In addition to workshops on various topics, including politics, the economy, civil society, education, science, healthcare, culture and the media, the forum featured debates on current issues of common interest to both countries, ranging from the conservation of natural resources to the integration of immigrants.
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Excerpts from transcript of 11th Petersburg Dialogue Russian-German Public Forum
President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Madam Federal Chancellor, ladies and gentlemen, colleagues,
This forum is eleven years old already. I think it was a very successful initiative. What is most important is that it does not become boring and I don’t believe that it has been dissipating in various bureaucratic initiatives year after year but has been growing into an increasingly open venue. It is vital that it remains a laboratory of ideas, ideas that are generated by civil society and which assert themselves with the greatest confidence both in Russia and in Germany.
”This forum is eleven years old already. It is vital that it remains a laboratory of ideas, ideas that are generated by civil society and which assert themselves with the greatest confidence both in Russia and in Germany.“
It is important for us to talk about pressing issues, without fabricating them out of nothing, without inventing them but talking about the subjects we want to discuss. This is a partnership that connects Russia and Germany, a partnership for modernisation, which we conceived some time ago, quite successfully in my opinion, and which we are promoting with our key European partners, especially with Germany.
Obviously, this is not just a partnership between states; it is a partnership between people and between non-governmental organisations. The closer it is, the better. It is very important that this issue has been the subject of your discussion.
This year is the Year of Education, Science and Innovation. It is good that we exchange information about this, because a number of useful new agreements have been signed between universities and various civil society organisations. We expect interesting ideas from you.
We extend the idea of partnership for modernisation to the legal sphere, which, as a lawyer, I give special attention to. It is very important for us to know the opinion of our civil societies on the state of the law. After all, legislation is not just a set of rules recorded on paper; it is also the spirit of the law and its enforcement.
For example, in our country there is a gap between the letter and the spirit of the law, between the way the law is formulated and how it is executed. I do not think that gap is dramatic; on the contrary, I believe we have been shifting the bounds of the law and the enforcement of the law. These problems exist in any state but for us it is a great challenge.
”Partnership for modernisation is not just a partnership between states; it is a partnership between people and between non-governmental organisations. The closer it is, the better.“
I fully agree with what Madam Federal Chancellor said earlier. We must speak frankly about everything, otherwise the conversation becomes less interesting. We must talk openly and honestly about what we feel is right in each other's lives and those things that don’t seem quite right. Such issues exist, and that is the main value of such forums. It is better to argue than to keep silent.
The only thing I would say here today is that Madam Federal Chancellor and I very rarely argue but that does not mean that you should not do so. Perhaps it’s more harmful for us to argue than it is for you, and the future of Russian-German relations depends on how honest we are.
I have been watching with great pleasure and interest the development of the youth debate, the emergence of the German-Russian Youth Parliament. I know that the young parliamentarians approach their work with utmost responsibility, and that is the key to a positive future for our relations.
Next year and in 2013 we will hold the Year of Russia in Germany and the Year of Germany in Russia. This greatly increases the interest to the Petersburg Dialogue forum because it is precisely the kind of venue that should become central during these two years.
Everything we discuss here is highly pertinent to Russian-German cooperation. We've just attended a forum of Russian and German business leaders, where we talked about progress in our business relations. They are developing very dynamically. This year we will most likely reach a record post-crisis level in trade between our economies, our countries.
”All throughout the world, and now in our country as well, nongovernmental organisations are carrying out huge work in a wide variety of areas. And it is imperative to demonstrate the usefulness of that work. Incidentally, the draft law prepared in line with my instructions, which is intended to support socially oriented NGOs – not just morally, but through financial support as well – is aimed precisely toward this goal.“
The economy is a very important component, but it's not everything. We understand the value of humanitarian ties and the importance of direct communication on all issues. I am confident that the Petersburg Dialogue forum will continue to fulfil this mission honourably.
Madam Chancellor and I have once thought about when the time will come for us to preside over this forum and agreed that it would not happen too soon. Angela, we agreed that you and I will not preside at this forum any time soon. (Laughter.)
The truth is, we view 95 percent of the world’s problems in absolutely the same way. I suppose there are peculiarities that make us somewhat different, but that’s a good thing because otherwise, we would find one another very boring. Still, we are like-minded on most positions. And it is very important for us to visit one another regularly, and moreover, to have tens, hundreds of thousands of people doing it every year. That is precisely the goal for the next two years.
I cannot refrain from saying a couple words about visas and procedures, because this is usually a matter that truly, directly depends on the authorities. I would like to comment briefly. The Russian Federation is ready to work on the visa issue with the European Union and Germany just as quickly as our partners would be willing to do it. If they want to take several years, then it will take several years; if they want half a year, very well, let’s do everything in six months. In other words, in this regard, we will not delay anything. We are ready to progress as quickly as possible: both for businesses and for everyone who wishes to visit our countries.
As far as our residence registration procedures are concerned, we will strive to make them as liberal as possible for everyone who enters Russia legally. In this sense, we will also be taking measures to simplify administrative registration. There should be no doubts on this matter.
We must certainly move toward ensuring mutual recognition of diplomas.
Russia is currently a participant of the Bologna Process. Our higher education and graduate-level studies are already changing together with other states that are participating in this process.
”I believe the future lies in new technologies. And the media outlets that do not go online are unlikely to survive. In fact, the same thing is happening throughout the world.“
But we are maintaining two tracks in education. We have an education track that falls within the framework of a so-called specialist degree – in other words, the traditional, classical education for the Russian Federation. We also have a track within the framework of the Bologna Process, with Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees. So in the future, we absolutely need to agree on how we will equate these diplomas, simply because two different tracks are being maintained.
Our legislation on nongovernmental organisations is not ideal, although in my view, it has clearly improved, because during a certain period, we were really going overboard and truly making NGOs completely accountable for all entirely insignificant issues. Now, we have taken a step in the right direction, but that does not mean that this legislation is optimal; it is to be improved further.
Overall, this is our big problem with accountability in general. Everyone reports on everything; they do it regularly and in an absolutely pointless way, because the majority of these reports are subsequently thrown in the wastebasket. Nonetheless, everyone scribbles on and writes about a variety of matters. This is not just a problem with NGOs, but with many other types of entities as well, so reducing the bureaucratic barrage of accountability and transitioning to electronic paperflow formats would be absolutely the right idea.
Now, the second issue: the very spirit of relations with nongovernmental organisations. Here, I also agree 100 percent: there is distrust. But I will say frankly that in my view, the distrust did not emerge eight or ten years ago, it has existed historically, because during Soviet times, people were suspicious of any type of proactive work by public groups or average people. ‘Why are they being active? There are official organisations for that’, people would say. This attitude remains. And so, it is imperative for all of us to eliminate these vestigial attitudes from our consciousness. I mean everyone, from upper-level authorities and down to the village and rural authorities. Because that is our heritage.
Still, progress should be made not just on the part of the government, but by NGO representatives as well, who must show what they are capable of. After all, the average citizen often thinks an NGO is just a group of people who say that the government is bad but doesn’t actually do anything. Yet the truth is, all throughout the world, and now in our country as well, nongovernmental organisations are carrying out huge work in a wide variety of areas. And it is imperative to demonstrate the usefulness of that work. Incidentally, the draft law prepared in line with my instructions, which is intended to support socially oriented NGOs – not just morally, but through financial support as well – is aimed precisely toward this goal.
If we follow that path, then the legislation and enforcement of the law will be entirely normal.
We have many media outlets, and they vary in their state of being. Indeed, it’s not very good that the government provides financial support to certain media outlets, particularly small provincial ones. It’s good for their survival, but it’s not very good intrinsically. It would be much better if they were self-sufficient financially, but for the time being, that is not the case, so if the government stops supporting them, then they will most likely close down.
But at the same time, this causes a certain problem. For example, in small towns, if media outlets receive money from regional authorities, they begin to serve those authorities’ interests and turn into mouthpieces for specific individuals which is not good at all.
”The Russian Federation is ready to work on the visa issue with the European Union just as quickly as our partners would be willing to do it. We are ready to progress as quickly as possible: both for businesses and for everyone who wishes to visit our countries. As far as our residence registration procedures are concerned, we will strive to make them as liberal as possible for everyone who enters Russia legally.“
So the sooner we can separate these kinds of media outlets from the state authorities, the better. Incidentally, I spoke about this in my Address to the Federal Assembly.
Now, I’ll comment on how they can keep operating. I believe the future lies in new technologies. And the media outlets that do not go online are unlikely to survive. In fact, the same thing is happening throughout the world – in Germany and in Europe as a whole. So their ability to change is very important.
And finally, the last thing you asked about – the question concerning public television. Public television is a good thing. Indeed, Germany’s experience, or that of other nations, could be followed. But at the same time, we must determine the principles for how public television would operate in our country. If it were based on collecting taxes from nearly every citizen, that could cause certain problems. Or, we would need to find another source of financing. And in my view, that is where the main problem lies.
If we create a public television mechanism, we must clearly respond to the question: what funds will be used to develop this television? If it’s not just a private channel (in that case, everything would be clear; it would belong to a particular group of companies), but rather, public television, then what is the source of its existence, in order for it to be separated from both the state and from commercial enterprises, while expressing civil society’s consolidated position? This is the main setback for which, as far as I understand, we have still not come up with any solution.
Hence in this regard, if our colleagues – my colleagues who are working on this – were to prepare such a framework, it would be my pleasure to assess it. The main question is how this kind of public television would work – taking into account the German experience as well, of course.