Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon!
To begin with, I want to congratulate you on the Day of Russia. It is one of the main official holidays in this country and, on top of everything else, today also marks the tenth anniversary of the Russian Presidency.
This, I think, is the first time that we are meeting in such a setting, and I am glad to see you, representatives of non-governmental organisations.
As a matter of fact, these organisations represent what we know as civil society. I would like very much to establish a constructive, positive and constant dialogue between us. When I say “between us”, I am referring not simply to myself, but to the authorities as such and civil society as a whole.
Your organisations have been set up independently of authority. Properly speaking, this is their main value. They have other and sometimes even more effective means of influencing members of their organisations than political parties. And civilian influence is sometimes far more effective.
A year ago the task we set ourselves was to strengthen the Russian state and consolidate government, and the need for this was obvious. It seems to me it is still obvious. It was noticeable that the overwhelming majority of people in the country understood and understand now that a weak and disorganised state is the source of many unresolved problems.
I am absolutely convinced that an inept state is as serious a threat to freedom and democracy as despotic rule. No less. Without an effective state there would be no rights, no human or civil freedoms, no civil society to speak of.
As I have said, we are meeting on a memorable date: June 12 marks both the Day of Russia and the tenth anniversary of the Presidency. Ten years ago we set about building the foundations for civil liberties, democratic elections and the public right to form independent associations.
Of course, in former times, the Soviet Union had many organisations of this kind, but it is one thing to establish them by instruction or directive from above, and quite another to build them up from below, on one’s own initiative. That is a whole new ball game.
All recent rights and freedoms did not come about on their own, particular people upheld them, and we described and still describe them as first-wave Democrats. They responded to society’s demand, this is beyond doubt, and there was an unprecedented surge in civil activity.
Today, too, we have lots of energetic, enterprising and gifted people. I am convinced that many of you who are present here today have proved by deed and word that this area has not been forgotten.
To date Russia’s Ministry of Justice has registered about 300,000 pubic organisations of different levels and nature. Even if we assume that only half of them fulfil mandatory duties and work for mandatory aims, that is still a very great force.
Leaders of most diverse trends are present at our meeting. There are a media union, veteran bodies and consumer unions. The scope of action of non-governmental organisations is very wide indeed.
We are used to thinking that the authorities bear full responsibility for what happens in the country. So it has evolved in this country over many years. And society’s goal is reportedly to control the authorities’ moves. That is not bad in itself, but not enough for a viable political society, a viable state and a viable political model.
I think public and non-governmental organisations and society as a whole can and must share responsibility for social, economic, and political processes with the authorities if and only if society is allowed to formulate and accept decisions. Only in this case.
Today’s Russian legislation on non-profit organisations meets international standards in general. However, we have our work cut out to develop and improve this legislation as a basis for the work of public and charitable organisations. Unfortunately, there is another open secret. Very many non-governmental bodies exist today on grants from overseas organisations. This does us no honour. Of course, we support this aspect of cooperation with international organisations as well, but, needless to say, our civil society must develop on its own, that’s a fact.
Unfortunately, legislation on charity is not yet duly developed either. But we are ready to discuss it.
In conclusion, I would like to say this: the authorities in Russia are strong enough to support and guarantee the democratic rights and freedoms of the people. And they are ready to do so in practice. I would like to see us all as allies. And I count very much on this.
That is what I wanted to say at the beginning.