar” was banned in Omsk. This play has been staged for about 30 or 40 years. It is popular worldwide and in Moscow. For example, it is staged at Moscow Soviet Theatre. But, Mr President, we are afraid of a chain reaction. When such things happen in towns, they can spread quickly, leading to really stupid things. The play “Pushkin’s Tales” is staged by our Theatre of Nations. It is done by a very famous director, but many so-called ‘well-wishers’ repeatedly asked us to cut “The Tale of the Priest and His Workman Balda.”
Vladimir Putin: Who banned it?
Yevgeny Mironov: Nobody did. I am talking about a specific show, “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
Vladimir Putin: So, who banned it?
Yevgeny Mironov: The authorities did.
Vladimir Putin: Some abstract authorities or concrete authorities, as represented by concrete people? We have the minister here: Mr Medinsky.
Yevgeny Mironov: It was not recommended.
Vladimir Putin: Mr Medinsky, did you ban it?
Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky: I am trying to sort this out, Mr President. I certainly did not ban it. Omsk Region Culture Minister Viktor Lapukhin – he is the former director of the Omsk Drama Theatre. It would never have occurred to him to ban it. I am trying to find out.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, this needs sorting out.You know, we should always bring such things to a logical conclusion because, on the one hand, it is easy to say “You have banned it” but on the other hand “We had nothing to do with it.” However, it is essential to understand what is in fact going on. Only once we understand what is going on can we draw the correct conclusions and take an appropriate decision.
Yevgeny Mironov: If I may – we have prepared for you a list of violations that were made but went unnoticed. For example, the cancellation of a tour by the Satirikon Theatre in your hometown, St Petersburg.
Vladimir Putin: The cancellation of a tour is not a ban. You mentioned activists. You know, there is always a fine line between what I described as a dangerous desire to shock and freedom of artistic expression. These activists, in a manner of speaking, went to the Charlie Hebdo editorial offices and shot people. Question: Did those cartoonists have to insult Muslims? They took the publication as an insult. It is another matter perhaps that the artists did not mean to insult anybody, but they did. To repeat, this is a very delicate thing, a fine line. Everything depends on our sense of tact, on the one hand, on the bureaucracy, on the other hand, on representatives of the arts.
Officials often act not because they want to restrict something. We have a general principle not to do that, never to return to that, but many do not want tragedies like those in Paris to happen here. We must not forget about that for a second. While this triggers an inappropriate response, to put it mildly, from representatives of certain faiths, leading to crime, representatives of other faiths, thank God, have no problem with it. This does not mean, however, that there can’t be overreactions. After all, there are plenty of radicals in all religions. Simply, we should bear this in mind and no matter what, we must not allow the situation to get to this point and divide society. Please note, when I spoke about that, I said that the community itself should develop certain criteria. They are very nuanced, as I said.
Perhaps this example from my own life is not entirely applicable, but as you know, I have been doing martial arts all my life: judo. And in judo the highest score is ippon. Do you know how you score ippon, according to the rules? By executing a throw with considerable force or speed. How much force or speed is not clear. However, there are definite criteria and they are observed in the professional community. God forbid they are violated in a major competition. The judge will simply be disqualified and never allowed to work again.
These criteria should also be developed in the artistic community. This is an uphill task but it would be very good if that was done by you rather than us. And then it would be easier for me, frankly speaking, to stop officials who go too far. Of course, we have always had plenty of those in Russia, let alone in the Soviet Union. Let us think about this together. All right?
Yevgeny Mironov: Yes, Mr President, I would just like to say that if your proposal is acted upon and if responsibility is shifted to the professional community so that people who ought to know could find a common language with society, then it would probably be easier, perhaps, as you say, for officials to let up on this a little. For example, the Jan Fabre exhibition at the Hermitage is now under attack – the same old story. It seems to me that Mr Piotrovsky is the best judge of all of us.
Vladimir Putin: Mr Mironov, people like you can be counted on the fingers of one hand not only in this country but also in the world. Now, where can I find officials like you? You see, this is a challenging task. For people whose job description is simpler than creative activity, more accurate criteria are needed. Help me do that, all right?
Yevgeny Mironov: All right. Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.
Mr Sholokhov, please.
President of the Russian Committee of the International Council of Museums, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee for Culture Alexander Sholokhov: Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,
Yesterday, in his address, the President spoke about the importance of unity for Russia today. It was with great satisfaction that we noted the role in strengthening that unity that was assigned to education and culture.
Indeed, it is inconceivable to bring up a generation to which we will entrust our country’s fate in the near future without the joint efforts of the entire society, primarily, of course, educational institutions that work in close contact with libraries, museums, theatres, and cinemas, which preserve, study and expand our amazing cultural heritage and preserve the main driving force of that heritage: our language. Today, I would like to touch on some aspects of this activity and cite some examples.
The importance of cultural heritage is so obvious that it needs no proof. This is our shared wealth, the source of our pride and patriotism, and the foundation on which our future is based. At the same time it is also evident that any wealth can be squandered, any source of pride can be replaced or even turned into a source of shame, which would, naturally, erode the foundation for our future achievements. As such, I would like to thank you, Mr President, for stressing the need for extreme caution with regard to experiments in the sphere of culture and education.
In recent years, a great deal has been done to promote our cultural assets. At the same time there is no need to prove that knowledge of the history of one’s homeland, love of it, and a sense of pride in it are the foundation of our spirituality, identity, and patriotism. It is impossible to love the Motherland in general, as something abstract, and at the same time feel ashamed of one’s hometown or village.
There is not a single place in our country whose history would not provide cause for pride or material for study. Interest in the heritage of one’s home region is steadily growing, with regional studies serving as an academic foundation for the systemic study of historical, cultural, and environmental heritage. Regional studies can satisfy people’s varied interests, and it was no accident that academic Likhachev described it as an educational discipline. The moral payoff of regional studies as a discipline is immense.
It is necessary to think about creating conditions at the national level for the development of a regional studies movement, for municipal and regional support of activists, and for schools, museums and pedagogical universities to promote public initiatives in regional studies and provide an academic basis for research.
I would like to single out for attention a problem that hampers many endeavours. I will illustrate it with an example regarding the preservation of historical and cultural monuments. The public and the media often raise the issue, and the country’s leadership focuses attention on it time and again. However, it is impossible to this day to put an end to the destruction of cultural heritage. It’s not some grand evil plot. I see the main cause in the reluctance, inability and occasional impossibility of pooling the efforts of state heritage protection offices and civic organisations and initiatives.
It is perfectly evident that the state alone cannot preserve hundreds of thousands of identified monuments and many thousands more forgotten. It is no accident that the Constitution stipulates that the preservation of cultural and historical heritage is the duty of every citizen and of the state.
We should create conditions that facilitate cooperation between government and the public, under which monument protection as a form of social activism would be part and parcel of the government system of cultural heritage protection or, in a broader sense, part of the state cultural regulation system.
These objectives require a legislative basis. The regulations on volunteer movements and support of socially important nongovernment organisations, which are being endorsed now, provide a good start. But, first of all, we must change the approach to the study, protection and development of cultural heritage, and regard culture among the key national priorities on a par with economic growth and defence capabilities. That would be a decisive contribution to achieving all our objectives, as it would be an essential part of the process of forming and expanding human capital – the nation’s most precious capital.
Mr President, we have a big request to make: we would like your next address to the Federal Assembly to include a section on the priority role of culture in our country, and on the need to focus our spiritual and material efforts toward this end.
Vladimir Putin: Mr Varlamov, please.
Author, historian of Russian literature, rector of the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute Alexei Varlamov: Mr President, colleagues, friends,
We are talking about culture, and in my view the current situation in culture is cause both for rejoicing and concern. The facts mentioned here earlier make us happy. There is a wonderful forum being held now in St Petersburg, Moscow is hosting the Non-Fiction Book Fair, there are brilliant theatre shows, museums, the things we spoke about today – all that is wonderful. But, unfortunately, this does not apply to all the people in our country, and alongside with the growth of culture, let us be frank about it, lack of culture, offensive behaviour and aggression are also growing and are present in our society. This is disturbing but I think we should neither despair nor get euphoric. We should take a sober approach to these things.
I will speak about literature because this topic is closest to me, and I think that writers are, on the one hand, the happiest people because nobody bashes them, it is absolutely certain that no bureaucrats are banning them, and they ultimately are not dependent on bureaucrats. Writers need neither producers nor managers. All their work, all their property is a sheet of paper, a pen, pencil or a computer today, and it all comes down to your talent: if you write a good book – good for you, if you wrote a bad one – it’s your own fault. But it does not mean there are no problems with reading and literature. There are problems, and very big ones. They are mostly related to book distribution because the number of bookshops in our country is shrinking. The number of literary journals is also going down, and I think this is a very disturbing trend, very disturbing, because Russian literature cannot exist without literary journals, without our tradition.
Of course, a lot of good things are being done. The Year of Literature is over, and I highly appreciate the fact that the Year of Literature was held. The organising committee on supporting book publishing and book distribution is active. The Russian Literature Society has been established, and we have already heard here about initiatives and forms of operation that can be realised to promote reading. But I believe such measures are not sufficient, especially if we speak about young people, because a modern child, a teenager, a modern young person is a pragmatic individual, and he or she needs a clear motive for reading.
At a recent meeting of the presidium of the Council for Culture and Art the council’s member Archimandrite Tikhon, the abbot of the Sretensky Monastery, aired a small film which showed young people approached in the street and asked questions about Russian history and Russian literature. The simplest questions on elementary things, and yet the young people do not know the answers, we have to admit that. Because we, the people who were raised reading the Russian classics, run the risk that new generations will have lost the names of literary characters, the names of writers, our national symbol – the Russian classics, for the sake of which we have gathered here and are discussing it.
I think we have to consider some fundamental measures to promote reading. Writing compositions is one of them. I would also contemplate introducing a Russian literature course at all the universities for all majors, maybe a course on world literature with a basis of Russian literature, because all that is very important and could be very useful. It is already being done at Moscow State University. The idea of a humanities course for all students seems very important to me because education in our country has suffered a certain degree of dehumanisation.
Another key issue I would like to touch upon has to do with the fact that we live in the most ethnically diverse country in the world, the most multicultural country of the world, and this is our wealth, our destiny, our fate. I think that ethnic literatures have suffered greatly in the course of the past events, because the school of artistic translation in our country is gone. And whereas in the past we all knew the names of such wonderful writers as Chingiz Aitmatov, Kaisyn Kuliyev, David Kugultinov, Mustai Karim, Rasul Gamzatov, today, unfortunately, all that is also being washed out of our lives. This is a dangerous symptom because we are all well aware that a writer’s word can bring peace, and it can also bring strife.
Russian literature and the Russian language have always been a gateway for national literatures in our country. Today that gateway is only half open, regretfully. We at the Literary Institute, which I head, are trying to revive those traditions, re-instating the chair of artistic translation from the languages of the peoples of Russia. But I don’t think the efforts of the Literary Institute alone will be enough. In the course of my visits, my talks with colleagues from the constituent republics, from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Belarus, an idea emerged to set up the House of National Literatures in Moscow. I believe this is a very good initiative because such an institution could be a good venue for cultural exchanges, for a dialogue, for understanding and internalising the fact that the Russian language is our circulatory system, and it is through the Russian language that those literatures would be spreading throughout the entire world. Unfortunately, if we do not work on this, since nature abhors a vacuum, then other languages may arrive to replace Russian because there are many who do not like the friendship among the peoples of Russia. I would like to ask you, Mr President, to support this idea.
On November 4, at the unveiling of the monument to Prince Vladimir, Natalya Solzhenitsyn made a very good speech. She said the Soviet past had terrible, evil, unjust, bitter pages, but there were also good pages. I am sure that the friendship of our peoples, our multinational literature and the Russian language with the tremendous role it used to play here is the good that we must never lose. I am confident that the House of National Literatures could serve as a solid foundation, a depository, a real act in strengthening the ties between the peoples of Russia, our brotherly peoples. Mr President, I would like to give you, a small project of such a house.
Vladimir Putin: It is a good idea. We will have to work on it together. Thank you very much.
Ms Verbitskaya, please.
President of the Russian Academy of Education Lyudmila Verbitskaya:
Mr President, colleagues, friends,
We are well aware that there is no issue more important than, from my perspective, the issue of the Russian language and its preservation because, in fact, the issue of the Russian language’s preservation is the issue of security of our Fatherland.
Mr President, a great deal has already been done. We have some great work from the International Association of Teachers of the Russian Language and Literature, which unites almost 80 countries, as well as the Russian Society of Teachers of the Russian Language in the most diverse Russian regions. I am very glad that the Society of Russian Literature has actually started operating. There are eight working groups resolving the most diverse issues dealing with life, development of language, dictionaries, reference materials, textbooks and manuals. This is excellent. There are also wonderful programmes of the Pushkin Institute, which have attracted around a million users.
But I believe that today it is very important to talk about the issues that cannot be ignored, because, as I have already told you, Mr President, you are the only person, who asks the question: how is it pronounced? There are many people who use different pronunciation, but they do not ask since they are convinced that they are saying it right.
Here is what I would like to tell you: if we think about the preservation of the Russian language, first of all we need to look at what is happening with the Russian language inside Russia. When Mr President signed his Executive Order on the establishment of the Russian World foundation, the first objective assigned to us was to preserve the Russian language, our wonderful, vivid, evocative language inside Russia. And the second objective was to promote it beyond the borders of our Fatherland.
And what have we seen? A colloquial style has penetrated the literary speech everywhere. I rarely watch our TV programmes, but a colloquial style has penetrated the television as well. There is a huge number and a wide variety of mistakes. Practically all advertisements contain mistakes.
A great number of borrowings which are not needed in cases when there are wonderful Russian words. I sincerely ask all the officials in charge of culture and education present in this hall: please do your best to make sure that we hear Russian words all around us in those cases when there is no need to indicate new notions, new directions of science.
(Lyudmila Verbitskaya went on to talk about teacher training in Russia, particularly, the training of teachers of the Russian language and literature.)
Briefly about the importance of reading. Mr President, several years ago you asked us to draft a list of 100 books no Russian can live without. There is such a list, and now we are improving it. But let us ask ourselves how it turned out that in 2014 the number of Russians who have not read a single book in their lives reached 30 percent of the population. How is that possible?
What I would like to say as well, when we all studied (I realise that there are almost no people of my age or very few of them), we remember that our teachers did not need any textbooks or curricula because these were outstanding, creative individuals. I would really like to return the proper resonance to the word “teacher” by forgetting all these words like “education services” as soon as possible, and to have wonderful teachers once again.
I would ask all of you: please do not stay indifferent to what you hear around you, do not be afraid to correct someone, I really hope that apart from the President of the Russian Federation, who asks questions, there are other people who would like to know how words are pronounced correctly.
Thank you very much.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
Mr Piotrovsky, please.
Director of the State Hermitage Museum Mikhail Piotrovsky: Mr President, colleagues,
One year ago, at a cultural forum, we urged to use force to protect cultural monuments. Several months later Palmyra was liberated and we are all thankful for that. Since that time our cultural and scientific institutions have been working in difficult conditions, conducting initial studies, and they have created a 3D map of Palmyra. This is something that opens opportunities for further work. We must carefully define the next stage of cooperation with Syria, UNESCO, Interpol, international organisations, and our colleagues in different countries. We are doing all of this.
There are discussions conducted around the world on ways to protect cultural monuments. I have just been to London. There are a lot of such conferences, and everywhere we bring with us and disseminate Dmitry Likhachev's Declaration of the Rights of Culture. This is a great document, a principal document, because we need an ideology of protecting culture rather than a simple conversation that it is a good thing and we need to protect it. As it turned out, this declaration is more than just a great document. It is juxtaposed to a very different ideology. Because when people speak about ways to protect cultural monuments they say: “Let’s spread the famous humanitarian intervention doctrine in this culture.” The very doctrine that justified the invasion of Libya and so on. One can say that Likhachev’s declaration shows how these political doctrines are unacceptable and what is really important is an ideology that will protect us.
But our mission is to talk about the rights of the domestic culture. The language is connected to many different problems we have. A general meeting of the Union of Russian Museums has been held recently, where we talked about this. We said that it is an understatement to say that the style of communication between the people and institutions, culture and community is poor; in fact, it is arduous. Cultural institutions often deal with what we call a crowd dictate and crowd censorship in a very complicated environment. This is a difficult contact, because there is a word “service” which is constantly applied to what we do. In fact we – museums, cultural institutions – perform a national state function, not provide a service. A service is something very simple: I bought a ticket and I must get what I want.
This brings us to another word, a very important word – “accessibility”. What is accessibility? Does it mean that you can walk in and touch anything in a museum? Or you can listen to something, find out what you need, get an explanation, learn – does that give you access to the cultural values of the people who tell you about them, the values that exist or are created? We have a cultural illiteracy, which becomes an aggression. And education is the response to it. We thought that everything was all right with education at a certain level. No, we still have a lot to explain, to clarify. And when there is an exhibition that is not clear for many people, we hold dozens of workshops, dozens of different excursions, explanations, publications in order to start and hold a very important dialogue, which we try to launch.
Mr President, during the last session of the Council for Science we discussed the National Strategy of Scientific and Technological Development. You have already approved an Executive Order. And then concerns were voiced about the almost total absence of humanities in this programme. There are some, but their number is small. This omission has to be rectified and, in particular, with the help of our Council as well. <…>. I support the things we have been discussing. Mr President, culture must be recognised as a priority in our public life. Our St Petersburg International Cultural Forum, which is being held now and which is full of very interesting and very heated debates that attract everyone’s attention, is proof that there are huge opportunities which will be very useful for society, and they must be used.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. Mr Piotrovsky, you mentioned Palmyra. This is your job to a large extent, and there is nothing surprising that you went there but still I would like to thank you. Fifty-degree heat and the sound of cannons. It was a special mission with Mr Gergiev, with his wonderful orchestra. Of course, we will do our best to help you and further undertake the necessary efforts to preserve monuments of international culture and in our country as well.
As for services in the field of culture. The colleagues raised this issue several times. You know we have a lot of purely professional clichés. Demographers have a notion of “survival time”. Sounds depressing and terrible. But it turned out to be a professional cliché. This is especially relevant for some budget activity or budget process. There are such clichés. This of course does not reflect the content of what culture represents. Thank you.
Mr Mikhailov, please.
Coordinator of the Arkhnadzor public movement Konstantin Mikhailov: Thank you.
Mr President, Colleagues,
First of all, I would like to start my speech with words of gratitude, Mr President, for the decisions made and instructions given following last year’s meeting of the Council for Culture and Art. In particular, for the Pozharsky House in Moscow, which has been finally brought back to state ownership. Now a project for its restoration is in the works. I hope that we will see it restored soon. For the instructions of April 4 on involving public organisations in the protection of cultural heritage.
These public councils under state authorities started emerging practically everywhere, apart from Moscow, unfortunately. They were set up in many dozens of regions, and they really got involved in state management of monuments among other things.
We were very excited to hear in yesterday’s address to the Federal Assembly about organisations of activists who united around patriotic values. I believe that this definition is entirely applicable to those who protect our historical monuments, historical heritage and landscapes, because they protect our identity along with our language, literature and heritage, in particular. There is real evidence, if it can be put this way, of the existence of our civilisation, and each individual protecting it is a patriot. And those who make attempts to impinge on it, unfortunately, are people from the opposite side of this front line.
I certainly hope that those things that were said yesterday in the address on supporting civic initiatives in volunteer movements to preserve heritage, patronage of the arts, to support initiatives to preserve the appearance of historical cities and settlements run counter to the adoption of off-the-record resolutions. I hope that we will implement these provisions of the address through a joint effort of the state and society, because, unfortunately off-the-record resolutions of issues very often leads to losses of historical heritage as these decisions are made without taking into account its value or even without the knowledge of its value.
(Konstantin Mikhailov then spoke about the issues of preserving cultural heritage and improving the state system for heritage protection.)
The problem has an economic aspect. Cultural heritage does not have to be a cost item. It might be a driver — we consider it so as do many experts, and there is Western experience available on this issue – of the development of entire regions, not to mention small cities and settlements. I would like to request in this regard, if it is possible, that attention be given to the issue of preserving cultural heritage as a strategic plan of development which has been drafted and submitted by the Ministry of Culture to the Government of the Russian Federation. Protection of cultural heritage is embedded into it as a way of economic development in regions, as a launch of a mechanism to create new jobs and attract investments, including private ones.
This national project, to call it by its proper name, is to my mind absolutely necessary for cultural heritage. This will be an ‘assemblage point’ for government forces and public ones and representatives of private business, many of which are ready to invest in the preservation of monuments. I believe that this is a very promising idea.
And the last thing I wanted to say. Despite the fact that this is a business meeting, I will allow myself to use the word ‘dream’. Mr President, I have a dream that you will one day find the time to gather at a round table members of organisations, ministries and agencies responsible for preserving the historical appearance of our most valuable sites, first and foremost, probably, international heritage sites on the UNESCO lists. <…> maybe in some foreseeable future you could find the time to meet with representatives of all the multi-faceted, diverse spheres of cultural heritage protection: with workers, the restoration artists, experts and the community. There are many issues there, and there are things to discuss. What I mentioned is the tip of the iceberg, although it is quite sharp and painful.
Thank you for your attention.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
The author of these wonderful words – ‘I have a dream’ – is Martin Luther King. If he were alive today, he would be very happy that there is a person with black skin at the head of the United States, but he would be very upset if he saw the continued police outrage regarding the African-American population of the United States.
Life is full of contradictions and of course, we will do everything to remove all of your concerns. Let us first agree that Mr Medinsky will gather these specialists at a ministry platform and discuss the matter.
Vladimir Putin: Please, Mr Sokurov.
Film director Alexander Sokurov: Thank you for the chance to speak.
The Year of Cinema has passed. This was a significant event for me because, first of all, my students were able to show all of their graduation projects on the Rossiya channel. This was a huge honour for me, it was wonderful. This is the first thing.
And as of now we have received the largest opportunities to carry out objectives dealing with debuts. The Ministry of Culture helped to launch a large number of first shows; this has never been done previously. My main goal, both professionally and personally, is to help our young colleagues.
A couple of words about what, to my mind, needs to be done specifically to further change the situation for cinematographic processes for the better.
(Alexander Sokurov put forth specific proposals dealing with education at arts universities, financing cinema, creating a national film distribution system, and the need to promote Russian films on TV.)
We definitely need to announce all of Russia’s festival events. There are many festivals, and the Ministry of Culture provides funds for most film festivals. However, what do we know about them? Nothing. Television, in this regard, should render fundamental support and stand on the side of Russian film production.
TV series must be gradually phased out from the federal channels and replaced with national films. There must be a programme of national films. In general, the ideology of TV series, which is imbued with the absolutely commercial interests of small groups of the Moscow and St Petersburg cinematographic community, this trend, I believe, must be overcome.
We need to set up a studio of live-action documentaries in the North Caucasus, for instance, in Nalchik, so that this area would be part of the professional system. The Rossiya federal channel must be obligated, to my mind, to open a TV-film studio in all the capitals of Russian republics, except for Grozny, maybe, in all of them. This will allow for creating feature films and documentaries that reflect the interests and all the geographical diversity of our country. We are a federation rather than simply Moscow and St Petersburg. Russia is not Moscow and St Petersburg. Russia is the Russian Federation with a lot of diverse interests.
Encouraging and promoting the Sinemateka movement. Even in St Petersburg we have failed to establish Sinemateka as a youth education centre.
Introducing changes to the state system of financing film production. Filmofond must, in my mind, finance debuts and their production. Some 70–80 debut films must be created in Russia each year, so we could find three or four masters, real people who we would be proud of, who we will follow. We cannot cut down on the production of debuts.
Of course, we need to adopt a law on patronage of arts. Whether we like it or not, we are obligated to pass it, and we will do so eventually. But we need to do it sooner rather than later.
I believe that it is necessary to promote research on the situation with Russian-speaking people and Russia culture outside Russia. I am speaking of the youth. We should invite them to study at arts universities, and along with handing out student cards we should also hand them a Russian passport. This is a necessary thing to do, I believe. We should be more active in this regard.
During the past year, I had to get involved in shaping the future of four families that wanted to move to Russia. Three of them returned to the place they had come from. And the fourth one, a young surgeon and his family, live in Ukraine, and we are having a hard time solving this problem. The bureaucratic system of granting citizenship is so complicated and often humiliating and has so many bureaucratic complexities that it is very difficult for a person to settle all these issues.
Of course, there are external conditions, primarily, in my view, an easing of political tensions and resentment in a considerable part of the population. This is a pressing and sensitive issue, and it causes irritation among our bureaucratic circles and some top officials, and today, Mr President, we are lacking strong and impressive feature films and documentaries that would reflect all of life's complexities and contradictions. People, including youth and those who could finance this production, are afraid to try.
Today there are no documentaries about political processes in modern Russia, its political struggle, its foreign-policy activities — there are no Russian films about this, neither feature films nor documentaries. I believe there is an issue in that we often see a young person's civic engagement, sincerity and candid behaviour as political anti-government behaviour and a crime — and I think it is unacceptable in Russia and in any democratic country.
People have spoken here about the law on offending the religious feelings of believers. But who will protect atheists? And people who for some reason (maybe they have gone insane) strongly believe that science also has its rights — who will protect them?
There is a tendency to bring back astronomy classes to schools, and this is the perfectly right thing to do. The more natural science subjects and interests we have and the more prudent we are as regards religion and the more active and thorough efforts we make in protecting constitutional norms that the church is separate from the state, the greater result we will achieve in preserving Russia. It is the politicisation of religious activities that may destroy Russia, and we are perfectly aware of this. ISIS is not just a war, it is a massive new religious Muslim movement. Many understand this but do not take it into account.
And my last point. As a Russian citizen and a film director, I have a sincere request for you, Mr President. Let us settle the issue of Oleg Sentsov. The Ukrainian film director has been sentenced to 20 years in jail and is serving his term in a prison camp in the north. I am ashamed that we still cannot resolve this. This is unbelievable. A film director should compete with me at film festivals if he has a different point of view, such as on politics, and not serve time in an Arctic jail. It is a shame and sad that I have to speak about this.
I would like to say thank you once more for the opportunity that the state provides for young people, my compatriots, to make a debut. I will say it once again: to provide assistance to these people is the main goal in my life. Let us help them. We, Russian people, have a talent for filmmaking; it reflects our genius. We are able to make films, and we have never felt ashamed of Soviet cinema or the films that are made today and will be made in the future.
Thank you very much.
I am sorry if there is anything wrong.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you. As regards Sentsov, we must proceed from the fact that we live in a constitutional state, and issues of this kind, of course, should be solved by the judicial system. As for his works, he has not been convicted for his works but for drastically different activities, according to investigators and the court, namely for engaging in terrorist activities.
Alexander Sokurov: Mr President, but there was a very serious political conflict. Can a young emotional person grasp all the intricacies and complexities of the political moment?
Vladimir Putin: This is absolutely not about his political position. This is not about what he thinks about the events that took place in Crimea. This is about his intention and preparations to commit illegal acts that could have been harmful to our citizens.
Alexander Sokurov: Mr President, for Russians, for Christians mercy is above justice. I am begging you: mercy is above justice. Please.
Vladimir Putin: We cannot act in a Russian and Christian way in this situation without the court's ruling. And it has been already made. Yes, there are certain rules and norms that we can use, but they require appropriate conditions.
Alexander Sokurov: Please help solve this.
Vladimir Putin: Once again, he was not convicted for his views and position. He was convicted for his intentions to perform actions that are considered terrorist actions and that could have had severe consequences for our citizens. This is the case, and it is not about his point of view. Everyone is entitled to their own point of view, and no one would convict him for that. Believe me, this is what it is all about. There are other suspects in the case, and they are caught from time to time, that is the issue.
Alexander Sokurov: He did not kill anyone. And I am sure this would not have happened.
Vladimir Putin: Thank God, it did not happen, but there could have been deaths. This is the problem. The case, Mr Sokurov, is not that he thought differently than you and me on this issue. Nevertheless, thank you for drawing attention to this. I know this is a sensitive issue, and I will keep it in mind.
As regards the main issue you have mentioned, the film industry is a separate matter, at the junction of business and art. I think that we will have to consistently look into what is happening in this sphere together with specialists working in it. However, you can be absolutely sure about my stance. I am on your side: the state must make every effort to support our film industry in civilised, market-based ways, at least in our market. I do not know if it is realistic to screen all films made in Russia. I think it is highly unlikely, but we must strive to do so.
As regards cheap loans, I mentioned this in my Address to the Federal Assembly yesterday. This is a sensitive issue. You are saying that you do not want to live off the Government and do not want to put the lug on the state. But in the present conditions, requesting a cheap loan is living off the state as it cannot be provided in any other way but by allocating it from the budget. That is, we will still have to allocate money to an institution to pay off part of this loan's market component. However, you are right here. We have to think about the ways this can be done for the areas the state chooses as priorities. This is a matter of prioritising — and art and cinema are definitely among our priorities.
Regarding registration and receiving citizenship. I have repeatedly pointed out to the Government that the issues related to receiving Russian citizenship, particularly by certain groups of citizens of former Soviet republics, have to be de-bureaucratised as much as possible. It is not easy to do this, with very many aspects here related to ensuring security.
In Russia and in the United States, there is about the same number of people illegally or quasi-legally in the country — over 10 million. We definitely have to take this into account as it rightfully concerns and annoys local residents, particularly in major Russian cities. This is connected with the need to put things in order. The same applies to registration. Yes, residence registration has been abolished by the Constitution, but there has to be some kind of regulation. Yet I agree with you that in certain areas we should not act indiscriminately in resolving such matters, as well as towards certain groups of people, particularly those involved in the arts.
Alexander Sokurov: Theatres and film studios used to have dormitories, but now they do not. I began at Lenfilm myself and they registered me at their accommodation. None of this exists now.
Vladimir Putin: I understand. Certainly, we do need to do something for people working in the culture sector. Let us reflect on this. We will certainly try to find a way out of this situation.
Now, I have a private matter that has nothing to do with your remarks. Your German-speaking audience has already had the chance to enjoy your Faust. How about swapping anger for kindness and translating it into Russian? Translate Faust into Russian. He is pretending not to know what I am talking about. Translate Faust into Russian.
Alexander Sokurov: Yes, you have asked me several times. I have the impression that our Russian culture has such significance and our natures are so broad and expansive that we can penetrate any culture, any ethnic group or cultural environment. At the same time, we must bring our worldview and our cultural consciousness closer to the global experience, but language, in this context, is a particular culture and space all in itself. You know German and you know yourself what treasures there are in this area, in this world. We must be together with all in this world, love and respect each other, make gifts to each other. They do not make films in Russian, but we can and do. I made a film in Japanese, now one in French, and I made one in German, and they all bear the name of a Russian director. They show surprise abroad and say, ‘so that’s what you’re like’. I therefore think that I was right to make it in German. I regret that our television refuses to show this film, like many of my films, and not just mine, but those of many of my fellow film directors here.
Vladimir Putin: We will discuss this further. You are right, of course.
Alexander Sokurov: I agree.
Vladimir Putin: I cannot understand why you would not want to translate it, all the more so as everyone has already seen it in the original.
Thank you very much.
Mr Shakhnazarov, please.
Film director and General Director of Mosfilm Cinema Concern Karen Shakhnazarov: Thank you, Mr President.
You had a very interesting discussion here and we followed it with great attention.
Let me say a few words about literature first. Russian literature is a vast world, of course. I think it is the best literature in the world. Perhaps only French literature can compare. However, as I see it, there are six writers who form the cornerstone of our literature. They shaped the Russian language that we speak today, and they shaped Russian history as well, created it, because we study history through their works. They shaped Russian philosophy and created the national literatures of our country, of all its peoples because they had tremendous influence on them. In fact, they shaped our culture. These six writers are well known: Pushkin, Lermontov, Gogol, Tolstoy, and Chekhov.
Let me say again that the world of Russian literature is vast, but I think that it would be right to move away from studying a varied selection of writing in schools to concentrating on a specific selection and studying the works of these six writers alone, but really study them thoroughly. This would be quite sufficient. Unfortunately, a large number of schoolchildren today do not read anything at all outside of school, but this way, at least something would stick in their heads. As for those who do read, once they have read these classics, they would feel the urge to read Galsworthy, Shakespeare, Balzac, Stendhal, Merimee and others. The situation with reading is very worrying today. I already said this at the previous Council meeting and now, a year later, I am even more convinced that this is the situation. We are witnessing a very interesting situation on a global scale. The reading civilisation is coming to an end and the watching civilisation is beginning. If it is not ending, it is certainly narrowing greatly. Look around at how in trains, the metro, planes, and on the beaches, people are not reading books but looking at their iPads and mobile phones. There is a fantastic system for delivering electronic information today, and there is nothing we can do about this. But we must be ready for this challenge in two ways.
First of all, for me, as a product of the reading civilisation, there is no doubt that literature is above the cinema I love and in which I work. Why? This is because literature is a symbol and people must transform it into an image, make an imaginative effort. Cinema offers people a ready-made image. We therefore must make the maximum effort to encourage people, especially young people, to keep reading. I therefore think that the role schools play and the kind of education given in school is very important. This is why I propose narrowing the literature curriculum and concentrating solely on a very thorough study of the classic Russian writers without whom our life and existence are impossible, as they form the basis of our national identity and worldview. That is my first point.
Secondly, this places tremendous responsibility on our filmmakers as well, because, sadly, in the metro, people are not watching our films on their tablets and phones, although demand for films is growing fast and this is a huge market. People want to watch something all the time, want to flick through something and find something. Unfortunately, we are a long way behind when it comes to taking part in this particular feast.
The Year of Cinema is coming to an end. I am a Soviet film director and I use this adjective, Soviet, with pride. There are not so many of us now, but I would say that this was probably more of the Year of Soviet Cinema, because as Director of Mosfilm, and thanks to the awareness that our people showed, I received thousands of requests from all around the country, even from the remotest corners and villages, asking to show this or that Mosfilm production. Let me say that 95 percent of these are Soviet era films, and I am proud of this. I am proud that I worked in Soviet cinema, grew up in it, and made six films during that time.
However, I realise that we cannot live on the past alone and we need to create new productions as well. In this respect, we have big tasks ahead of us. I say this because the Russian film industry produces 70 films a year today. France, with its 60 million people, produces 300–400 films a year. Sweden, which has only 9 million people, produces 50 films a year. What cinema industry can we talk of with figures like ours today? We have a film industry, and this is a big achievement, and we have the technology for making films, but we need to increase production dramatically. A country like Russia should produce at least 250–300 films a year. The Americans produce more than 1,500 films a year, not to mention the Indians and the Chinese.
The next question is how to do this. Should we use budget money? No, I think that we need to develop a system that would produce profitable film, or at least partly profitable. It is not a normal situation when modern Russian filmmaking is practically unprofitable. I am sure that there are mechanisms we could use. It is another matter that we would need to develop them. I think that many of the problems lie in the film industry’s management system. I do not think this system meets today’s demands. This is something we have discussed at length at the Presidential Executive Office, and the Culture Ministry understands this. I think there are already some ideas here and steps we could take to change the situation.
Above all, I think we need a unified film industry centre that would cover all areas of the industry, from state support to distribution and technical equipment. I think we can already start a more concrete discussion of the details.
My second point is also very important. We need to understand that we must act quite fast, otherwise on trains, planes and beaches we will slowly but surely lose a generation growing up on films from other countries. I am not at all in the camp of the ‘anti’ people here. On the contrary, I love American, European and Asian cinema, but I love our films too and I think that they should hold a worthy place in educating our young people and all Russians in general.
Let me make one more point on the subject of censorship. I have the impression that aspects of our Soviet past play a big role here. In the Soviet Union, after all, the censors approved your film or show, cut bits out, let other bits through, but once this procedure was complete, no one could raise any protest. No group in the public had the right to do this, not one.
The situation has changed today, and I think this gives rise to some misunderstandings. Freedom is a test, after all. In general, the situation is such today that you make a film or stage a show, and in principle, this or that organisation or religious group or others can come out and protest to your face. This is unpleasant, of course, but that is freedom for you.
As Victor Hugo said, the freedom of one person ends where another’s freedom begins. This is what a free society is about and this is clearly something we will need to get used to. Of course, the authorities should monitor things to make sure that this does not spill over into hooliganism. Throwing excrement at exhibition items is something unacceptable, and people should go to prison or answer for such actions. However, we cannot prohibit organisations of any kind from expressing their views on different works of art…
This is our job. Let me say that this happens all over the world. The West, which was long an example of freedom for us, has actually adapted well to this situation. They respond very simply to this sort of thing by not taking notice, and everything dies down of itself. But here, this sort of thing always leads to a big fuss in the press and so on. I think that we should react a lot more calmly to such things and understand that we now have the right to say what we think. I do not see any censorship. In Soviet times, I had scenes cut from my films, and I was not allowed to make some films. But I have encountered no such problems over the past 25 years. As for the fact that people can say unpleasant things to my face now, yes, they can, and this comes with my job. I therefore think that the main thing here is for the authorities to keep close watch on actions to make sure that they do not overstep the bounds of the law.
Thank you for your attention.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.
We have been working for two hours now and we need to finish up, so I will give the floor to a few of our colleagues. I will give the floor in the order of your requests to speak.
As for what was said just now, yes, new communication technologies, phones, devices and so on, do have a big influence on our lives. But they are just information vehicles. As technology has changed, the vehicles have also changed. We simply got used to paper because it was around for a long time. It is not the vehicle that is important but the content. Or rather, the vehicle is important, but the content is even more important. Of course, we need to be at the crest of what is happening, and, sadly, we do not always succeed here. But I have no doubt that we can resolve this problem. It is a big problem, but it is nonetheless more technical in nature.
Thank you for your remarks.
Mr Volgin, President of the Dostoyevsky Foundation.
President of the Dostoyevsky Foundation Igor Volgin: Can we live without culture? This is a theoretical question. Easily. Remember the words of the unforgettable Yevgeny Bazarov, for example, whom we all remember from school. He said that a decent chemist is 20 times more useful than any poet. All art and culture in general can be seen as something superfluous in life, superfluous in normal life. We can eat, drink, clothe ourselves, protect ourselves from enemies, and survive without cave drawings and without Rafael’s paintings. Beethoven or Tolstoy are not at all necessary for material prosperity.
However, at the same time, it is hard to dispute the view that Homer created ancient Greece. Homer is at the foundation of all that happened next. Indeed, the ancient Greeks, Romans, Germans and Scandinavian peoples thought of themselves as a single people based solely on legends, myths and national epics, on poetic melody that recorded events and lives and, speaking in more academic terms, on the self-identity of the tribes that created this grandiose poetic world.
Let us take a theoretical approach. Try to remove from Russian history Pushkin, Tyutchev, Mandelshtam, and Mayakovsky. What would be the result? It would be another country with a different history. It might be physically powerful, though it is hard to imagine this, but would not arouse particular love in either its own people or its neighbours. Life there would be terribly dull, and I am sure that this hypothetical country would have a very high suicide rate.
Now, regarding what is happening here today, we are always looking to answer the question, ‘Who are we?’ We need to recognise the unbroken historical process, even if disrupted by disasters at moments. Russia’s common history is the history of its literature. Soviet culture, and here I agree with Mr Shakhnazarov, is definitely part of this great Russian culture.
Turning to the subject of ideology, our Constitution does not provide for a state ideology, but one exists nevertheless as a national idea. This is, of course, Russian literature as the nation’s mental foundation. If we make our classic writers optional in the education programme, this would automatically turn Russia into a historical outsider, because oil and gas will run out sooner or later, but our spiritual wealth remains forever. Furthermore, Russian literature is involved in developing the moral criteria of behaviour for the whole nation.
Let me attempt to cite an old joke of mine. Belinsky particularly reproached Tatyana Larina for not going off with Onegin. I joked once that if Tatyana Larina really had gone with Onegin, Russia would long since have joined global civilisation. Fortunately, she did not run off with Onegin. She had her own selection criteria and her own understanding regarding the impossibility of building her own happiness on another’s unhappiness. And we, thank God, also took a different road.
Russian literature is not just an academic field, of course, but also a means of our historical existence. It gives people what Lev Tolstoy called the hidden warmth of patriotism, not the chest-beating and lecturing sort, but a real feeling fed by the entire scope and sense of the Russian classics.
Furthermore, it offers moral guidelines for politics too. Let me share one quote from Dostoyevsky of the 1870s. Writing about Russia, he said, “A policy of honour and selflessness is not only higher, but perhaps is the most advantageous policy for a great nation, precisely because it is great. A policy of routine practicality and constant rushing to whatever looks more profitable and relevant, only shows a country’s pettiness, inner weakness and sorry situation. Diplomatic thinking and practical minds chasing the moment’s advantage have always been lower than honour and truth, and honour and truth have always triumphed in the end”. This is the legacy we have inherited and it should be in our genes. “Russia”, Dostoyevsky wrote, “will act with honour, and this answers the whole question. Russia’s advantage lies in taking, if necessary, the road of clear disadvantage and sacrifice in order to avoid committing an injustice. An organism such as Russia cannot live on material advantage, on ‘bread’, alone”. This was the legacy we inherited from Russian literature. It applies to the economy too. As Dostoyevsky wrote, if people take heart, finances and the economy will also pick up, provided the people themselves recover. But without spiritual peace, without a sense of social justice, there will be no other peace.
Of course, in the 1990s, we lived through a mental upheaval and culture found itself in dire straits. Fortunately, cultural priorities are starting to assert themselves again. Culture should not be reduced to some separate niche on the wonderful Kultura [Culture] TV channel, say, but should have its place throughout our media environment. Culture should extend into all areas of social life, not just on all of the TV channels, but everywhere. You said rightly in your Address yesterday, Mr President, that, permit to quote you, “Simply adding more classroom hours to the school curriculum will clearly not suffice. We need projects in the theatre, cinema, and on television”. And so on.
I can say from my own experience that I gained only a tiny fraction of my knowledge and perception of the world from school. The rest all came from the air around me, from conversations, reading, from communicating with people. Of course, it is very important that culture should penetrate all areas of state activity and not be just a residual principle, all the more so as our schools shape the nation’s common cultural code. How do generations recognise each other? By quotes from well-known works. This creates a code for recognising ‘one’s own’. Only literature can give this.
I agree with much of what Mr Shakhnazarov said when he suggested that it is perhaps better to study particular works and revive the practice of slow and thorough reading rather than skipping over the surface and attempting to cover an enormous number of works. Perhaps it is better to take one work and spend the entire year understanding how meaning is created and what literature is all about. Perhaps there is a grain of truth in this.
Mr President, at one point, you had the idea of 100 must-read books. We made this idea a reality on the Kultura channel. We have already produced 150 episodes of our talk show The Glass Bead Game, during which 150 Russian and foreign classics were discussed. Unfortunately, this is the only programme of its kind, as far as I know, on our entire television. The only one.
I also want to mention an upcoming anniversary of great importance for our country. This is the 200th anniversary of Fyodor Dostoyevsky. This will be in 2021, which is not far off. We are very grateful to you for the executive order on organising this anniversary. The executive order has already been issued and we can now set about preparing for this event, which will be of global significance, because in the eyes of both East and West, Fyodor Dostoyevsky is a symbol of Russia, who gave expression to our spiritual potential and our people’s tremendous capabilities. It is therefore important that this anniversary receive national status at a high level.
I cannot make proposals, but if you would be willing to head the organising committee, even if only in a formal capacity, this would be marvellous. Let us just say that Dostoyevsky would be very happy.
If you recall, a few years ago, at the Literary Conference, we discussed writers’ social status. After all, the professions of writer and journalist do not exist in the Labour Code. In other words, writers have none of the privileges that other cultural workers enjoy. It is as if we do not exist. This should be rectified because writers cannot even obtain a pension for their literary labour or a sick leave certificate from the doctor. In other words, they have no rights at all. The labour laws offer no breaks or incentives for these professions.
Finally, at the previous meeting of the Council on the Russian Language, I made a proposal that is simple and easily carried out: to raise the level of Russian language and culture, we should organise graduation exams in the Russian language at all universities, whether humanitarian or technical, without exception. I think this would raise the general level all round, because people sit entry exams, but by their final year at university they start writing with all kinds of mistakes.
I would also have them sit a history exam. If migrants applying for a residence permit have to sit a test on Russian history, why should people born and bred in Russia not know their own history at least at the school curriculum level? However, we see dreadful things happening to history and survey results show that people have only vague notions of events. Without an awareness of history, there cannot be any national awareness. This would be a very good thing.
This is not to mention the idea of exams for civil servants. I proposed this too, but I understand that this is a rather complicated matter, so let us begin with students at least and have graduating students sit a Russian language exam. This would certainly help to make the nation healthier and would raise our cultural potential.
Thank you for your attention.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.
Regarding the events connected with Dostoyevsky’s anniversary, yes, of course we need to ensure this has proper support at the state level. You are absolutely right, but I am not sure that I would be able to head a commission or organising body of any sort.
Igor Volgin: It would be our dream.
Vladimir Putin: Regarding the classics, including Dostoyevsky, and their influence on even our economy, I am not so sure about the economy, but they certainly do influence politics. Whoever has not done so, I recommend that you all read what Dostoyevsky wrote about the Eurasian dimension in Russian politics. It is very interesting, as if written today. Anyone who has not read this, do so, take a look at least. It is easy to find.
And one quick remark on the idea that the flow of events is broken by disasters. One view has it that disasters actually form the foundation for developing events and are a kind of internal engine of all events. This is only one theory.
Mr Gergiev, please
Artistic Director and Director of the Mariinsky Theatre, Valery Gergiev: For musicians, a sense of time is the most important sense, and so I will not take more than one minute.
Vladimir Putin: And a sense of rhythm.
Valery Gergiev: This meeting’s rhythm strikes me as very interesting and varied. I would say that this has been one of the most interesting Council meetings, and very substantial in terms of the number of issues raised. I remember how many would take the floor and say that their organisation needs such and such a sum of money. We have moved on from this now and this is already a big achievement.
I would lend my support to much of what Mr Sokurov said, my friend, who comes from the same place as I do. I will not repeat what he said for it was already very clear and the discussion you? Mr President, had with Alexander Sokurov was certainly interesting.
I would like to continue my journey around Russia’s regions and live to see the day when our philharmonic halls will have Russian-made pianos. I think that without your direct intervention and instructions there is very little chance of this happening because, in my observation, one or two ministries, the Culture and Education ministries, cannot settle this matter.
Upright and grand pianos used to be made in Leningrad, Moscow, Krasnodar, Tallinn and Kiev. Now, we need to get this work underway. We are preparing the ground for decision-making. Perhaps Russian businesses would be interested in this undertaking, and perhaps the elite will respond.
We are facing a situation when pianos today cost from 15 million to 20 million rubles. For a big theatre like the Mariinsky, this is perhaps something we can sort out, and we can afford to buy two or three pianos, but for many regions, this is simply beyond their means, so we need to take the road our Chinese colleagues took. They produce their own wind instruments, for example. German ones are better, perhaps, but the Chinese have a constant production flow. They are also continuously building theatres and concert halls. They have some programme for this, it is hard to read it, but I know they open one or two theatres every year.
On a positive note, I was in Surgut recently, and I think that Mr Vladimir Bogdanov [General Director of Surgutneftegaz] deserves not only encouragement, praise and recognition, but also national promotion, because he built a magnificent theatre without any big advertising fuss. Any European capital would be proud to have such a theatre.
They had an Italian architect and this was for the best because the theatre is beautiful and has excellent acoustics. I felt proud for our country when we performed there a few weeks ago. It is a pleasure to share this news with my colleagues. This was all done without budget funding. Mr Medinsky, they did it without budget support, didn’t they? This is great.
Many of our problems would be resolved if Surgutneftegaz served as an example for many companies that have not been affected by the events of the last two or three years more than theatres or philharmonics. I believe we were even more affected, because everything has become three times more expensive due to the ruble exchange rate in relation to the dollar and so on.
Mr President, you have resolved the problem, say, with regard to aviation. Our combat interceptors are definitely every bit as good as their analogues elsewhere in the world. It seems to me that problems in the civilian sector will soon have to be dealt with in the same way.
Regarding the choral society, and the fact that only a few years ago our much-coveted goal was that children’s choirs should sing all over Russia and each region should have one, you actively supported this process. There have been changes for the better and with the arrival of a new education minister I believe our chances have greatly improved. Ms Vasilyeva said recently at a meeting of the choral society that we will have choral singing classes at each school – not at each music school but at each school in Russia. This is a dramatic breakthrough. If we bring this process to its logical conclusion, that will be a very serious change. Every family, every school and every university will need grand pianos and upright pianos. The problem will come back anyway.
We are closing the Year of Prokofiev: I made a note of this for myself with two exclamation marks. The Year of the Cinema is a great event. I believe the Year of Prokofiev is also a great event. Thank you for supporting it. It was not even an initiative or request. I simply said that the Mariinsky Theatre would observe the anniversary on a grand scale – from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad. It was your wonderful idea and we are very grateful to you. Sergei Prokofiev, a great Russian composer, has been played and will continue to be played throughout the world. He is a phenomenon on par with Dostoyevsky, Gogol and Pushkin – take our word for it as musicians.
I also think that today, Shostakovich or Akhmatova would have been watching with a sense of irony the ongoing discussion regarding the infringement of the rights of directors and artistic freedoms. I agree that an artist should be free, but I believe it would be somewhat amusing for them to hear that.
The thing is, first, it is essential to show the scale of the personality, the scale of talent, and when it is absolutely impossible to ignore it, then perhaps say – and even then in just a few words – that I do not always manage to fully express myself. Sometimes I am advised not to do one thing or another. However, first, it is necessary to reach a level at which the scope of an artist is such that it cannot be ignored. Then the public will support him and he will be able to extricate himself from any situation where a bureaucrat allegedly prohibits him from doing something or hinders his movement forward. This is my standpoint.
I recently spoke about this with Rodion Shchedrin. We will soon be celebrating his 85th birthday, in a year. We recently unveiled a monument to Maya Plisetskaya in Moscow. We are grateful to the Moscow city authorities. It is great that everything worked out so smoothly. We are grateful to Ms Golodets. It needs to be said that many people have made a contribution. We are grateful to Alisher Usmanov because he has paid for everything. Anyway, this is a very encouraging development, which happened only recently.
Finally, children in the regions. Our collective goes to 30–40 regions a year. We have even been to Sakhalin, a few weeks ago. There is an opportunity to establish good cooperative ties with the Chinese, South Koreans and Japanese out there in the Far East. We are actively working on it. We have signed some serious agreements in Harbin, Shanghai, Beijing, Seoul and Pyeongchang, an Olympic venue. It seems to me that something will come of it. I have pledged to work along these lines.
The Mariinsky Theatre’s activity in the Far East may merit a serious conversation also within the framework of the Culture Ministry and even perhaps, in a year, at the Culture Council. This is because our successful, strong, historically powerful collectives are able, perhaps obliged, to extend a helping hand to regional theatres. There are some unique, brilliant ones among them but still, the difference is enormous.
Thank you very much for your understanding.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
A colleague here mentioned a code of labour laws. Mr Gergiev, do not violate the code of labour laws.
Valery Gergiev: I promise.
Vladimir Putin: Do not work when doctors do not recommend working.
Valery Gergiev: I will not, Mr President.
Vladimir Putin: Or at least remember Yevgeny Mravinsky’s practice when he conducted [his orchestra] sitting down a little. If you like, I’ll get a chair like this for you.
Valery Gergiev: I simply had a meniscus operation a few days ago. I hope I will pull through. Mr President, thank you very much for your attention.
Vladimir Putin: Mr Tsiskaridze, please.
Rector of the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet Nikolai Tsiskaridze: Thank you, Mr President.
As a follow-up to Valery Gergiev’s remarks, I would like to say that your instruction regarding Vladivostok has been carried out. A branch of the Academy of Russian Ballet opened on September 1. A building has been provided.
Vladimir Putin: They only agreed under torture.
Nikolai Tsiskaridze: Yes, but as a matter of fact, we should thank Ms Vasilyeva, the Culture Ministry and the Education Ministry, which made everything happen very promptly indeed. And of course, we could not do without Mariinsky Theatre staff, but thank God, they were our graduates, those whose higher education diplomas were signed by me personally.
The building was made available and it is now being transferred from federal ownership into the ownership of Primorye Territory. Primorye Territory is willing to pay for its renovation.
The Culture Ministry applied for funding to ensure the operation of the branch, but unfortunately, the Finance Ministry turned it down. It turns out that we have opened a branch but no funding has been provided for it.
I would also like to draw your attention to the fact that in recent years funding has been provided for various education programmes but universities of culture have not been included in any programme. I would like to bring it to your attention that the only degrees that require no confirmation in the world are in the field of culture. Ballet dancers and musicians stand alone. This is our import, which, unfortunately, is flowing out of the country on a serious scale. Just a week ago, professors of leading culture universities wrote an appeal to you, urging you to look at and pay attention to our financing, because this is very important. We cannot exist on our own. We have no programme to finance ourselves. The very few foreign students who are studying at our schools will stop coming if we raise tuition fees. We cannot exist on our own.
I would also like to tell you that as a matter of fact, all culture universities are the oldest training institutions in the country and a real asset. Put simply, the Academy of Russian Ballet, which was previously the Leningrad School of Choreography and prior to that the Imperial Theatrical School, is older than all universities, all state schools in our country. We are 279 years old. We cannot remain without funding. Please pay attention to this or else all our culture universities will end up overboard.
Vladimir Putin: Very well. We will revisit the issue of funding. We will try to.
Nikolai Tsiskaridze: We are not even asking for an increase. We are asking to remain at least within the 2016 level or else we do not know how we will exist. There are not so many of us – fewer than 60 culture universities.
Vladimir Putin: We will try to explain this to our financial authorities. As Dostoyevsky said: “If you explain it well enough, even the German will understand.” I believe that the Finance Ministry will also understand us. We will work on it.
Nikolai Tsiskaridze: Thank you very much.
Vladimir Putin: Ms Yampolskaya, you have the floor.
Deputy Chairperson of the State Duma Committee for Ethnic Affairs Yelena Yampolskaya: Mr President, friends,
Let me continue the issue that Mr Mironov began and Mr Shakhnazarov developed, namely, the relations between culture and the state. It is my personal conviction that there is no and cannot be any antagonism between culture and the state because they pursue common objectives. Until we realise in full, with our hearts, this interdependence, people will continue to lose out, our fellow citizens who today, more than ever, perhaps, need the solace that culture can offer.
This ‘more than ever before’ has objective and well-known causes. Yes, they create some difficulties for our life at present, but they are to our country’s honour and will contribute to building its future. Unfortunately, there are also subjective causes. Over many years now, our people have heard the constant message: Buy yourself new happiness, buy happiness with more pixels, more horsepower, and give your old happiness to us for recycling, since it isn’t worth anything anymore. Now, when the situation has changed a bit, we suddenly see that our receptors for different types of happiness have lost their acuity. Only culture can revive these receptors and remind people of simple and eternal pleasures that are not directly related to how much money you have in your wallet. I think it is in the state’s interest that culture succeed in this mission.
Remember how in War and Peace, Tolstoy identifies a mysterious ‘x’ that helps the army to defeat an enemy force of the same or even greater strength? He identifies this ‘x’ and calls it ‘the people’s spirit’, ‘the troops’ morale.’ It is precisely this spirit, this morale, that have always helped us to overcome all adversity. It will help us now too, if we nurture it.
But what constitutes this spirit? At first glance, it seems to be made up of trifles. You all know how the average family in big Russian cities often passes its weekend. People go to shopping malls, see the latest movies at the multiplex, most of them American, buy their kid a toy made somewhere in Hong Kong and depicting some foreign monster, and eat at a fast food joint, usually also American, Canadian or at best some kind of Oriental flavour. But childhood is the time when the image of one’s homeland forms. What kind of image of our homeland are we forming in such places?
As I see it, culture lives not just in theatres, museums, and galleries. Culture encompasses everything that interacts with the human soul. This means that we need our own toys, including computer games. We need our own cartoons, films, music and books. This is all clear. We need sports and tourism programmes for young people, and the kind of artistic and scientific creative centres that you spoke about yesterday in your Address, Mr President. We need a national reference system so that people have resources other than Wikipedia at their disposal. We need shows for young people where the participants do more than just lie around arguing with each other. We need our own holidays and our own common forms of entertainment.
We need a lot of this if we want an interesting life. If, when something like Pokemon Go appears, we just berate it as the devil’s work and the product of a global conspiracy, we risk becoming a very dull country. It has always been the case that young people want to create their own reality, change the world and give their fantasies free rein. Why not offer them our own nationally-oriented possibilities for realising these demands? If we do this, everyone here will be busy with other things than catching pokemon, but if we do not offer enough of interest, well, we are just offloading our common responsibility onto these poor pokemon.
I am not going to raise the budget issue now, because in all times, culture’s greatest resource has always been not money, but talent and new artistic ideas. The situation with ideas, not locally, but in scale, is disastrous now, of course. It’s just this endless string of shows built around nothing but imitation and cries of how just like Papanov, Nikulin, Yves Montand or Elvis Presley so and so is. But these famous names and living masters reached the summit of their craft only by being unlike anyone else, by being unique. These endless copycat sessions are just so much evidence of a lack of artistic ideas.
Now, as a State Duma deputy, I am absolutely convinced that cultural figures and culture sector workers themselves should be the main co-authors of the future new law on culture. They are the best placed to know all the sore points. At the same time, it is also clear that it is impossible to ensure generation of new artistic ideas through legislation or by order from above.
I think we need to recognise the incompatibility of two extreme positions. One position says to the state authorities, “Give us money and leave us alone.” The other says to people in the culture sector, “We’ll give you money and you’ll do as we tell you.” Attempts to speak to other in this tone – and we sometimes encounter this – are simply vulgar. Culture is a place for beautiful decisions. I think that Maximilian Voloshin proposed an acceptable formula for all when he said, “I can accept the social mandate, but I want it to be clever and talented.” The people doing the commissioning should be talented too.
The position of “we do not get involved until someone breaks the law” does not strike me as very convincing either. Artists’ creation comes from their souls. This is their material, and I think that a presumption of innocence is not enough. It would be good to have a presumption of love too. I think that if the state authorities could offer a well intentioned, involved and competent partnership, this would resolve the sorts of problems that Mr Mironov spoke about, when volunteers with varying degrees of competence attempt to regulate the culture sector.
I think we are in serious need of a contract between society and culture. But I do not see any other guarantor of the contract’s fair enforcement than the state authorities, otherwise one side or other will always see their rights get violated, whether society’s rights, in the sense of the deeper meanings and higher values without which there is no unity and no national development, or the artist’s rights to creative freedom.
The great Russian painter Bryullov said that, “Art begins where the tiny bit begins.” Leo Tolstoy also liked to quote this and said that, “this tiny bit is that same divine spark without which a bonfire remains a heap of kindling.” We need to search for this ‘tiny bit’ and distinguish the deliberately malicious pranksters from the person who looks for the clouds in the puddles beneath his feet. His method of looking at the clouds is perhaps not the best, but only complete denial of the heavens is dangerous for society, and it makes no sense to fight everything else.
You know, let me end by confessing that I’ve noticed I cry a lot more often when I watch our old movies, especially our children’s movies. Just recently, I watched the wonderful series Gosti iz budushchevo [Visitors from the Future]. If you remember, in the series, when Alisa Selezneva bids farewell to her comrades in the twentieth century, she says to them one by one: “You will become a great poet, you will be a famous artist and will have exhibitions on Mars and Venus, and you will be an ordinary engineer and will invent the time machine.” I felt my eyes grow moist at that moment. They are moistening even now as I speak.
We were lucky in that the films, books, and songs that coincided with our childhood gave us the ideal of real dreams, of something to strive for in life. True, none of us have invented a time machine so far, and not all of us were so receptive to the image of a marvellous future, but it is in this quiet way, bit by bit, that an inner strength forms in us. Now, we must help to form this inner strength in today’s young people, who are no worse and in many ways are better than we are. This task requires nothing more than our good will and harmony between culture, society and the state.
We cannot afford discord. We must learn to reach agreement in all venues and forums. I am ready to support any initiative in this area.
Thank you very much.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
Colleagues, we need to finish because the next event is ready to start and we need to head for the theatre. I therefore ask you please to forgive me if you did not have time to take the floor, but we really have run out of time now.
I asked Mr Kiriyenko to give me some background information on the rock opera, and I must say that this work was already considered a classic in the Soviet era, and even back then, no one banned it, though they did try not to give it publicity and not to let it spread too far, because they considered it religious propaganda.
Yes, as was said just now, there are many people ready to express their point of view on this or that problem, but no state agencies have actually banned anything. And there are no grounds for this. The Russian Orthodox Church takes a positive or neutral stand on the matter and according to unofficial reports, this work even received the blessing of Patriarch Alexii II. The authorities therefore quite simply have no reason to impose any ban.
This does not mean though, that the problem does not exist, and I think that is useful to have been able to talk about it today and to hear your views. This goes too for the question of financing, and for the fact that we need to take a separate look at some of the issues you have raised at forums related to preserving our cultural and historical heritage, cinema, and theatre. We will sum up the meeting’s results later and go through everything, examine the various areas.
In this respect, I would like to thank Ms Verbitskaya, who, at my request, always corrects me and helps me to improve my knowledge of the Russian language. It was she who noted on which syllable to place the correct stress in the word sobralis [gathered together]. I think that we have all gathered together here with much useful result today.
Thank you very much.