This is Dmitry Medvedev's third meeting with regional media representatives. In Khabarovsk the President talked with journalists from the Far East and Siberia and in Ufa he met with media representatives from the Volga Federal District.
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Excerpts from transcript of meeting with media representatives of the Southern and North Caucasus federal districts
President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: I visited the North Caucasus Federal District in the morning, the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania. We talked about different matters but I also wanted to talk to our officers from the 58th Army, who are stationed there – the army headquarters is located there. Why? It is a special place, this is my third or fourth trip there and it is actually the place where we analysed the 2008 campaign results and the military operations we conducted to force Georgia to peace.
I have already told the officers today and can tell you as well that I think it was a very trying chapter of Russia’s contemporary history, but unfortunately, it was absolutely necessary. The fact that Russia adopted such a tough line at the time ultimately ensured that the situation is much more peaceful now, in spite of certain difficulties.
We were able to calm down some of our neighbours by showing them how they should behave with regard to Russia and small adjacent states. For some of our partners, including NATO, it was a signal that they must think about the geopolitical stability before making a decision to expand the alliance. I see this as the main lessons of what happened in 2008.
Today I noted the heroism of our servicemen and those who unfortunately died in the conflict: the peacemakers and those who served in the Armed Forces at the time. We talked about the Armed Forces reform and virtually everyone believes that, despite some rough spots, we made a big stride forward in terms of military pay, which increased by 150–200% (this is an unprecedented step), and housing, as well as the supply of new weapons.
Later I had a fascinating meeting with the republic’s leadership, as well as with representatives of major social groups, public associations and intelligentsia. That was also a very good meeting. We talked about various issues, ranging from kindergartens to healthcare, education and ethnic tolerance, which is especially important in southern Russia and in the Caucasus. In general, it was a very meaningful conversation.
Now I have come to visit you and have already managed to have a brief talk with your Governor on the way; I have also had a meeting with the governors of all regions in the Southern and the North Caucasus federal districts. We met to touch base but also to discuss the situation with the elections, because I head the United Russia party list and the governors also lead many regional lists, and we compared notes on the campaign’s progress, which is probably quite natural. And my final stop for today is this meeting with you.
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Thank you for asking me [about the Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly] for two reasons: first, it gives me a chance to share with you how my preparations for the Address have been going, because some time ago I had no opportunity to talk about it and that gave rise to speculations about what is happening with the Address. And, secondly, it is always a pleasure to share my thoughts.
Briefly about the Address itself: the work on it is in progress. I must admit I was planning to deliver the Address on November 23, but some time ago I decided to postpone it for several reasons. To be honest, I wanted more time to think about certain issues because this is my last Presidential Address, in the short term at least, and whether there will be any more addresses from me remains to be seen.
Therefore, it is important to draw conclusions and outline plans for the future, to talk about how we should tackle the modernisation of our country, our economy, our society and our political system, and it should be a comprehensive approach. It is easier to analyse the results, to talk about what has been done and what has not been done, but the vision of the future is a complicated matter, so I continue to consult with the experts, the Executive Office and the Government. I have also held consultations with the large, or open government. It is a new expert group, the sounding board on which I now rely. That is why I decided to postpone the Address.
There is also a second argument; it is formal but very important. I would like to deliver the Address – and the Presidential Address is always a policy programme – to the new members of the State Duma. I am on excellent terms with the current members of the State Duma but the new deputies will be there for the next five years and it is very important for us to establish contact, especially since we have plans to continue working together if we get the mandate from the people to govern the state and the State Duma, and the presidential mandate. That is exactly why I postponed the Address to the Federal Assembly.
As for the content, I have just told you about it. Don’t try to find any subtle nuances otherwise you’ll get bored.
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The harshness, if not sometimes even the cruelty, of some of the views expressed in the new media and the social networks make me wary, as does the degree of irresponsibility. If someone goes out into the street and says, ‘I oppose the government, I don’t like it, I want a new government’, that is a clear form of political activeness, and every individual is free to choose their behaviour. After all, if you’ve taken your views to the streets, it means you are taking a particular stand.
But the thing that worries me is when people simply write vicious things about others, call them idiots, revolting sorts, declare that someone of this or that nationality or ethnic background will never do any good because they are all savages with no hope of ever becoming civilised. It worries me that people start growing used to this kind of environment. We see what is going on, and people seem to think this is normal. This would have been unthinkable in the past. You never hear this kind of thing on television here, or abroad. The demand on tolerance there is higher, and you would risk losing your job on television or even end up behind bars for saying such things. It’s the same with the newspapers. But in the new media the level of responsibility and sensitivity is a lot lower, and this could lead to a situation in which part of the population, especially young people, but also part of my generation, start to think it is acceptable to slander different ethnic groups, and that you can do so in impunity. But just imagine in the USA, say, someone openly slandering one of the ethnic groups that make up the US population. He would risk paying a heavy penalty, even ending up in prison. In the Internet you can do what you like, however, and no one will catch and punish you for it. But behind the Internet are people’s heads that get filled with all this rubbish and in the end we could see the consequences in the streets.
Talking about moral responsibility, I think it is ultimately up to every individual to take responsibility for their words, every media editor, every journalist, and every blogger. It depends on their own selves, their level of education, and above all on their own inner substance.
In some people there seems to be nothing setting any limits right from the start. But people who are religious, regardless of whether they are Muslims, Buddhists, have these inner restraints. When people lose all sense of limit they start to go beyond all bounds in their behaviour.
The question of legal responsibility is the most complicated aspect of course, because if you introduce legal liability for comments on the Internet and social networks you destroy the Internet itself. Some countries have tried to take this road. They have not had any success, but the Internet is completely blocked there and you cannot read or write anything freely.
This is not possible in other cases, and so what is needed is to draw a set of clearer criteria that would make it possible for legal services and the law enforcement agencies to decide in concrete cases if someone has overstepped the limits and should be made responsible. It probably would not be possible to hold someone legally liable for statements of character, but in the case of statements making calls for violence, there are grounds for using authority, because if the Internet and social networks get flooded with calls to go and kill someone, how can we talk about freedom of the Internet? In such cases you are to take a police baton and sort these people out, because their calls undermine the foundations of social harmony. But until such moment as things take the turn of calls to violence and force, whatever discussions are going on would probably just have to be called discussions, even if sometimes I find them frankly nauseating.
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I was afraid that our potential investors [in developing the tourism cluster in the North Caucasus] would not be able to see past the problems with security and poorly developed infrastructure in the region, but I was pleasantly surprised that they turned out a lot wiser than I thought. Of course they are attentive to these issues, but they realise at the same time the huge tourism potential the Caucasus offers, and they are therefore coming to us.
We have already signed a number of agreements, good agreements. We have particularly good cooperation in this sector with France, but we are hoping for other investors to join in too. I am sure that almost all of the cluster’s parts that you mentioned, including the part centred on the Lago-Naki Plateau, will be the pearls of our tourism industry, create new jobs, and generate revenue.