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President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,
I don’t want to take up a lot of time at the start. I just want to say that I am very happy to see you, and I thank you for coming to the forum. I hope it has lived up to your hopes. What I managed to see yesterday during the intervals between the rather active work we had to take care of and the events we found ourselves having to deal with, suggested that interesting discussions were going on. I am not just saying this out of politeness. What I saw really did seem to me to be of interest.
Our agenda is completely free today. I am not going to set any limits and am entirely at your disposal. The only thing is that I think it could be interesting to discuss the issues facing democratic development around the world and in Russia too of course, given that we are here in Russia.
A year ago, I wrote an article about our country’s modernisation goals. We have made some progress since then. Of course we would like things to move at a faster pace, but we do nonetheless have some results that I can comment on if you are interested. Overall, I think that our society, our people have taken on modernisation as the big slogan and main agenda for our country today. There is a consensus in our society about the fact that we have no alternative but to pursue economic and social modernisation and modernise our political system within the constitutional framework. Debate goes on over the pace and depth of modernisation, the means and methods to be used, and the institutions to be modernised.
A year ago, I wrote an article about our country’s modernisation goals. We have made some progress since then. Of course we would like things to move at a faster pace.
I think we could talk about this too. And I make no secret of the fact that I would like to hear your views and have a real discussion, not just sticking to the Q&A format. Your views are very interesting indeed for me, as President of Russia.
So, the floor is open.
Piotr Dutkiewicz: Mr President, thank you very much for this invitation to come to Yaroslavl. This is a very good conference, with depth, and new, innovative thinking. Thank you.
It seems to me there can’t be any modernisation without modernisers. My question therefore is: who are the modernisers in Russia in the social and political sense? It seems to me that modernisation requires not just the state’s presence but also political and social supports. Don’t you think that a political party that could help with this modernisation would receive broad support from Russians?
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you, Mr Dutkiewicz.
You know, I want our people to be the modernisers, not just the political class, not just president with an i-pad, not just some elite that seeks change. We realise that if ordinary people feel no desire, no urge to change the setting around them, change the economy and the social environment, and make needed adjustments to the political system, modernisation will fail. But ‘the people’ is a broad concept. Of course there always are some people who are more active than others, people who form a politically active class.
Who is part of this class? The political parties, of course, and in this I agree with you 100 percent. Are our parties ideal? How ready are they to support modernisation? They are only as ideal as our political system overall. Our parties are no better or worse than the political system in general, and this includes the biggest party, United Russia, which is currently in power. This party has its merits, and it has quite a few shortcomings too, but I think it would be wrong to think this party incapable of carrying out and supporting modernisation.
I cannot say, for example, that United Russia does not share our modernisation goals. In any case, no one has said to my face, “We don’t need modernisation. Let’s leave everything as it is. We are already on the right development road and everything is going fine, so let’s not meddle with anything, or else we might end up only ruining and destroying what we already have”. I have never heard such thoughts from any of United Russia’s members, from any of the party’s leaders, including Prime Minister Putin and the party’s chairman [State Duma Speaker Boris] Gryzlov and other esteemed colleagues.
Overall then, there is ideological consensus on this subject. I don’t think the problem now is that there are forces that oppose modernisation, but that a large number of civil servants, and part of the business community too, unfortunately, still see it as a passing thing. They see it as the slogan of the day, but nothing more. People sit there and think to themselves, “Who knows what things will be like in 3–5 years time. Who knows if it won’t be modernisation but something else that’s the order of the day by then, so it’s better not to stick my head out too far”. This is typical of civil servants’ mentality, and perhaps also characterises the mentality of some party activists too.
But I think that the authorities’ task, my personal task, and the task for all who believe in modernisation is to consolidate this [modernisation] movement, and do our part to help people realise that modernisation is absolutely inevitable. I am convinced of this. We are at the point now when we have simply no choice but to start moving in this direction.
I will not quote my article, Go, Russia! I hope that you are already familiar with the main ideas I expressed there. But whatever the case, we have already come to point when we simply cannot rely any longer on raw materials-based growth. The crisis gave us a stark illustration of this fact: our economy declined by more than others, to speak frankly and honestly. It’s true that it rebounded quite fast this year. Last year it fell by 10 percent, and industrial production fell by as much as 15 percent of GDP, but this year it grew by 5 percent. Why such ups and downs? This is all because we rely on energy resources. Our economy grew this year not just because the global economy is recovering, but also because energy prices rose too, jumped up again.
But we realise that if there is a second or third wave of the crisis – and let’s hope this doesn’t happen – our economy would fall again. We therefore absolutely must change our economic infrastructure otherwise we simply will not have a future. I worked for 8 years in Gazprom and know it inside out. It is a very important part of our economy, a powerful monopoly, and our country’s economic prosperity depends on oil and gas at the moment, but the whole time I was chairman of the Gazprom board of directors I was always thinking, “things are good now, but what about in 30 years time?”
If the world’s scientists are successful in their projects and our world really does develop hydrogen engines and other new possibilities, what will our lives be like? Every 50 years brings a change in the energy paradigm, a change in the dominant energy source: coal gave way to oil, then gas, and then nuclear energy. This development will continue. And so we have absolutely no choice but to change our growth sources, and it is precisely for this reason that we must work on advanced technology and innovation.
That is the economic side of things, but there is the political side too. Of course only free people can carry out modernisation, only people who consider themselves free, and this is something I will talk about in my speech at the plenary session today.
There is no such thing as an ideal democracy. A democracy that declares its own greatness and perfection could well find itself on the scrapheap of history, and sadly, such examples exist.
Blinkered, intimidated people who fear the state authorities, fear the law enforcement agencies, fear competitors and even life itself cannot carry out modernisation. Only free people can be modernisers. But this is a complex and in many respects even personal question because perceptions of personal freedom are a far from simple matter. As we develop our political institutions we therefore must keep in mind that by freeing people and opening them up we give them new incentives for modernisation.
We have achieved some results over the last two years. During my first year as president I worked on changing the institutions at the federal level. I stress from the outset that these were not radical changes. Not because radical change is not allowed, but because there is no need for it. Over the second year I worked on changing institutions at the regional level. All of the relevant laws have been passed – several dozen, I think. The thing is, when all of this effort is analysed – often by analysts or opposition groups – they say that these are all just cosmetic changes and that radical transformation is required. But the question is what exactly to change?
We could imagine the possibility of a different political system, of course, the introduction of, say, parliamentary democracy here in Russia. Our friends in Kyrgyzstan have chosen this road, but I say quite openly that for Russia, and I am afraid for Kyrgyzstan too, this would be a disaster. If we work within the current constitutional framework the changes we make can only be careful and gradual, genuinely step by step changes that would not upset the fragile balance we have achieved, all the more so as we still face a huge number of challenges: corruption, terrorism in the Caucasus, and technological disasters against which no one is insured. And so, having a supportive political class and making changes to the country’s political organisation are certainly important conditions for modernisation, but are not the sole conditions.
Dmitry Medvedev: You have the floor, Mr Skidelsky.
Robert Skidelsky: Thank you, Mr President.
I was very interested in what you just said. I was on a panel, which discussed the connection between democratisation and economic modernisation, which, it was a bit of a chicken and egg kind of discussion. There was one group of people who think that democracy came as a result of economic modernisation, and another group, I think, was very much of the view you’ve just outlined, — that democracy or democratisation, the extension of freedom, is absolutely necessary for successful economic modernisation.
And then people talked about what’s the experience of history in these things and why was it not possible for Russia to pursue the path of China, for example, or other countries which were very successful in their economic development under authoritarian systems, and then democracies came after — they had achieved a certain level of success.
I don’t know what your view is on this. I mean, from your published writings, I think that you believe the second view, that democratisation is necessary for any kind of economic success. But it was an interesting discussion, we enjoyed. I don’t know what you’d like to say about that now.
Dmitry Medvedev: With pleasure. Thank you, Mr Skidelsky.
The fact that the discussions gave rise to two positions opposing each other – one that democracy is the result of social development, and the other that it is a conditio sine qua non, a prerequisite for social development – seems to me a usual philosophical contradiction. At the same time, each position obviously has its right to exist. We realise that there is no such thing as an ideal democracy. A democracy that declares its own greatness and perfection could well find itself on the scrapheap of history, and sadly, such examples exist. Democracy is always a process, an ongoing political practice. At the same time, it is a set of institutions that form a common heritage and are perceived in the same way in many respects all around the world.
I really do think that democracy is an essential condition for Russia’s development because I believe in democracy, despite the fact that, as you know, our country had a rather discordant feelings about democracy in the 1990s. The problem here was that people became impoverished, and instead of the successes the reformers of the late 1980s-early 1990s promised under the slogan of democracy they got poverty instead. At some point, people started to associate democracy as a concept with poverty and the discomfort engendered by a great country’s collapse. But that was a mistake, for democracy is not at all about those things.
We have no alternative but to pursue economic and social modernisation and modernise our political system within the constitutional framework. Debate goes on over the pace and depth of modernisation, the means and methods to be used, and the institutions to be modernised.
I therefore believe that democracy really is an essential condition for Russia’s development as a country and as a big economic and political system. But at the same time democracy is a result too. I think that the democracy we have today is better than that we had 5 years ago, and the democracy we had 5 years ago, despite the various possible assessments that exist, was more developed than that of 12 years ago. Democracy is continually developing and this is normal. There are never any perfect social institutions. There are the foundations that need to be in place, but the edifice itself is constantly developing.
Could Russia take a different development road, the Chinese model you mentioned, for example? We have excellent relations with China, a strategic partnership, as we usually put it. But China has its own road. I think this road is not an option for Russia, and not just now, but 20 years ago too, when we were choosing the new model for our society. This is for a number of reasons – historical and economic reasons, and a question of mentality. We simply could not follow this road. There are some groups in our society that like to repeat, “What a pity that we didn’t follow such and such a model. If the Communist Party Politburo members had had more foresight, Gorbachev and the others, and had taken a more cautious approach in their modernisation, we would have had economic success like China and a stable political system within the Soviet Union’s borders”. But you know, I don’t believe this and don’t think it would have been possible.
Yes, the collapse of the Soviet Union really was a difficult thing for many people to live through, and for many people it was indeed a tragedy, but I do not think there was any alternative development scenario. Of course everything could have been a bit more gradual and cautious, but to be objective, unlike many countries, including some European countries, Russia did manage to keep things within certain limits. We did not have a civil war, despite changing our social system and organisation, and we were consistent in our development. Over the whole period of Russia’s modern history, the whole 20 years that have passed, power has never passed into the hands of forces demanding to revise our political institutions or renounce the market economy. Such groups have never held power. Indeed, I would say that over this whole 20 years power has essentially been in the hands of various centrists, who have attempted to keep Russia on the road of economic transformation. In some things they were successful, and in others they were not. They made mistakes, sometimes almost disastrous mistakes, and they also had their share of achievements. But the fact remains that to be absolutely objective, we kept moving forward. And so I do not think any other road was possible.
And if you want to know my personal feelings on this matter, I really would not have wanted us to take a different road.
Craig Calhoun: Thank you, Mr President. Let me ask a more specific question. China could be an example, but other countries as well. China has made massive investments in education as part of its programme of modernisation and development. Can you say a little bit more about how you see educational institutions at different levels, including higher education and universities, playing a role in modernisation and development, and also the democratic process in Russia? Because these are questions of human capital, but they are also a question of knowledge and informed citizens who are able to hold the government accountable and to help set the agenda for the country.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you, Mr Calhoun.
The issue of education is very close to my heart, because for a long time, I taught at a university. And in general, much like those in other nations, Russian universities are not just a place to receive an education.
In Russia, universities have traditionally been bastions of liberal ideas; they have often been a place where a variety of events have originated – in essence, a place where revolutions have been masterminded. Certainly, I would prefer the universities not to serve this function today, because Russia has had enough revolutions; we already reached our quota on revolutions in the last century, we may say. But I have no doubt that universities are special environments. They are not merely educational centres (a university or institution of higher education cannot be regarded from a purely technological standpoint), they generate ideas and plant them in people to remain with them throughout their entire lives and form their perceptions of the world.
I am very pleased, for example, that I received my education at the St Petersburg State University, because it has always been a great school – before the Bolshevik revolution, during the USSR times and, I hope, it remains that way today. Still, I am very envious of the students who are studying there now, because even during the time when I was a student, which was at the convergence of two eras… Incidentally, it was very interesting, because I began my studies during the Brezhnev era and ended them during Gorbachev’s presidency. Naturally, during Brezhnev’s time, our mouths were ‘sealed’ and we couldn’t say anything out loud, but during the Gorbachev era, we were generally able to discuss many things. And those first lectures, those first discussions at the seminars left a deep impression, because it was all very fresh. Now, students do not feel this, because they can discuss anything they like. But at the time, it was very striking.
Still, I am certain that today, universities generally remain a very important component of our lives, and not just as educational centres. But as educational centres, they are without a doubt the cornerstone of modernisation.
I really do think that democracy is an essential condition for Russia’s development because I believe in democracy, despite the fact that, as you know, our country had a rather discordant feelings about democracy in the 1990s.
Unfortunately, for a long time, we had essentially separate elements of science. For some reason, we always divided science into the university research (a purely Soviet concept) and the research in academic institutions; this was unproductive. In my view, the share of research in the universities must be significantly greater, if only because that is where the students and the young lecturers are; thus, there is greater creative potential.
That is why, in my view, our efforts in reforming education have not been in vain. I would like to say that the cumulative, consolidated budget for national education is 2 trillion rubles, which is a fairly large sum of money – nearly 70 billion dollars each year. For Russia, this is a pretty significant amount. Granted, this includes all the budgets.
But we absolutely must change our approaches. We cannot simply finance our universities; we must strive to create modern educational institutions, and in this regard, we should take a close look at other nations’ practices in creating endowments. For the time being, this hasn’t been really launched here, perhaps because businesses are not always willing to invest in research. But at various and numerous meetings that I have with businesspeople, I always encourage them to help the universities they once attended, creating endowment funds to develop universities, because education cannot be developed through state investments alone.
Still, this does not mean that in this case, the government must make itself scarce. On the contrary, even my most recent experiences of visiting Silicon Valley and Stanford demonstrate the enormous role of that government funding plays. To be honest, I was even somewhat surprised when in answer to my question (when we were discussing the financing of various programmes with Stanford executives), I was told that 85 percent comes from the government budget, and only 15 percent comes from private donations. Granted, they have an enormous fund and these are all large sums, but nevertheless, these are figures pertaining to a very large American university, so our government should not shy away from providing funding. The state must spend money on education in general, but there should be priorities and continued modernisation of education.
Mr Pavlovsky, if you please.
Gleb Pavlovsky: Mr President, yesterday many of us – about half of us – participated in a discussion on democratic standards and the variety of democratic experiences, which Lord Robert Skidelsky already mentioned. And what’s very interesting is that the discussion did not divide the participants, in spite of the fact that Michael McFaul was sitting right across from a Chinese colleague. There were no confrontations within the discussion. And the result…
Dmitry Medvedev: What’s most important is to avoid a confrontation between McFaul and Surkov.
Gleb Pavlovsky: Surkov was not there.
Dmitry Medvedev: Oh, okay.
Gleb Pavlovsky: And it’s interesting that as a result, we started discussing the fact that there is a kind of single global agenda on democracy. And it manifests itself in different ways in various democratic societies. Everyone agreed that democracies are different, but at the same time, while making critical speeches, everyone spoke about the importance of procedures, the importance of democratic values that should not be subject to discussion; instead, there should be discussions about real problems. Certain standards were mentioned which included the well-being of citizens as a result of developing the economy, the state of very large cities, and the state of the intellectual class.
In this context, I would like to ask a question. In your article [Go, Russia!] a year ago, you spoke about placing emphasis on developing a culture of free, well-off, critically-thinking people who are sure of themselves. You said, not only they do exist, but potentially, they are the majority. But others hold the view that the atmosphere in this society is heavy, that there is a lack of trust and support for principles, and that the nation cannot develop in such an atmosphere – this was stated by the mayor of Moscow. Do you agree with this point of view?
Dmitry Medvedev: Do you suggest that I send my regards to the mayor of Moscow? No, I do not agree with this point of view, because we do not have a heavy atmosphere in our society. We have people who are unhappy with how the society is developing. That is absolutely normal. If my colleagues are unhappy, then they, too, have the opportunity to draw their own conclusions. In any case, public authorities in this situation must either participate in improving public institutions, or join the opposition.
As far as the general social atmosphere, I would be interested in hearing your views on this matter, but I do not have the sense that we have a stale atmosphere, that our country is in stagnation, and that we are living under a police regime in an authoritative state. There are people who are genuinely unhappy with how things have been developing, but that’s normal; that’s democracy as it should be. There are also people who are actively protesting the developments, which is also normal. What’s most important is for all this to happen within the rule of law, because ultimately, democracy is not just about saying something, although that is very important too; rather, it is about achieving certain goals.
So, to provide these opportunities, the state makes certain decisions. Everyone must abide by these decisions, these rules: both the people, who express their views, and the police and special forces. All of them must participate in the process of public discussion and help one another. But to assume that we are somehow regressing – I don’t know, I don’t have this perception or these emotions.
And as far as the people who are ready to accept democracy are concerned, the people who are ready to develop independently and help others develop – you know, in this regard, I am an optimist. I am not just an optimist because I am the President. A President is obligated to be an optimist as part of his profession, ex officio, but I have historically been an optimist.
I don’t think the problem now is that there are forces that oppose modernisation, but that a large number of civil servants, and part of the business community too, unfortunately, still see it as a passing thing. They see it as the slogan of the day, but nothing more.
I remember – and you, Mr Pavlovsky, must also remember – what we were all like 25 years ago. We were different people. Perhaps our foreign colleagues have changed less, although they, too, are different now, and their views shifted, sometimes radically. Nevertheless, their lives were similar in terms of well-being, in terms of access to social institutions and access to information. Whereas we were different, and then we have opened up and let these transformations enter our lives and we changed – all of us changed. Average people changed, executives changed, the political class changed, public leaders changed, and even businesspeople changed. Twenty years ago, businesses were managed by Soviet-era directors, but now, they are run by very different businesspeople. Even those who are still seen and called Soviet-era directors have changed. I remember that kind of people very well, the habits they had, the way they thought. They no longer exist.
Thus, I think that we have gained a normal pace of social development, and this pace is such that we are not thrown at every turn. Naturally, we could speed it up, but if we do, there is a great risk within Russia’s current conditions, we might slide off-course, as has happened several times in our history, and some of our people will find themselves cast off, simply thrown in another direction. Ultimately, it is best to proceed at a moderate pace.
Gleb Pavlovsky: I would like to make a comment in reply. One of the participants in the discussion said, “No doubt, you have an authoritarian state, and what you build is …”
Dmitry Medvedev: So there are some implied conditions listed?
Gleb Pavlovsky: Yes. He said, “There is one thing that’s unclear to me. Why are you creating so many liberal institutions? After all, it is difficult for you to govern them. You are an authoritarian state, so why are you creating (as there is a whole chronicle of legislative efforts) liberal institutions. Apparently, this is a kind of complicated programme of deceit.”
Dmitry Medvedev: Well, that is one point of view and I have heard positions like this one. There are people who talk about a decorative democracy or a kind of decorative authoritarianism, garnished with elements of a liberal system. You know, these are all assessments. Ultimately, what’s most important is how the people perceive what’s around them.
But it is very important for people to rely on their historic experience and remember how things used to be, because sometimes, in the midst of the commotion, there is a sense that something is disintegrating, that something is oppressive. Let’s remember what we had before, and what direction we are moving in. That puts things into perspective very quickly. Incidentally, this is something we absolutely need to talk about, and to the younger generation too.
When I talk with my son, I understand that there are many things he simply doesn’t know because he has never seen them. He has never seen empty shelves in stores, he has never seen a black and white TV screen showing the Vremya [Time] news programme and the Secretary General of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR speaking, and he has never seen a local Communist Party Committee in his life. I am not saying that these things are necessary, but these are certainly things that people need to know about – the things that we have gotten away from. Hence anyone who says that we are currently living in a totalitarian system is either dodging or has a terrible memory.
Anatol Lieven: Thank you, Mr President. Let me ask you about another important theme of this forum, the new European security architecture.
Unfortunately, it seems that this idea faces considerable resistance in the United States, in particular, and in many other countries. And as the war in Georgia has shown, there is an urgent need for better deterrence measures for crisis prevention and consultations. Do you have any ideas or proposals for more limited, perhaps, consultative institutions in order to avoid such crises and to manage them if they arise?
In the future such institutions could form the basis for a more advanced negotiations architecture.
Dmitry Medvedev: You know, I do have such ideas. I probably will not say anything new, but I think it’s wrong to change flags all the time. It’s been two years since I proposed to create a so-called architecture, a new architecture of European security. I mean Europe in the broadest sense, of course. The reaction was initially very cautious, then it became sceptical, and now it can be described as pessimistically restrained. I can see several reasons for this.
First, a number of states believe that the system of international security is already working, especially, say, in Europe. There is NATO, which deals with security issues, there are European Union institutions, some other organisations, and finally, there is the OSCE. And it would seem this works for the Europeans. For us the situation is much more complicated, because we are not part of NATO, or part of European Union, although, yes, we are a CSTO member. And for us NATO, shall we say most cautiously, is still a military bloc in which we do not participate.
On the other hand, this is a short-sighted position, and a number of international crises have shown why it is short-sighted. Let’s look at what happened in 2008. There was a conflict between Georgia and its two territories, which had virtually broken off from it by then. I am not going to analyse the historical reasons now, the way they joined the Russian Empire at the time – they joined it separately, and so on, and what happened in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. It does not matter, the fact is that a conflict arose. How was it resolved? Instead to involving international institutions, Mr Saakashvili decided to restore his country’s territorial integrity by force. He did not apply to the CSTO or any other organisation. He did not hold any consultations with NATO, not formal ones, at any rate, although personally I found it surprising that it all began after US Secretary of State paid a visit to Georgia. And before that, if I may I remind you, Mr Saakashvili was planning to come see me in Sochi, but he did not come. Not a single European institution helped at the time because they were not efficient, and that is why we need to create functioning institutions that would involve NATO members and countries that are not NATO members, and other organisations, and I believe that they should include everyone. All states should participate in it, and all public organisations and military alliances. It should be a platform where security is not fragmented, and where it can be discussed on many different levels. In that case, if similar conflicts arise, consultations can be successful.
But that did not happen in 2008, although I must admit that the EU helped to solve this problem. I will not criticise the EU; on the contrary, I am still very grateful for the mediation efforts undertaken by my friend, Nicolas Sarkozy. He travelled a great deal and really helped. It was good luck that at the time the EU was headed by such an active person, and that everyone had great respect for him. But the institution does not exist. We are trying to find common ground with the EU now.
As for the attitude of the United States, this issue was taken off the agenda with the previous administration, but we are discussing it with the current administration. My colleague, President Obama, does not steer clear from a discussion on this issue. He does not say it is a harmful idea, that it is not necessary; on the contrary, we periodically return to this subject. This in itself is not bad. But to be honest, I think that our American partners have a certain jealousy towards this idea. I think they need to rise above this jealousy and face the truth. Our world cannot develop normally without creating a security system, and here we must help each other. There is a great need for regional institutions because not all issues can be discussed at the UN, even though it is the main international venue.
Vladislav Inozemtsev: Mr President, I would like to return to the economic agenda. There was a very interesting discussion on modernisation, and I would like to make some comments on this subject.
First of all, in your article that was published a year ago, you talked about modernisation and innovation. These subjects seemed to me in this text, shall we say, structured.
Over the past year since the article’s publication, the focus has shifted primarily to innovation aspect. Indeed, the whole experience of modernisation in Latin America, Asia and Eastern Europe shows that it is very difficult to skip the industrial development stage, overcome the dependence on energy resources and undergo a direct transformation to a post-industrial society.
Our group discussed this issue too. In particular, it seems to me that a great step forward would be to place a greater emphasis on the development of the industrial sector, making it more advanced, more modernised, incorporating the demand for innovation, stimulating this demand, and introducing European standards and technical regulations – what you said in January at a meeting of the Commission for Modernisation [and Technological development of Russia’s Economy] about technical regulation was absolutely right and that would be an important step forward.
The main question I have is this: can Russia really make the leap you are talking about towards an innovation economy without a dramatic growth of the industrial sector? And in collaboration with whom can it be done?
And one last comment about democracy: I think you are absolutely right in what you have said about a gradual movement forward because being a democrat in Russia today means to be a supporter of modernisation. I believe that economic development, the emergence of a strong middle class, an industrial class, will advance democracy, because this is where the class of the modernisers will emerge and lead the country forward.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you, Mr Inozemtsev.
First of all, I’d like to say that I generally agree with your comment. I do not believe in making a transition to post-industrial society by focusing exclusively on certain segments of our economy. Of course, we must develop our industry but I think there is no need to juxtapose innovation and industrial development, the modernisation of our industrial capacity, because how we can develop it? Only through innovation, that much is clear, and only through the introduction of modern technology, high technology. So I don’t see any logical contradiction here. But one point on which I completely support what you said is that the people who will develop the economy and industry are precisely the people who are ready for internal modernisation, the modernisation on a personal level, and they should become the backbone for these transformations.
Yu Keping (retranslated): Many thanks to all participants. I come from China. I would like to compare Russia and China, which is possible, in my opinion. I support the Russian President’s point of view: Russia and China hope to achieve democracy, but by different means and in different ways.
I would like to ask the President one question. I would like to ask what the main political component of democratisation in Russia is and what are the main measures implemented in this regard? Also, what are the main difficulties faced by Russia in the democratisation process?
Dmitry Medvedev: As I understand it, you and I agree on one important point. If I remember correctly, one of your works is entitled Democracy is a Good Thing. That’s a very succinct title. I also proceed form the belief that democracy is a good thing.
Now as to our difficulties, I believe there are several problems. The first problem lies in the fact that sometimes we expect democracy to produce results it was not created to produce. People harboured such illusions in the 1990s, when they confused the notion of “democracy” with “prosperity”. This led to a conceptual conflict, and as a result the word ‘democracy’ became a negative label for many decades, in fact, and the situation is only now beginning to improve.
Secondly, perhaps the biggest challenge is that our people are not ready to accept a fully-fledged democracy in the true sense of the word. They are not ready to fully experience democracy and gain a sense of involvement in and responsibility for the political processes. We understand that democracy is not just the freedom to express one’s opinions, or the freedom to make decisions on who to vote for in elections. It is also an inner sense of responsibility that all people should experience for themselves, for their loved ones and for their country. In this respect, of course, we still have some work ahead of us. This is a human dimension of the problem.
I therefore believe that democracy really is an essential condition for Russia’s development as a country and as a big economic and political system. But at the same time democracy is a result too.
Thirdly, there is a big problem with many of our political institutions, which are not ready for democracy in their current condition. I have repeatedly spoken about this and I think there were debates on this issue. We have a very young democracy, an imperfect democracy. We speak about it openly, and we are not ashamed of it. Our political institutions are far from perfect, our party system is not perfect because it bears many birth marks of the Soviet era, and in that period participation in the party system involved something very different. Membership in the Communist Party was just a prerequisite for a successful career, but not a way to express oneself, one’s political affiliation, beliefs or a desire to participate in the country’s development. Although, of course, there were people who believed sincerely in many things, but on the other hand, for a large part of the population, party membership was just a way to get ahead. Now we need to rethink this attitude.
Naturally, there are complaints about the performance of officials, the way they perceive democracy, and the degree of their political culture. I mean officials in the broader sense of the word, including civilian state officials, the police and even the judicial authorities, the court people, because everyone has a personal experience of democratic institutions. That is, we really are at the stage where we are.
Nevertheless, I would like to say again that I am quite optimistic about the future. I just think back to the way I was, say, 20 years ago, my ideas and beliefs, and I compare it to my current perception of life. It's not even that I became a head of state. I have changed, and people have changed, we are completely different. Maybe that is why people have such harsh demands to the state, sometimes even excessive demands. That is because our people have evolved, they have learned the basic code of political culture. This does not apply to everything, of course, but to many things. And that is why democracy is evolving.
Finally, and I will return to this subject later today, but I would like to note that all modern communication means, the Internet, for example, create a completely new environment for the development of democracy in Russia and in other countries. I spoke on this subject just recently. I believe that the age of representative democracy may at some point give way to direct democracy, democracy through direct vote via the Web, not only on political but on a variety of issues. Because every time we do something online, we vote for something, be it making a purchase or applying for a public service – that is tantamount to voting. In the same way such advanced methods are used in voting on political issues.
Therefore, I believe the space for the development of direct democracy will grow, and this creates new challenges and new opportunities for us.
Michel Wieviorka (retranslated): You have proposed that we move forward a little in our thinking, in the analysis we are engaging in together with you. The threat that confronts all democracies (old democracies and young democracies) is not a decorative democracy you spoke about just now. It is what some refer to as post-democracy, that is a regime that is not particularly authoritarian but whose citizens are no longer interested in politics, in that they no longer vote, they do not expect the media to be critical, that is, they become politically inert.
My question is as follows. You just talked about other forms of democracy than a representative democracy, and you talked about participation, about direct democracy. How do you see the future of democracy that would be a more vital, more vibrant democracy, a democracy that is not limited to contemplating this passing train of modernisation and development?
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.
You have touched on an interesting subject, for me at least, because it is true that this post-democratic phase, or as it is sometimes called, the non-political society, it really exists. But on the other hand, I think it is a mistake to think that when foundations for such society are laid, people will cease to be political animals, they will become uninterested in political life. They will focus only on conventional family values, entertainment, traveling, while the state machine and the political system will work autonomously, without intruding in ordinary private lives. And everyone will agree with that because for many it may be quite a positive development. In any case, many people feel comfortable without any political connection with the state and with other people. But the past ten years have absolutely blown up this notion.
Again, if we look at the Internet, the blogs, the resources that are generated by the Web, we see that it is a very rapidly developing and dynamic political environment. Moreover, it is an environment that sometimes uses completely different communication means, that destroys political stereotypes, that uses a completely different political terminology, often, on the verge of breaking the rules, but it must be considered.
I see that it is no longer taboo or a forbidden move to meet with representatives of some blogosphere that professes a very extreme position, because politicians and officials see it as a necessity. Thus, society generates new forms of communication, political communication. And in this sense, it seems to me, there is no threat of the death of politics or the death of democracy.
On the contrary, all of us, and above all politicians, heads of state and government officials must learn to communicate in a new mode, and not to tail behind all these social trends, and try to, if not lead them, then at least to be in the mainstream. Only then will we have an opportunity to remain in the focus of people’s attention and to respond to their demands.
Some time ago I introduced a system of communication where people can write to my presidential website with any message if it has at least some grain of content. These messages, although I cannot read them myself, are automatically forwarded to the government agencies that are responsible for each particular issue. And it is often the case that a message to the President’s website threatens officials, and officials begin to respond. Therefore, addressing the President in this way is already a form of communication that can have implications. True, the issue is not always resolved in this way but it is a new form of communication, and it sometimes brings very interesting results. So I think that a very interesting future lies ahead, and democracy will take new forms, but this will not make it lose its relevance.
Doris Naisbitt: …And a little later, you were talking about change. Now, we are very much focusing on China in the last years and in the interviews we had yesterday with Russian media, we were asked about how we see the difference between China and Russia. Well, with the limited experience we have in Russia – at least, I speak for myself – the difference is that when we speak to the people in China, there is such a fire, there is such an engagement of looking into the future, of ‘what can I do, how can I change my life, how can I make my dreams come true?’ Now, when we attended a conference on Skolkovo, there was the same love for Russia as there is love for China. But what was missing was that fire, was the passion for ‘now we have this great project’, which really is similar project as there have been in China. And just to fill in, China, by western meanings, is by far not the perfect democracy either, so all the criticisms that can be said about China’s democracy could very well be done about Russia. And yet, there is a passion and a positive outlook.
If I compare, if I may say that, Mr Surkov, you are a dynamic young man compared to some, excuse me Mr Yu, stiff Chinese politicians, but yet, they were able to light the fire in the young people of China. How can you light that fire? And I think that what you said at the end, the direct communication with you, must be part of it. But this is the main difference: that there is passion and fire for the future.
Dmitry Medvedev: Ms Naisbitt, can I ask you a question? Do you feel this fire in Europeans – in Austrians, Germans, and British?
Doris Naisbitt: I do not feel it with the Austrians. The Austrians is a complaining nation. You also talked about responsibility. In my country, we constantly say, ‘what does Austria do for me? And if I do not have the success I was dreaming of, it’s not my fault. It’s the fault of you, because you were stepping in my way, and it’s the government’s fault.’ The Chinese don’t do that. The Chinese just pull up their sleeves and just deal with things as they are. And we met such able people in Russia, such wonderful people, but how can…
Dmitry Medvedev: I understand. I simply wanted to know how you see Europeans in this respect, and I see that you view them in the same way as Russians.
What I can say on this point is that in some ways I agree with you and in some ways I don’t. It is true that China as a nation is very focused now on achieving common goals and it makes me quite frankly envious in the good sense, and optimistic, to see Chinese society working as a single body in this way. Is this the result of making the right political decisions? Probably, but this is not the only explanation. This also reflects the Chinese people’s thousands of years of history, and its traditions and habits. It makes no sense to debate whose habits and customs are better, European or Chinese. This just wouldn't be right.
But I do agree with the idea that it is harder to mobilise Europeans behind a common goal than it is for the Chinese or some of our other partners in Asia. Nevertheless, I remain an optimist on this issue. You said that you see before you two young (well, not so young anymore) and energetic people, and the number of energetic people in Russia, ready to put everything into achieving results, does not end with these two.
Of course we have problems that we need to tackle. You said that Austrians have this paternalist inclination, asking themselves, “What can the state do for me?” But this is probably even more true for our society than for Austria, because earlier years cultivated generations of people who relied above all on the state rather than on themselves. There are historic explanations for this and it was something that emerged not just in the Soviet period but has even deeper roots, for before the Soviet period people traditionally placed their hopes on the father figure of the tsar and on the powers above.
And so we now have to work with this set of national customs and habits. But as I wrote in my article a year ago, this does not mean that we need to take these habits with us into the twenty-first century. We would have done well to leave some of them in the twentieth or earlier centuries. I am moderately optimistic, therefore, and I think that we can succeed in firing people’s enthusiasm, but for this we need to reach a higher temperature than in China, say.
John Naisbitt: I think my wife spoke very well for both of us, but I would like to add something.
I think, Mr President, that in these matters, you spoke very eloquently earlier, that we have no choice. We have no choice. In any regard, the government cannot do it alone. Only the people can do it with the government. And that’s what Deng Xiaoping realised so early in 1978 when he took over a country that was in much worse shape by far than this country, and he realised that they had to move from indoctrination to emancipation of the minds. And then they did what we describe as framing the forest and letting the trees grow, and saying, ‘here is the large frame of what we’re trying to do, but each citizen has the responsibility to make his or her own contribution in the best way they can, and they can decide that. And those are the trees that grew and created – it was not a miracle; it was the passion and the energy of the Chinese people operating under the gift that Deng Xiaoping gave them. He gave them the gift of life in China.
Dmitry Medvedev: Mr Naisbitt, unlike me, you no doubt know Chinese?
John Naisbitt: No, I don’t, but I have many friends who do…
Dmitry Medvedev: The reason I bring this up is because you spoke about this tree. One very important point for us is to address practical matters in our political and economic work in Russia. One of the big advantages that our Chinese friends have is that they tackle practically all issues in very pragmatic fashion. The tree that you mentioned in connection with Deng Xiaoping brought to mind a thought. I don’t know Chinese, but I was told once that the Chinese language developed in such a way that there is not really any character for the general concept of ‘tree’. Instead, there are various different characters symbolising a tree standing on a slope, a green tree, a dry tree and so on. I think this shows a big difference in mentality. We like to build general, overall constructions, and this is sometimes useful. I think this was one of the main pillars that helped to form European civilisation at one point. But often we fail to draw practical conclusions from these general constructions. And so, if we borrow something of our Chinese friends’ practical approach in our political and economic practice we could achieve a lot, I think.
Immanuel Wallerstein: Mr President, you started out by saying a democracy is a process. You spend some energy indicating how different things were from the times of Brezhnev to today. My first visit to Russia was in 1981, which was the very end of the Brezhnev era, so I can agree with you that Russia today is quite different from the Russia that I first encountered.
In your description of democracy as a process, you indicated that Russia had made progress but needed to make still more progress, and it seemed to me that what you were talking about is what we usually refer to as the amount of civil liberties in a country – the degree to which people and groups feel that they can participate, speak out without fear, put pressure on the government in various ways, etc., etc. Now, as you are very well aware, the degree of civil liberties is not merely a function of what goes on in the country and the attitudes and policies of the government, but it’s also a function of the degree of geopolitical tension in the world. We know that when tension goes up, civil liberties tend to go down; that’s as true of the United States as it is of Russia, as it is of any other country, and we have all been suffering in recent years because of that.
Geopolitically, at one point in his life, General De Gaulle said that France’s policy was tout azimuth, which means, ‘looked in all directions.’ And it seems to me that today in the world, all major powers are looking in all directions. Now Russia, it seems to me, has to look in at least four directions. One you already referred to which is the direction of Europe and policies and attitudes and that. Another, obviously, is your relations with the United States, a complicated and continuing issue, which you’re trying to renew, or perhaps President Obama is trying to renew. A third is your participation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which essentially means your relations with China, plus some other countries, but Russia has invested a certain amount of energy in that. And a fourth, obviously for Russia, is your relations with countries to your south – with Iran, with the Arab world, with Turkey, et cetera. Now these are the four major directions in which you have interests and policies. Would you care to suggest what at this point is the most difficult direction, and what is perhaps the greatest priority from the point of view of Russia?
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you, Mr Wallerstein.
You certainly know what you are talking about because this is not your first time in our country and you follow all of these things very closely. Indeed, we could classify our relations in terms of these four directions, though any classification has an element of convention.
But I try to ensure that Russia maintains balanced relations with all of the different groups of countries you mentioned. Nothing good would come out of cultivating one particular direction alone.
First of all, we need to try to keep friendly relations with everyone and borrow everything useful from our neighbours and partners. At the same time, if any link slips loose problems begin immediately. During the previous US administration there was a period when our relations with the USA suffered greatly, and I think this was very negative for us and for the Americans. One of the directions in our foreign policy turned into a constant debate over who was right and who was to blame. I am not going to make any evaluations, because this is not the main thing, and it is not productive, because all of these directions are absolutely important.
Regarding Europe, Russia overall as a country is built largely on European culture and a European identity. As was already mentioned, we have $250 billion in trade with Europe, and this figure will grow.
I just spoke about the United States.
Regarding the Asia-Pacific region and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, these are certainly our close partners with whom we are working actively developing various programmes, economic and other, and working together on the regional agenda. This has not always been the case. We have had periods of strained relations with China, but fortunately, this is all in the past now and our relations are very good.
Finally, there are our close neighbours, the former Soviet republics and other neighbours. It is also very important to have good relations with these countries. Above all, many of these countries are home to people very close to us, people who speak Russian and share a similar mentality and customs. And our economies are very closely interconnected. This makes it very important for us to have good relations with these countries.
Among our neighbours with whom we are building relations there are some with whom the situation is not always straightforward, Iran, for example. But this does not mean that we should renounce cooperation with Iran, even if the relevant sanctions are imposed. I think it is our task to help Iran to find a worthy place for itself under the sun, and encourage it at the same time to act as a responsible member of the international community that complies with international law and is open to cooperation with all different sides.
So, all of these directions are very important, and I think it would be wrong to concentrate only on one direction. Russia is such a big country that it simply has to have good relations with everyone. After all, Russia is a permanent member of the [UN] Security Council and we have many obligations within the international community.
But what is really important, what you mentioned at the start of your question, is the need to maintain the required level of civil liberties. This really is an important issue not just for Russia but also for other countries too.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks the world changed greatly and there was a temptation to limit rights and freedoms in order to pursue various noble objectives and goals. It is always possible to justify and explain using this logic, especially in a country like ours, say, which faces a very high level of terrorist threat. But this is a slippery road that allows no turning back. We always need to understand the level of civil liberties that we must maintain. We have to understand what is acceptable and what would only throw us centuries back in our development. Defining these boundaries is a very difficult choice for us, as it is for the USA, for Europeans, and for our Asian partners. Whatever we do, we must not let humanity regress in terms of social relations and end up going back in time.
How do we do this? This is a very delicate political process, but I am absolutely convinced that we, the politicians, must always consult with our civil society on such issues as what shape civil society will take and what level of civil liberties we can guarantee.
How do we do this? We simply need to talk and keep our eyes open. I saw that news has already appeared: “Medvedev considers parliamentary democracy unsuited for Russia.” This is already a first result to come out of our discussion today.
The world is so open today that no politician can hide. We simply have to remain in consultation with our people, with our civil society, and especially on such sensitive issues as the level of civil liberties.
Alexei Chesnakov: Mr President,
After what you said about the way your speeches are interpreted, I want to ask you another difficult question. I do not know how our journalists will interpret your answer. Everyone discussed in the corridors your article that came out a year ago now, and many good and positive things have been accomplished. You said in that article that one of Russia’s biggest problems is the instability in the Caucasus. In the year that followed the North Caucasus Federal District was established and a development programme for the North Caucasus drawn up. But there are obvious problems at the same time, because a number of the institutions, including democratic institutions, that are natural overall for Russia, have their own specific nature in the Caucasus or have taken a somewhat different development. What will be your future steps here, because you spoke about the need for consistent steps in all directions as a sign of smart policy? What needs to be taken into account in order to implement future decisions? What potential action plan do you see?
Dmitry Medvedev: In the Caucasus?
Alexei Chesnakov: Yes.
Dmitry Medvedev: I am simply following the discussion. People immediately start writing about how, “we are already sick of democracy, we saw it in March-October 1917, and in 1992–1993, and that was enough, thanks!” That is one point of view. “That’s the way to go! Give us monarchy!” – this is another point of view. Others meanwhile, write that, “democracy has a beginning but no end” and so on. “Where did you see real democracy? What you say was anarchy, while democracy is yet to come.” So, as you can see, there are these diametrically opposed points of view, and all in response to just one point I made. But this shows that people are interested in this subject, and this is good, because it means that democracy does have a future.
Regarding the Caucasus, this really is a very complicated issue for us and a very complex region, but this is one of Russia’s regions and it is home to Russian Federation citizens with all of their complexities, with their own visions, qualities, and shortcomings. And so we will work on the Caucasus just as we do on other regions. But at the same time, we also need to take a special approach because the Caucasus does have a number of specific features that we absolutely have to take into account in our policies.
We know the Caucasus republics’ history, and we know how emotional and sensitive the people there are. We know the influence of religion there, and the danger coming from various foreign ideologues who turn up there and bring misfortune, sowing enmity and inciting people to commit terrorist attacks. Poverty and corruption have become firmly rooted parts of life in the Caucasus, but these are all things that we can overcome, problems that we can resolve. The main thing is not to fan the flames, not to say things like, “it’s hopeless, there’s nothing we can do about the Caucasus and it will just be an endlessly bleeding wound. The people there will never change. They don’t want to work, but want to run around in the forest with guns in their hands.” This is a lie. It is not true. People want normal lives, and in the Caucasus too. We need to create proper institutions and instruments and give people the chance to get an education and earn money.
We know that 30–40 percent of young people in the Caucasus republics do not have a job. Unemployment is the biggest problem there. Yes, religious extremism is a problem too. But we need to openly discuss all of these things. The authorities in the Caucasus must not hide, not sit in their palaces, but need to talk to the people. They need to talk with people, including with those who for whatever reason do not share their point of view. And this would help to give these people a chance to perhaps return to normal and civilised modern life.
And so the main thing is to stay calm, combine our economic efforts and make use of force where needed. There is no need for ceremony where the bandits are concerned. They must be liquidated. Humanity has found no other way of dealing with such people yet. Democratic rules in such situations come down to the Criminal Code and the rules applying to the relevant special operations, and there is no other choice here, as has been proven by political and social experience in a huge number of countries.
So, that is how we need to act in the Caucasus.
Gianfranco Poggi: Sometimes you’ll find that people have been stealing your ideas. So you find that questions that have been formed in our minds have already been voiced by others, possibly more impressively than you might have done, and what is worse, sometimes they’ve also find an answer, so that leaves one suspended.
But in spite of this effect, I will still say what I intended to say in the beginning. That is bring to mind the fact that a few decades ago Habermas uncovered the fact that liberal democratic institutions generally presuppose the functioning of something called the public sphere. This had been relatively ignored and forgotten before it was agreed as the intellectual service that was rendered. The basic idea is that the expression of different political wills and different policies presupposes a form of elaboration of ideas or critiques, or propositions of alignments which can take place only if people are free to address each other and talk about public affairs.
This can be seen in a famous statement by Tocqueville, where he says that in America, he found that newspapers were very vital. There were a lot of them, and each newspaper was a bit like a party, in the sense that it aggregated certain bodies of opinion, capable of expressing itself and exercising critique. The great difference between the Tocquevillian situation and the current one is of course that the public sphere has been invaded and occupied by the media, particularly the electronic media, and this great technological development has great social and cultural and political consequences. The basic consequence as I see it is that in the electronic media sphere, it is much more possible to build monopolies or oligopolies. I’ve been looking at the wall there, and noticing four advertisements. I can’t read Russian, but I can read enough of your alphabet to be able to see that they all proclaim themselves to be partners in the official information system. Now I’m looking up there, this is what impressed me. There are four organs, four agencies there, which are apparently associated; they are partners in official information. Well, that’s fine. But the question is, how much leverage do they have, how much space do they occupy.
One worrisome aspect of this phenomenon is that there is a convergence in the business interest and in the government interest in creating monopolies or oligopolies: the business interest in order for demands of marketing, and government for demands of control of information and opinion. From this standpoint – again, this has already been voiced and to some extent already addressed by the President – the great novelty is the Internet. Suddenly, it has created the possibility for new aggregations of information and articulations of opinion. The main question is – or was, because to some extent, it has already been addressed – to what extent is the Russian President or the Russian political system willing to allow the Internet to become a site where bodies of contrasting opinion are articulated, alignments are formed, and possibly some form of public intervention. Because when this happens, the temptation to treat criticism as subversion is very strong, and the temptation to use subversion as a suitable object of repression is also very strong. So the question is, essentially, to what extent is the current Russian government willing to allow the autonomy, the free expression, the lack of censorship, the lack of control and repression in this particular new, imaginative, and explosive form of public sphere, which is represented by the Internet.
Dmitry Medvedev: This question can be answered very simply and briefly, Mr Poggi.
Unlike in some countries, the Russian Government does not deal with the internet at all. The internet lives by its own laws, the same as in other countries. Sometimes people come to me and say, “They write awful things about you and others, and there’s such a lot of immorality there, so let’s start regulating it,” and I say, “No”.
Regarding the organisations you mentioned, their influence on social processes in Russia is fairly substantial. RIA Novosti is a big news agency, a state agency that gives news from practically all around the world. Izvestia is a greatly respected newspaper that earned itself a solid reputation right from when it began, almost 100 years ago. Hundreds of thousands of people read it in our country, probably, not to mention those who look it up in the internet. Russia-24 is a news channel on the same lines as CNN and BBC. News is a very popular item.
Now we have launched another channel. I want to do a bit of advertising for it. I already did so during my visit to the USA. This channel is Russia Today. It is also a round-the-clock channel and it is in English, in perfectly decent English too that anyone who speaks English would understand. All of these media outlets reach out to an audience of millions.
But the internet also has a place in all of this. Many people never use other information sources. To be frank, I very rarely watch the news on television. It’s much easier and more convenient to get it on the internet. There are recordings and there is online news. The internet era is developing without question and I have no doubt that its role and the role of networks in general will only grow over time.
Andrei Kolesnikov: Mr President, given that I have exactly the same name as the reporter who is always asking the prime minister questions, I need to ask you a question and restore the democratic balance.
Dmitry Medvedev: I could simply suggest that you accompany me on my trips, and that would make the person with the same name as that reporter, only accompanying the president.
Andrei Kolesnikov: That would be a postmodernist sort of solution.
I think that a very productive avenue of discussion is the idea of whether representative democracy is giving way to direct democracy. This is not a new subject, because forms of direct democracy have always existed, and there is even a concept in political theory known as “grassroots democracy”. In this respect, the traditional institutions and procedures could be compared in a way to newspapers in their printed form. They exist and are not about to die just yet, but they are gradually giving way to new forms of democracy.
In this respect, my question is about the fact that you have been responding quite actively of late to signals from the public, from civil society. This was the case, for example, with the Gazprom skyscraper in St Petersburg and the Khimki Forest. What kind of future prospects do you see for this form of direct democracy, if this is a form of democracy – no theory has been developed on the matter yet? Does the emergence of these forms of democracy in which you make decisions from above, acting over the heads of your own bureaucracy and the parliament and government and so on not suggest that the traditional forms of democracy are no longer working? And is it not possible that we will eventually see a profanation of these public discussions that are becoming popular now, something of a new trend, and developing quite intensively?
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you, Mr Kolesnikov.
This is a form that I find very natural, and I take part in it now and will continue to do so. Some people do not believe it and say that these are just PR stunts to score some news points, and that there is no real politics behind all of this, but they are mistaken, because out of this come concrete presidential instructions that set the state machine’s wheels in action. The examples you mentioned are vividly illustrating this point. In a number of cases I do not decide in advance the final outcome of discussions, and this is absolutely normal.
Is there a danger that this practice could end up being profaned? It is entirely possible, because anything can end up as profanation. But this is the result of our combined efforts, and the task of the president and his staff is to ensure that these discussions and the ensuing presidential instructions lead not to profanation but to real action. Will I continue to work this way? Yes, I will, because I think that this is a part of political culture and a part of this very direct democracy we are talking about today. If someone finds it not natural to work in this way this is their choice, but in my view such politicians do not have a future.
Akihiko Tanaka (retranslated): …How will Russia develop its relations with the countries of Asia? And what position do you take regarding the Far East’s economic development and relations with Japan?
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.
Mr Tanaka, I already said that we will definitely develop our relations with Asian countries and Japan. I just met with the former Prime Minister [of Japan] Mr Hatoyama. We had a good partnership relation, and I hope to build just as good a relationship with the current Prime Minister. We have our problems in relations, in the case of Japan this comes down to one main issue, as we know. But on all other issues we are making very good progress.
Our trade is growing and so is the number of investment contracts. I therefore am very optimistic about development of our trade and economic relations, and about establishing a normal political dialogue. The main thing here is to be sensitive towards each other’s feelings, behave decently towards each other, and this will help us to advance even on the most sensitive and complex issues.
Ian Shapiro: Mr President, thank you for a fascinating discussion. I would like to try to just draw you out on one final topic. We have spent a lot of time talking about the growth of democracy around the world. And while it’s true that most countries today are democracies, it’s also true that most of the population of the world lives in non-democracies. And I wonder how you think about Russia’s role in democracy promotion around the world. Think of conflicts in Burma, in North Korea, in Afghanistan, in Iran, Iraq, much of Africa. How do you see Russia’s role in fostering the development of democracy around the world?
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you. I will try to say just a couple of words, above all on Russia’s role in democratic development. I think that Russia plays a very important part here for the simple reason that Russia practically never had democracy over the more than 1000 years of its history. We had no democracy when we were ruled by tsars and emperors, and no democracy in the Soviet period either. In other words, this is a country with a thousand years of authoritarian tradition.
Only over these last 20 years have we been developing democracy. In this sense we provide an interesting example of how democracy can develop in a country with very strong authoritarian tendencies that formed many, many years ago. In this respect we can serve as an indicator. But I hope that those who give their evaluation of Russia’s democracy will, first of all, take our history into account and look too at the road that we have covered over these last years, and not judge us too harshly, but help us and work together with us on all different issues. Perhaps they can draw our attention to things that we should change, only without lecturing us, of course.
I think that in this respect Russia has an exceptionally important part to play. I think it can become a successful example of a country that after more than a thousand years of no democracy builds a democracy that can shine in all its glory. It is difficult for me to evaluate other countries’ roles, but I think the number of countries that are choosing democracy as their form of government is increasing all the time. And I hope that forums such as this one in Yaroslavl will make a small contribution to this.
Once more, I thank you all most sincerely for taking part in this meeting, and I hope to see you all at the plenary session.