The meeting with Dmitry Medvedev, which took place at the Digital October centre, was attended by cultural figures and media professionals, as well as representatives of the academic, business and online communities.
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President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: First of all, thank you very much for coming, for being here in this fascinating place.
I see a lot of familiar faces in this room. I know some of you well and others I have only seen at various events, but as I understand it all of you here are people who want to see our country changing; that is, you support the modernisation of our nation and our state. And that makes you my supporters. That is why I had a wish to meet and talk with you, and perhaps you also wanted to clear up some things for yourselves.
I'll start with the most significant recent event, perhaps with the exception of Kudrin’s resignation – I suggest we don’t spend time on that since everything is clear where that’s concerned. I would like to tell you about the motives that guided me in deciding about my future. I want to tell you about it because there are people among you who really want change, who want to modernise the country and truly support, to a greater or lesser extent, the state policies of recent years.
I know that when we announced the decision at the United Russia party congress, some of my supporters, the people who spoke about the need for change, felt a certain disappointment, or at least I saw a slight shadow of tension in online publications.
You know, I would like to sincerely thank everyone who trusts me, absolutely everyone – those are present here today and those who may be watching us right now, and in general all the people who voted for me in the presidential election and later believed that our policies were beneficial for the nation. I told the truth when I said that we discussed the political configuration long before the United Russia congress.
Why? Because both Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and I are responsible people. You know, when some people say that we met up somewhere in the woods, on a fishing trip, and changed everything around, worked out this configuration and took it to the party congress – that is simply not true. In reality it was the result of careful analysis.
Naturally, we allowed for different scenarios. Politics is a tough field, you can lose points very quickly and then there will be no questions at all, whether about the presidency or about heading the electoral list, for example. On the other hand, it is also possible to gain points.
In other words, our actions must depend on the current situation. And what is the situation? It's quite simple. Both my approval rating and the degree of confidence in me as President, and Vladimir Putin's rating are high for any politician. But his approval rating is higher. And we are practical politicians, not dreamers, and our choices must reflect the easiest way to achieve the stated policy objectives.
”Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and I are responsible people. We are practical politicians, not dreamers, and our choices must reflect the easiest way to achieve the stated policy objectives.“
That is especially true since we have very close political approaches, we are allies and in everyday life we are close friends, though perhaps not many people believe that, and we have been friends for twenty years now. Otherwise I would have had no political career in Moscow at all.
For some reason, many people think that when someone becomes President, he should fight everyone around him, destroying all those who assisted him in his political career and in life. But I don’t believe that.
In other words, any public and political activist must reckon with the balance of power and the prevailing opinions. We based our decision on these considerations and made it as allies and friends. And, of course, we did not make it for our own sake but for the benefit of our nation’s stable development.
However, we all realise that development will continue, that one way or another a new generation of politicians will come to power – that is obvious. Therefore, the configuration we have proposed, whatever some people write, is not a return to the past but rather a way to reach the objectives we have set for ourselves.
Despite the decision that was taken, I would like to tell you as my supporters – and I say this without false modesty – that I do not underestimate my potential, and I don’t believe it has been fully realised yet. My potential remains quite extensive and that is why I have no right to betray the trust of millions of people who put me in office and who pin their hopes for the future on me.
I have no right to abandon those who truly believe in the need to modernise our state, our economy and our society. I feel a great sense of responsibility. That is the reason for my decision to stay in politics, to continue my work and pursue specific objectives.
That is why I called you here today to explain my motives and to talk about the future, as well as to listen to you, your ideas and suggestions on how we should live and work in the future.
What does our country need? On the one hand, our country really needs modern development and gradual but steady reforms, as I have always said. I have often been criticised for that; people say, yes, he says the right things but very little changes in reality, and we want things to happen more quickly, we want radical changes in the political system and we want the investment climate to improve.
Let's face it: this isn’t possible. First of all, the situation in the country is very different from what it was 10 or 15 years ago – just think back to the way it used to be. But there can be no instant changes, it just isn’t realistic.
We must continue to modernise the economy, that much is certain. I believe that we must continue to develop public life, social relations and the political system, to continue our efforts to improve the investment climate and support business, while not forgetting about the working people, those who may not have the highest incomes today, because our nation is made up of very different people.
We need to create a modern democracy, not just a carbon copy of democracy in the United States or somewhere else, as we are sometimes told. I remember when I was working in the Presidential Executive Office as First Deputy Chief of Staff, one person, whom I will not name now, answered my question about what should the political system in our country be like by saying: “What do you mean? It should be exactly like in the United States.” I said, “Are you serious? Do you really think it is so perfect or that we can just implant it in our soil?” He said, “Yes, I’m serious.”
But I, for one, support other approaches. I believe that no system can be just implanted in our country; instead, we must create our own modern democratic political system and we must fortify it with the right laws.
We must continue the fight against poverty, which in our country is very acute although in recent years we have achieved a great deal. We must continue to fight for a decent life and for high living standards.
A separate issue, which I have tackled despite certain public perceptions or recommendations of colleagues, is the fight against corruption. Why despite? Because, as I have said before, I was told: “You shouldn’t have got involved in this, you cannot win, we still have unbridled corruption and you will only undermine your authority this way.”
I can tell you in absolute honesty: I don’t regret it at all. Yes, we understand the scale of the problem, we are aware that unbridled corruption plays a significant part in public life, but at least we are talking about it openly. A decade ago, nobody said anything and no laws were adopted. Now at least we have a legal framework.
Therefore, the fight against corruption must continue, and it must be persistent and driven, but not senseless. Attempts to put all officials behind bars or to get rid of the entire police force and get a new one, as some of our neighbours have done, would be futile. We cannot do that – our country is too big.
We will still argue about how profound these changes are and how quickly they should be introduced but I am certain that these changes should be irreversible. The strategic objective is to create a modern system of state administration. You know, the more I work on it, the more acutely aware I become of how imperfect the system is. I didn’t have any illusions about it when I first started work in public office, but I perceived it like many successful people do. I was a successful person, a practicing lawyer, a researcher in the field of law, and I thought that I know how the state system works. I was wrong – it turned out to be far more complicated and in some ways much worse.
We must think about ways in which we can change the system of state administration. We must continue with the reforms calmly, steadily, firmly and without drama. I have a proposal in this regard that I would like to discuss with you today. I suggest that we think about creating a so-called “large government” or, as some say, “extended government,” which will be based on cooperation between the leading political party, which may form such a government, with United Russia, and civil society, the expert community, regional and municipal authorities, all the voters who are ready to give us their support and even those who disagree with us if they are ready for it.
I would like to discuss this with you today, to make sure that we can talk with everybody during the election campaign about the future cabinet, the Government, who may be part of it, and in general, how the system should operate. I would like to discuss with you, as well as with other people, our entire civil society — how the public administration system works. I invite all of you to take part in this discussion.
Why? I'm a big fan of different kinds of communication, of social networks and the Internet; I have always attached great importance to feedback – the feedback the authorities receive from the public. Why is that? Because otherwise power cannot survive in in the modern world, it simply degenerates. Therefore, any government must be ready for direct dialogue with the public. If it does not do it, it is doomed to the scrapyard of history.
We needn’t look far for examples: just think about what happened in Africa and the Middle East. The governments there seemed to be absolutely stable, immutable, and, incidentally, whatever some say, they enjoyed the support of many people. And what happened? It took only a few weeks and the regimes were ousted simply because they were not ready to respond to major challenges facing their nations.
”I have no right to abandon those who truly believe in the need to modernise our state, our economy and our society. I feel a great sense of responsibility. That is the reason for my decision to stay in politics, to continue my work and pursue specific objectives.“
So, if you find this idea interesting, I would like us to discuss it, and we will act depending on what we decide. Let me just add so I don’t sound arrogant that obviously it can be done only if we win in the elections.
We have representatives of different political forces here, including United Russia, whose election list I now lead. Perhaps this seems strange or illogical to some people, so I would like to tell you, United Russia members, those who sympathise with United Russia, and those who do not support it or even can’t stand it: it was a deeply thought-out move on my part. Why?
First, let's not forget that United Russia nominated me for President, and it was not a ritual nomination but a clearcut and resolute decision. Second, United Russia supported all of the initiatives that I submitted to the Parliament, to the State Duma. Finally, we must have a powerful political force, and I think that our country should have several strong political parties, though I do not know what the political configuration will be like in 10 to 15 years. I am confident that United Russia was, is and will continue to be one of them because that is how history has ordained. And that is normal.
I believe that if we are to discuss the so-called “extended government” United Russia will play a significant part in the process but I see nothing wrong if other parties and public movements become involved in the discussion as well. In fact, that is one of the strengths of this idea.
In addition, if we talk about United Russia, as a person who is leading its election list, I can say that United Russia must also change. This is imperative. It must become less bureaucratic, it must have a more varied membership, including top officials – there is nothing wrong with governors and ministers being United Russia members. But that is not what its main strength should be. It must be strong through popular support and the professionalism of the people who work their way up.
That is why, let me remind you, the idea of United Russia primaries received the support that it did, and we have seen some results from this preliminary vote, some of them very unexpected. Certain people weren’t too happy about it because they fell flat on their faces. In any case, the more progress we make in this direction, the stronger the political system will be.
In general, our political forces should have broader influence on the one hand, and more freedom on the other. This does not apply only to political parties, by the way, but to everybody: municipalities, the business community, the media and public organisations. These are the ideas I have been trying to promote during my term in office. Or rather I hope we have been promoting these ideas together because I have heard words of encouragement from many of you and that has been very important for me.
What else needs to be done? We must continue to reform the political system. Despite what some people say, we have seen some achievements in this area as well: the threshold for political parties running for the State Duma has been lowered and we are certain to see the results of this soon. The opportunities for various abuses during elections, violations involving the counting of votes, have been sharply reduced. I hope that the State Duma elections will be held in this spirit.
By the way, any talk about setting targets during the elections – I think this is just a provocation. Naturally, each party should adopt a plan, that is normal and every party has one. These plans must be realistic and consistent with the electoral potential, but these plans still need to be implemented. Everything else is nothing but lies.
One more thing I would like to say: naturally, every person in certain situations thinks about what he or she has achieved or failed to achieve. I believe we have done a great deal in these past years. This is not just a figure of speech; I am currently preparing the State of the Nation Address and I have been looking at different figures.
What have we achieved? These is our real achievements: we have substantially changed the demographic trends, the birth rate increase has been recorded for the first time and mortality has declined, and not just by a fraction of a percentage point but quite significantly, and life expectancy has increased.
When I started working in the Government, I was deeply struck by the statistics, which perhaps I didn’t give much thought to before that: the average life expectancy in Russia was 63.5 years, 59 years for men because of certain bad habits and somewhere around 67 years for women. And what are these figures now? They’re still not perfect but they are different.
Since the launch of the state programme in support of family and motherhood the average life expectancy has risen to 69 years. Let me emphasise that this figure was never higher during the Soviet period. And women have been doing really great: their average life expectancy is now 74 years. So men should follow their lead.
The standard of living has also improved. This is not a political rally, I'm here among my supporters but I will say this because it is also important. Despite the economic crisis, the average salary has increased from 17,000 to 21,000 rubles, and that is while the ruble has remained within the limits of the exchange rate band that had been set.
We have contained unemployment. It was a major problem, and I remember my colleagues and I have repeatedly discussed this issue at G20 summits, believing that it is a grave challenge. But we have managed to tackle it successfully and now the unemployment rate is the same as it was before the crisis. I think this is a good result – the result of our efforts, my efforts, the efforts of the Government, the State Duma, the Federal Assembly and the efforts of all those who worked on this.
We have been developing the political and legal system, as I have already mentioned. I am committed to strengthening Russia’s standing in the world, assuming a reasonable, but at the same time a firm stance. In some cases it was necessary to give a tough response. Nevertheless, I believe that we have not wasted these years: Russia has its international image, it is respected but at the same time we are not seen as a kind of brute force that tries to order around other states.
In general, all of these are vitally important objectives and I believe that in order to address them we will need great energy, I would even say global energy. We have it and I am absolutely certain that all of these goals are achievable, if we work together and if we implement the plans I have outlined.
”We need to create a modern democracy, not just a carbon copy of democracy in the United States or somewhere else. I believe that no system can be just implanted in our country; instead, we must create our own modern democratic political system and we must fortify it with the right laws.“
That is why I would like to ask you today to give your support to these efforts. I believe that this work is extremely important for our country and I am confident we will succeed if we work together. I have no doubt about that.
That is all I wanted to say at the beginning so let's go on to our dialogue. This is probably the most interesting part of such meetings.
Rector of the University — Higher School of Economics Yaroslav Kuzminov: Mr President,
You are right that a broad range of people have come here today, very different people, some of us get on well together and others do not really know each other very well.
Dmitry Medvedev: Well, I hope none of you will come to blows, after all, this is an event to unite, rather than divide us all.
Yaroslav Kuzminov: So far, it’s uniting us.
We are all here after all because we support the work you began, the things you have done, this is most important.
The modernisation drive and the whole way it was launched show that it was a real policy decision, a real choice. We could have simply continued the efforts to bolster the state administration system, but we chose to shift the emphasis to making it more transparent and open, humanising the Criminal Code and freeing businesspeople from a lot of the fears that, unfortunately, still weigh on their minds.
We could have simply continued the drive to diversify the economy and ease our dependence on oil and gas exports, but we chose to develop and invest in advanced technology, taking up the modernisation challenge that will enable us to realise our potential as a highly cultured and educated country. I think it is imperative now to send the signal that this work will continue.
We here today no doubt not only have the intention of voting for you, but also the desire to work together, for the undertakings that you launched are the response to the real and fundamental challenge that Russia faces today. A fairly solid middle class has emerged in Russia over these last years. Our recent estimates put the middle class at around 30 percent of the population now.
Dmitry Medvedev: That is a good piece of news. To be honest, I had not heard that figure.
Yaroslav Kuzminov: There are various estimation methods. The middle class are the people who can choose, make economic choices and choices based on their education level. This growing middle class is more than just the guarantee of a stable society that was its traditional role in the middle of the last century.
The middle class in Russia is 80–90-percent comprised of people with a very high education level, in other words, the middle class is also largely synonymous with the creative class. This is why I say that our middle class is not just a guarantee of stability, not just rentiers and shopkeepers, but people who seek change and want to take part in it.
I think the first and most important thing we want to say today is that Russia’s middle class is ready for change. We need not just guarantees of stability, but also guarantees of development. We are ready to vote for you, but the best way to put it perhaps would be to say that we want to vote not for you, but with you. That is my feeling right now.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you, Mr Kuzminov.
We have discussed many things together. What you said just now is very valuable because I share this same view that only active and energetic people can change the situation here. All of you here today are examples of just such people. We cannot afford to all go our separate ways and lament despondently about how we don’t like this or that; we are to do something, progress and develop.
I should admit that it is rather flattering to hear your appraisal of the efforts we have been doing of late. Of course we have not achieved all of our goals yet, as I already said, but I think that we have at least succeeded in setting some positive trends over this time.
I believe the hint of tension and disappointment about the future is partly connected to this. People see these positive changes and ask themselves where will we go from here, and what will happen next. Most active people in our country, the middle class that you spoke about, and others too, want development after all. Development can take different roads. There is the totally conservative road, for example, only it leaves you wondering where the actual development is, and then there is the more proactive road, more of a development offensive.
I hope very much to be able to count on your support to make these plans reality. Whatever the case, the political forces that take on the main government posts depending on the election outcome will be playing the key part in all of this work. If United Russia wins the parliamentary and presidential elections this will be the guarantee that we will continue our development. But the question of who is responsible for what will also play a big part in carrying out these development policies, and in this respect I hope very much for your support.
Who wants to speak? Please, go ahead.
Sergei Minayev: Mr President, first of all, thank you for explaining how the decision was made. We were waiting for an explanation. Thank you for your honestly and frankness.
You spoke of generations just now. You know, I’m from the 1970–1976 generation, the first generation to mature and enter adult life in the post-Soviet area. We studied in the 1990s, developed, made our careers in the 2000s. Every generation, as it matures, comes to the point when it feels the need to make its voice heard and take part in the country’s political and social life. Every generation needs its victories and its figures – people to whom it turns, and from whom it hopes for a response.
When you became president you were the first to start using Twitter and LiveJournal. In other words, you ushered in that atmosphere of feedback and gave us new information channels that we now use.
You spoke today of this idea of an ‘extended government’. Some of those here today are older than me, and others are younger than me, but we did not come here to get a party card or a trip to a holiday home.
Dmitry Medvedev: And certainly not to get awards.
Sergei Minayev: That’s for sure. We’ve got by so far without rewards and suchlike. We’ve come because we want to work. This idea of an ‘extended government’ is important because it will make your decisions our decisions too, and your victories our victories. In other words, we want to be a real part of the whole process and not just discuss it on Twitter and in blogs. We want to make our voice heard. I hope I can be confident that we will be able to do this over these coming years. We trust you, and I hope that you trust us too. So, I think we will succeed.
Dmitry Medvedev: I most certainly do trust you.
Sergei Minayev: Then we will succeed.
Dmitry Medvedev: If we didn’t trust each other, this meeting would never have been possible. Thank you, Sergei.
This question of feedback… When I first began working in the civil service I found many things rather oppressive. The thing is, I was used to making my own way, earning my own money and teaching at the university. I liked what I did and was happy with my career overall. When my friend, Vladimir Putin, asked me to come to Moscow and work there I asked myself at first if I really wanted to do this, and why was I agreeing to it?
But after moving to Moscow and working for a few months I realised that I had made the right choice. It was the kind of offer you can’t refuse, not because of the personal career aspect, the chance to become a big boss and take charge of serious work, but because it’s a question of: ‘if not you, then who?’ If fate gives you this chance, if you have this choice, why not take it? Of course, you can turn it down, and this is also a choice, but it’s no good blaming others after that if you’ve turned the chance down to do something yourself.
Of course you can write anything you want and criticise the authorities – there’s nothing easier. I always did it too before I started working in the government, and that’s all absolutely normal. When I leave politics I am sure I will no doubt criticise the president and government and say they’re doing this or that wrong. This is normal. But if you get the chance in life to play your part, you should take it up. And so, thank you for your support.
Anyway, coming back to feedback, it’s something I started thinking about after around 12–18 months in civil service, because I had this sense that there was a big gap between the work I was doing in the best of intentions, first in the Presidential Executive Office and then in the Government, and the way the public perceived it or the way it was actually being implemented in practice.
You think you’re doing things right and then you read things like, ‘Just look at what these idiots have thought up now!’ And yes, I read a lot, a lot of nonsense too, and it perhaps pains me more to read this kind of thing. Anyway, I’d think to myself, ‘Goodness, do they really not get the point of why we are doing these things?’ But after a while I realised that they really don’t get the point, and if you don’t take the time to explain again and make things clear, people have real doubts about your intentions and aims.
And so feedback is extremely important. This is the case not only in Russia, where historically the authorities have been far removed from the people. It was so in the twentieth century, and under the tsars. But feedback is important in any country. Just look at the processes underway in societies all around the world, in Europe too. Everything is changing. We have living examples before our very eyes. I spoke of the ‘extended government’ just before and it’s already being taken up and discussed. This just goes to show how new ideas are immediately grabbed hold of and analysed these days. If the idea and the discussions are there, it shows that people are interested.
Dmitry Chervyakov: I am Dmitry Chervyakov, a steelworker from the town of Zlatoust.
Dmitry Medvedev: We’ve already met before. How are you doing?
Dmitry Chervyakov: I’m fine. I came to thank you for the meeting back in April. There have been some very big changes at our smelter since then. People are very grateful to you for this, and I’ve come now to deliver their words of thanks. Our smelter canteen is now working a second shift and this is a really big help for us because working an eight-hour shift with only tea to drink is tough going, all the more so for steelworkers. The tram runs until half an hour later in the evenings now too, so that people on the second shift have the time to wash and get home without a huge rush.
Dmitry Medvedev: Dmitry, you see just how it is to fix problems here: all you have to do is go to the President, and the canteen starts working. It’s all that simple.
Dmitry Chervyakov: Yes, business is picking up now, and it is starting to become more socially responsible. They are paying for children to take holidays by the Black Sea now, and the parents can spend time in health sanatoriums, our local ones in the Urals, true, but all the same, it’s definitely a step in the right direction.
There have been some big changes in my own life too.
Dmitry Medvedev: Do you want to share them with us?
Dmitry Chervyakov: I was elected to United Russia’s regional political council and I now defend workers’ interests before the region’s senior officials. Working in the regional political council has shown me that United Russia really is putting its full support behind you.
There have been big changes in my personal life too. Not in my personal political life, but in my family life.
Dmitry Medvedev: What changes? Do you want to let the whole country know?
Dmitry Chervyakov: My wife and I went to the sea this year, and when we came home again we learned an excellent piece of news: we are expecting our third child.
Dmitry Medvedev: Congratulations!
Dmitry Chervyakov: What’s more, it’s a long-awaited boy. We already have two girls, and now we will have a son.
I was already here by then and got a text message from my wife saying that it is going to be a boy. I didn’t know yet when I left for Moscow. I’m very happy to have a son, and in general, we’re doing our bit to boost the country’s population a little.
I want to thank you personally for that last meeting. I hope that after this one too…
Dmitry Medvedev: Just think how good things will be for you after this meeting.
Dmitry Chervyakov: Yes, I hope that more good changes are in store. Thank you very much.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you, Dmitry. You have put us all in a good mood.
”We must think about ways in which we can change the system of state administration. I suggest that we think about creating a so-called “large government”, which will be based on cooperation between the leading political party, which may form such a government, with United Russia, and civil society, the expert community, regional and municipal authorities, all the voters who are ready to give us their support and even those who disagree with us if they are ready for it.“
Actually, there are some very important things in what you just said. What am I referring to? Well, if we look at it, all it takes to sort out some basic problem with transport or canteens work is visiting the President. Everything gets done this way here, it seems. It doesn’t matter who is president; you just have to make your voice heard at the very top, and then things will start to move. But we need to change this kind of decision-making system.
Just look at the way these sorts of decisions are made in countries with greater democratic political experience: to sort out this kind of problem you would probably need to go to the town authorities, who would take the necessary action. But here, you have to go all the way to the Kremlin, and only then will people actually get anything moving.
I think that this idea of an ‘extended government’, a ‘broad government’ is important precisely in order to get all of these public feedback channels working. Things come to a standstill when there is no feedback, and we would then end up facing precisely the sort of stagnation that people are already warning us about, saying that if we still have the same old faces, only in a new configuration, we will end up with stagnation. But let me just add here that this will not be the case: there will be no stagnation.
Please, go ahead.
Yury Yakovlev: My name is Yury Yakovlev, I was decorated with the Hero of Russia title, and I have come here today to express my support for your policies.
First of all, not every president faces the difficult decision of using our armed forces outside the Russian Federation. As one of those who took part personally in the peace enforcement operation, I want to thank you on my own behalf and on behalf of the servicemen who took part in this operation, that when we received the order to enter South Ossetia to save the South Ossetian people and our citizens and peacekeepers there, we did not doubt for an instant that this was an order that would not be reversed.
This is valuable because history has known many armed conflicts in which the servicemen get their orders and take decisions, only to then get orders to stop, retreat, or let someone through. I hope that our efforts from here will be directed towards making our country stronger. I personally and the people I know will support all of your initiatives and endeavours on behalf of our country.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you for your words. Every individual, every politician, and even the president has feelings that are sometimes hard to hide. I was still very new to my job at that moment, and those events were a difficult test for me.
Later, I went back many times over the decisions I made then, and how I went about them. Whatever the widespread ideas and even propaganda efforts in some countries, it is always one person only who bears the heavy burden of making this kind of decision, and who, depending on the outcome, will either be accused or thanked.
Second, I hope very much of course that our country will not face any similar tests in the coming years and decades. This hope is partly based on the fact that what you and your fellow servicemen did showed that, despite the long-running problems we had in developing our armed forces, we do have a combat-capable army that can restore order and ensure that practically any force will have to answer for its actions. This was a big lesson for those who had in mind various plans for our country, plans for our neighbours, and on how to behave in the world in general. You made everything very clear.
You said just now that it was important for you to know that the Commander-in-Chief would not chicken out, would speak frankly and honestly and not back down from the decisions taken, saying, ‘Ok guys, back to your barracks, never mind that people have died. We’re not going to do anything about it because it would make it awkward for me to go to the United Nations and meet with my colleagues’. I want to thank you for everything you did then. Many of you performed heroic acts, as you personally did. Sadly, some of your comrades did not return home.
I think that we have all learned lessons from this very difficult time, and Russia came through this conflict with honour. I say again that I do not wish it upon any state leader, not in Russia, Georgia, or any country in the world, to have to make such decisions. But sometimes we have no choice but to make them, and we must be ready for this. In this respect it is very important to have people’s support. At the time these events took place the absolute majority of our people took the view that our actions were just, motivated, and reasonable. That is what I want to say on this subject, but as I said, I hope no one has to go through this again.
Please, go ahead.
Larisa Pastukhova: Mr President, I am Larisa Pastukhova, a member of the Ryazan City Duma, and a young mother.
We have met several times before at various party meetings, where I spoke about the demographic situation and support for mothers and children. I want to thank you for supporting the initiatives I put forward. They include amendments to the law on the maternity capital, additional measures for supporting families with three or four children, and programmes for protecting children’s and young people’s health, especially their reproductive health. This is all important. Today we see that there are more children being born in the country, and that women are more willing to have children.
Dmitry Medvedev: And our men are happy too, look at what Dmitry said just before.
Larisa Pastukhova: Yes, we saw this today.
Women are willing to have children when they have confidence in their own future and in their child’s future.
I want to thank you for giving many women around Russia this confidence. This is very important.
Of course, through our contacts with young families and parents, we see that young people still find it hard to find work in their professions, and there are problems with things such as having enough children’s play areas and kindergartens. But young people are ready to work together with you to resolve these problems and make progress in this direction.
The idea that you put forward today of an ‘extended’ government, a ‘people’s government’ is something we need. We especially need to be able to use it as a means of replicating the successes in our different towns and villages, spreading their good experience, so that when we see that something works in Ulyanovsk, Ryazan or Kazan, we can spread and develop it faster. This kind of platform could be very useful and effective indeed.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you very much, Larisa.
Demography is subject it is always a pleasure to discuss. Dmitry just told us about his trip to the south, and now you too are confirming that the number of child births is increasing. The most important thing is to bring about real change. Some say and write – and yes, I read all sorts of rubbish too about this subject – people saying that we’ve inflated the demographic figures and that the picture is all bleak. And yes, we do have demographic problems, we have a huge country and we have not yet succeeded in fully reversing the negative trends, but only a dishonest person could pretend not to see the changes that have taken place.
The demography programme was one of the most important programmes that I worked on. I am very pleased that it has produced results. Not a single one of the women I have met with has called the programme pointless. This really is one of our best programmes. The maternity capital had its critics too at first, but now, no matter who I speak with, everyone says that the programme is great and that it is working. This is about our young people, and about our children, and we have more children now than before this programme began. And so, I am not at all ashamed to have been a part of this, but am very pleased to have taken part in this work. We all are to take part.
Member of the Russian Federation’S Civic Chamber and TV Anchor Tinatin Kandelaki: Mr Medvedev, may I?
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, Tina, of course.
Tinatin Kandelaki: Hello.
Dmitry Medvedev: Hi.
Tinatin Kandelaki: Unlike Dmitry, I have a boy and a girl. (I have already realised that coming here portends having a boy. Congratulations, Dmitry.)
You know, you have stated many times that you are reading everything. I just have one emotional tangent, and then I’ll get to the point. The story I’m about to tell is one you probably haven’t heard; in any case, I haven’t posted it yet on my social media accounts. I have an English language teacher. He came to Russia when you were beginning your term as president. He was working here, earning money, then going home and investing that money at home in the things he’d dreamed about: first he bought himself a boat, then he bought a small apartment in Brighton. And, overall, he was happy in many ways. And just this past summer, he said to me, ‘You know, Tina, this time I am leaving for good, because I have earned enough money for everything I need; Russia will go it’s way, and I’ll go mine’. And so, he left. Honestly, I was sad; he was a good teacher, and I thought it was too bad he left.
And then, in September, he called me. I said, ‘Where are you calling from?’ And he said, ‘I’ve returned’. I said, ‘Why?’ All of you can find this person on Twitter or VKontakte, to see that I am not making this story up. In other words, this is a real person living in Russia, in Moscow. He said, ‘I’ve come back because currently, Russia has more opportunities’. He travelled throughout England and tried to work in different places. He’s a great professional, he has a lot of drive, he works from morning to night. And he says to me, ‘You know, right now, you have more opportunities and more drive’. That’s very important. And I would like to talk about this, too.
Today, we are talking about reforms, right? But we still begin by discussing reforms that are supposed to prepare things for us, and then we will get there and begin to live within those lovely reforms. If we want to define the people who are supposed to make these reforms, they are young professionals with drive. These professionals have emerged during your presidency.
These young people sitting here – we did not know one another. It turns out that the teachers from Kazan and the folks from Rostov-on-Don and Yakutia have met before. I said, ‘Guys, why did you come here?’ And they said, ‘We hope to work more with Mr Medvedev’. These people are around thirty years old.
We’ll probably talk about it today, but I wanted to point out that the message you sent to the governors was very important. After all, you replaced many governors.
Dmitry Medvedev: Indeed, it is a rather severe message, I replaced almost one half of them.
Tinatin Kandelaki: It’s a good message, Mr Medvedev. Many people in the regions understood that the civil career ladder leads not only upward, but downward as well, for those who are not willing to put their inner drive into their work. That is what’s most important. Where are these people, with an inner drive? They are among us and they are open to the world, because we think freely and are not afraid to say what we want to say.
Just think, the President of our nation is telling us that he reads and hears everything. We should value this. The interval has become so short: you say something, and the President actually reads and hears you immediately. And you know, I often try to tell people this, but it’s as if they don’t hear me. I say, ‘We are living in a different country, he reads and he listens’. And this is important, because this way, we will have the next step: a new country. And this new country, which we are living in today and which we want to continue living in, what is its composition?
It will be composed of professionals with an inner drive. And the new Cabinet, which I hope you will head, must include people who understand that changes in our nation depend on them first and foremost, that Russia’s direction will be dependent primarily on them. And although we may currently be underdeveloped in certain respects, this fact represents opportunities as well, because we can take the best global examples, use them, adjust them to our national interests, and really build up some unique sectors.
You know how I feel about you. It’s great when you realise that you have launched a company during the presidency of a person who listens to more or less the same music as you, who uses the same social networks as you, who has the same interests as you. I know that you will maintain these interests, and so will we.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.
Tina, you and I are both Twitter users. You just brought up several interesting points. First of all, regarding drive. It’s true that nothing at all can happen without drive. Regardless of the matter at hand, from public administration to demographics, we won’t get anywhere without drive.
Second, you are right about the importance of people understanding that the President hears them and reads them. But, as you know, the reactions to this vary. Some people say, ‘Great, look, he’s really sitting there. He read something, he responded to someone’. There is also another kind of reaction: ‘So what if he answered? Nothing has actually changed. So what if he replied? Nothing happened’.
It is very important for us to avoid immaturity. You cannot expect that the government – the President, the Prime Minister, a minister – will resolve everything at once. People have to start being accountable; only then will the government machine work like it should, and then we will not hear about how the President said something, but nothing changed.
That is exactly what Dmitry was talking about: the President had to come for the tram to be working properly. Regional and local authorities must manage these matters themselves, and never detach from the people. The fact that today, we have such powerful resources as social networks – let me emphasise, all of us here have this resource – gives us a great deal of responsibility. The authorities must learn to work in these new circumstances.
I already spoke about this, and some civil servants heard me, and I suppose that certain others did not. Some thought, ‘When he goes away, we can continue operating as we did before’. But in principle, this mechanism of communicating with the authorities through social networks, through the Internet, has begun to work. I have hundreds of examples of where something is not being done properly, and people write, ‘We’re going to send information to Moscow via Twitter or through Medvedev’s blogs’. Then the authorities become afraid and begin doing something. This means that social networks and the Internet overall have turned into a real force, and that is a feedback channel that must be used fully – both by regular people and by government authorities.
As for those who don’t know how to work in these circumstances – quite frankly, as long as I am actively working, I will be replacing those people, even if they have many other merits. Why? Because they are not adjusting to the times. The times have changed.
You mentioned governors. Many governors who recently left their posts are worthy, decent, respectable people. Perhaps there were some that didn’t fit this description, but that’s not the point. I simply believe it is imperative for us to renew the regional elite. These are good people, commendable individuals, but they were used to working under different conditions. And those who came to replace them may not be ideal either, but they are politicians trying to communicate differently with their constituents, with their public. And this should continue.
Now, it is time for the federal agencies to do the same. So if this political programme is successful, it is certain that both “big government,” which we are discussing now, and “small government,” the practical Government of the Russian Federation, will be made up of entirely new people. And I think this is quite necessary for our country. I count on your support as well.
Founder and Chair of the Board of Directors of Abbyy David Yang: Good afternoon, Mr President.
Dmitry Medvedev: Hi.
David Yang: My name is David Yang. I studied at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology 20 years ago, And in my fourth year, my friends and I founded a company. Today, our products are used by 30 million people in 130 nations around the world. Those products are not steel or oil, but rather, artificial intelligence.
”I'm a big fan of different kinds of communication, of social networks and the Internet; I have always attached great importance to feedback – the feedback the authorities receive from the public. Otherwise power cannot survive in in the modern world, it simply degenerates. Therefore, any government must be ready for direct dialogue with the public. If it does not do it, it is doomed to the scrapyard of history.“
Today’s meeting is personally important to me. Before coming here, I did my homework. I got out my phone directory and started calling my friends and colleagues, heads and owners of major Russian computer companies. I wanted to touch base. I asked them, ‘What do you think has been done well in the last four years, and what still is to be done in the upcoming years, in order for Russia to flourish?’ I got some very interesting answers.
Dmitry Medvedev: And what did they say? Please tell us openly and honestly, especially since all of this is being broadcast.
David Yang: Very well. I have a list and I will pass it on to you, it really does have many interesting ideas, which is exactly what I wanted to talk about.
At the end of my conversations, I asked everyone the same question: ‘Do you personally support the President of Russia’s undertakings in the field of innovation?’ Naturally, I did not have time to call everyone in my phone directory, it has nearly a thousand phone numbers, but I called as many as I could. And it’s worth noting that everyone replied to that question with a ‘Yes’. Of course, they said, ‘Yes, but I would do it a little bit differently, I would do this, not that…’
Dmitry Medvedev: That’s very Russian. ‘Yes, but…’ That’s our answer.
David Yang: ‘I would do things faster, I wouldn’t do this one thing…’ And I said, ‘Hold on, all that is clear, thank you. Write it down for me, and I will pass it on. But ultimately, do you support those actions or not?’ And the answer was always ‘Yes’.
You know, I think that this implies very serious responsibility and a great deal of support. People came together around the idea that we were overdue to start this process, to renew Russia’s status as a global innovation leader (as was once the case), and thank goodness that a person arrived who is doing this. Thank goodness this person is presenting his own example to make high technologies popular in the ossified government corridors and so on. This is very important.
The greatest risk people brought up was concern over whether all this will now come to an end. Yes, all of it is great, and these things don’t happen in two minutes; but things have started moving, so what’s next? The most important thing is to finish it, to bring about practical results. And I think this is a very important signal, signifying everyone’s hope that this will continue, that it will all be completed and practical results will be reached.
Among the issues mentioned, for example, were matters like electronic government. This is a very serious mechanism for fighting corruption, and naturally, some things are still unfinished, but they will be improved; I certainly know that it can’t be done in two minutes. Still, we need transparency in our government. We must strive toward a free press, digital television, modern online media resources – all the things that make our nation open, and which can truly lead to the destruction of direct, vertical management of all canteens, so that they will work a second shift.
That is precisely what people expect of you. I want to say – and not just for myself, but also on behalf of many other people – that I, personally, did not come here to support United Russia or citizen Dmitry Medvedev. I came here to support the course toward innovation, the course toward changes in this country we were born in. If we have this kind of free atmosphere, then believe me, together, we will beat corruption, and together, we will ensure our country is a flourishing leader in innovation. That is what we support.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.
David, I agree that it’s not specific individuals we should support, even though social development is always personalised one way or another; there can be no abstract social movements – it is always about people. Some people support one leader, others support another. By the way, even when politicians hold very similar views, still some people respond more positively to one than to the other. But what you said is absolutely true. What’s important is not us but a national development trend that has emerged and we have no right to depart from it. If we fail to preserve it, we will end up as a raw materials supplier, a role we fell into in the 1990s, and we made no great progress in this area in the last decade either.
I spent almost 10 years on the board of directors of Gazprom, a major commodity company – I was chairman of the board of directors. I know it inside out – its organisation, its operation and all its advantages and disadvantages. But Russia must have more than oil and gas. As a high technology professional, you must realise that while everything is fine now, we must think 50 or 70 years into the future. We will probably use different energy carriers because sources of energy change every 50–70 years. First, there was coal, then oil, then gas, then nuclear energy. Now we may switch to hydrogen, for example, or some other energy carriers. And what will we have then? Only gas and oil? We will no longer be able to compete and that will be our downfall. So we must start working now.
Also, what you said about the development of the ”large government“ and ”electronic government“: it is very important for us to use these technologies in practice and not just let them remain blueprints. We have some achievements, there have been some innovations but it’s not enough to make a change. Most documents are still processed in paper form. Almost everything I receive is on paper, but those are presidential documents, the most important official papers, presidential executive orders and laws. Presidents will probably still sign them on paper in 100 years.
However, everything else should be digitised to cut out corruption, shorten the processing time, expedite decision making and to minimise the human factor, the factor of a single official. Naturally, the system cannot exist without people but their contribution should be reduced as much as possible. Everything else should become part of the digital world. If we manage to tailor our state administration system in this way, it is certain to be more efficient in the future. Maybe some people listening to this think this will take a long time to achieve but I am confident that it will happen soon, and it will happen regardless of our wishes. I am sure that it will happen soon.
Just ten years ago, the number of Internet users in our country was minute. Just five or six years ago nobody believed that we will have digital television. But we made this decision, and by 2015 we will have completely different television, both in terms of operation and the number of channels available to everyone. I'm not even talking about the Internet, which is now accessible to almost 50 million people, although statistics differ in this area.
This means that people are changing, and it is essential for the government to take this into account, otherwise it will fail. I repeat: recent examples have demonstrated this with the utmost clarity: the governments that do not meet these challenges, are relegated to the past even if they enjoy substantial support.
In this case I'm not talking about myself or my colleagues; what I’m saying is that we must not under any circumstances end up in this situation. Therefore, I rely on you and people like you, no matter what political forces you support and even regardless of how you will vote in the upcoming elections. Although, I repeat, these things are related.
Go ahead, please.
Professor of Tomsk Polytechnic University Abdigali Bakibayev: Good afternoon, Mr President.
Professor Bakibayev, Tomsk National Research Polytechnic University. I represent Tomsk’s research and education community.
Dmitry Medvedev: We have also met.
Abdigali Bakibayev: Yes, of course. I would like to make a few remarks regarding your multidisciplinary activities.
In recent years, you and the Government adopted several important decisions regarding research and education. I am referring to the laws on small businesses, the interaction of universities with the high-tech sector, attracting top scientists, the network of national universities and others.
I would like to give a positive example. It works, and let me substantiate this claim with specific examples. I'm sorry, I will use the example of my university, though other universities may not like this. Let us look specifically at the law on small businesses. The amendment adopted in the spring was especially important in making their lives easier, and it is wonderful that a law can be amended so fast.
In line with the law, our university launched 25 companies, two of which are confidently heading towards becoming mid-sized businesses. That is excellent. It has been less than two years and they have this opportunity.
With regard to the creation of high-tech sector: the Commission for Modernisation and Technological Development of Russia’s Economy introduced the term “encouraged innovation” as applied to state corporations.
Dmitry Medvedev: This has been our method in general: encouraging one or another state to peace, encouraging innovations…
Abdigali Bakibayev: Mr President, in January you gave an added impetus to this process. I can testify that the results have been positive. In September, a large Rosatom delegation headed by [Sergei] Kiriyenko came to Tomsk, and many decisions were adopted. It was decided to establish a major centre for nuclear technology at the Polytechnic University, which would focus on the Asia-Pacific region. This is real.
As for attracting leading scientists and the creation of international laboratories, I was somewhat sceptical about it to begin with. Now I can see positive examples of this as well. The initiative was funded from the federal budget and scientists won the grants, including researchers at our University. That is good and as it should be. But other organisations also benefited, both private companies and public-private organisations, such as Sibur.
The decision was made to establish a major centre at the Polytechnic University and to open an international laboratory. They have attracted a well-known scientist, an authority on polymers. This scientist is working with us, the laboratory is being established and it is funded by private investors. This is a good example of the impetus created for other organisations. I have described an isolated example but it is only the beginning.
I would particularly like to focus on a more global project. The media have increasingly been casting doubt on such a global project as Skolkovo. In my opinion, we must resolutely refute such doubts.
Dmitry Medvedev: We must always deal resolutely with the media. (Laughter)
Abdigali Bakibayev: What I mean is we should refute them with arguments. Since it is one of the fundamental projects that carry all of our modernisation and technological development. We also have positive examples of this in Tomsk. As far as I know, it is your project, you are its founding father and its driving force; the centre’s director is here, and I think …
Dmitry Medvedev: It's time to use my authority, in short.
Abdigali Bakibayev: Yes, the authorities must intervene.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you for your kind words.
Just a few remarks about Skolkovo. When we planned it initially – and it is true, the project is closely linked with me and my colleagues – we had no illusions that Skolkovo will turn the world on its head, that it will be an absolutely unique centre and we’ll create another Silicon Valley, just like in the United States, which will attract the best minds and will generate the highest incomes. Skolkovo is a starting point.
I have heard many objections. People said, look, we have plenty of research campuses already, we have a large number of scientists living all around the country. That's good. We are not trying to bring everyone to Skolkovo; we have other aims. We want to send a message about how scientists should work, how they should organise their research and innovation activities and how to make their projects commercial. That is Skolkovo’s main mission. So when the media criticise Skolkovo, they attack everything we hold sacred, and they should be punished for it. (Laughter).
Go ahead, please.
Director of the Legend Media Agency and Blogger Anton Korobkov-Zemlyansky: Mr President, my name is Anton Korobkov-Zemlyansky. I am a member of the new convocation of the Civic Chamber, a blogger, and the director of a media agency.
I would like to thank you for creating an opportunity to have such a business, because you basically made the Internet popular in Russia. Before you, I don’t think we’ve ever had a major office-holder – let alone President – who could easily communicate via Twitter, asking and answering questions. Right now, I’m using my iPad to monitor what people are writing, what they are criticising and what they are praising.
Dmitry Medvedev: As usual. Incidentally, I didn’t turn mine on, so you’ll have to tell me what you’re seeing.
Anton Korobkov-Zemlyansky: People are sending in many questions. Maybe you could answer them yourself, since they are being sent to you.
I want to particularly thank you for permitting photography in the Kremlin. We have this problem, restrictions. The problem is mostly in our heads. Only a few things in our nation are forbidden, but for some reason, people fear that everything is forbidden. Now you’ve allowed it at the Kremlin.
Journalists and bloggers in Moscow are now putting up stickers that say “photography permitted.” I hope that when you work in the Cabinet, you will put up stickers like this as well. I think this is one of civil society’s most important steps toward overcoming restrictions in our heads. If they don’t exist in our heads, I suppose they won’t exist in the streets, either. Then everything will be good.
”Mechanism of communicating with the authorities through social networks, through the Internet, has begun to work. I have hundreds of examples of where something is not being done properly, and people write, ‘We’re going to send information to Moscow via Twitter or through Medvedev’s blogs’. Then the authorities become afraid and begin doing something. This means that social networks and the Internet overall have turned into a real force, and that is a feedback channel that must be used fully – both by regular people and by government authorities.“
And I have a simple question, also from Twitter: will Skolkovo go on, will it be built, and will this movement toward modernisation continue even after you step down from your presidency?
Dmitry Medvedev: I just talked about that. Thank you for your question.
Anton Korobkov-Zemlyansky: Yes or no? It would be great to hear a clear answer.
Dmitry Medvedev: With regard to Skolkovo, I already said that everyone who criticises Skolkovo will be held accountable. (Laughter.) So yes, Skolkovo will certainly be continued.
PRESIDENT OF THE FOUNDATION FOR DEVELOPMENT AND COMMERCIALISATION OF INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOGIES SKOLKOVO VIKTOR VEKSELBERG: It will absolutely be continued.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you for monitoring Twitter. Unfortunately I cannot follow it right now on my iPad or computer, but this is an important issue, so please keep letting me know what people are writing and what questions need to be answered.
With regard to restrictions, they do not originate from our way of thinking alone. Let’s be honest, restrictions are also a way to make money. And when something is forbidden, there are always people interested in taking advantage of that restriction.
But as far as the government is concerned, it needs to be as transparent as possible. Yes, some matters must remain confidential; this has always been true for every government, and will continue to be true. But the government must be as transparent as possible with regard to the decisions being made, decision-making technologies, and most importantly, discussing those decisions.
And those who are interested in these issues should have the opportunity to come and get that information. So if I end up working in the Cabinet, I promise you that I will put up a “photography permitted” sticker, and you can take a picture of it.
Go ahead, you wanted to say something?
HEAD OF THE NEW MEDIA AND COMMUNICATION THEORY DEPARTMENT OF JOURNALISM FACULTY AT THE MOSCOW STATE UNIVERSITY IVAN ZASSOURSKY: Mr President, first of all, I would like to thank you for agreeing to continue participating in politics. I think this is very important. I am not one of those people who think this was an automatic decision.
Dmitry Medvedev: There are no automatic decisions, you’re right of course.
Ivan Zassoursky: I also wanted to thank you because I enjoy the freedom of speech on the Russian internet, and I feel that you are also somehow responsible for that. Unfortunately, this issue is once again under threat because, you know, there are always pretexts: we need to protect the children, or the terrorists are sneaking up on us, about to strike…
Indeed, I would also like to thank you for the work you did with the Human Rights Council. I could see that this is genuinely interesting for you. The truth is, I was never able to speak there myself, because someone else is always speaking, about someone who will be shot tomorrow, or put in jail, or something else.
Dmitry Medvedev: The people there have greater experience than you and I. They immediately take the reins of power into their hands.
Ivan Zassoursky: Yes, due to your efforts, I also have the opportunity to speak out, so thank you very much. And I would like to say this: I think what’s most important is not the Internet, or even feedback and so on, but rather, the fact that we are really seeing a kind of technological revolution in all areas of society. And I think that even with what you’re doing, you have generally found a method to respond to these changes. After all, changes are happening throughout the world and in all areas – it’s not just the Internet or an individual industry…
Dmitry Medvedev: Of course, it’s simply technology.
Ivan Zassoursky: Yes. In each specific sector, in Skolkovo, anywhere, technologies are changing everything, everywhere. And indeed, there are even traditional issues or problems where everything has changed completely, I think.
For example, I believe that in the next ten years, science will change completely. Because the work of a single researcher who constantly rewrites materials that were done before seems absurd in a situation where every library is accessible in real time. Why bother rewriting? You can just reference them. Clearly, there will be some very serious changes in this area.
Another deep-rooted issue, for example, is our common cultural heritage, and now in particular, the Eurasian topic has become popular again. But in fact, we sort of shared everything before 1991. We looked at it now and did a legal analysis: if we just cancel the retroactivity of laws, then indeed, everything before 1991 should simply become public domain.
I think it’s strange that we, as the legal successor of the USSR, essentially usurped Soviet culture from our brother-nations. Perhaps we can return it somehow? Perhaps in return, they will also give us something, such as buying the rights to Aitmatov’s works and transferring them to public domain.
And the last thing I would like to say. You know, I feel that in principle, you shouldn’t get too upset over people who do not understand what you are doing, because people like yourself are not always understood right away. For example, you know, Al Gore in America…
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes.
Ivan Zassoursky: In general, if you ask people in Russia to name any American politicians, not everyone will say that they know Al Gore. But in reality, Gore is the father of the Internet in America and, really, in the world.
I think that you are a kind of Russian Al Gore. I hope that you will not lose your taste for this work, because sorting out all of these nuances… this whole revolution is being held back by several bottlenecks in places where nobody wants to dig, because these are issues involving legislation, some kind of regulatory framework, somebody’s interests, specific situations.
I hope that you will not lose your taste for all this. In conclusion, I would like to say something that may sound strange. People didn’t know who Gore was, and he didn’t even ultimately become president, because he held back. He could have contested the results in Florida, just the results, and he would have automatically become president, but he didn’t.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, the situation there was entirely democratic.
Ivan Zassoursky: Yes, absolutely. But he nevertheless got a Nobel Peace Prize for his environmentalism. You take pictures, you have some photo albums. Perhaps, you know, as with the canteen, if some of your albums are released with your name, perhaps the regions will begin taking steps to improve the environment.
And if you work in the Cabinet, don’t give money to industrial companies that are not working to reduce pollution and emissions. Just don’t give them any money, because that is crazy. Why should people receive money if they are polluting the air, the earth and the water? And then in ten or twenty years, we won’t have anything to breathe or to drink.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.
First of all, thank you for your kind words and for your support of the work we did together.
Second, with regard to whether I should be upset or not… I can say this sincerely about myself. If I got upset about things, I certainly would not agree to do the work I’m doing, because the only one who can truly understand it is someone who finds themselves in this position. There are so many emotions directed toward you, and if you feel harassed by them or, on the contrary, if you flourish and feel like you’re the best, both of these things are very dangerous.
This load needs to be carried calmly, without twitching or freaking out. Only then can you achieve something. You know, with regard to what people say and write… as I said before, I read everything. I was reading everything when I was a presidential candidate, I read it when I began to work, and I am reading it now. People will write many things. And you are absolutely right. What’s most important is what we will do, what will remain from what we worked on. And even if people don’t understand this now, let them understand it in three years or in a decade, it doesn’t matter.
What matters is that we are working on something good, something useful for our nation, and that we are in the mainstream of social development. We are not falling outside it, we are not trying to find some kind of new way, and at the same time, we are not trying to adapt to any other states, even very powerful ones. Still, we are in the mainstream, where we find our own elements of development – I think this is extremely important for our nation in this situation.
With regard to pollution and everything else, I have a very simple position: we need to judge based on what businesses are doing. Businesses can be very different; I myself dealt with business issues for many years. Some businesses are not doing anything, and naturally, they should suffer for it, but there are some very large companies that are truly putting money into the environment. I talk with them and I see that their eyes are burning when they talk about environmental protection measures. This is surprising, because I remember people’s outlooks ten or twelve years ago: all that mattered was surviving, and if money was made, dividing that money and disbanding. Now, of course, the outlook is different.
chairman of the Board of Directors of Ru-Com Group Mikhail Abyzov: Mr President,
Like many of my colleagues and friends here today, I support you in almost everything, but I will start with the points on which I disagree with you.
Dmitry Medvedev: That’s useful to hear too.
Mikhail Abyzov: You summed up a few results, including the genuinely phenomenal achievement of bringing about change in the demographic situation, and you said too that men live shorter lives than women because of their bad habits. Dmitry gave his own example and said, “We live not as long as women because of the hard work we do.” Bad habits are a secondary factor, not the primary cause.
Dmitry Medvedev: People turn to bad habits to relieve the stress of their hard work.
Mikhail Abyzov: That’s true.
The second point on which I do not agree: we heard from a young mother just before, but as a young father, I can tell you that this programme should not be called ‘maternity capital, but ‘parental capital’. You shouldn’t discriminate against fathers. We also have our share of responsibility and work in this area.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, and take part too.
Mikhail Abyzov: But overall, listening to the discussions today, I would say that the projects launched over the last four years really are fantastic. Many spoke about them today. Skolkovo, we heard, is an innovation centre that will not be completed overnight of course, but the work has already begun, and then there is the Moscow International Financial Centre, which will change attitudes towards our country both at home and abroad, among investors and among ordinary people.
I think the efforts to humanise the criminal law and criminal justice system in general are of truly historic significance, one of those events that mark their century and indeed the whole world. Our country is becoming more humane and placing people, individuals, at its centre, and this is important because people are the greatest value of all. You have said this many times and we share this view.
But we see that not all of what is planned always happens. You launched these projects not for the benefit of central Moscow alone, but for the whole country, and we must take them right into the regions, take them to where our people live, those socially active people we spoke about today, the people who form the middle class, the well-off class, the workers, the ordinary people. Many initiatives do not reach them and are in need of that drive we talked about, the drive of real hopes within sight and real events. A clear programme is needed to make this happen and ensure that people understand us right across the whole country.
The problem today is not that we have no such programme, but rather, that we have too many programmes that often overlap and at times even contradict each other. I think it is therefore time to draw up a single comprehensive concept. Perhaps you could already set up a committee in some form to start discussing this?
Dmitry Medvedev: Right here and now.
Mikhail Abyzov: Yes, without delay. It should be a committee that will draft and analyse proposals for this broad programme and platform. That is one task.
The ‘extended government’ is an excellent idea, but it will be difficult to carry out because some see feedback as useful, while others think it harmful. Those of us working in the regions know this well. The important thing about feedback is that it prevents government from operating as a separate caste but turns it into the instrument the public wants. It has been said often that government is the people’s tool after all. But this is not always the case in reality, especially in the regions, where the authorities are often a separate caste. Feedback and this ‘extended government’ would destroy the caste system. It would probably be best to start at the federal level, and then, like the way they’ve all started using iPads, the regional governors will start carrying out these changes in the regions and the middle class that you spoke about will change its thinking too.
Dmitry Medvedev: Getting themselves iPads is the easy part, but the important thing is to go further.
Mikhail Abyzov: Taking on anything useful is a start.
Dmitry Medvedev: It’s a start, but it’s not the main thing.
Mikhail Abyzov: Yes, but they follow the fashion, and so it’s important to send the right signals. All instruments are good here, even iPads, even if change starts only with the form at first.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, I agree. We’re not offering them calculating machines after all.
Mikhail Abyzov: The main thing with the committee and the ‘extended government’ idea is to avoid bureaucratisation and make sure that they are professional, effective and public because bureaucracy kills initiative and burns the life out of many good undertakings. Some of your truly excellent and needed initiatives were not fully implemented in the regions in many respects precisely because of all this bureaucracy.
Dmitry Medvedev: And in some cases they were even turned into completely the opposite of what was intended.
Mikhail Abyzov: Yes, perverted from their original purpose. It’s not always profitable.
But I wish you success in all of these initiatives, success for all of us, success in this policy course you are developing and the programmes that have begun and now must continue.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you, Mikhail.
I have one comment to make. Mikhail proposed just now setting up a committee to draft proposals for the future ‘extended government’. It seems I am right in saying, judging by what I’m seeing and hearing here, that none of you reject this idea of a broad ‘extended’ government to address a diverse range of issues, and that would include a broad range of political forces and public groups and build on the work the future government cabinet will undertake. If you do all support this idea, then perhaps we really could look at setting up a committee. I am happy to go ahead with setting up a group of this kind if you want.
”Women are able to give men a head start in many areas, and I say this in all sincerity. This is true in terms of their capacity for work, their alertness and persistence. Most women who do real work are much more consistent and much more firm in his beliefs than men. Once a woman sets an objective, she is unstoppable.“
Ok, let’s hear from this side. Please, go ahead.
Director of Modern Art Centre Marat Gelman: Marat Gelman, director of the Perm Museum of Modern Art.
Dmitry Medvedev: We’ve met before, Marat.
Marat Gelman: First of all, thank you on behalf of all Muscovites for preserving the city’s historic heritage because the situation we had before under Luzhkov [former Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov] was a real battleground… We know that you played a big part in these changes. This might sound like a radical statement, but if this was the only thing you achieved it would already be a lot because Moscow is not just our capital city but is also the heritage we have received from our forebears and want to hand down to the next generations. The moment Luzhkov was gone the new team cancelled 300 Moscow City government resolutions that would have resulted in the destruction of historical monuments.
Second, a lot has been said about Skolkovo, and we know this is your project, your initiative.
Another project is the cultural project in Perm that we are carrying out at the initiative of the Perm authorities, but it completely mirrors what is being done at Skolkovo. Seventy percent of innovations in the world today are in technology, but they concern not just science but also the arts and design. When Silicon Valley was set up there were two main figures there – the scientist and the businessman, but today we also have the designer. I want you all to see that the Perm project is really a cultural Skolkovo.
Dmitry Medvedev: Actually, I’ve read a lot about this project, all sorts of different reports, as usual.
Marat Gelman: We have formed a cultural alliance now uniting other cities that are all working on this big task. You see, people are leaving Russia not in search of more interesting work, for all the interesting work is here, but in search of a more comfortable life. What we have been doing in Perm has helped to reverse this migration trend for the first time in what was a closed city. Of course we hope that our cultural alliance will get support.
As far as the government’s organisation goes, we should definitely separate tourism from sport and bring it closer to culture, as it is part of the regional development process too and very important I think. The problem of overly centralised government is not something that can be put down to any individual period in the country’s politics, the Putin, Yeltsin or Brezhnev eras. We have had excessively centralised government for 300 years, and neither Moscow nor the regions benefit. Reversing this movement and turning government towards the cities has to begin with people actually wanting to stay and live in their cities, and they will only want to live there when life there is interesting.
We are ready to support you of course. We have always supported you, only there was no need to say this out loud. But we want you to support decentralisation. This issue has not been raised yet today, but it is a very important matter.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you, Marat.
Yes, it’s good that you brought this up. It’s true that nobody spoke about decentralisation, although all of the things we are discussing here are essentially about decentralisation. The federal authorities in as centralised a country as ours would instinctively always try to centralise more and more, you would think, and this has been precisely the case at various historical periods. I would go further and say that sometimes this was necessary because government must be strong of course and cannot allow itself to become flabby and ineffective. But it can also reach a point where you start to become too full of your own importance at having gathered such a huge amount of powers in your hands and screwing all the nuts and bolts tightly into place. And then what do you do? The system wasn’t working properly and still isn’t.
Perhaps the hardest task of all is to find the balance between a strong and effective government and an environment in which all of the different public forces can play their part in the country’s development free from pressure from above, whether NGOs, the media, public movements, citizens’ groups, local-level organisations, the kind of activeness in the cities that you are talking about. But how do we find this balance? I think it is a difficult task however you look at it. It is also difficult because of the historical aspect. There was a different system of government in the nineteenth century. Government in the twentieth century was different too, and not just in our country with its particularly dramatic events. And so there is this historical legacy too. Finally, and probably the hardest part of all, is that the authorities have to summon up the courage at some point to relinquish part of their powers. You can always find excuses for not doing this. “If we give up our powers everything will fall apart.” I’ve heard arguments along these lines many times. “We gave up our powers, now this line of activity isn’t being licensed anymore, and look at the result: planes crash and ships sink, and so we need to return our powers and bring everything back under our control.”
There are areas that do need to be under government control, activities that must without question be subjected to licensing regulations. But a great many areas of life can be regulated through other means, through self-regulation. We need to wake up to this fast, and by ‘we’ I mean not so much myself and the Government, for we all have a common understanding of these issues, but all of our officials working throughout the country must realise that they cannot run everything effectively themselves and must share their powers. If we achieve this, we would also see less of the kind of rubbish that we hear and read from the public eager to blame the authorities for absolutely every problem in the country. We need to give people the chance to take on some of the responsibility, and then we will become a modern country.
I set up two working groups recently to work on decentralisation. One is headed by Deputy Prime Minister [Dmitry] Kozak and the other by Deputy Prime Minister [Alexander] Khloponin. Their work should produce a new configuration that I want to put into law. You must become part of this work too, and I understand the sense and need for this.
STATE DUMA DEPUTY SPEAKER AND DEPUTY SECRETARY OF UNITED RUSSIA’S GENERAL COUNCIL PRESIDIUM SVETLANA ZHUROVA: Mr President,
Just to continue what we’ve been talking about. I’ve been sitting here thinking about Russia being a raw materials supplier and the possible alternatives. Marat beat me to it: it should be tourism. Both domestic tourism and inbound tourism – these things are very important for our country to overcome the raw materials dependency. This encompasses the environment, as Ivan has said, eco tourism, the beauty of our countryside, culture tourism, which has also been mentioned, we've got a lot to share. There are exciting projects in every region, but it's important for them to be noticed, and we shouldn’t just watch TV programmes about them but make sure that people go and take part in them. There must be accessibility and competition among the regions to attract visitors, but this requires infrastructure.
I know that you support so many projects, including the resorts in the North Caucasus and other projects, such as Altai, the Kuril Islands and Kamchatka. There are so many beautiful places, but they must be more affordable for young people. Most importantly, tourism creates an environment in which small and medium businesses can flourish, businesses built by creative young people who stay in their home regions, who perhaps went away to study but later came back to set up their businesses, to develop this industry in their regions because it has a special meaning for them.
I have often heard young people talk about the fields they would like to work in and many say they would like to get involved in developing their regions, to improve them, to improve the country as a whole so that the people from around the world come and see it.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.
I think we should give Svetlana a round of applause because it is absolutely true, we often fail to appreciate what we have. Remember how in the 1990s those of us who were old enough to travel thought going abroad was the only possible way to spend the holidays. Best holiday destination? Abroad, of course.
Mikhail Abyzov: Kayaking.
Dmitry Medvedev: That’s for particularly gifted people. I support kayaking all the way. I used to kayak too but mostly I spent my holidays at different resorts abroad. I came to the realisation only recently that we have such a great country. It’s not as developed, and the number of attractive tourist destinations is small, but it is so beautiful that we have to use this potential one hundred percent.
Americans are often criticised for their shallow mentality and lack of culture – I mean people in the United States. But I think there’s one area in which we must follow their example (at least one, and actually many other things as well). Most Americans spend their holidays in their own country, which is also very big and very beautiful, and they don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. And when we start to feel about our big and amazingly beautiful country the way Americans feel about theirs, that’s when we will become real citizens of our state. And it is our duty to set the example, so I completely agree with Mikhail about kayaking. I never go abroad for holidays and you could show your support as well.
So let's spend our holidays at home and let's develop our country, because it is very important.
Director of Applied Politics Institute Olga Kryshtanovskaya: Mr President,
My name is Olga Kryshtanovskaya, I am the coordinator of United Russia’s liberal club, the leader of the Otlichnitsy public organisation and one of your friends on Facebook. I heard your idea of ‘large government’ today and I think it’s absolutely brilliant. Just yesterday, I posted a proposal to Facebook to discuss what a perfect government in our country would be like.
Dmitry Medvedev: Olga, I didn’t steal the idea from you. I didn’t visit your page yesterday.
Olga Kryshtanovskaya: This just goes to show that this idea is in the air, so you are absolutely in the mainstream.
Well, as a representative of the liberal club, which was established two years ago, I want to say that you have enjoyed the support of United Russia and you still do. Naturally, we hope to work together and provide you with all the support and assistance you need.
I would like to raise the issue of women in politics.
Dmitry Medvedev: A complex issue.
Olga Kryshtanovskaya: I think it is just catastrophically complex.
Dmitry Medvedev: For our country, yes.
Olga Kryshtanovskaya: We have only 6% of women in the establishment while women make up 53% of the population and 58% of university degree holders. What do you think we should do? For our part, the Otlichnitsy public organisation does not want to ask for special quotas. We don’t think that women are weak. We just want to consult with you whether it may be wise to create a special women’s pool of high-potential managers? Your presidential personnel pool has only 18% of women. That’s not enough.
Dmitry Medvedev: Good idea.
Olga Kryshtanovskaya: I think it would be good so that the ‘large government’ consists of 50% women rather than 8%. After all, how does a normal family work? There’s a husband and a wife, and then the children will have a balanced upbringing. What about state policy? We talk about the need to humanise our policy and to harmonise it. But how do we achieve that without women? We are ready to help and to get involved because it is a serious matter. We must train women like that and get rid of all the internal shackles.
By the way, could you tell your wife that we would like to invite her to join Otlichnitsy?
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.
There are many successful men here. I don’t know what your views on this issue are but I'll tell you about my feelings. I've always enjoyed working with women. I'm not kidding. Let me explain why. There are those who think that some issues should be discussed only with men, in the company of men, otherwise it just won’t work. Fist of all, I think that’s just because of their hang-ups.
Second. Clearly, women are able to give men a head start in many areas, and I say this in all sincerity. This is true in terms of their capacity for work, their alertness and persistence. Most women who do real work are much more consistent and much more firm in his beliefs than men. Men grind their teeth, swear, whatever, but it is clear that for them it is a secondary issue. Once a woman sets an objective, she is unstoppable. So, I think this makes a lot of sense.
Finally, and this seems particularly important to me, as soon as women come to work at government agencies, be it a ministry department or a village administration, the atmosphere changes, for most men anyway. It creates a new mood. So if we talk about my views, I think we don’t need any quotas; we should just not be afraid of making bold decisions, without fear that women should join what used to be a men's team, a team of successful people. Most states with very different government organisation, religious and historical traditions, which would seem much less civilised than Russia, have long ago started employing women in management positions. And we are still dragging our feet.
And the last point. If you take the offensive, men will not be able to stop you.
I can still go on but do you want me to? Nobody is bored? I think when such events take over two hours it is always tiring. People will think, when is it going to finish? It doesn’t matter who the speaker is, in fact.
So shall we go on a bit longer? All right. Let’s have five more questions. Okay?
World Class Clubs FITNESS CLUB CHAIN PRESIDENT OLGA SLUTSKER: Good afternoon,
I want to add my support to what you said about women going about reaching their goals with methodical perseverance.
Two years ago, we discussed modernising the physical education programme. Everyone has been talking about advanced technology and immense global affairs, but people’s health is one of the basic values, the cornerstone on which any country rests. Since that discussion took place a third weekly compulsory physical education class has been introduced in schools and we have carried out the very successful party project Physical Education Classes for the Twenty-First Century, which is an example of the kind of use of feedback that you have been talking about because several thousand physical education teachers took part.
This was the first time ever that anyone turned to them asking them to describe and send in their teaching methods. The project drew a lot of public attention and the Education and Science Ministry signed an agreement with a large number of sports federations on transferring the latest technology directly from the federations to the schools.
Of course there is still a lot of work to do. Unfortunately, many schools still do not have modern upgraded gyms and sports grounds, and still lack decent equipment. We are therefore continuing our work of course, but we need a state policy in this area, and we are placing our hopes on being able to work together with you to keep this process going.
Another thing. At that meeting two years ago, I raised the issue of protecting children’s rights to equal contact with both parents in cases where the parents are living apart. You gave the instruction at that meeting to look at amendments to the Family and Administrative Codes. This instruction has been carried out and the State Duma has passed very important and much-needed amendments in this area.
This is the first step. Now we are continuing to work with the lawmakers to further improve the laws in this very sensitive area of human life, so that none of our children are left cut off from their other parent, and so that parents know that if they let this kind of unfair and unpleasant situation arise they can be sure of having to bear the strict punishment for their actions.
So, I want to thank you very much on behalf of all parents who have found themselves in this difficult situation. You have really helped them out.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.
Olga, on the subject of physical education: I travel a lot and am proud of having had the chance to visit our entire country. We talked about tourism too. I spoke about these things, but didn’t get the chance before to really express the happiness it has given me over my time as President, and before, when I was First Deputy Prime Minister, to have had this opportunity to visit every single region of our country.
This really broadens one’s horizons. I think that any president of Russia is quite simply duty bound to visit every part of the country, every region. Anyway, every time I arrive in a region, which is quite often, I get taken to a whole variety of places – the local authorities are always eager to let me see the goods for myself.
In the past, they’d take you to visit all the monuments and historical sites, and that is a fine thing, but nowadays, the governors want to show the latest sports facilities they’ve had built. This is worth a lot. And the thing is, they really are getting involved in this work, it has become the fashion. We talked before about how some things have to become the fashion before everyone starts getting involved. Sports facilities have become fashionable now.
As far as physical education goes, in any school I visit, even very humble-looking schools, village schools, schools with few pupils, there is always a newly-painted gym with new equipment and some sports equipment outdoors too. This is all very important.
This shows that there has been a real shift in thinking because this was all neglected in the 1990s. This change is good because it is connected to our health, and therefore also to our demographic situation, which we talked about, and to our life expectancy. We realise how important it is to inculcate a love of physical education right from childhood rather than have to address health problems later on.
As for the family and administrative legislation, I am happy that the new changes are useful. Actually, family law has always been something I have been concerned with. Back when I worked in St Petersburg it was something I dealt with, and I even wrote books on the subject. But it is one thing to write books, and another thing to draft laws.
If we have succeeded in enhancing our family law of late this is a good piece of news. But let’s not forget that the family’s foundations rest not only on our laws but also on the atmosphere that reigns in our society. In this respect we still are to bridge the gap, perhaps, between the norms set out in family law on the one hand and people’s perceptions of the family and family matters on the other hand. This is a big and long-term task.
Ok, let’s hear from the next speaker.
Artist Dmitry Gutov: Mr President, good afternoon.
Dmitry Gutov, art historian.
I have a concrete proposal for ‘large government' and for 'small government' as well. The investment is only pennies, but the results will be stunning. We must make all those responsible for taking decisions in this country attend a lecture series on contemporary art.
Dmitry Medvedev: I agree.
Dmitry Gutov: No field is more dynamic and there is no other area that can so expand people's minds. And as I understand it you are able to enforce things. You must take full advantage of this. (Laughter.)
Dmitry Medvedev: Great idea: forcing people to contemporary art.
You know, I'll tell a story about this. I think it was in the Presidential Address [to the Federal Assembly], not that of 2010, but of 2009, that I talked about modern art, perhaps for the first time in the history of presidential addresses. There I said that our country can be proud not only of its classical art, which is phenomenal and renown throughout the world, but also its contemporary art. And, you know, I then spoke with some colleagues – I will not name them, they are all great, venerable people – who said: ”Why did you say this? Because people don't understand our great artists.“
But I absolutely agree with you: people who really pay attention to it – and I'm not even talking about a lecture series, but who are simply interested in the topic – are people who have (and excuse me for the cliché) a modern mind. There is nothing more to be said about this: this is a modern, developed person. This does not mean that we should not love and appreciate our classics. We all love, appreciate, and admire them, periodically look at them and reread them. But we must also be open to new things. And if our priorities remain very narrow, then innovations will not occur; if you cannot get over something, you are not able to make responsible and difficult decisions. So, Fedor?
Film director and screenwriter Fedor Bondarchuk: Mr President, I recently attended the first United Russia party congress and I became very depressed.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, I even took note of what you said, it was very harsh.
”I do not idealise United Russia: it is what it is. But on the other hand, we do not have a more powerful political force. And when it comes to making decisions in Moscow, the Far East, south, or north, then all of them depend heavily on United Russia. It is currently our leading political force.“
Fedor Bondarchuk: But what is happening today is very different, it is somehow invigorating. In general, are you not moving away from United Russia?
Dmitry Medvedev: I am now the flesh and blood of United Russia.
Fedor Bondarchuk: In general would it be possible to see some kind of modernisation? Perhaps modernisation is too strong a word, but at least a renewal or some kind of change in mood. Because here I understand that not only the walls produce an effect, and I want to thank you for choosing this location for our meeting.
Dmitry Medvedev: I also like it: thanks to all who participated.
Fedor Bondarchuk: It can be reached without going through an army of security people, and overall I was pleasantly surprised today. Thank you for allowing these people to meet today. Is it possible to transfer even a little bit of this energy there or is this simply a utopian idea?
Dmitry Medvedev: It depends on all of us.
Fedor Bondarchuk: And the last thing: I support not only your political course, I also support you personally. Because in addition to your tough leadership – keep expelling them all – you do not stop taking pictures, and even tweet about the difference between the Leica and Mark II [cameras]. And you have not stopped dancing either. Respect.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you. You are the first to appreciate this ability.
Fedor Bondarchuk: People just don't understand anything about contemporary dance.
Dmitry Medvedev: Especially those skills which were acquired in the eighties. I will continue to dance, no doubt about it.
With regard to our party, our United Russia: it will reflect us exactly. The congress. To be honest, we all understand how congresses are. Each congress is always a show: it's not nice to say this, but it's true. Look at party congresses in other countries, it's the same thing.
The important thing is that the party's activities are not confined to congresses. At a congress you can mope around, of course, or you can stand up, applaud, welcome certain decisions, or do the opposite and go into mourning. But in general a congress is always a kind of apogee of the activities of a certain social structure, not a reflection of how strong a party is. As we know, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) went from congress to congress and we all know how it ended. The main thing is that different people were there.
And about the energy we need to invest – here you are absolutely right. We simply must ensure that at all levels the party is composed of modern, intelligent, decent, honest people, the ones who have retained their credibility.
I talked about this at the congress and I can say it again here to you and other members of United Russia, supporters of this party. If we manage to win in December, and the chances are rather high (although we should not let success go to our head yet – the nation's trust must be won), a very serious party makeover must occur.
And not because there are some bad officials in the party, corrupt representatives of the business elite or simply dishonest, unsatisfactory people. No, that is not the only reason. Of course we have to get rid of them – that's true. But it's simply true that the party itself must correspond with the times, otherwise it will not have any chance of winning.
After all, why are parties periodically rebranded throughout the world? Simply to modernise them, to make them more attractive to voters, and to allow them to stay at the cutting edge of social movements.
I do not idealise United Russia: it is what it is. But on the other hand, we do not have a more powerful political force. And when it comes to making decisions in Moscow, the Far East, south, or north, then all of them depend heavily on United Russia. Like it or not, it is currently our leading political force. This may be far from always being the case, and every member of United Russia should remember this.
At a certain point the CPSU believed that the power it held was, well, if not from God, then derived from the classics of Marxism-Leninism, and would continue indefinitely. We know how quickly it ended. You can lose the people's love or popularity just as quickly.
In addition, a strong party depends on a great number of people, not just on the good reputation of one or two leaders. Because if the party is only associated with its leadership… We all realise that people end their political careers sooner or later. In this case, the party would meet a sorry fate. But if it can be represented by a different generation of people, and if they can generate leaders and do so at different levels, then such a party has a good future.
Take a look at some examples of what is happening in other countries. Incidentally, we still have very much to learn in this regard. If a party shows slightly worse or significantly worse results, cannot form a government, or does not achieve something, then what happens? Job rotation. And no one is offended, they do not say: ”Well, what? I did so much for this party, it's connected with me. I worked there all my life.“
Everyone understands that this is in the interests of the party itself and, therefore, in the interests of the political force we represent. At that point we must find the courage to step aside and say: ”Well, fine, let someone else take the position.“ As a result, the majority of developed democratic parties are able to remain in the European democracies where they are active. It is precisely due to their ability to renew themselves, not just the phenomenal leadership qualities of certain leaders. We need to establish such mechanisms too.
”I would really like to avoid seeing any of the parties active in Russia today go astray. Rather, I would like to see them renew themselves and evolve along with our country, because in Russia there will always be people who sympathise with conservative ideas, people who are sympathetic to right-wing forces or to left-wing forces. And that's normal, it reflects the stability of our society. All parties should feel this.“
By the way (and this is probably the last thing I would like to say about parties), this doesn't just refer to United Russia. We are all adults, we realize that infinitely dominating our political horizon is impossible. Anyway, sooner or later our system will be such that power will be passed on. The important thing is that this happens via constitutional means and as a result of people's wishes.
So that is what I have to say in relation to United Russia, because I value this party, I am currently its leader, and I hope it will win the elections… Thank you for your support. Other parties should feel the same way, because I would really like to avoid seeing any of the parties active in Russia today go astray. Rather, I would like to see them renew themselves and evolve along with our country, because in Russia there will always be people who sympathise with conservative ideas, people who are sympathetic to right-wing forces or to left-wing forces. And that's normal, it reflects the stability of our society. All parties should feel this.
Before taking on the responsibility of heading United Russia's party list, I tried to make these points during my meetings with other parties' leaders. I do not know what they will say now, especially since electoral season is in full swing. But to be perfectly honest, I am sure that none of them has the moral authority to throw stones at me, with regard to something I tried to achieve over the past three years.
I tried to develop our party and political system. This was not entirely successful and there were some failures, but nevertheless this is what I tried to do. And I am absolutely sure that this is very important for our country.
How many did I promise, three? Two more. From the gallery? Ok, from the gallery: let the first person there to catch a microphone have the floor.
LEADER OF PUBLIC YOUTH ORGANISATION 'INTELLECTUAL-CREATIVE SOCIETY OF YOUNG PEOPLE' FROM KARACHAYEVO-CIRCASSIA AZAMAT TLISOV: Good afternoon.
Azamat Tlisov, Karachayevo-Circassia, North-Caucasus State Humanities and Technology Academy.
Mr President, let me thank you for the opportunity to take part in this meeting, the opportunity to be heard, and for the tremendous work you are doing.
If you allow it, I would like to discuss issues related to the modernisation of education. Naturally, economic, political and technological changes in our country concomitantly require significant changes in education. It is essential that education keeps up with the times. This resonates very well with what you said about the importance of long overdue changes and the fact that we must be prepared for today's challenges.
There are still problems related to young people's involvement in research and teaching, and the need for continual personnel development. A lot remains to be done.
In this respect, what is your vision of future work related to the modernisation of education? Of course, not everything can be measured by sterile statistics, but changes in personal trajectories, smiles and the happy faces of young people, and the opportunity to achieve something new is very important to us.
Dmitry Medvedev: With regard to smiles: it is well known that in the 1990s we were always the most unsmiling country in the world. (And probably not only in the 90s but in the Soviet period too, which I'm not even referring to.) When people travelled to our country they said: these people do not know how to smile. In fact, this is a serious issue: I think we all need to exude positive energy. If a person does not smile, then something is not quite right. And in this sense, no matter how serious or tough we might be, we still have to smile. I am appealing to all of you with this request.
With regard to education: of course for me education is not an extraneous field; I was involved with it for almost ten years, working on other things contemporaneously. We spend a lot of money on education. I recently cited the figure and I can say it here again: two trillion one hundred billion rubles. This is our consolidated budget for education and, at the same time, we are fundamentally unhappy with the way the system works. You know, I would say that in our country we have the education system of a society in transition. It is a bit Soviet, already a little bit western, a little bit historical, a little bit of something else as well, and because of all these different components no coherent picture emerges.
On the other hand, I don't think we have worked for nothing in recent years. And even the national project – maybe everyone's tired of it, and tired of its slogans – but we still ploughed money into our leading universities, we provided the means to ensure that second-rate universities join forces, and that the quality of education there improved.
Education is developing together with our society. I am absolutely confident that in ten or fifteen years we will have an excellent education system which makes us proud; not a Soviet one, but rather a wonderful modern education system. And I am sure that our universities will rank not only in the top hundred, but in the top ten educational institutions. I am absolutely sure of this, because we really are a creative nation. This is absolutely true.
Perhaps we should end? Mind you, I am looking at Mr Svanidze. I think I will still give you the floor because we did work together for a while, and I feel uncomfortable at not having singled you out today.
Tv Journalist and Member of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation Nikolai Svanidze: Thank you, Mr President.
I want to talk about problems and return to the beginning of today's conversation. And this is perhaps only for aesthetic reasons, to insert stylistic variety into today's conversation.
I have absolutely no relationship to United Russia and appeal to you as the existing president, who is not preparing to relinquish responsibility for what is happening in our country.
With your permission, I'll try to summarise the problem, the range of problems currently facing our country. In doing this I won't be pushing back the boundaries of knowledge, and maybe I'll simply come across as someone who exaggerates. Well, so be it.
Dmitry Medvedev: Actually, it was for that reason that I gave you the floor. I know that you have nothing good to say.
Nikolai Svanidze: The whole truth and nothing but the truth: as in a trial.
So you did list some problems. You have mentioned them before and did so again today. Frightfully ensconced corruption, that is still on the rise. Bureaucratic excesses, also on the rise. The lack of a truly independent judiciary. The very low level of functioning, and at times perhaps simply imitative function, of democratic and civil society institutions.
The lopsided, archaic, opaque economy based on raw materials exports. The lack of both economic and real, political competition. And in many respects this leads to a trend that, unfortunately, we know well from the late Soviet period, a very negative trend known as ”the alienation of citizens from the state.“
All of these problems are not only serious but also systemic, and therefore probably require a systemic response.
”I do not know who will replace the existing management team in ten or fifteen years, but hopefully they will be better, smarter, and stronger than we are. But for now I see my duty, my personal obligation as continuing to work, continuing to work for our country and our people.“
So this is my question to you, Mr President. What tools, what systemic resources do you envision using to solve these problems?
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.
Mr Svanidze, I will not argue with you because everything that you mentioned exists. Mind you, I am not in favour of exaggeration, but I think that all this exists, just not in such proportions that we can say it defines our lives today.
You know, I am also not as young as I would like to be. I remember the Brezhnev era, I remember Andropov's time, Konstantin Chernenko's time, I remember the epoch of Mikhail Gorbachev. No matter what people say, those were other times and our country was different. Good, bad, authoritarian or democratic, Medvedev, Putin; it was still another era.
Nevertheless, all the problems you mentioned really are preventing us from developing today. And all that I have done in recent years has been aimed at if not eliminating them entirely, then at least significantly lessening them. Whether this succeeded or failed is up to you to judge as experts, up to our people and our entire society to judge. This is absolutely the case.
What do I see as the only means that would allow us to keep on doing that? I can tell you very frankly: not to give up power but to continue working. I do not know who will replace the existing management team in ten or fifteen years, but hopefully they will be better, smarter, and stronger than we are. But for now I see my duty, my personal obligation as continuing to work, continuing to work for our country and our people.
If I thought otherwise, I would have gathered you here today for other reasons. I would have said a big thank you to all of you for having been with me in recent years, for helping me, and because together we have done some useful things for our country. But I'm not saying that; I don't want to let you go, I want us to continue to work.
Policy, as you know perfectly well, is the art of the possible. No politicians are absolutely free, just as no decisions are absolutely easy. And for me a whole number of decisions were difficult, including, for example, during the period when I decided to run for president. Maybe it seems that any person who gets such an offer would say: ”Oh, cool: I'll be the President of Russia!“. And yet, it's a very difficult job. I simply do not have the right to forswear the responsibility for everything that happens in our country, for everything we are doing together. I will absolutely continue this work and the results will be judged in due course.
Dear friends, I want to warmly thank you for coming here today in what really is an informal atmosphere – it's great here, classy, warm, bright – and spending two hours with me. Because I see this meeting as perhaps one of the key ones within the on-going election campaign.
It's true that not everyone here is sympathetic to United Russia, and that's fine. But the people who are here want to improve their country; they are people who want to see it become modern, developed, and strong. And this energy that Fedor remarked on is being transferred to me. I will still need it for a while. So thank you very much for conveying this energy to me – it is indispensable for me today.
And the last thing: I think that the idea of a 'large government' that I talked about is nevertheless supported by the majority of those present here, and if there are no objections we will develop this further.
I hope that those who did not get the opportunity to speak will be able to later.
Thank you very much.