Vladimir Putin: First of all, I would like to greet you and congratulate you on the start of your work.
I would also like to note that the assistance rendered by the Government in organising this event has been prompted by its awareness of the need for dialogue and partnership between the authorities and civil society.
When the forum was being prepared some fears were expressed that the Government would try to dominate civil society and make it amenable. But I think that all representatives of the authorities, I assure you, are well aware that civil society cannot be formed on the initiative of the authorities, on their wishes or directions.
Moreover, I think it is absolutely unproductive, practically impossible and even dangerous to try to create a civil society ‘from the top’, in general, it cannot be created ‘by fiat’. I would like to stress again that it grows by itself, it has its own root system and thrives on the spirit of freedom, it is only then that it becomes truly a civil society.
Yes, our civil society cannot be considered to have been finally formed. But I don’t think there are any countries about which one can say that society has been finally formed. In the context of democracy that process is obligatory and constant, and in Russia, one has to admit, that process is only beginning.
I doubt that anyone has ready recipes for fostering civil society. But the authorities can pursue only one task – to provide the most favourable environment for its development. It is the main and in fact the only task of the authorities.
This audience consists of representatives of diverse civil institutions – diverse in terms of their goals and in terms of what they expect from the state. There are some among you who are in sharp opposition to the authorities on fundamental issues of government policy. I consider this to be not just a normal phenomenon, but an extremely useful one in the context of democracy.
There can be no strong state or a prosperous and thriving society without relations of true partnership between the state and society. What is needed is an equal dialogue. We are aware that the effectiveness of that dialogue greatly depends on us, the representatives of government, all its branches. In this connection we are ready to take the necessary organisation and, if the need arises, legislative measures; we are ready to ensure effective feedback between society and the state, at least we will try to do it.
We are ready to listen to you attentively and to hear what you propose. I believe that such cooperation can be very productive and is necessary for our state now that the time of truly great opportunities has come for Russia and its citizens.
We live in very dynamic and eventful times. They call for responsible actions, considered decisions; they call for an influx of new ideas, initiatives, human resources and technologies. That is why the country needs intellectual mobilisation, it needs workable and effective models of cooperation between the state and civil institutions.
We must work together to use the historic chance, if we are not to find ourselves again in the “backyard of civilisation”. I think your work in this area is not only possible but sometimes indispensable.
Over the past years you have come up with your ideas on the solution of social, ecological, charitable, information and educational tasks. The Russian Internet is a vivid example. Much of the credit for its development goes to non-governmental non-profit entities. Its emergence marked the birth of a totally new system of public scrutiny of the quality and authenticity of information, including information on the work of the bodies of power: it has a direct impact on the making of managerial decisions.
I am aware of the suggestion that an “All-Russian Personnel Fund” be formed, i.e. a database accessible to the state, business and civil society institutions. I think the idea merits serious attention, the Administration needs progressively thinking competent people from the private sector.
Your cooperation will undoubtedly be helpful in the reform of the justice system. It meets with heavy going and it cannot be the business only of government departments. The voice of the citizens should be among the decisive voices here. The same is true of the issues of making the penitentiary system more humane. The conditions in our prisons are appalling and the problems that have piled up over many decades need to be addressed urgently. We will try to ensure real access of civil institutions to the solution of these and other key problems.
A few words about the interaction with the business community. Today it is well organised, perhaps better than other communities, it is consolidated and its structures represent the public and business interests of large groups of domestic entrepreneurs.
In their dialogue with the state they raise not only production or legal problems that are closely related to production. They discuss employment, social assistance, education and national security. Our actions to make the economy less bureaucratic owe much to the constructive interaction with representatives of the Russian business community, their direct impact on these decisions is obvious.
I believe that similar cooperation is extremely important in solving human rights issues and in combating ideological, national and religious intolerance, all very important problems in multi-national Russia. I am convinced that only a civil society based on respect of human rights can be a safe barrier in the way of marginalisation, extremism and intolerance.
Of course, the list of topics for our joint discussion is much broader than what I have just mentioned, and we look forward to your proposals and initiatives on the broadest range of issues of government and public life.
Ladies and gentlemen, you know that in recent years we have worked hard to strengthen the state. But the state is not only about power, and it is judged not only on the strength of its political success and economic development but above all by the degree of personal freedom and how influential civil society is.
There can be no truly strong democratic state if society is weak. Only a full-blooded social life can secure the government machine against inertia and its apparatus against stagnation. The ethical principles accepted in society are directly reflected in the style of the operation of the government apparatus and its results.
I am sure the authorities will lose if they do not have a free society as a partner. The worst option would be to attempt to bureaucratise its institutions. Aping the methods of work of government structures is obviously not an answer: civil society has other, more effective instruments. And it is right that you have used them in preparing this forum.
In conclusion, I would like to say that we in Russia have always managed to get together and overcome difficulties together. But it is equally important, and ultimately far more important, to learn to work with calm and concentration and in a systematic manner especially now that we have a good chance to combine the resources of the strengthened state and the energy of the democratic society.
One feels chary of admitting it – and I am choosing my words carefully – that some things are beginning to work out. The time is coming when life in Russia is becoming more or less decent. It is becoming prestigious to be a citizen of Russia, especially since in Russia the concept of “citizen” has always meant something more than the formal legal relationship with the state. That is why civic awareness and patriotism do not materialise if they are just written down in a document.
From the bottom of my heart I wish success to your forum.
Thank you for your attention.