The President met with forum participants and viewed the best youth projects in the civil, entrepreneurial, volunteer, arts and information domains.
In particular, President Putin reviewed the Fair Elections project, whose activists suggest to raise fines for such offences as buying votes, unlawfully granting ballots, and breaching election commissions and observers’ rights to 500,000 rubles [$16,000]. Vladimir Putin also spoke with the Environment project and the Stop Boor movement participants and examined other Seliger 2012 public initiatives.
Besides, the President met with four school students from Smolensk Region who at a fire saved five individuals.
This was Vladimir Putin’s third visit to Seliger forum which he previously visited in 2009 and 2011.
Seliger 2012 offers 11 theme sessions over 4 shifts. This year, the forum is attended by some 16,000 young people representing every region of Russia and 93 foreign countries.
* * *
Excerpts from transcript of conversation with participants in the Seliger 2012 National Youth Education Forum
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: It is a great pleasure to be here for the third time now, see how the Seliger forum is developing, and see your happy faces and the eyes of you young people who look for yourselves, find yourselves here, and not only yourselves, but in many cases also your other halves, so I’ve been told. This is great to see.
It is good to see here people with all different kinds of views on life, art, business, and politics. This makes for a vibrant environment and an exchange of information genes that is very valuable and useful.
* * *
Everything changes: life, the country, politics, and the only question is at what pace, and under what conditions and rules?
”It is good to see here people with all different kinds of views on life, art, business, and politics. This makes for a vibrant environment and an exchange of information genes that is very valuable and useful.“
As far as change in power is concerned, like any democratic country, we have our basic law, the Constitution, which sets out our country’s organisation in various areas, including the electoral system. You are all young people, but I think you all realise that it would have been possible and easy enough to change the Constitution and – I’m referring to myself here – run for a third term in office. The Constitution did not allow a third term. It stipulates no more than two consecutive terms. I respected this and did not try to rewrite the Constitution to suit myself, left the President’s office and took a more modest but nonetheless very important post for our country’s life.
Later, in accordance with the Constitution, I used my constitutional right to run for election and was elected President. I think this sent a very important signal to our society, several signals in fact. First, this whole change of power happened in calm fashion, and second, when we respect the Constitution and its rules, the country continues to function and develop.
As for change in power in the broader sense, it is happening. The Government is two thirds made up of new people now. Almost two thirds! The youngest minister is 29. He could easily sit down here with you and be not the slightest bit out of place. What’s more, he did not arrive in the Government from some lofty political heights, but was a minister at the regional level, in Tatarstan, and now has become a federal minister [Minister of Communications and Mass Communications Nikolai Nikiforov]. He is only 29.
It is in this way, calmly and steadily, that we should work in the different areas. Of course we could simply replace everyone all at once, but there is such a thing as continuity, and this is especially important in a developing country with a developing democracy such as ours. It is extremely important to preserve the best of what we have and not destroy even the very foundations. Russia already went through this in 1917 and we saw the result. We need to keep moving forward, make the needed rotations, but do so in calm and steady fashion. This is just what we will do.
* * *
Nothing is more important in society than the moral principles that form its foundation, nothing. Everything else is secondary.
”The Government is two thirds made up of new people now. It is extremely important in a developing country with a developing democracy such as ours to preserve the best of what we have and to keep moving forward, make the needed rotations, but do so in calm and steady fashion.“
In the Soviet years, as a few of you here might recall, the older ones among you, everyone lived according to the principles laid out in the moral code of the builder of communism. A close look at those principles reveals that they are little more really than a copy of the basic tenets of the Bible, Koran, Torah and Talmud. Overall, if you cast aside the ideological component, they essentially reproduce those scriptures’ basic moral principles.
Today, when no one has a monopoly on truth or ideology in Russia, these basic moral principles remain unchanged quite simply because humanity has invented nothing better than the basic moral values set out in the world’s main religions.
Under our law we have four main traditional faiths. They are all equal, but we all realise that Orthodoxy holds a leading place in a number of ways. This is understandable if only by virtue of the number of Orthodox believers in the country. As I said, all of the traditional religions are equal: there is no second, third, or fourth class. Young people’s work in religious organisations is very important, and not just Orthodox young people, but people from the other traditional religions too.
As for Orthodoxy, it has played a special part in our country’s history, and I want everyone to hear these words. Its special role lies in the fact that before Prince Vladimir baptised [Russia’s predecessor state of] Rus, there was no unified Russian state and no Russian nation as such. A unified Russian state and people began to form after the baptism, and Orthodoxy played a unifying role in this sense. True, our country developed as a multi-ethnic and multi-faith state right from the start, and this is very important. In this context, the work of Orthodox young people is very important for strengthening Russian statehood.
The only thing I want to caution you about is that we do not need some kind of new quasi-Orthodox Komsomol-type organisation. We must not under any circumstance press people into joining groups and associations of any sort. Voluntary joining such groups is needed and will always be supported.
* * *
Most if not all of you have probably heard that we passed a law requiring some non-governmental organisations to register as foreign agents. What is this law about and why has it been the subject of such debate? First, some sections of civil society responded negatively to the term ‘foreign agent’.
What I want to say in this respect is that, first, the registration requirement applies only to organisations engaged in political activity and receiving funding from abroad. I think that we in Russia have the right to pass the same kind of law as was passed in the United States back in 1938 and has been in force there ever since. They passed this law to protect themselves from foreign influence and have used it for decades, and so, why should we not do the same here? Certainly, the US law was passed in 1938, but it is still in force today. No one has abolished it and it is still in use.
”Nothing is more important in society than the moral principles that form its foundation, nothing. Everything else is secondary. Today, when no one has a monopoly on truth or ideology in Russia, these basic moral principles remain unchanged quite simply because humanity has invented nothing better than the basic moral values set out in the world’s main religions.“
Second, as you know, I met with human rights activists and I agreed with them that some of the concerns they raised were justified. I therefore asked the State Duma deputies to make a number of amendments. What are these amendments about? They exclude from the law’s application activities not considered political: scientific, cultural, and charity-related activity, the activities of municipal and state organisations and the NGOs they establish, and a whole list of other exceptions.
What is bad about having organisations engaged in political activity within Russia and financed from abroad register as foreign agents? After all, if foreigners are paying for political activity in our country they probably expect to see some kind of result. This in no way means that organisations registered as foreign agents must stop their work. The law does not prohibit their activities but simply requires them to register and to account for the money they spend. That is all. There is not any kind of ban on their work.
As for the question of terms, when I worked in the organisation you know, I worked with several residents, who were in contact with agent groups and agents, but those were not the kind of ‘residents’ and ‘agents’ we are talking of now. We have insurance agents in the insurance business, and what of it? And the tax laws speak of ‘tax residents’, but does this mean we should abolish that term? Representatives of NGOs engaged in political activity in Russia and financed from abroad must register as foreign agents. I don’t see any real problem here.
* * *
Now, as regards the people who came out to participate in various rallies. You know even better than I do that these included a very wide range of people with a broad spectrum of views and convictions. Many of these individuals had a patriotic mind-set; rest assured that I fully understand this and have a great deal of respect for them.
However, it’s no secret that some people always demonstrate against everyone and everything, against any form of government, including the Russian government. This, too, is nothing new; the movement is called anarchism and it is growing quite actively in Russia, among other places. I do not think it is the right direction for the development of our society and our nation, because anarchism has never led to anything good; it is enough to remember the difficult period after 1917.
This is very close to another approach – the desire to defeat one’s own nation in the most difficult and trying times. Incidentally, there was a well-known incident during the Russian-Japanese war, when a group of Russian public figures sent a letter to the Japanese emperor (I believe after the battle at Tsushima), congratulating him on his victory in the battle.
It is also known that the Bolsheviks wished for the defeat of their own nation in World War I. And overall, I must say that their input in Russia’s defeat was commensurate. This was an astonishing situation, wherein Germany surrendered to the Allies, but Russia lost to the defeated nation, Germany, and with such grave consequences – losing enormous territories and suffering other truly severe ramifications. This is truly a unique large-scale example of national treachery!
”I am certain that the overwhelming majority of people expressing their complaints to the authorities are interested in changing the situation in the nation for the better. And naturally we need various forms of dialogue between society and the people, people and the authorities.“
But I am certain that the overwhelming majority of people expressing their complaints to the authorities are interested in changing the situation in the nation for the better. And naturally, I fully agree with you, we need various forms of dialogue between society and the people, people and the authorities.“But I am certain that the overwhelming majority of people expressing their complaints to the authorities are interested in changing the situation in the nation for the better. And naturally, I fully agree with you, we need various forums for dialogue between society and the people, people and the authorities.“
* * *
Over the next few years, we are planning to radically increase the number of contract soldiers in our army. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of people. We will mainly move in that direction. Granted, an army consisting entirely of contract soldiers will be very expensive, and it is too early to tell whether we will be able to achieve it within the deadlines we have set out for ourselves, but we will try.
Furthermore, in previous years, our nation has always provided social benefits for people who serve in the army. And that is one of the first things we must re-establish, so that the young people who have completed their compulsory service in the army can enrol at a university – get a free, state-funded place, – and find jobs. One way to resolve this issue is through contacts with major state corporations or companies with state participation.
* * *
We have already spoken many times about what we see as our priority: we need to change the structure of our economy. We need to put our economy on an innovation-oriented track. This is very difficult to do, but it is imperative. If we make it happen – and I believe that we will – there will be changes in many aspects of our lives. This is as far as technology is concerned.
I very much hope that we will strengthen our economy by reinforcing what I have identified as the most important: our moral and ethical principles, based on our multi-century history. We will certainly enhance our security, both national and external, and attain improvements in our citizens’ living standards, as well as in healthcare, medicine, education and culture.
If we can raise all of these to the necessary level, then our lives will change significantly. And then, we will be able to say we are living in a thriving nation. I am certain that we will achieve it all if we work in a coordinated, consistent, steadfast way.
* * *
(Reply to a question on making amendments to legislation introducing liability for slander.) Clearly, people must be able to defend their honour and dignity in courts, including within the framework of a criminal trial. But nothing has changed radically in the legislation. Why? Because even after adopting a corresponding law on slander, which you just mentioned, and making it a criminal offence, it would not include imprisonment as a form of punishment. So we would simply be talking about a very hefty fine.
At the same time, I feel it is very important to point out that individuals engaged in political activities will be the least likely to use the provisions offered by this law, because by definition, a person engaged in politics is unlikely to go to courts to accuse someone of slander, especially members of the media.
”We need to change the structure of our economy. We need to put our economy on an innovation-oriented track. This is very difficult to do, but it is imperative.“
However, I think that people engaged in a wide range of professions can, and I think will, make use of that article and that law – first and foremost, people in creative professions, show business, the arts (in the broad sense of that word), science and business. It is exceedingly important for them. Slander against a businessperson can lead to serious losses in business itself, a loss of confidence and so on. And the opportunity to turn to the courts to defend one’s honour and dignity, to re-establish one’s good name, can have material significance. I feel it is fully justified.
* * *
I meet with human rights activists and some of them state that certain people go to prison for their political convictions. But when we begin to look into it, it turns out that the cause for their imprisonment or confinement is not their political or human rights activity, but something entirely different. Still, we need to look into each individual case. It is not out of the question that situations are possible when somebody is defending the rights of other people, but there may be people and structures that do not like that individual and enter into conflict with him or her, including by means of state repression. But I repeat, we need to look into each individual case.
I can definitely confirm that our state policy toolkit does not have such instruments or aspirations – to suppress anybody through imprisonment for human rights activism.
As for mass protests, I would like to draw your attention to the following. Certainly, everyone participating in these mass events has the right to do so, and the government must secure these rights. But there is a third issue: the people themselves must abide by the law.
If they attack members of the police force, if they cause them any harm, if they throw stones at them, etc. – that kind of activity must, without any doubt, be stopped, and it must be stopped as early as possible. Otherwise, we will suffer what the residents of London suffered about a year ago. We absolutely cannot and will not allow the situation to develop in that direction, under any circumstances.
* * *
The last speaker said he wants to make the world a better place. We all want to improve the world. Let’s all work persistently to do so!