President Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, dear friends.
I am very glad to see all of you here at this, our first meeting within the framework of the council. I think we most certainly could see today’s meeting as a continuation of the dialogue with the Human Rights Commission, where we worked together on quite a regular basis.
Present here today are the leaders of human rights organisations, prominent journalists, specialists and people who are doing a good deal to help build civil society in our country.
I think you would agree with me that it is equally important for us to develop social and economic freedoms and democratic and civil rights and liberties. These two pillars of development of a normal, modern state are equally necessary and their harmonious development is absolutely essential.
I would like to look at a few issues in particular today; at least, I would like to hear your views on these issues during our discussions today. Of course, we can also examine any other issues you think important and that you think should be discussed.
The first of the problems I wanted to raise is how informed the public is of the processes underway in the country. I am concerned above all, of course, by problems in the healthcare, education and housing and utilities sectors. It seems to me that the public is insufficiently well-informed about what the state is doing in all these areas not just because of a reluctance on the part of the state to provide people with timely and complete information, but also often because, as we unfortunately have to admit, the state does not know how to inform the public competently and effectively. This, of course, creates a situation where society, the public, feels alienated from what the state is doing. To a considerable extent, and I think you would agree with me here, wherever the state exists, there is always a certain degree of alienation between it and society. But the matter is that developed modern states have learned how to resolve these problems a lot more effectively, perhaps, than we are doing now. This issue is one therefore, that most certainly calls for our particular attention and close examination.
In this respect, I would be interested to hear your views on the work of the Public Council, which we have already discussed on numerous occasions. The relevant legislation regarding its establishment is currently being passed. The whole purpose of the Public Council is to make a real contribution to developing a genuine civil society and I would certainly not want to see it become just a sort of advisory board for the state’s bureaucracy.
All of us, and the state more than anyone, has an interest in seeing the Public Council become an effective channel for public influence on state affairs, on the preparation of different decisions and on control over their implementation.
The main subject I wanted to discuss at our meeting today is the need to develop non-commercial sector organisations. These organisations are already providing a very large quantity of services today.
There are now more than 600,000 non-commercial organisations in Russia and I think they could become good and genuinely indispensable partners for the state in dealing with acute problems such as AIDS prevention, drug addiction, homeless children, the social rehabilitation of disabled people and developing local self-government.
I know that the council is constantly analysing the situation in the non-commercial sector and I would be very interested in hearing your views on ways to increase its economic and social role. I would be very grateful, at any rate, if you could set out how you see a potential partnership between the state and non-commercial organisations, and give me some ideas on how we can help support their activities.
The third area that requires our particular attention is the formation of a multilateral approach to ensuring human rights. We need a more systemic approach in this area and more systemic public control.
The human rights organisations have traditionally played a very important part in this area. But all their efforts, clearly, are still insufficient. It seems clear that we need a broader partnership between the civil society institutions and the authorities in the wider sense of the term.
Considerable and interesting experience of such cooperation has already been built up in the regions. We need to not just take into account this experience but also learn how to spread it. We are ready to help organise this work and are certainly very interested in pursuing it.
You all know about public initiatives in the areas of environmental protection, legal education for the public, assistance for disabled people, including disabled children.
Of course, initiatives such as these represent only a fraction of the immense work that public organisations carry out. I think that today is a good occasion for us to examine mechanisms for providing them with support. In particular, we could discuss the possibility of using such means and instruments as tenders for social projects and grants.
In this respect, there is just one point I immediately would like to make, and that is that we are ready, I am personally ready, to start working in this direction. The grants that our organisations of this kind receive, including from abroad, represent mere pennies, really, and we are ready to take steps to provide our own support. The only thing that worries me is that I would not want you to think that this would be some kind of dependence, some kind of bribery offered by the state. We are ready to work in this direction in consultation with you, if we can develop a mechanism for cooperation in this area. You know, for example, that we are not in a position to be able to give people working in the cultural sphere a really significant pay rise, but at the same time, we have to preserve the leading groups and ensembles that are our national heritage, and ensure the conditions for their work. In this area, we have introduced the practice of according grants to leading artistic groups. Now we are extending this practice to cover dramatic theatre, too, and I just recently signed the relevant decree. We also pay grants to Russia’s leading athletes to help them prepare for major international competitions. In principle, this is a normal means for the state to work with what are, to use bureaucratic terms, very important sectors for society and the state overall. We do not see supporting the public organisations as a kind of sector, but we do realise that these organisations need support. Let us think together then about possible solutions for this problem.