The congress re-elected Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu to be the Society’s president. Vladimir Putin heads the Society’s Board of Trustees.
* * *
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, friends.
I welcome to Moscow everyone taking part in the Russian Geographical Society’s XV congress. First of all, I want to thank our colleagues who were elected to various organisational positions within the Society for their previous work and wish them continued success now. This includes of course Sergei Shoigu, who was one of those who helped to revive the Russian Geographical Society and has done much for its work over these last years. There is no doubt that these last years will go down in the Society’s history as a period of renewal and a time when its wonderful traditions found new demand and received new development, and its activities took on new dynamics and content.
The Society held an extraordinary congress here in Moscow in 2009. Now it has an extensive network of branches in all 85 regions of the country. Its headquarters in St Petersburg has been returned to its original historical appearance. The Society’s rich archives, library and collections were literally rescued and what’s more are now open for people to use. Even more valuable is that these collections are being added to, including and above all through the efforts of many those present here now. I want to say thank you very much to you for this.
Research and exploration work essentially got a new life, the intensity of which can probably be compared to the Society’s most fruitful period in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The key ethnographic and environmental protection commissions were restored and new commissions have been established too. The Society has renewed wide-ranging publishing activities and is making use of all the modern information resources that enable it to carry out a huge amount of educational work, primarily aimed at young people of course. Overall, the revived Russian Geographical Society is doing a lot to restore its traditions and prepare a new generation to continue its work. It is enough to cite the establishment of the youth movement and the hundreds of projects being carried out for children, often by the children themselves.
Today, I particularly want to thank those who set out five years ago on the difficult road of reviving the Russian Geographical Society, organised its work and took part in its projects. I want to express particular gratitude to our trustees.
Friends, we all have many day to day problems and various difficult tasks to take care of. We encounter all manner of obstacles in life and we each overcome them in our different areas. But what you are doing to restore the Russian Geographical Society truly deserves our particular attention and special thanks. Like your predecessors, you are active in helping the Society in its constructive initiatives today.
I also want to thank the media council’s members. They have carried out a lot of information work, helping people to learn about what is happening in society and in many ways discover our country’s wealth.
The recent [Russian Geographical Society] festival showed clearly just how much demand there is for the Society’s projects and how popular they are. Over the week it took place it drew tens of thousands of visitors and was of interest to children and adults alike. It was important to see that many people came not just to look, which is good in itself, but also to propose their ideas and willingness to help with projects, which is even better of course. We are always open to those who want to get involved in the Society’s work and provide some help. The RGS grants tender has just started now and I am sure that much of what has been planned will be carried out over the coming year.
I would also like to make some proposals. We discussed these ideas earlier in one form or another, but I think that carrying out these proposals could raise people’s interest not just in geography but also in the homeland in the broadest sense of the word.
There is the idea, for example, of launching the National Geographical Quiz, similar to the Total Dictation testing Russian language skills, which has been held for several years now and been a big success. This kind of voluntary national test attracts more and more people and obviously should reach out to new fields too. I am sure that the RGS’s regional branches and geography teachers would willingly support this idea (indeed, many of them already made proposals along this line earlier), and also the development of a common standard in geography and subsequent development of a series of new geography textbooks for schools. I know that teachers criticise modern teaching materials in terms of both presentation and content.
Geography, as we have said many times in the past, can and should be one of the most interesting subjects in school. It is important here to put particular emphasis on studying Russia’s natural heritage, environmental issues, rational use of natural resources, and protection of rare animal and plant species.
When it comes to environmental protection, I note that the RGS’s environmental projects are concentrated mostly in the Far East and the Arctic, which is understandable. These regions are home to many unique landscape systems that one cannot find elsewhere in the world. There are also ambitious plans for developing these regions and we can implement these plans, as we have said on many occasions, only if we make a very thorough analysis of all environmental risks.
But Central Russia also deserves its share of attention. It is important here too, to establish nature preserves and restore animal populations, develop public efforts to clean up forests, lakes and rivers, combat illegal logging and dumps, and protect and restore natural and cultural sites, not just the sites recognised as our country’s national symbols, but also sites connected to the history of our small towns and villages.
Squares, parks and small forested areas are also an integral part of our country and its heritage. We must protect this, develop it and pass it on to our future generations. This was the principle the Russian Geographical Society always followed in its work.
I sincerely wish the congress delegates and guests and all members of the Society big success and interesting work for our country’s benefit.
Thank you very much.