The agenda focused on the relevant areas of modern cultural policy and support for creative initiatives, the preservation, use and promotion of Russia’s historical and cultural heritage, the future of humanities education, helping young people develop their creative potential, and improving the practice of international cultural cooperation.
On September 19, the President signed Executive Order amending the Provisions on the Council for Culture and Art, and approved the new composition of the Council and its Presidium.
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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, friends, colleagues,
It has been a long time since the Council for Culture and Art met in such an expanded format. The last meeting was in May 2007. Meanwhile, there are many new issues and I am sure we will have a vigorous debate, especially since the Council has many new members. This is the first time that it includes representatives of public, non-profit organisations and the media, secondary education professionals, and many colleagues from the Russian regions.
I stress that our objective was for the Council to reflect the diversity of Russia’s cultural environment. Before we proceed to the discussion, I would like to draw your attention to some issues that I think are particularly important.
”To a large extent, culture built up Russia’s prestige and influence in the world, and objectively made it into a great power. We are mindful of this and should make efficient use of our humanitarian resources, increase international interest in our history, traditions, language and cultural values.“
We must admit that our approach to culture remains sector-specific. We often forget that culture is an integral part of all aspects of our lives and cannot exist on its own, in isolation from society. A person is shaped primarily by the cultural environment, or the cultureless environment, as it sometimes happens, unfortunately. The collective portrait of our society directly depends on the quality of this cultural environment; it shapes us and our children. Throughout Russia’s history, culture educated and enriched our nation, it was the source of its spiritual experience and the basis for the consolidation of our multi-national people.
To a large extent, culture built up Russia’s prestige and influence in the world, and objectively made it into a great power. We are mindful of this and should make efficient use of our humanitarian resources, increase international interest in our history, traditions, language and cultural values. We are proud of the Russian culture, its traditions and historical achievements. Culture is a living organism that is constantly evolving and needs an influx of new energy and a revitalising creative competition. National culture cannot be isolated; it should be constantly absorbing new phenomena, global trends and innovations.
I think you will all agree with me that our national culture originally, from the outset, developed as multinational, as various peoples became part of the multinational Russian state, and throughout modern history, our culture has always been open to everything new in the world.
However, along with the obvious cultural advances, we are increasingly confronted with cultural poverty, with all kinds of fakes and cultural fast food. This poses very serious risks. The main danger is that we may lose our cultural identity, our national cultural code, our moral core. This weakens and destroys society. Society that lacks cultural traditions is very easy to manipulate. It loses immunity to various extremist, destructive and even aggressive ideas. Unfortunately, the debate on this issue often focuses around the favourite Russian question “why?” and we should think more often about “what is to be done”.
”Only the state can provide adequate funding for projects and maintain the incomes of culture professionals – the people whose job it is to preserve our cultural heritage and restore monuments – as well as to create the legal conditions for the expansion of the public-private partnership in this area.“
Today, many culture professionals are concerned about a decline in humanities subjects in the modern education system. I fully share this concern. The objective of schools, pre-schools and universities is not just to pass on knowledge and skills; they must focus on character-building, teach critical independent thinking, and mark a clear line between good and evil. I am convinced that the most important task of education is to shape a person’s spiritual culture and taste, the value systems and worldview.
Another fundamental question is how to make our cultural policy the subject of a true partnership between the public and the state. Today we see many examples of sincere, honourable civic initiatives on the preservation of the national heritage. This position certainly deserves support. It should receive strong backing, including through such modern forms as state grants. This does not mean, however, that the burden and responsibility for these critical spheres should be shifted onto volunteers and community activists. Only the state can provide adequate funding for projects and maintain the incomes of culture professionals – the people whose job it is to preserve our cultural heritage and restore monuments – as well as to create the legal conditions for the expansion of the public-private partnership in this area.
Earlier today the Prime Minister and I discussed incomes in the social sphere, and we have a common view on this issue. We can note with satisfaction the growth in incomes across the economy. At the end of last year, the average salary in the economy was around 24,000 [rubles], and this year will be about 26,800 [rubles]. There are monthly fluctuations but the figure will be somewhere around 27,000 [rubles]. The average for the culture sphere, however, will be around 12,800 [rubles] this year, which is almost half. That is certainly unfair.
Next year we plan to increase salaries for all culture professionals by 6%, which corresponds to inflation. We have decided to increase the funding for culture to 4 billion rubles next year with the aim of raising salaries, and we plan to do this regardless of the numerous challenges facing the budget. This will allow us to make a significant step forward in this sphere, one that we have not made in the past years. On average, salaries will increase somewhere in the range of 30–33%, and this figure could be even higher if cultural institutions are efficiently restructured and optimised – and I am addressing all heads of cultural institutions. I urge you to act in this way – this does not mean that you should take abrupt measures without thinking it through, but I am sure experienced managers understand what I mean.
”We must make optimal use of such mechanisms as public control, expert assessment and debate in all areas that are as sensitive and crucial as the preservation of cultural and historical heritage. This is the objective requirement of the time, a conscious policy of engaging a maximum number of people in national affairs and making key strategic decisions. Modern information technologies make it possible to do this effectively.“
Of course, we need to develop efficient mechanisms that would allow us to use historical and cultural heritage safely and effectively. I believe that we need to expedite the establishment of a clear system of state control and public monitoring of cultural heritage and on the whole move away from the protection of individual monuments to the comprehensive protection of historical cities and villages.
Special attention should be devoted to small towns across Russia with their unique culture and spirit. Incidentally, this is a powerful resource for the development of the tourism industry, with its enormous potential for small and medium businesses, and the creation of thousands of new jobs. I ask the Culture Ministry to tackle these issues in close contact with the Council for Culture, and to prepare a government report on the state of cultural monuments, reflecting all the existing problems and proposals on how to resolve them. The report must be submitted to the Government in October and open to public discussion.
I emphasise that we must make optimal use of such mechanisms as public control, expert assessment and debate in all areas that are as sensitive and crucial as the preservation of cultural and historical heritage. This is the objective requirement of the time, a conscious policy of engaging a maximum number of people in national affairs and making key strategic decisions. Modern information technologies make it possible to do this effectively.
I believe that the work of state agencies must also be open and accessible as they join efforts with public organisations, including our Council and other Presidential councils governing humanitarian issues. They should provide feedback and help coordinate the interests of various professional and social groups. We could create a website that would provide updated information on the work of the councils, their achievements and progress made in implementing instructions. I propose that the Council for Culture should become a pioneer in this area, especially since many of those present have interesting initiatives, which we have previously discussed. I think they have great potential.
I support the idea of establishing four committees as part of the Council for Culture. They will be responsible for the practical dimension of our work so that we don’t just meet once or twice a year and talk about abstract problems. Such four subcommittees could certainly be useful and I fully agree with the authors of this idea. We must attract the public, experts, and everyone who is interested and cares about these efforts. We should discuss the formats of the committees’ work and their priorities.