The participants in the Petersburg Dialogue include prominent German and Russian politicians, scientists, cultural figures and media professionals. The forum is held annually, alternately in Russia and Germany, and is usually timed to coincide with German-Russian intergovernmental consultations.
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President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon, Ms Federal Chancellor, Mr Lothar de Maiziere, Mr Zubkov, ladies and gentlemen,
I have some good news and some bad news for you today: the good news is that we are all going to live to see the next decade, I hope. The bad news is that life will become harder, judging from the way events are unfolding and the number of problems we tackle together. But we are tackling them and Petersburg Dialogue is one of the tools we can use to achieve our goals.
Ten years have gone by since these meetings began. We saw a great deal in this time, and now we can say that the Russian-German partnership became truly all embracing, or strategic, as we say. This especially applies to the dimension of our relationship that falls within the scope of Petersburg Dialogue. Earlier we heard a lot of very good examples of ways in which we can communicate and the areas covered by our cooperation. All of it, starting from launching a new joint history textbook project – a very important initiative, considering that our shared history is very complex and diverse, even dramatic in certain periods – to meetings between young leaders with their infectious optimism and altruism, which is particularly important. They don’t ask us for money but they need attention, and we will certainly give it to them.
I hope we will continue pursuing the same goals as now. Earlier we discussed economic modernisation through business involvement. That is another venue, a very important and useful one. Business has fuelled us with optimism: after all, it looks like the economic crisis is nearly over and there are major joint projects that have excellent prospects. It is very important for business to penetrate civil society; we need to see that the outcome of our cooperation is not limited to major business projects but also extends to medium and small business. To achieve that we need to boost contacts on a personal level. In this area we see the economic component become interwoven with direct personal communication. And I think this is also a very important dimension of our work.
As for the subjects we heard today, the subjects discussed at the forum, I think that spiritual dialogue has great importance. Both Russian and German society has moral values based on our Christian roots. This will continue to unite us and help us address a wide variety of contemporary issues.
This year is special because in a way it completes a sequence of recent events. I am referring to the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II. Last year we celebrated 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Of course, these are symbolic dates, which we discussed a great deal and which create a very strong link between us.
The exhibitions and other cultural events held recently have been inspirational. But there are other areas in which we should expand our cooperation. The visa issue was raised today, we have heard about it from the business community and from the civil societies of our countries. Resolving it would also help expand student exchanges and encourage communication of every kind. We realise that this problem extends beyond the scope of Russian-German relations. It has to be addressed by Russia and the European Union, but I am confident that if there is goodwill and desire to make progress in this area, we will ultimately reach agreement on visa-free travel.
Yesterday during dinner, which took quite a long time, Angela and I discussed practically everything, from history — and a lot of time was devoted to different history episodes — to football, of course. We share the same point of view on this issue. I won’t go on about it, Mr Zubkov has already said all there was to say. I don’t want to offend anyone, most of the Russian delegation supported the German team, but it wasn’t our fault, and we all know whose fault it was.
I believe there are certain subjects on which we must continue our discussion. Some of our approaches are different but I think it is great that the difference is still there. It would be far worse if we completely agreed on all issues because then we would have nothing to talk about.
For example, if we look at the media, I am far from certain that we should renounce state-owned media at any cost. Of course, state-owned media is just another tool; the media should be both private and state-owned. But I don’t see the point of trying to abolish state media because we see both forms of media ownership all over the world. Moreover, the digitisation process that is currently taking place in the media blurs the difference between state-owned and private media, blogs written by ordinary people and major media outlets. All this turns into a huge flow of information, where it is impossible to indentify who a certain piece of news originally belongs to, who broadcasts it and who comments on it.
So I wouldn’t oversimplify this issue, but that is just my opinion and I don’t want to force it on anyone. I am sure the dialogue between civil societies will continue, both on this subject and on human rights issues. We believe that this has enormous importance for our country precisely because this subject was banned for decades in the Soviet Union. We have our own problems in this area, and we are open about them. At the same time, we try to solve them, and we adopt approaches that are consistent with our history, our traditions and our Constitution; we try to solve them by ourselves, but of course, with the support of our friends.
I hope that future communication between our civil societies at Petersburg Dialogue will remain open, honest, direct, and friendly at the same time. When Angela and I were on our way here we wondered if anyone will ever invite us to chair Petersburg Dialogue. We don’t know yet because, first, we don’t know what those who come after us will think about us, and, second, we don’t really want to do it soon because it will mean that we have moved on to a different group of political actors. Although we have colleagues within Petersburg Dialogue who are high-ranking officials, who are active and hold responsible positions, like Mr Zubkov, for example. At any rate, if they invite us, we will work together, and if not, we will just visit each other.