President Vladimir Putin: I would like to begin our meeting by coming back to an event that we together took part in and to thank you for taking such an active role in helping to organize the events marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet Army. I think the events in Krakow were of a very high level indeed and were most definitely very needed and fitting as we approach the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II and as a reminder of the difficult times and the horrors that our peoples lived through during the war. I hope that what we are doing now in working together also through the religious communities and associations will bring benefits. Again, I would like in this respect too to thank you for your active participation in this work.
Chief Rabbi of Russia Berl Lazar: In connection with this I would also like to thank you for what you said about anti-Semitism in our country during your visit to Poland. We realise that it is not an acute problem, but that letter signed by Duma deputies was a worrying signal for us. We realise that, unfortunately, what we are dealing with is not just anti-Semitism but extremism in general, xenophobia and fascist groups that, unfortunately, are raising their heads today. We think they always adopt the same approach – they carry out an act of provocation and then wait to see what the reaction will be. If there is no reaction, then they go a step further.
So, we really are grateful for your words. At the same time, we would like to ask you to ensure that real measures are taken against anti-Semitism and interethnic hatred that, unfortunately, is spreading today throughout the world, including in Russia. We will try to do what we can, but without the state’s help I don’t think it is possible to resolve this problem.
As it happens, we just recently signed an agreement with the U.S. Jewish Congress. This is important for us because they have their problems and we also have our difficulties and I think that through our combined efforts we can help to strengthen interethnic and inter-religious understanding between peoples.
I think that today we will consult with each other on what steps to take next. On the one hand, we see an improvement in the situation of Jewish people here today. They are living better and conditions have improved. Indeed, many Jewish people – and this is something that has been written about a lot lately – are coming back to Russia. I think this is the biggest sign that life really is good for us today. But the manifestations we are discussing now are a cause of concern.
Vladimir Putin: I met just yesterday with the governor of the Jewish Autonomous Region and he gave me some interesting information, saying that 51 people left the oblast last year and 104 returned. I won’t comment on that information, but it is a fact that does merit our attention.
As for our work together, we both know that Russian statehood has its roots right from the beginning in the coexistence of different confessions. This harmony that we have between our many ethnic groups and religions is more than just a longstanding tradition in Russia. It is more than just harmony – it is a symbiosis of the various nationalities, ethnic groups and religions that together make up what we call Russia, and this is our strength. This is why the authorities, the President and the government, will pay close and constant attention to the fight against anti-Semitism, against manifestations of any other extremist tendencies and any form of extremism and xenophobia, including chauvinism and anti-Russian sentiment. Of course, this will be effective only if we work together, trust each other and coordinate all our action.