Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon,
It gives me great pleasure to meet you and have this chance to hear your views on what is one of the key issues for our country. We have a country in which many different ethnic groups and religions coexist, and in Russia, more than anywhere else, peace between these different religions and peoples, traditions of peace, form the foundation of our statehood in the most direct sense. This really is one of the supporting pillars of our statehood. And aside from anything else, our diversity of cultures is also most definitely one of our greatest sources of wealth and one of our biggest treasures.
A little more than a decade ago, we went through a very important turning point in our development – the arrival of democracy. I must say that in many countries, as you are aware, including in European countries, this turning point was a very painful period. It was also a time of great trial for relations between the different religions.
I would like to draw your attention to one circumstance that I myself noted only recently. The last census shows that the number of ethnic groups in Russia has increased. What does this signify? It is not about their number really having grown, but rather, it shows that people now feel freer regarding this issue. People have become more open and are no longer reluctant to declare that they belong to a particular ethnic group, religion or culture. I think that this is an important sign — a still latent and little-noticed sign for now — that our society is becoming more democratic.
During the Soviet years it was said that we all formed a common whole – the Soviet people. And there were some grounds for this assertion. I think that today we can say with all justification that the people of Russia form a united nation. There is, I think, something that we all share. Our forebears did a lot to develop these feelings of unity in us. This is our historical reality, and it is also today’s reality. People belonging to very diverse ethnic groups and religions all consider themselves a part of this united nation and put their cultural riches and diversity at the service of the entire state and society. It is our duty to preserve and strengthen this historical national unity that we have.
Present here today are not just the representatives of various public organisations but also representatives of the state authorities. To them I would like to say that the authorities have a duty to maintain an equal dialogue with all the different ethnic groups and religions.
The law strictly stipulates the authorities’ responsibilities in this area. But in as sensitive an area as interethnic and inter-religious relations, it is not only the law that plays a part, for much also depends on the behaviour of those who represent state power. Their experience, qualification, ability to work and talk to people count for a lot. But undoubtedly it is the heads of the public and religious organisations that have a truly decisive word in this area, for people regard what you do and say with particular attention, respect and trust.
Chuvashia, in this respect, is a very good example because it is a region where there is not just a formal legislative foundation for cooperation between the different religions and ethnic groups living here, but where there are also various organisations working with the support of the republic’s President and his administration. Here everything that we want to achieve in other regions of the country is functioning in practice.
As far as I know, every school here teaches the Chuvash language, and Russian and Chuvash are the republic’s official languages. Everything is done to ensure that people can practice their religion and not only feel pride but also develop their national arts. We just saw the national costumes that boys and girls presented in the lobby. I must say that this amazing mixture of influences is one of our riches and we should do all we can to preserve and develop it.
Concluding these introductory remarks, I would like to say that it will give me great pleasure to hear what you have to say regarding what is happening in Russia now and also your own proposals on how the public and religious organisations can work with the state to resolve the problems we face in this sensitive area that is so vital for our country.
Thank you very much.