Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon,
I suggest the following procedure. I will first say a few words and then we will just have a free exchange of opinions.
Today is International Human Rights Day. The date has direct relevance to your work. I think it would be proper if we used this day as an occasion for discussing the entire range of issues that are of concern to you and to me and to all of us, in an informal atmosphere.
Protection of civil rights and freedoms in Russia is an especially relevant issue.
You know that our Constitution will be ten years old next year and it proclaims the basic human rights and freedoms to be of the highest value and these norms are treated as self-implementing. Of course, that is a major achievement, but there are still many questions regarding the practical adherence to these norms. In fact there is a huge gap between the Constitutional guarantees and the real possibilities for people to exercise them. Above all it has to do with the social sphere, and is often connected with the scarcity of financial resources, but then even the most affluent budget can’t cope with this task if bureaucracy holds sway. The fact is, what makes people suffer most of all is irresponsible government, unfortunately very often it is faced at all levels.
In connection with this, the first thing I would like to draw your attention to is the judicial practice of resolving human rights cases and the second thing is work with citizens’ complaints. Both these areas are directly connected with the state of our legislation. Of course, there are many more problem areas and questions. But in my opening remarks I will focus on these, and later we can discuss any issue that you consider to be a priority.
On the strength of what I have said, I would appreciate your assistance and support in organising public expert scrutiny of all the draft legislation that in one way or another has to do with the rights of Russian citizens. Practice shows that those who draft the laws do not always take that into account. Besides, it is very important here to be proactive, to prevent the adoption of legislation that may give rise to conflict situations. For example, in connection with the debate on the reform of the housing and utilities sector, people have already expressed justified fears; the main one being that the reform would boil down to a rise in housing and utilities rates.
As for the work with citizens’ complaints, since the beginning of the year the President’s Administration has received more than 650,000 such petitions. As far as I know your Commission has received more than 5,000 in five months alone. They contain complaints about unreasonable denials, token replies, red tape, and obstacles in the shape of departmental instructions. I am told that in dealing with complaints we still proceed under the laws dating back to 1968. We have long been living in another country, but we are still working according to the laws of long ago.
Your Commission includes some experienced lawyers and representatives of human rights movements. There are those who seriously work to protect consumers’ rights. You all have extensive experience which can make work with complaints much more effective.
And finally a major issue is protecting the rights of children. I would like to single that out. Parental neglect, crime and drug addiction – all this is to a large extent the result of the violation of the children’s rights. The agencies that have the responsibility of dealing with these matters still do not have a single strategy.
And I would ask you to analyse what the Government and society are doing in this sphere.
In conclusion, I would like to say a few words about the coordination among human rights organisations. Of course, every organisation chooses its own priorities, and we have no right to impose anything on you. This work can on no account be the subject of too much organisation. But considering the high level of competence present in your Commission, you could support all your colleagues in every area that they consider to be a priority, so as to consolidate the movement and offer effective ways of solving the problems that they regard as the most important.
I have mentioned only what lies on the surface, but I don’t think that exhausts all that may be of interest to you. I don’t believe we should avoid other sensitive issues which the authorities often shy away from, the issues of a political character and political guarantees of the rights and freedoms of citizens. Let us discuss that too. We all want our state to be effective and open so that the ordinary citizen can feel comfortable dealing with it, so that every Russian citizen can feel comfortable living in the Russian Federation. But that, of course, depends to a large extent on the quality of partnership that is shaping up between the civil society and the state. I am ready to discuss that topic as well.
Thank you for your attention.
Ella Pamfilova: We appreciate the opportunity to have a frank discussion of the most sensitive human rights problems and to work together to make sure that the dignity of our citizens is not violated.
Speaking about big politics, in terms of human rights we are especially interested in the success of the judiciary and administrative reforms, the development of local self-government, combating crime within the law enforcement system and an improved quality of life. This is high-level politics in which we have little say, but human rights directly depend on it.
As regards the Commission itself, there is an urgent need to put in place a single and well-coordinated system to enable the effective functioning of all three components, especially the judicial, extrajudicial (including the vertical executive power structure and the institution of ombudsman) as well as the non-governmental human rights component.
In our opinion, the strategic goal of the Commission is to contribute to the creation of such a system. To this end we propose to finalise the draft of the federal human rights concept which could provide the basis for a modern, effective and comprehensive system of protecting human rights that combines domestic and international norms, government and non-governmental mechanisms. This concerns long-term activities.
The Commission does have an impressive potential and it intends to rely, above all, on the numerous non-governmental organisations and on the pool of our scientific and legal experts. But we are not renouncing the assistance of government services and we thank the President’s Executive Office for the constant assistance in our work. We hope the Commission will provide another functioning channel of communication between the President and the civil society which needs our joint efforts if it is to develop.
We would like the key civil initiatives to reach the top level of government and to influence the decision-making on key human rights problems. It is very important for us that you have backed the idea of organising independent expert assessments of legislation. We hope to put that work on track in the near future. We also intend to tackle the task of evaluating the law enforcement practice in this sphere to see whether it corresponds to the laws passed. Within our frame of reference we will also seek to turn the court of law into the main champion of human rights and guarantor of law and order in society. That is particularly relevant in the run-up to the judiciary reform which is taking a very long time to get off the ground. Judging from the number and character of complaints that come to the Commission and the human rights organisations, judicial protection unfortunately is very difficult to access for the ordinary person and it is not always just, to put it mildly. Our courts particularly don’t like poor people.
The judicial branch must be independent, but it also has to be transparent for society. That is why we set ourselves the goal of contributing to the civil control of judicial activities and the entire law enforcement system, but in a way that is common to all countries with developed democracy – striking a very fine balance.
The next key function of the Commission is educational: to promote legal literacy among the people, so that the people know their rights and are able to protect them. But the Commission cannot afford ignoring the problems of protecting the interests of Russian citizens in former Soviet republics and overseas countries. That is why we are preparing proposals on organising emergency legal assistance to Russian citizens abroad whose rights are being violated.
We also propose to work towards creating a network of public reception centres all over Russia to make legal assistance more accessible, primarily for low-income people. Currently, it is regarded as a privilege.
To assess the effectiveness of the measures in the human rights sphere, we are also contemplating regular monitoring as a means of ensuring feedback and obtaining objective information on the situation in the sphere of political, civil, economic, social, cultural and ecological rights and the rights of the vulnerable groups of the population.
Unfortunately, it has to be admitted that such negative phenomena as nationalism, racial and religious intolerance are on the rise in everyday life and at work. The Commission believes that a vigorous rebuff must be given to every manifestation of extremism, racism, discrimination and prejudice against Islam and the Caucasus region, anti-Semitism and terrorism. It is precisely now that our society must exhibit civic maturity and responsibility to prevent the spread of these ugly phenomena. It is an issue of honour for the members of the Commission to stop any manifestations of interethnic hostility.
Moving on from long-term to short-term plans, I would first of all like to talk about the areas on which the Commission has worked more than others. The first is the protection of the rights of children. Many non-profit organisations and groups, being aware of the sensitive nature of the problem, have displayed a surprising degree of teamwork and commitment in trying to develop a national plan of action in the interests of children. Many members of the Commission are directly involved in it because they are very conscious of the fact that it is impossible to provide full protection of the rights of children without strengthening the basic institution of society, the family, and without forming a new social strategy.
As a first step, we propose to prepare a comprehensive legal instrument, which may take the form of a juvenile justice system, but my colleague, Zykov, will speak about it in more detail. I would merely like to draw your attention to the fact that this mechanism would make it possible not so much to punish juvenile delinquents, as to keep children from committing crimes. By the way, pre-revolutionary Russia was one of the first countries to introduce juvenile courts back in 1910, and they operated very successfully right up until the events that you all know about.
The second area in which the Commission has worked fairly hard is the rights of refugees, forced migrants and stateless persons. It turned out that the federal laws on the legal status of foreign citizens and on citizenship fail to address the problem of some categories of former Soviet citizens. Svetlana Gannushkina will speak about that problem. I would merely like to add that a symposium was recently held under the auspices of the Commission between the leaders of the agencies that are responsible for this problem and the leaders of human rights groups. It was held at the President’s Executive Office with the support and participation of Viktor Ivanov. Practically all those present agreed that the problem was real, but they are not in agreement on the way it should be handled. As a result, we agreed to set up a panel to work out joint proposals.
One thing I am sure of is the need for large-scale educational work among the population over these issues because many live here and consider themselves to be Russian citizens and do not suspect that they may be deported at any moment. There is such a problem, and it particularly affects elderly people.
And the last thing. The Commission has launched the initiative, jointly with some experts and non-governmental organisations, of developing an entirely new law – and you have referred to it – on the guarantees of the right of Russian citizens to file individual and collective petitions with government bodies, the bodies of local government, and municipal government. An analogous law that has been pending before Duma for more than five years is bogged down in interminable procedures of approval. As a result many of its provisions are outdated and are no longer relevant.
You have said that the absence of such legal guarantees at the federal level provides an excuse for unjustified rejections, red-tape and large-scale violations of the rights and legitimate interests of citizens. Judging from the character of the complaints, the largest number of victims of human rights violations are rural residents where the arbitrary rule of local bosses knows no bounds.
The analysis of complaints filed with the Commission suggests that many citizens get no response at all or at best receive formal token answers. Many people complain that their submissions go in circles and eventually end up on the desks of the very people against whom the petitioner is complaining.
The adoption of such a law is also necessary because of the new relevance of establishing the constitutional and legal norms of communication between the people and the authorities. The key function of the right to petition is to enable the citizen to protect his legitimate rights and interests and to take part in the running of state affairs. So, we renew our request to you to back the proposals of the Commission, to issue directives to the corresponding services to finalise the draft law that we have and speed up its adoption by the Federal Assembly. That would help to enhance the responsibility of office holders in handling citizens’ complaints and most importantly, to put in place the agency and inter-agency mechanisms of prompt and effective reaction to complaints, considering their character and scale.
Mr President, preparing for this meeting we have agreed that we would first of all discuss with you the problems on which we are already working and to which we can already propose solutions. In addition to the basic issues, the members of the Commission would like to touch upon the problems of the media, protection of the rights of servicemen, the plight of prison inmates, the reform of the housing and utilities sector, the economic rights of small and medium-sezed businesses, the right to a healthy environment and, if time allows, some other aspects of citizens’ rights protection. This is not to say that we are indifferent, for example, to the problems of indigenous and minority peoples, or the labour law, but these and many other issues will be the targets of our future efforts. We are simply not prepared to discuss them now.
Today we must synchronise our positions with you on the problems I have mentioned in order to have a clearer idea of the possible results of our future work. We have not just brought a host of problems to you, we are ready to deal with them together with you.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
Ella Aleksandrovna, you have identified several key questions. You spoke about the judicial reform and you said that you don’t have a big say on that because it requires decisions to be taken at the national level. I assure you that this is not so. When the package of laws on judicial reform was considered, no collective decision was reached on some key issues for example, amending or discarding the Soviet procedure in extrajudicial practice or the practice of extrajudicial imprisonment. There were a lot of arguments and the decision was eventually vested with the head of state, to divulge a little secret. In fact I had to make the decision. Will we discard the Soviet procedure of extra-judiciary imprisonment of people? I can tell you that the decision taken is currently being implemented, with due account of the opinion of the civil society because honestly, we were not sure how it would work. The Prosecutor’s Office turned out to be right in expressing its fears. And still that norm is performing, and it is not performing badly.
I must tell you that the number of arrest warrants issued by investigation bodies has dropped several times. Why? Because requirements for the quality of work have been raised. The procedure whereby the same people delivered verdicts and made the arrests is a thing of the past. So, it is necessary to work more carefully. At the same time, the courts have coped with this volume of work. The courts seldom overrule arrest warrants submitted by the investigating bodies. It happens, but not often. On the whole the number of arrests has dropped sharply. And the imprisonment of people who used to be sent to prison for minor crimes has diminished. And that is a fact that indicates a change in our criminal policy.
I assure you that these changes owe much to the influence of civil society and not least the human rights organisations.
S.Gannushkina: I will speak about forced migration. I will probably not be the only person to speak about it today because human rights violations in that field are extremely frequent, above all because those who make decisions, unfortunately, see only one problem – illegal migration.
Parliament held hearings on the concept of regulating migration in Russia yesterday. That is an extremely limited concept, as follows from its name, and it has replaced the state concept of migration policy in Russia that has been long and thoroughly developed. It is hard to imagine how a state can exist without such a concept, which must underlie the entire legislation on law enforcement and our policy on migration. It is a pity because many scholars have worked on that concept, it was serious work and it was the result of a consensus between society, science and the authorities. But even that limited concept underwent a strange metamorphosis. The Government Commission on Migration Policy adopted a text which by the time it reached parliamentary hearings had several key concepts and provisions dropped from it, in particular, the concept of legalisation as a form of combating illegal migration. That is an effective and non-traumatic way of combating illegal migration: legalising the people who have permanently lived on Russian territory for a long time.
Sadly, we witness a rollback, a major step backwards compared with 1994–1997 in the field of cooperation between the authorities and society in drafting migration laws. At the time we had many representatives in parliamentary working groups and when the draft law was submitted to the Duma in the first and second reading it was already a consensus document from which all the provisions that could be traumatic for people had been removed, as far as possible. And it had been thoroughly examined by our legal experts of whom our non-governmental movement now has a considerable number. We have top-level lawyers working with us and we can guarantee the quality of their work. For example, we still have not been able to get the draft amendments to the law on refugees and forced migrants. We are very worried about it because the moment may come when they will be rushed through the Duma and we won’t be able to say a single word and the public scrutiny you have referred to, Vladimir Vladimirovich, will not happen.
All this led to the adoption of the two laws mentioned by Ella Pamfilova today: the new version of the law on citizenship and the law on the position of foreign citizens, which can hardly be called a law at all. It does not spell out the rights or the duties of government bodies to protect, nor mechanisms for protecting migrants. It is in effect a police regulation on the procedure of the stay of foreign citizens on Russian territory.
These laws have created a situation where a huge number of people living in Russia have become illegal. This is a situation that cannot be tolerated. It has no precedent, I would say, at the international level because other countries, on the contrary, try to legalise the people who live in their countries and people have no problems with the law even if they live there illegally because it is good for both the country and the people. When migrants are accused of not paying taxes, it happens through no fault of their own because they are not legalised and they cannot register themselves as taxpayers. It turns them into slaves. And this situation is intolerable for them and it is equally intolerable for the state.
We believe that these laws and this law-making practice must be immediately corrected. You have a chance to do it, Vladimir Vladimirovich, as the guarantor of human rights and we offer you such an opportunity. We have developed two draft presidential decrees. They are in the yellow folder which I understand Ella Pamfilova will give to you now. The first is about the persons who have permanently lived on the territory of the Russian Federation for more than two or three years, who have adapted themselves and have become integrated into Russian life. Thus, by legalising them, by giving them green cards we could solve this problem.
The second and related group of people are the Afghans. I mean ethnic Afghans who cannot return to Afghanistan now because the power in that country belongs to the very people from whom they fled. These are the Afghans who cooperated with Najibulla. Only 500 of them have refugee status while the remaining 150,000 live in Russia illegally. Conferring a humanitarian status on them would solve the problem.
The third category are people who entered Russia from the CIS countries before the law on citizenship was passed. Not having a residence permit (propiska), they were covered by Article 13 of part 1 of the Law on Citizenship. That the law enforcers have denied them citizenship is actually a violation. We win our cases in the courts of law more and more frequently. But in order not to have to go to court with each of the millions of people, we would like this issue to be solved through a presidential decree, by your decision, and that is a possibility. The same folder contains the validation and the text of the draft.
The fourth category I would like to mention are people who filed their documents for citizenship before the new Law on Citizenship came into effect, but whose cases were dropped by the Ministry of Internal Affairs in accordance with its decision taken in March of this year. This is inadmissible, the error must be rectified.
And my fifth point. Refusal to issue documents amounts to delegalisation. It is not right to deny passports to the thousands and hundreds of thousands of people from Chechnya, who are staying on Russian territory outside Chechnya, and to send them back to Chechnya. An acquaintance of mine, who is 84 years old, went back to Grozny because she lost hope of obtaining a passport in Moscow. This is inhumane and inadmissible. Similarly it would be wrong to send a 22-year-old Chechen guy to Chechnya to get his passport there because he would end up either in a temporary detention centre for undocumented people or join the militants, as he has no other options. We are interested to have him studying here at Moscow University and becoming a decent Russian citizen.
Of course, I am not sure that you will sign these two decrees right away. So we want you to instruct Ella Pamfilova and Kutafin to organise a group to deal with the problem of delegalisation, a group that would include members of our commission, certainly Tamara Morshchakova and Viktor Ivanov, Deputy Chief of Staff of Presidential Executive Office, because he is a very influential person on matters of migration. We would also like that group to include two deputy ministers, Chernenko, who is in charge of the problem of migration and Chekalin, who is in charge of the passport and visa service. This is a decision that you could take and we would thus try to offer a legal and legitimate solution of the problem of a vast number of people.
I have not spoken about our settlers who have been de facto repatriated and who also face very acute problems. So I take this opportunity and turn over to you the materials from the congress to protect the rights of migrants. Here is our book. The congress took place in June of this year and I am passing on their request: to meet with the representatives of migrant organisations, our fellow countrymen and discuss these matters with them. They have asked me to say it to you, which I am doing.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
You know, when the whole body of laws on migration started to be drafted, the aim was not to cut migration flows to Russia, as I think you have heard many times during the course of joint work with the representatives of the Government and the Presidential Executive Office.
All industrialised countries attract immigrants, all of them solve their demographic problems by bringing in immigrants. It happens in all the countries of Europe and North America, with the exception of the US where the population is increasing. And the countries that spend most to support the family and motherhood have an even lower birthrate than other countries. It is odd, but it is a fact.
Yes, we need to attract human resources, including from the CIS countries. I don’t want to discuss the appalling situation in the sphere of migration that we had before. You see, we did not have a normal state. The burden that had been put on the citizens of the Russian Federation was absolutely intolerable. You know the examples: 450 people registered as occupants of a single 9-square-meter room in order to be able to draw an allowance. That is inadmissible. If the government has decided that the people who live here permanently get pensions why should these pensions be spread all over the CIS? That is not right. We must take care of the rights of citizens and the rights of immigrants; otherwise they will not come to us. It should be an effective instrument for attracting people and creating normal living conditions for them. I absolutely agree with that.
I have no doubt that the laws passed need to be amended in many ways. I have no doubt about that. And let me tell you frankly: I signed these laws in order to create at least some kind of framework for eventually putting that sphere in order.
Look at what is happening in our markets. It defies common sense. Is there order? Do you call that labour migration? It is all about crime, narcotics and dependency. What do the Canadians do? They allow 10% of applicants to immigrate into Canada each year. But they know whom they invite and in what provinces they will live. The bulk of their population lives on a narrow strip along the border with the United States and they need to settle the northern areas. But they do not issue entry visas indiscriminately, but only to the technical experts, to programmers, engineers, biologists, or simply to young healthy people of reproductive age so that they could have children. They have a purposeful and balanced policy.
We have nothing. And I agree with you that perhaps the laws that we have passed are no good because we may end up shutting our doors and putting the people who already live here and work honestly into an intolerable situation. I agree, that cannot be allowed to happen. I simply want to make it clear to you that we need these instruments, they must be civilised and modern, and they must not insult people and embarrass people. But there must be some kind of order in the country if we claim to be a state at all.
I myself have impression that not everything is smooth, and my counterparts from the CIS countries have been speaking about it, and one thing I promise is that there is no intention, I repeat, there is no intention to shut the doors of our country. It would be a gross mistake, but there must be some kind of order and it must be civilised. So I promise that I will look at these draft laws.
And I absolutely agree with you as regards the Afghans. If this is in fact the situation, if they are in such conditions, what is the rationale for this? It is absolutely inhumane, of course, it’s violation of human rights. The same is true regarding some other categories of citizens.
But we should look carefully to prevent any loopholes for criminal elements. You see that developed democracies, despite everything, are also tightening their regulations. Look what is happening in the refugee camps in France. Not the best example for us and we should not follow it.
I agree with you absolutely. I very much hope that your active participation will help us to make it a civilised instrument. I assure you, I am interested in it and it is good that you have raised the issue.
S.Gannushkina: Thank you. And of course the border must be strengthened physically.
Vladimir Putin: You know, you are absolutely right. But in order to strengthen the border huge financial resources are needed. All the same, we will do it. If we don’t do it we won’t be able to have meaningful economic relations with Europe in the near future. We will have to do it in any case. And the sooner we start the sooner we will finish.
T.Morshchakova: Just a couple of words on the issue that is being actively discussed here.
Of course, there are methods of solving problems that are challenging for the state and involve heavy expenditures. But there is also a purely legal approach that could facilitate a transition to some new kind of regulation. The state has to pass and is passing a lot of new laws the country has not known before. And in passing these laws it is very important to identify one particular task: How to facilitate the transition to the new regulations? We often pass temporary rules aimed at making such a transition easier for the Government, for government agencies. But we give too little thought to how to facilitate such a transition for the citizens. Legislation in all countries evolves in such a way as to envisage a period of adaptation. Laws on citizenship and migration provide a good opportunity to try out these legal methods. And then we could ensure a corresponding law enforcement practice for the transitional period and rectify the lawmaker’s mistakes. Then the citizens would have a certain period to adapt themselves to the new regulations. This is just to underscore the importance of the legal methods.
Ella Pamphilova: Oleg Zykov, please, we are moving on to the problems of children.
Oleg Zykov: Ella Pamfiova has said that I will speak about juvenile justice, but I will start with the topic that corresponds to the name of my organisation, the problem of narcotics.
In 1999, we published an atlas showing the link between drugs, geography, history and politics. Ella Pamfilova will show you the atlas now. The main aim of this publication is to show that human history has been linked with the problem of narcotics for many years. Illegal drugs went a long way in determining the events in the world, and sometimes practically ruled the world. This leads to a very simple and obvious conclusion that there are no quick and drastic ways to solve the problem. As a rule, all the drastic solutions are of a repressive character. Unfortunately, these repressions target not the drug lords but the drug users, the drug addicts. The drug addict is a victim of the problem and is not its cause. The economic laws of the drugs market are like any other economic laws: demand gives rise to supply. If we constantly try to stop supply we will simply send drug prices up without diminishing demand. The drugs market and the drug lords will structure themselves seeking super profits, and it is obvious that they will not easily give ground. So we should look for ways of diminishing demand. Such measures exist. They are known and we must introduce them.
And I will now present to you the means of protecting the rights of children which has the name of juvenile justice everywhere in the world. Ella Pamfilova correctly pointed out that early in the last century, Russia had a legal instrument called autonomous juvenile justice. Juvenile drug addiction, crime and homelessness have the same roots. They are connected with domestic violence, which typically is not physical but psychological. A child feels neglected, unhappy in the family, he takes to the street and the street dictates its own terms: he becomes addicted to drugs, is a victim of violence, he himself becomes violent or will simply be a stray, as the case may be. But if we don’t think in terms of bringing the child back into the family, if we do not introduce the means of bringing the child back into the family, we won’t be able to help that child. That is obvious.
We have the experience of developing such means and we are introducing them. I have no time to detail the whole strategy, but it is extremely short. The next book that Ella Pamfilova will give to you provides an idea of how many specific elements there need to be in principle. We do not only have these elements, but we are introducing them in practice. Just today, a series of seminars is to be completed in the federal districts, which are held in conjunction with the Labour Ministry, and they are devoted to introducing these means through that Ministry. The basic element of our methods is not agencies (because the government agencies are interested in only one thing, getting budget funds) but court rulings in every particular case and in every particular situation. The whole system of protecting the rights of children will then be based not on the departmental principle but will proceed from the interests of the child through court rulings.
In any case, whether a child has committed an offense or not, the juvenile justice system will consider the child not as a target of repression but as a subject for rehabilitation. Above all, the system is concerned about the wellbeing of the child. Society’s interest is in reintegrating the child and not in imposing formal punishment.
Today, unfortunately, the court system offers only two scenarios (depending on the age and the gravity of the offense): the offender is either put in prison and by the time he is released he becomes a real criminal, or he is given a suspended sentence. The second is false humanity because it leads to impunity and the child perceives it as such. Impunity is just as immoral as crude mechanical punishment. The child commits another offense which is usually more serious and eventually ends up in prison anyway. In fact, the court system today operates like a factory that produces criminals. Obviously, this is not the fault but the misfortune of the Russian judicial system.
And we would like to propose measures that may change that situation. Ella Pamfilova will convey to you our proposals, the drafts of possible presidential decrees and directives. But now I would like to turn your attention to the decision that is critical, certainly at this point in time. We would like you to support the bill that has passed the first reading in the Duma and that contains amendments to the law on the judicial system that would introduce juvenile courts.
On February 15, 366 deputies voted for that law. Thirty regions have sent positive reviews of it and only one region sent a negative one. In general, some surprising things happen in the regions. I can cite the Saratov and Rostov Regions where juvenile support elements are being actively introduced. And in your home town, Vladimir Vladimirovich, the city court has a juvenile collegium.
I have no time to dwell on the financial aspects. But believe me, no major financial investments are required today. Small sums would be required for education in the judicial system and a salary fund connected with the introduction of new members in the judicial process, the social workers.
Unfortunately, I have run out of time. I would like to end by citing a short letter sent by the Deputy Governor of the Pskov Region, Mr Komissarov, to the State Duma in connection with the law I have referred to and for which we seek your support. Just one sentence. It is a letter addressed to Mr Seleznyov seeking support for the bill. “We hope that the creation of juvenile courts will be effective in strengthening the system of protecting the rights of children in the Russian Federation. And most importantly, conditions will be created in which society can overcome the repressive mode of thinking.”
I think it is a very sound and important idea. Perhaps it is the most important idea. Perhaps this is the main mission of juvenile justice: first, to overcome the repressive mindset in our society which gives rise to many, many problems.
Vladimir Putin: Let us regard your proposals as an element in the development of the judicial system, especially in such a sensitive sphere as juvenile crime. It is very important. It involves expenditures which must be stipulated in the budget, but the bill must be drafted now.
Oleg Zykov: I would allow myself to name the sum. We have calculated the cost and it’s about 30–50 million roubles a year in the first phase. The courts do try juvenile cases already; this court procedure must simply be specialised. Rehabilitation programmes are already in place. We are working together with the Labour Ministry to expand them. What is needed is to tie together the judicial procedure and the existing rehabilitation programmes. In fact, all the money will go to pay salaries to the social workers who should appear in court. The price for the first three years is 30–50 million roubles.
Vladimir Putin: That is an important matter. We will look into it.
Oleg Zykov: Thank you.
Ella Pamfilova: I would like Valery Abramkin to pick up this topic.
Valery Abramkin: Yes, I will give a kind of follow-up.
I am Valery Abramkin, director of the Centre for Criminal Justice Reform and a former political prisoner. So, I have been dealing with prisons and prison problems for a quarter century. And now we have lived to see such a strange time when the positions of the country’s top leadership and human rights activists on the problems of prisons are similar, just like on the causes of these problems and the ways to tackle them. It is true to a large extent.
We know and we agree that the system of criminal justice has become one of the main sources of the marginalisation of the population, has greatly increased the ranks of people who are excluded from the legal economy and it is one of the causes of deteriorating public health. Successful reform in this sphere, in the system of criminal justice, hinges on whether we will be able to drastically cut the prison population in Russia. The number of prisoners in juvenile correctional facilities has dropped by half this year, and the number of people in pretrial detention has dropped by 33%. In the Kresty prison, which you visited in 1999, there are now 4,000 inmates, but at that time there were 12,000.
Vladimir Putin: As far as I know, there is now more space per inmate.
Valery Abramkin: Yes, that is true, although the prisons are still overcrowded. It would be appropriate to recall that under the tsars a cell which now holds 5–6 inmates was intended for one.
Vladimir Putin: But on average we have approached the norm of 4 square metres per person.
Valery Abramkin: Yes, it is already the norm in Russia on average.
Vladimir Putin: And it used to be, I think, less than 1 square metre.
Valery Abramkin: Yes, and in major cities even half a square metre.
Vladimir Putin: So, the situation has changed dramatically.
Valery Abramkin: Yes, and this is very encouraging. But if the size of the prison population is to be reduced to a sustainable level, and that is 300,000–350,000 (just to remind you that the current figure is 900,000) not only the character of penal policy must change but social policy must be reasonable. The task can be summed up in this way: there should be fewer people in need of help. Juvenile justice discussed by Oleg Zykov is one of the instruments of such policy. Second is the creation of social patronage. A bill to this effect has been drafted by the Education Ministry and it has the support of non-governmental organisations. We are asking you to expedite its approval by the Government. It is aimed at overcoming juvenile homelessness, juvenile delinquency and the overall crisis of the family.
We can even create a group in boarding schools which would help foster families to adopt orphans. In other words, we need social workers.
Vladimir Putin: Where do you see them? In what Government structures? In the municipalities?
Valery Abramkin: In the municipalities, of course. And we have already made an estimate of how many social workers are needed, for example, per thousand children.
Vladimir Putin: How much would that cost?
Valery Abramkin: We need one social worker per five thousand children.
Vladimir Putin: Do you remember how much it costs? How much will it cost the budget? How many people are we talking about?
Valery Abramkin: We need approximately one social worker per 5,000 children.
Vladimir Putin: How many nationwide?
Valery Abramkin: We now have 30 million people under the age of 18.
Vladimir Putin: You are absolutely right. In the old days we at least had “juvenile rooms” at the police stations. But even they have disappeared, and in general it is a totally neglected area. You are talking about things the state should have long turned its attention to. All we need is to estimate the cost and we will certainly tackle this problem.
Valery Abramkin: The cost has been estimated, simply, I am more preoccupied with other problems, with the problems of prisons, so I don’t have the figures handy.
Vladimir Putin: Please, forgive me for interrupting you, but I think communication is easier that way.
Valery Abramkin: That is all right.
The law on social rehabilitation. There has been talk about it for some ten years and it has yet to be considered at the federal level, although it is already enforced in some regions of the Federation, for example in Bashkortostan.
The next set of proposals – I mean the recommendations of the participants in the Civil Forum – is connected with diversifying the types of punishment (non-custodial), creation of the probation service, especially pretrial probation which would help keep tens of thousands of people out of prison.
There are also proposals aimed at changing the structure of custodial punishment. In our opinion, for the majority of convicts incarceration should not last for more than two years. From Russian experience, the average prison term in Russia in the late 19th-early 20th centuries was 2–3 months. The aim of the punishment was to warn and to caution people and not correction or reeducation as they say today. So, we occupied one of the last places in the world in terms of the number of prisoners, 60 convicts per 100,000 of the population. At present the figure is 620.
European experience. In Germany 40% of those sentenced to imprisonment have a term of no more than six months. In our Criminal Code six months is the shortest sentence. So one of the first proposals is to lower the threshold to one month. And then there are proposals that would allow judges to mete out punishment. Short prison terms are highly effective also in terms of rehabilitation because the first days and months are the most difficult for a prison inmate. Many are aware of the effectiveness of short prison sentences because after a while a person stops being afraid of prison; one begins to be afraid of freedom. For men that period lasts three-four years, for women and juveniles it is half that time. And in our country the average prison term for men is five years, for women 4.5 and for juveniles four years.
And there are a number of other proposals which are partially considered by Dmitry Kozak’s group that deals with the reform of penal law created on your instructions. There are some important proposals coming from non-governmental organisations that we could consider together with Kozak’s panel. We could do it jointly with the Human Rights Commission.
There is another problem which Kozak’s group could help solve. It may sound odd, but it is the problem of tuberculosis in our prisons. For some reason people think that the problem is being successfully tackled. But few people know that the number of HIV-infected people has increased by eight times during the last two years, from 4,000 to 33,000. And when we send HIV-infected people to prison where one in every ten inmates suffers from tuberculosis it will certainly increase the incidence of disease and mortality. But there is yet another danger discussed by experts: an explosion of HIV, superimposed on an epidemic of tuberculosis, may produce a new form of tuberculosis which would resist all drugs, even expensive second-tier drugs. Amendments to the effect have been proposed, and Kozak too has them, which could help reduce the number of drug users who are put behind bars. These proposals are pending before the Duma, and there was a conference on that subject yesterday. It has to do with the articles connected with drug trafficking.
Do I have one more minute?
Vladimir Putin: Go on, please. What you are saying is very important and interesting.
Valery Abramkin: As regards rehabilitation. Prison theory and practice are abandoning the doctrine of reeducation and correction in favour of the doctrine of normalisation. What does that mean? Making a prison less of a prison. It does not mean that an inmate’s life should become easier and more comfortable. It should be full of problems, but human problems. In the meantime we are creating problems that make it more difficult for a person to be reintegrated into normal life. For example, in women’s facilities women are separated from their children by a fence and are only allowed to see them for two hours a day. Mother and child experience a trauma every day and it wears on their mental health. Some women come to hate the source of that irritation, that daily torture.
I must say that women with children and girls are the smallest groups of the prison population in Russia, and for that reason they are the most miserable. There are just 11 penitentiaries where there are nurseries and there are just three penitentiaries for girls. So girls are doomed to a very painful period when they are separated from their families and close ones and they have problems after they are released.
There are not all that many babies, and their mothers and girls – just two thousand. And I think, without waiting for all the good laws that we have discussed today to be passed, we could start addressing that problem, adopt a special programme of aid not only in prison but also after these inmates are released. That programme would cost around 120 million.
But in general that problem can be solved by just changing the penitentiary system. Our center has a motto: “Bring prisons back to the people.” It means that the local community, the population must pay for its own safety.
In the United States 95% of prisoners are kept in state penitentiaries and only 5% in federal facilities. And it has to be said that in Russia, too, some regions have been moving in that direction. In the Penza Region, for example, they had a procedure for two years whereby the heads of district administrations rendered aid to the penitentiaries where the local residents were kept in proportion to the number of their own prisoners. If, for example, Moscow paid for some of its inmates, such as the juvenile females, about 40 girls a year, it wouldn’t cost an awful lot of money, so all these problems could be solved much faster.
Vladimir Putin: We can think about it. What you have said is very interesting and very important in practical terms. I have hardly taken any notes because I have listened very attentively and with great interest. I will make a point of talking with Mr Kozak.
Your last point is debatable, of course. Moscow does have money and it will pay, but in some regions where most of the penitentiaries are located and where budget revenue sources are the smallest, the inmates would be starving. So, it is hardly possible here in Russia. Our regions are not financially self-sufficient, not to speak of municipalities. It is dangerous and we may put the inmates in a very difficult situation. Our schools don’t pay salaries to their teachers. Why? Because the local budgets are short on money. We are about to pass a law that would empower the regions of the Federation to pay salaries so as to ensure that public sector employees, teachers in our case, are paid their salaries. But it is dangerous to put the penitentiary system at the regional level, the idea is basically sound, but considering the realities of our life, it is simply premature. However, it is a sound idea.
Valery Abramkin: Forgive me, but we proposed legislation back in 1991 that would allow the regions to create their own penal institutions. Not force them but allow them to do it.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, private institutions may be created.
Valery Abramkin: Wherever it is possible, in the regions.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, that is absolutely normal and the forms may vary. All we need is a national standard that the state will enforce.
Valery Abramkin: There are federal standards and local prisons.
Vladimir Putin: Excuse me, what is the name of your centre, once again?
Valery Abramkin: The Centre for Criminal Justice Reform. We have been in existence since 1988.
Vladimir Putin: Are you in contact with Mr Kozak?
Valery Abramkin: He took a very active part in our discussion at the civil forum.
Ella Pamfilova: Several working groups are active on these matters. We will put their proposals before the Commission so that they could be finalised.
I give the floor to Alexei Simonov.
Alexei Simonov: I am from the Glasnost Defence Fund.
To clarify things I’ll begin with a saying. We have derived a saying that goes like this: glasnost is the possibility for somebody to shout from the midst of the crowd that the “emperor has nothing on at all” and freedom of speech is the possibility to tell the emperor that he has nothing on at all before he comes out into the square. From that point of view freedom of speech is a difficult topic, because unfortunately, unlike all the previous speakers and colleagues, I have no concrete proposals on the issues under discussion. I will have to speak about more abstract and more debatable things. One of them is that glasnost differs from free speech to the extent that there is fear of freedom of speech in society. Currently the fear of free speech in society is intensifying and it is intensifying in two ways. It is growing in terms of what the population wants. And it is not by chance that various surveys show that 50–55% of the population supports the introduction of censorship, that is one side of the matter.
And the other side is connected with practice, because the population does not want this freedom. In reality when exercising freedom of speech people are confronted with great difficulties, and these difficulties are increasing. Take the notorious case of Grigory Pasko. I am not speaking about the case, but about the fallout from it. For the past four years, you could not find a single article in the Far East that seriously discussed the problems of the army and navy’s environmental impact in the Far East. This is the result of the fear generated in connection with that case.
Oddly enough, one victim of that fear is the government, because, on the one hand, it does not get the necessary amount of information. On the other hand, traditionally, when ten or eleven years ago the first law on the media was passed, everybody was happy. All of our European experts were simply throwing their hands up in joy because Russia had abolished censorship. In reality censorship has only been half abolished. They abolished the censorship that prevented society from knowing the books, films, facts and information that were known to a select circle of people.
But there is another form of censorship that still survives. And the victim of that censorship is the Government and in the first place, sad though it is, perhaps the President. Because the information that is fed to the President is censored.
Vladimir Putin: I absolutely agree with you when you say that the earliest victims of the lack of glasnost and free speech are the authorities. You are absolutely right there because I get much of the crucial information about life in the country from the mass media, strange though it may seem. If the media don’t tell about it I don’t get that information. But it would be wrong to assume that all those who work in this sphere are always right. One thing is clear, the law cannot be broken. Perhaps, “dictatorship of the law” was not a very apt expression for me to use. But there are expressions that have gone down in history and that nobody challenges: “The law is tough, but it is the law.” It has to be obeyed.
Alexei Simonov: I have no objections about obeying the law. But I have a question or an objection on the harm of fear. I have even copied a short quotation on this topic. It is from Simonov’s story about 1941. It is called “Panteleyev”: “When Baburin was arrested and told to admit to his complicity in some kind of plot, he was scared for the rest of his life. He was scared of any responsibility that could be imputed to him rightly or wrongly. And when he was released after two years in prison and told that he was innocent he, a healthy-looking man, emerged suffering from one of the most terrible human afflictions: he was afraid of his own acts.”
This is a real danger in the country today and it is a danger in the sphere that I deal with, glasnost and the media. It is often connected with the activities of the secret services. Lack of trust and mutual suspicion are very high and justified.
Vladimir Putin: I agree. I absolutely agree.
You see, we are discussing things and even arguing. Right? But when I go to some other places, I have to argue with other people, your opponents.
Alexei Simonov: I understand. In conclusion I would like to mention two laws. I wouldn’t be in a hurry and I would take another hard look at the law on the media, which is very rough. It is not in fact a law; it is still very rough. And if we are to draft it seriously, it should not be done in haste, because there are very many problems involved. By contrast, the law on the right of citizens to get access to information is making very interesting progress. It does not focus on the problem of journalists only, but takes a broader view. What they have at the Economics Ministry is very interesting (I took part in discussing the draft law there), and I think it merits support. It is a very vital law. It is more necessary than the law on the media and it is very much in line with what has been said here about citizens’ complaints; they work towards the same end and join into a system, which is important.
Vladimir Putin: Is that law already in the Duma?
Alexei Simonov: The law on information? Not yet. They have been sending it to the various agencies. The first draft will be sent to the agencies on Sunday, but they are already testing it unofficially. The day before yesterday they tested it on non-governmental organisations. It is in for a rough ride because it envisages serious sanctions for the denial of access. As you know, these things are frowned upon in this country.
Vladimir Putin: Do you believe that the Law on the Media is not ready?
Alexei Simonov: I strongly believe that it is not ready. So far it is a one-sided law, and I will explain why. The co-owners decided to replace the founders, and so far it is rather selfishly focused on the interests of the broadcaster and publisher thus replacing the owner and supplanting the editorial office. It fails to balance that triangle. So far it is a self-seeking law for the people who have instructed the lawyers to write it. It needs to be balanced by bringing in the broad media community, including the hired employees and not only those who today head up holdings and companies. That is the problem.
Vladimir Putin: What has been the progress of the law? It was submitted to the Duma some time ago. Within several months it passed through the first reading, as far as I know. It was the initiative of the Duma and we practically took no part in it.
Alexei Simonov: Vladimir Vladimirovich, actually there have been so many attempts to push so many laws and amendments through the Duma that one could hardly keep track of all of them. Everybody wants to be in the driving seat, and it is hard to restrain people.
Vladimir Putin: I agree.
Vladimir Solovyov: Actually, we don’t need to be protected. We have comfortable salaries even when working on television channels owned by oligarchs, despite all the hazards it involves.
What worries me is something else. Of course, the media perform a two-fold task: on the one hand, if they have a chance, they stop demonising the Government by writing and telling about who rules us and what they want, and in the process they tell the authorities about what is happening in the country so that they know which way to steer.
The situation, in my humble opinion, is one of “Decemberism” when talented, young and reasonably honest people have come along, who are convinced that the people are basically good, but there is a shortage of people who can perform the function of governance, and they are hard to find. I have talked with German Gref and Dmitry Kozak and I couldn’t help feeling that I was in the 19th century.
What we face and what is happening is a colossal absence of moral authority. That is why anything that comes from the very top is perceived as the ultimate truth. And if it is said that one channel is somehow misbehaving they try to smother that channel in an embrace. But the lack of transparency is scary. There is no transparency for one simple reason, because, you for example, say that the opposition will write the “death penalty” on its flags. It will write yet another idea on its flags. It will write that the people who join the government are those who cannot earn but can only steal, unfortunately, because a civil servant’s salary is humiliatingly low.
I would urge people not to lie to each other. And to avoid mutual lies we must say from the start: yes, the following measures must be taken. And the media will gladly announce it and, oddly enough, there will be no social outcry. When the Government starts working with us, it does not have to blackmail us, issue death threats or bribe us. We are ready to surrender ourselves for love; this is the special feature of our trade, surrender for the chance of an interview. But it is an amusing situation when we say what you want to hear and, come election time, it turns out first, that the population ignores the elections because people don’t want to vote because they don’t trust what they are told, and then the spin-doctors move in and then it becomes an ungovernable situation fraught with a social upheaval.
That is all. Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: You have said very little. Everything is right, and what you said is clear. First, of course, in any country, even in a developed economy, civil servants are paid far less than the incomes of those who work in business. There is no comparison. In our country the ratio is about the same as in developed economies. Of course, it is a real problem. But how can it be fixed? By raising the salaries of bureaucrats?
Vladimir Solovyov: It’s very simple. I can answer that question. One has to work with the Government, but the salaries are low there. The only answer is restructuring, that is, delegating some functions that are not inherent in the state and redoing the budget. While your guys are doing what they do quietly, and Gref sits and works on it for some time, there will be a social explosion.
Vladimir Putin: That’s right, that is the road to follow, I absolutely agree.
Ella Pamfilova: Svyatoslav Zabelin. We are moving on to another topic. The environment.
Vladimir Putin: Let’s discuss it since it is also an interesting topic.
Svyatoslav Zabelin: Naturally, I am not going to bemoan the “bad ecology” as they say nowadays, nor am I going to speak about human rights violations in this sphere. A special report by the human rights commissioner was published this year, and I am not going to waste your time by describing all the things that are wrong. The trouble is that the situation is deteriorating with every passing year.
Vladimir Vladimirovich, in May 2000 you issued a decree that dismantled the Environmental Protection Agency, bad as it was, and transferred its functions to the Ministry of Natural Resources. Unfortunately, ever since that time, the situation has gone from bad to worse. Emissions and dumping of every kind have increased. With regard to forest fires, people in Moscow could smell them, but this is not only a Moscow problem. At the same time, money compensations for environmental damage were cut by four times, at least the money that went into the government’s pocket has diminished by four times. Half of the enterprises that were previously under control were put outside the control of government environmental agencies. For the first time in the last two years not a single natural preserve has been set up, although preserves were being set up even during the Second World War. The government environmental supervision has become a farce that nobody pays attention to. A chemical weapons disposal facility is being commissioned which has not gone through any government environmental screening. It has been hastily designed and we will be exposed to the risks of that action.
What the Ministry of Natural Resources is doing in terms of public relations is a joke. Mr Artyukhov has set up three citizens’ councils so that he can claim to be speaking on behalf of the whole Civil Forum, but none of these councils work. So, the business community has turned to us, to the public, to the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs and to Opora, to help them remove what is called environmental barriers. Because today the Ministry of Natural Resources deals with all types of problems: redistribution of property, granting competitive advantages to one or another company, that is, by way of selective inspections. It does everything except protect the environment. Business is ready to protect the environment but it is not ready to work with a Government body that changes its rules every day and addresses some strange tasks.
Another wonderful example. You have asked for an environmental doctrine to be worked out, and one has been. Well, when we were finalising it together with the agencies, the Ministry of Atomic Energy, the Agriculture Ministry, the Defence Ministry and the Economic Development Ministry supported the functions of natural environmental control being taken away from the Ministry of Natural Resources. These ministries are not, of course, our natural friends. We butt heads with them every day. So, the current situation is that there is no government agency at present that deals with environmental safety and environmental monitoring. It is a very unique situation. We have no one to talk to. It is arranged so that nobody is responsible for anything and you cannot get a coherent answer to any question, not to speak of information transparency and all the rest of it.
In our opinion it is necessary to isolate the functions of environmental safety and nature conservation, public health and preservation of the natural heritage of Russia from the Ministry of Natural Resources. In the current situation, a special agency must be created as part of the system of law enforcement bodies. We cannot repeat the mistake of putting environmental protection under the jurisdiction of the economic sector. Whether they are together or separate, all the same the Minister or Chairman of the State Committee reports to the corresponding Vice Premier and addresses a different set of tasks.
We have the corresponding draft documents and we can hand them in to you even today and start working, if you say so. But that situation must be addressed and it can only be solved by your decree.
Vladimir Putin: I can issue a decree, but it has to do with the structure of the Government. Pass me these documents, they will come in handy, especially since we have been speaking about the need for administrative reform early this year and last year. It is not confined to reorganising the Government only, it is a more complicated task, but it is one aspect of the problem.
What surprises me is that the Ministry of Natural Resources seems to have been created for this express purpose. I do not quite understand what it is up to.
Svyatoslav Zabelin: It hasn’t come off as planned. Let’s look at the current situation.
Vladimir Putin: So, not to put too fine a point on it, you believe that there must be a unit within the Government that deals only with nature conservation and does not perform any other functions?
Svyatoslav Zabelin: Yes, ensuring safety, preventing harm and protecting our natural heritage. These are law enforcement functions. That is why I argue that it should be part of the law enforcement system. It should be part of that system which I understand you are in charge of. There is no other way. Otherwise this field will end up being totally neglected.
Vladimir Putin: Give me all your documents, please.
Svyatoslav Zabelin: Thank you, I’ll bring them now.
Lyudmila Alekseyeva: A year ago I was opening the plenary session of the Civil Forum. Of course, I remember that day very well.
And today, Mr President, it has fallen to me to speak about the most difficult topic from the point of view of human rights activists and others. The topic is Chechnya. I will touch upon only one aspect of the problem: those who are in camps in Ingushetia. There are about 20,000 people living in the camps.
Why have I chosen this particular aspect (and it is our common decision) to single it out from the many other topics? Because these people face the threat that the camps will finally be shut down and they will be evicted by December 20. That is, they have 10 days left.
Resettlement began shortly after the new President of Ingushetia, Mr Zyazikov, was elected. I have seen his meeting with you on television. You asked him about resettlement and Mr Zyazikov said with unction: “Only voluntarily”.
Now officials say, at least publicly, and therefore I think this is what they are telling you, that these people are returning voluntarily. That is a lie. I have visited these camps and Svetlana Gannushkina visited them. We get daily reports about what is happening there, how the resettlement is proceeding. We get reports every day because it is a very sensitive issue. People are being forced to leave under threat; electricity and gas supplies have been cut and people have not received any bread for quite some time. I won’t speak about their plight. Ella Pamfilova has a staff report from Svetlana Gannushkina about how the resettlement is taking place.
Honestly, I simply do not understand why they are doing it; why they are sending people from anywhere back to Chechnya. Chechnya is part of Russian territory and we assume that they are Russian citizens and therefore, isn’t it the case that every government in every country throughout human history has tried to make sure that as few civilians live in dangerous places as possible. They have tried to get people to move out of those areas, but we are forcefully pushing them back, those who had left themselves. And they are being sent back not only from these camps. There were 170,000 of them and now there are just 20,000; some have been moved there and some have scattered. Svetlana Gannushkina gave me a note today which says that people are also being forcibly sent back to Chechnya from the temporary accommodation centre in the Tver Region. What for?
I understand, Mr President, that you constantly get information from another source, from officials. They tell you that the resettlement is voluntary, that the conditions in Chechnya have been prepared and that it is the people who are so stupid that they turn down a better deal. I wish that were the case. I wish it were a voluntary movement and I wish they felt comfortable there. But that is just wishful thinking. Because, I repeat, this is simply not so.
So I have a suggestion since you have conflicting information from two sides and because it is a pressing matter: quickly set up a panel to look into this situation and let it include the representatives of all the government agencies which are administering the resettlement, above all the Committee for Chechen Refugees, and also the federal and local migration agencies and some other concerned agencies. And I have a request that the Commission also include representatives of the Presidential Human Rights Commission. I am ready to sit on the Commission and Svetlana Gannushkina is also ready. Dr Roshal is a member of the Commission and we could ask some other people to go and visit the places where people are being evicted and the places where they are being resettled. We would submit our common report to you about what is actually happening that would take into account the views of both sides. That way you will have not one-sided but many-sided information. I hope you will accept the offer because it is honest.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. Since you have raised this topic I will allow myself to say a few words because it is a very pressing and very sensitive issue. I have spoken out on this topic in public more than once, but still I would like to tell you some things that may be of a general character but I think they can be repeated. And I will then quickly move on to the topic that you have raised.
As you know, Russia has done everything to solve this problem and it took a very dangerous and difficult step that exposed it to national humiliation and in fact put it on the brink of the further disintegration of the Federation when it practically recognised the independence of Chechnya. That was done. The chance was given to start building an independent state. We transferred resources there, arguably, not enough, but we sent pensions there. All that was done. We know very well what followed: what followed was the second war in Chechnya and the attack on Dagestan.
In fact what happened was a supplanting of notions. They continued to talk about the fight for independence, but in fact had embarked on the next stage: an attack on Russia so that the Caucasus would break away with the aim of creating a caliphate. The caliphate is an old idea of Islamic radicals. They set out to create a caliphate. Why? They want to create a caliphate in other parts of the world too. In general, the idea is very similar to the one promoted by the revolutionaries such as Trotsky with his permanent revolution. Hitler, by the way, set a similar goal for himself.
So, it is not about Chechnya. They continue to use the independence of Chechnya as a cover and to sound off on human rights using the slogans of democracy to achieve the goals that have nothing in common with democracy. We cannot allow that to happen. We will not allow our country to be broken up. This will not be.
We need people like you. I am saying this absolutely honestly because civilians of course suffer during the course of this confrontation. And that works against us because it antagonises the people. And we want something very different. We want people in Chechnya to understand that we want to protect their interests, but those other people are abusing their interests and their historical aspirations to achieve goals that have nothing to do with them. And of course, considering all this, we are interested in obtaining, and I am interested in obtaining, truthful and objective information about what is happening there. In addition, the situation is compounded by the overall disarray in our society.
By now they have more or less established order in the republic. The Prosecutor’s Office has started working, the courts are working and the bar is working. They are not working well, but they are working. At least they exist, and yet until recently, under Maskhadov, they executed people and beat them to death in public. It takes time to change the situation there. A whole generation has grown up in the conditions of violence. So, of course, information is vital.
Now as regards the refugee camps. You may have noticed that even at the critical time of the hostage taking at Nord-Ost, I publicly said very unpopular things. Some people tried to talk me out of it, but I felt that I had to do it; that it was my duty to do it. I said that we should not transfer all our anger against terrorists to the Chechen people, to Muslims and so on. And I said that deliberately. It was a difficult decision, but I think it was absolutely necessary. In this context I had to issue orders to tighten security at these camps because there was a danger that there would be disturbances and it would be very hard to determine who was to blame. On that same night we sent Interior Ministry troops to guard these camps.
Now about where people must live and what to do about these camps. Of course, it is a difficult problem. Where should these people live? Of course, it is up to them to choose. They should live where they want. In a normal country that is how it should be: they want to live in Ingushetia? Let them live in Ingushetia. They want to live in Chechnya – let them live in Chechnya. They want to live in the Tver Region – let them live in the Tver Region. To make these camps permanent is not an option. They live in tents. You can’t force people out to places where they would be even more miserable. Of course, it is inadmissible to push people out forcibly. Conditions have to be created for them first. So I would agree to your proposal.
Lyudmila Alekseyeva: Thank you. You see, this is what we have discussed with Mr Solovyov, whether or not people understand. Our population is very large, but every person in his right mind knows where he would prefer to live: in a flimsy tent or in Chechnya. At least they have to be offered a choice. It is another matter that if they choose to stay in these tattered tents I promise that we will go on badgering you and telling you that they are in appalling conditions. That is true, but for the moment even that would be something.
And then, Vladimir Vladimirovich, thank you for being so candid, and I see that you spare no time, but tell me, why should they be sent back to Chechnya? I don’t see how you can send them there. People should be taken out of Chechnya, it would make things easier for the troops. Let them fight it out with the militants, who are armed, but we are concerned only about this stratum. We are told: you are accomplices of terrorists. This is not true. We hate them as much as you do, but the people who are caught in the crossfire should be taken out of harm’s way.
Vladimir Putin: I agree. As regards Chechnya, I can report to you that we have looked at the results of the census and the population of Chechnya has increased considerably.
Lyudmila Alekseyeva: You understand that these people should receive aid.
Vladimir Putin: On the whole, I agree with you on that topic. Let us do what you propose. And of course, we should look at what is happening on the ground. It is not in our interest to perpetuate these camps. If people want to stay in Ingushetia let them stay. But then houses should be built for them. They cannot live in tents. But it doesn’t mean that people should be thrown out of there. We should proceed step by step, carefully phasing out these camps by creating better conditions.
Stanislav Govorukhin: Not to waste your time, I’ll skip the epic part of my narrative. I would just say that as deputy chairman of the Foundation for Veterans and Disabled Persons of Armed Conflicts that war is the ultimate evil which at any moment can make any of us its hostage. And the reason why war was unleashed is above all our indifference to it, to the idea of it and to those who are engaged and continue to be engaged in war and in armed conflicts.
Tomorrow, December 11 marks the 8th anniversary since the start of the first Chechen war which is now hard to divide into the first and the second, and there is complete silence: not a single TV channel, not a single radio station, not a single newspaper sees it fit even to recall the event. It was probably the most traumatic event in our life, not in history but in our lives, which took away thousands of lives. And unfortunately this reflects our attitude to the veterans and disabled people of various wars and local conflicts. The attitude cannot be described as bad or good; it is simply one of indifference.
In connection with this, we would like you to consider just several of our very specific proposals.
Consider targeting budget allocations towards supporting the activities of foundations in the places where they are registered which already have (and that is very important) a record of doing something real to help veterans.
For example, our foundation has been in existence for six years and we had worked even before we established links with the Government of Moscow, whose jurisdiction we are under. However, if the Moscow Government allocated for our foundation, which is considered to be the main Moscow organisation for Chechen war veterans, let us say, five million roubles a year, which is certainly not much for the Moscow Government, our foundation could use this money to make many people happy, strange though it may sound. With the gradual increase of funds we could solve the social problems of a vast number of people. We could organise, on budget money, specialised clinical and rehabilitation units for veterans and those injured in armed conflicts, attached to existing hospitals for Second World War veterans and security service hospitals.
I will take 20 seconds to elaborate. We have a guy who in 2000 sustained heavy injuries to his both legs when the Sergiev Posad OMON unit was ambushed. He was at the Interior Troops hospital and I barely had time to rescue him from there because he is practically unable to walk. They were about to immobilise his knee; that’s the only thing the public health service can do today. I removed him from the hospital just in time. Now they have done some prosthetics and in six months’ time we, the foundation, will have to hospitalise him for an operation, and pay 10,000 dollars for an artificial knee because the Interior Troops hospital is unable to do it. But there is nowhere I can get that money. So, it is a vicious circle and I have to go around begging. All the time we have to work in a constrained space and we are reduced to solving small-scale problems instead of addressing really serious problems and the story of that warrant officer is only one of many.
I suggest amendments to the existing system of government decorations that would allow veterans to be decorated for their former merits and sustained injuries in combat in armed conflict zones at the initiative of the military draft centres. That is also very important because social rehabilitation and assistance are long processes. And decorating a person with the order For Valour or the medal For Courage which he deserved but for some reason was passed over is a very important moral factor.
And the fourth point. Those who were in combat and have complete secondary education should be admitted to higher education institutions without entrance exams. I leave that without comment.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
As regards veterans, of course, things are far from ideal. But I think that much has changed recently, at least the attitude of the public has changed.
The Military Draft Commissions, of course, should play a bigger role, as you have said, because servicemen return home and their records are not always duly appreciated.
As for preferential treatment in entering higher education, I think that can well be done during the reform of the military because one of its elements is preference in acquiring education in general and especially for the category we are talking about.
As for financing, let us consider various options. Looking at the concrete case you have reported and other similar cases with which you and your foundation are dealing with, we have the National Military Fund, which is fairly well financed. You can approach Ella Pamfilova and you will have the matter addressed at once. It is well off for money and it is under effective public control. It includes Muslim and Orthodox representatives in its supervisory council.
In fact I recently criticised them. We had a meeting and they reported to me that they were unable to spend all their money. That happens because there is very strict monitoring and money is not wasted. The money was raised precisely for these purposes – to assist specific individuals. I forbade them to spend money on all kinds of repairs and construction, but only to assist specific individuals. So, if this is your core activity, you should establish a direct relationship with them. And it would be good for them because they would know what to spend their money on.
On the whole, this is a continuation of what Lyudmila Alekseyeva said. You can say whatever you like about the so-called first Chechen war. I think a lot of mistakes had been made on both sides: on the side of the federal government and on the side of those in Chechnya who fomented the conflict. There were a good many such people there. But we are certainly not to blame for what is happening there today. One can do a lot of finger-pointing, and often it would be fair, but we cannot be blamed for engaging in hostilities and in the so-called second Chechen war. We had no option. The only alternative was to surrender the Caucasus.
Back to the topic of our conversation. We should treat the people who have defended their country with the utmost respect.
Georgy Zhzhenov: I would very much like to hear your answer to a question that interests me and, I would hazard to suggest, not only me alone.
The nature of my profession frequently puts me in contact with my audience, with ordinary people. Naturally, they ask me questions which I have to answer, especially since I am a member of a human rights organisation.
And at almost every meeting with people I am asked about the rampant violence and sex on television.
How am I to react to such questions?
I imagine that you, of course, and the Government are aware of the destructive influence of television on the minds, consciousness and the attitudes of people. I, the father of many children who are growing up and maturing, find myself absolutely helpless and unable to give proper explanations when “the box” shows such obscene and harmful things from the point of view of any normal person. And yet they exist despite the fact that everybody is aware of the corrupting influence of such television. So I would like to know how I should react to the questions that my audiences ask me almost at every meeting. They say that it insults entire generations of the people who have been raised with certain moral standards.
What do you have to say about it? I have been waiting for somebody to speak on this topic more fully and more eloquently, but unfortunately I am still waiting.
Vladimir Putin: I must say that such questions are frequently put to me, and I have already spoken about it.
I must say that Alexander Solzhenitsyn with whom I met several months ago spoke to me in much the same vein as you are speaking now. Frankly, his very tough position came as a surprise to me. It shows that the problem is there. But the explanation is simple. It is just a sign of the immaturity of our society. And it is important to be patient; not to be emotionally driven into taking some abrupt actions that would result in another extreme and not again start to set rules and issue direct instructions on what should be done. This is a situation which, as we noted in our conversation with Solovyov, cannot be changed by some mechanism or a magic pill. All those present, and the Government on the other hand, must promote the ideas of humanism in society. And these ideas must have an impact on the activities of the civil service so that there should be no antagonism, as they used to say, between society and the state. And very gradually, by gaining experience and new strength we should move towards legislation governing the mass media so that this legislation does not deprive the ordinary citizen and government representatives of the sources of information which is crucial for the development of society and for effective governance.
The state cannot supplant everything, including the media. The media is part of the country. It too has yet to mature, like our state. We cannot blame the media for everything or expect too much from it. Such is the harsh logic of life. They are part of our society.
A.Auzan: There should be self-regulation. Take the industrial committee, which has representatives of diverse forces, and which has come up with reasonable technical solutions and the instruments that have long been known. Five years ago Oleg Dobrodeyev and I discussed the self-regulation code when the previous NTV was still in existence, and he said at the time: “Everything is ready, but the time has not yet come to adopt self-regulation codes.” Now that time has come.
Vladimir Putin: Still we should stock up on patience and we should work with the media, but the media can grow only together with society. Of course, one would like the media to be a little ahead to be able to educate the population, but it is important for the state not to suppress the media. And of course, as has rightly been said, laws are needed. But if you think that the media law in its present shape is rough, let us have patience and draft a law that can be enforced in our country today.
I.Kuklina: I represent hundreds of soldiers’ mothers organisations all over the country. And I represent the Union of the Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia. I was very anxious to be able to present our problems briefly, in military style, because they are very important for us and because I am responsible for getting these problems across to you.
The first question that we raise is the pensions for conscripts who sustained military injuries, those who have been wounded in Chechnya and so on. There has been some legislative mistake there. They have all been practically equated to old-age retirees and they now draw a pension of 1350 rubles plus adjustment for inflation, which of course is pittance. And yet these are young people who are bed-ridden, who have lost their arms and legs, people who require constant care and this is not a living pension.
So we are asking you to issue a decree. We have been thinking for a long time about how to do it best. We will lobby for an amendment, but it has little chance without your help. Six words need to be deleted from the Law on State Pensions. We are begging you. People die, there are less than 20,000 of them. Over the last two years their number dropped by 10,000, according to official figures.
Vladimir Putin: Do you have a draft decree?
I.Kuklina: Yes, a decree on additional compensation for them. Such decrees exist and compensations are paid to certain categories of people. Or it could be a decree fixing a living minimum for them. We have at present three living minimums: for the able-bodied, the pensioners and children. Let there be a fixed living minimum for the conscripts who have been injured in action. They have more than fulfilled their military duty. That is the first question.
And the second question is about the servicemen who went missing in the North Caucasus. It is a long and complicated story, we have submitted the documents and Ella Pamfilova will give them to you. But, to cut a long story short, this work is grossly neglected, so I will pass on to our proposals, to save time.
First. To initiate the adoption of a law on mandatory registration and identification of servicemen. That law has been tabled and then withdrawn and then tabled again. The draft exists, it can be finalised. Let the President’s Executive Office introduce the law because that would greatly facilitate the search for missing servicemen.
Second. Issue a directive to the POW/MIA and internees commission under the Russian President to prepare a report on what the military agencies do to search for those who went missing in the North Caucasus since 1994 because such work had been conducted before and since 1997 it has been financed out of the budget. True, in the last two years that budget item has been classified, which we also take note of.
Vladimir Putin: What has been classified?
I.Kuklina: The line item in the budget, which is now part of “other expenditure,” stating the amounts spent to search for missing servicemen, identifying dead bodies and graves.
Vladimir Putin: What is so secret about it?
I.Kuklina: The fact remains that it is secret. It was last year and it is again this year. We cannot even trace where that money goes. There isn’t much; we are talking about 40 million or thereabouts. But it is impossible to track where that money goes because that item is secret.
And third, we would like you to give instruction to the Defence Ministry and other security agencies to officially publish the lists of those who died or went missing in the North Caucasus. We cannot tolerate and are strongly opposed to multiplying the graves of unknown soldiers in Russia. We are compiling such lists ourselves.
The third question is connected with the need to stop the practice of sending servicemen who had left their military units for a valid reason back to the same units because that means beatings that threaten their lives and health, torture and hazing and so on. When they are sent back, the consequences are all negative. That accounts for repeated breakouts, suicides, murders, and severe injuries that disable people.
So we are asking you, in accordance with the Convention against torture and other cruel, inhumane or humiliating treatment and punishment, to issue a decree that would forbid conscripts who had left their military units for a valid reason to be sent back to the same units.
And the last thing. We are very interested in the creation of strong and effective armed forces. We are ready to contribute to the military reform because it is an issue that has to do with human rights too. We ask you to speed up the conversion of the armed forces into a voluntary army because obligatory conscription today is a source of crime and human rights violations, and nothing else.
We are aware that it is a complicated issue and it requires money. But I don’t think the amounts are as large as those claimed by the military because this issue is connected with revising the way the army is recruited and so on. We ask you to keep the actions of the Defence Ministry and the General Staff in implementing the military reform under close scrutiny because we believe that it is due to the efforts of the General Staff that the military reform has been stalled for 10 years and has now been practically reduced to housing construction. It may sound absurd, but the Government’s resolution on the expenditures for military reform simply contains the list of the amount of housing space built. That is not military reform and never will be. We ask you to accelerate this process because a slowly-slowly approach is very dangerous here, though rash actions are also dangerous, we understand that. But still classical historians used to say that “transformation of the army is transformation of society.”
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.
I very much hope that your activities will help in the search for optimal ways to reform the army. And it is indeed one of the key tasks facing Russia. I absolutely agree with your last idea. Indeed, transformation of the army is to a large extent transformation of society.
Regarding those who have, as you put it, left their units “for valid reasons”. I have nothing against the idea of not sending them back to the same units and I am ready to support it. I will instruct the Legal Directorate to that effect. But we should proceed very carefully. As Supreme Commander-in-Chief I cannot subscribe to the words “left the place of service for valid reasons”.
I understand a lot and I know a lot about the matter and I understand that such reasons exist, but they should be well defined in legal terms.
I.Kuklina: The General Staff had issued a directive forbidding such servicemen to be sent back to their units. But it is not complied with.
Vladimir Putin: You have spoken about creating a professional army. I am all for it. We will move forward in that direction, especially considering the demographic problems and certain gaps that have appeared. But it is not only that. The thing is that a modern army should be entirely different. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to do it quickly because reducing the number of conscripts must be accompanied by an increase of the number of people who serve for money.
I.Kuklina: We have more officers than we have soldiers.
Vladimir Putin: That’s already a professional army. If that is really the case it wouldn’t be so bad if we only had officers or warrant officers. That is the goal to work for. We would like to do it quickly, but we must do it without damaging the country’s defence capability, while modernising the army and giving people a sense of security.
A.Auzan: Could I just say a couple of words on economic rights because we have done some serious preparation for this meeting. We held a conference in Togliatti among major organisations. Six members of the commission took part. I will just walk you through the problems and proposals that have been agreed on in Togliatti.
First. The problem of administrative barriers. It is a problem not only for the businessmen who enter the industry. It is a problem for the consumer who pays for these barriers and a problem of the ordinary people’s access to help, information and compensation.
These are our proposals. First, we have prepared a draft law on self-regulation, on self-regulating organisations. Vladislav Yurievich knows that the draft has been agreed on with the Ministry of the Economy and is currently being studied by the President’s Executive Office. We ask you to support the draft law and perhaps even table it on your own behalf, Mr President, or give the same kind of support as you gave the first wave of de-bureaucratisation because without it even the current truncated draft laws wouldn’t get past the Government, the laws that you signed in 2001.
The second proposal. The law on the protection of the rights of legal entities and individual entrepreneurs is applied on a very narrow scale because inspections are regulated only with regard to such agencies as sanitary supervision and trade inspection. No regulations are applied to the law enforcement bodies.
We are ready to develop amendments both to this law and to other legislation that would regulate the inspection activities of the security services up until the point when a criminal case is open, because beyond that point there are enough regulations.
The third proposal. It affects the population in general because administrative barriers create problems not only for business. For instance, the issues of compensation under the terms of the housing reform are so mired in bureaucratic red tape that the budget allocations for compensations cannot be fully spent. In fact the challenge is to cut down on red tape in that sphere. We are ready to pitch in and we count on your support.
Passing on to the housing and utilities reform, we have two fundamental proposals which are entered in the minutes. The problem is clear. It is easier to change tariffs than engage in competition or organise partnerships of home owners. The gist of our proposal is that, first, the Government should issue regulations on rules and contracts because we are introducing contractual relations with the utilities services. Unfortunately, the legal framework is not ready. But the Government has a problem because the Housing Code is outdated. And the draft of the new Housing Code fails to address the rights of the consumer or to provide access to information.
So we propose to carry out an expert examination of the draft Housing Code by experts of the Human Rights Commission.
Lastly, a transition to a contributory pension system. In 2003, in accordance with the law that you signed in 2002 on investing the money of the contributory pension system 70 million people in Russia, mostly young people, must decide the fate of their paid-up pensions in accordance with the new system. The regulatory documents have yet to be prepared, and yet it is in fact a system of national economic elections. There are no ethical codes of conduct for private companies, they have to be created and agreed on with the Russian Government.
So we have a simple proposal. You issue a decree in accordance with this law to form an independent public council to supervise investments into the contributory pension system. We propose that this be the first step. A council would be formed including representatives of the employees and employers. We would like non-commercial consumers, information and human rights organisations to take part in that council because it will be an agency authorised to work with the Government on all the documents and it could work with the population on what to do with these pension accumulations.
Thank you, Mr President. We have prepared these proposals together with the head of Opora, Sergei Borisov and the head of the Consumers’ Union of Russia, Anatoly Golov.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, please.
Y.Yershova: Unlike all those present I will begin not with bad news, but with good. We are very pleased that for the first time in Russia women’s organisations have been invited to the Human Rights Commission. It means that in full accordance with international standards the rights of women are now perceived here as an integral part of human rights.
Vladimir Putin: It’s a pity my wife is not here. She should hear this.
Y.Yershova: That is a matter of principle. And in general I would say that women’s organisations, especially during the preparation of the Civil Forum and afterwards have been very active in building civil society. We are doing a lot of work and there are signs of progress with the regional authorities, but still I know exactly that there are six regions in which there is not a single woman in the regional legislative assembly. That leads to an incredible bias. And anyway, you cannot build democracy and a civil society for half of the population. But there are even more serious practical problems.
They have to do with different experience and different mentalities. Men are mostly concerned with the defence capability and the military-industrial complex. Women are concerned with family, children, health services, medicine and culture. All these areas are at the bottom of the list of financing priorities. I often hear the argument that there are no women who can be decision-makers.
Well, our organisation has been running higher women’s courses in politics for a year and a half. We are training such a reserve. This is of course a pilot project and we have difficulty in finding the money. We have just 16 people from all the Russian regions. Mind you, they are not all leaders of women’s organisations. Some of them work with administrations and are members of legislatures and there is even one woman who is the manager of a fishing farm in the Primorye Area. We are aware that women, even top-notch professionals, have to be educated in politics. I think it is only the beginning. It must be done on a much larger scale.
During the preparation of the forum and in the following period a law on state guarantees of equal rights and opportunities for men and women in the Russian Federation has been drafted. It was prepared by a group of deputies and by women’s organisations. It has already been discussed and supported by the Civil Forum. It has been discussed in practically all the regions. There were public hearings at the Duma. And in October the Governmental Commission on Women headed by Matviyenko, unanimously backed the draft law, everyone from Mizulina to Goryacheva, that is, the whole spectrum is in favour. Nevertheless the draft law has not even been submitted to the State Duma. And that, of course, is not all, that is only one building block in the legal foundation of the civil society that we are building together. We must take measures that would enable all the citizens of Russia, including our granddaughters and daughters not only to survive, but to enjoy a decent life and have good jobs, which is also important.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
Let us look at the draft law again. What is the Duma’s position?
Y.Yershova: We have asked you to support it and submit this bill in the Duma as the guarantor of the Constitution. We have sent you 5,000 letters from women from all the regions to this effect.
Svetlana Gannushkina: On behalf of women, I would like to say that some women are against quotas.
Y.Yershova: These are not quotas, we are not talking about quotas.
Vladimir Putin: In any case what I agree with is that this law must be introduced.
Y.Yershova: And finalised.
Ella Pamfilova: I must ask you for a favour. Here is Sergei Borisov, and we all are asking you to give him the floor before this meeting ends.
Sergei Borisov: I am a businessman and I head up the non-governmental organisation of small and medium businessmen called Opora Rossii (Russia’s pillar). It is a young organization and we met with you a year ago. I would like to start by congratulating you on the approaching Constitution Day on behalf of the entrepreneurs and the whole of our Commission.
Our Constitution, our good Constitution says that every citizen has the right to engage in entrepreneurial activities. Unfortunately, we must admit that no substantial changes are happening for small business. That is very unfortunate. And the reason is the much-maligned administrative barriers. We recently had a forum of entrepreneurs from 78 Russian regions. And there were already opinions there that the situation with small business is akin to a ban on professions. It may sound arrogant, but it is pretty much the case. So, small businessmen leave the market, as witnessed by the growing number of people engaged in the public sector.
The law mentioned by Alexander Auzan is in force. The law on inspection and supervision was instrumental in changing the mentality of many managers. But we have been faced with what is called bureaucratic mimicry when executive power bodies are not allowed to monitor or use their resources to enlarge control. They create municipal unitary enterprises and state unitary enterprises and various centres which instantly increase the number of inspectors. That is a real nuisance, because it means a huge number of unscheduled inspections. It is used as a weapon in competition, as you have said more than once.
Our organisation has branches in 53 Russian regions. And we will soon create an office to monitor the respect of entrepreneurs’ rights. It will give access to a lot of information on the position of enterprises, especially small ones. Because the smaller the number of entrepreneurs the more oppressed they are. We will provide the most accurate information to the commission. It will be highly accurate.
And a couple of words about small business. You began today by articulating an absolutely sound idea. Unfortunately, today we are talking only about the increase of tariffs, but not about the root evils in the housing and utilities sector. There is no progress in the housing and utilities sector because we have an outdated, old and inefficient monopoly system. In the ten years of market reforms we have increased the funding of the housing and utilities sector from 1% to 7% of the GDP. The wear and tear of equipment is 70%. Small businesses exist only where people are not afraid to start them.
Let me give you an example. Very tangible results have been achieved in the Volga Region. So we absolutely agree with your idea that we neglected the housing and utilities sector and when we woke up we discovered that we are on the brink of a catastrophe. But we believe that small business can engineer a breakthrough here.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
There will be no catastrophe. Don’t use that word. The situation is complicated, but it is not unsolvable. Obviously, these are difficult solutions to take. As it is, the regulations passed so far are a complete mess.
Do you know how many people in our country are entitled to benefits? I’ll give you the figure. We have 85–88 million such people. It is hard to imagine. The whole country enjoys some fringe benefits. Why did it happen? Because the economic situation was complicated, money was short, many bills were blocked by the then majority in the State Duma and many were passed by acclamation for a very simple reason: we will pass a decision granting privileges and will look great, and they will fail to implement them, and we don’t care if they project a poor image. Nobody bothered to think what was happening with the actual economy and what was happening to the people. That is not an honest position. Some did it unwittingly, and some sincerely. They thought it would make things better, but some knew exactly what they were doing and we now have the results. So, there is a lot that needs to be done.
Anatoly Golov: Mr President, here is one concrete proposal concerning this law, because it has passed the first reading and its provisions are sound. But the Government throws out all the proposals pertaining to the protection of the rights of the consumers of housing and utilities services. We are asking just two things: a person must know what he is paying for and he must pay only for the services that have been delivered. And there must be a procedure for reducing the rates if the services have failed to be delivered or have been only partially delivered. The Government must be the regulatory agency and it must pass the relevant documents. That is all we proposed to put into this draft law. It is symmetrical; we put the payment of rates in order but simultaneously we regulate the rights of the consumer.
Vladimir Putin: Let us see. I must look at it, but thank you for the proposal. Of course, it needs to be supported.
I recently talked with Gref and he agrees with me. I don’t see anyone who is against this, but unfortunately it often happens that everybody is “for”, but there is no progress. The proposal is in the right direction and I’ll try to give it a push.
And in conclusion I would like to say this. We won’t be able to meet frequently in this format, which is a pity because, I don’t know about you, but for me it has been very useful and very interesting because it is not often that you can have such a frank and open conversation from people who are in the civil service. But even if we don’t meet frequently, I would still like you to formulate your proposals and we will find a mechanism to make sure that they reach me, and the President’s Executive Office through Ella Pamfilova. But I have one request: try to express them in the shape of draft managerial decisions, not simply as an idea, although the idea may be also good, but in the shape of draft government decisions so that we could directly convey them to the corresponding agencies and see how it works. Number one.
Second. I urge you to be as persistent and energetic as you are in pursuing the goals that you consider to be important for your sphere of activities.
Thank you very much.
Ella Pamfilova: I would like to thank you on behalf of all those present, Vladimir Vladimirovich. We are very grateful to you and I think nobody would disagree with me when I say that you can count on us as your instrument in addressing the existing problems.
Vladimir Putin: I hope it will be so. Because it is indeed very important to hear fresh views and novel ideas expressed by high-class and dedicated professionals.
Thank you very much.
Leonid Roshal: Vladimir Vladimirovich, I would like to say that millions would be glad to be in our position today because speaking with the President, listening to normal speech and argued objections and opinions of the President is what the people need. I found this meeting very, very interesting. There should be more such meetings. Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.