President Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues,
We are meeting today to examine the topical issue of the educational role of Russian culture and, above all, how to pass on our rich cultural traditions to our youth and get our young people involved in building on our national cultural achievements.
As you will recall, this year’s Address [to the Federal Assembly] stressed the need to preserve Russia’s unique cultural heritage and strengthen our cultural and moral values. These values and references form the foundations of our national independence and are the base for consolidating our society. They have their source not only in our popular traditions but also in the great achievements of Russian culture which have earned renown and recognition all around the world.
Of course, we also need to understand and be open to other countries’ cultures and make use of the best examples of all that they have to offer. We have always done this and have always followed this road, but we need above all to create the conditions for our young generation to grow up in the positive environment of our own national culture and to inculcate them with discerning artistic taste and high standards of behaviour in order to help them mature spiritually and develop cultural immunity. In this respect, I would like to say a few words about what I see as two substantial problems.
First is that the experts say that people today, especially young people, are losing the ability to give full and imaginative expression to their thoughts and to distinguish different emotional and artistic nuances. Many young people are not only not very familiar with but have completely lost touch with their own cultural roots and display low standards of cultural behaviour.
Young people in Russia, like in other countries, are becoming more and more pragmatic, which has its positive sides, it would seem, and more technocratic. In this world of globalisation young people’s views are hugely influenced by the rapid development of the information space, especially by the Internet. This situation is not without its problems. Culturally educational Internet resources account for only a tiny fraction of all information. It is important that we learn to use and develop modern information networks to pursue the objectives that are the object of our discussion here today.
We cannot ignore the fact that culture in general is becoming increasingly commercialised and far from always caters to discerning taste. Nor can we ignore the fact that our young people have been living for more than 15 years now with the mass-scale cultural impact of surrogate products from abroad.
In this respect I would like to stress that television does not always play a positive role. We often bring up the issue of television and the reason is understandable: television companies buy up whatever the international market has to offer, with cheapness being their only criteria.
These points I have mentioned call for a deep and thoughtful reflection on the role of state and society in cultural education. In this respect I would like to raise and discuss several objectives.
First of all, we need to develop education in the humanities in Russia – an area in which our country has developed excellent schools of learning in the past. At the moment, as we know, it has become more popular to study subjects related to the economy and new technologies. It will take time to develop them, but the social sciences and the humanities should be seen as no less important and should be given just as much priority. They lay the foundation for developing creative skills, forming moral ideals and inspiring serious work of the soul and conscience.
Arts education in schools is a particularly important part of this process. Arts education today is still on the sidelines of the school curriculum and there have even been cases where it has been offered only on an additional or fee-paying basis. We need to take this situation into account and take serious measures to promote arts education in schools. We need to improve teaching methods and include both classical and contemporary Russian cultural and artistic achievements in the school programme.
Professional arts education is an issue that requires separate attention. This is an area facing a number of material and other difficulties. More than 2,000 arts schools are in need of total reconstruction and there are shortages of equipment and musical instruments. Far from all teenagers and young people can afford to study in arts schools and higher education establishments today. We need to reflect on what we can do to change this situation and provide assistance.
I would also like to say a few words about support for debut and experimental projects. As you know, talented young people have been receiving targeted financial aid over recent years through several different channels and programmes, including the Debut Literary Prize, the major exhibition, Young Artists of Russia, and the modern arts festival, Territory. We need to develop these initiatives further so that creative young people will be guaranteed support.
Another fundamental issue we need to address is that of developing our library system. Libraries are directly linked to education and to reviving interest in reading in our country. Russia today has more than 130,000 libraries and, according to the experts, they are visited far more often than all other cultural institutions together. Young people aged 14–25 account for 70 percent of library users.
But most of the library resources being used today were developed during the Soviet period and, up until recently, very little attention was given to funding for libraries and to looking after and developing their collections. School and village libraries have suffered particularly in this respect and have literally been left destitute. The number of books they can offer children is growing only extremely slowly or not at all.
The Address [to the Federal Assembly] set the objective of reviving the country’s library system on a new foundation. Libraries, including village and school libraries, should be equipped with modern information systems and common software.
But most important of all is that libraries should be staffed by modern professionals able to transform them from ordinary storage houses for books into information, analysis and leisure centres. Of course, we also need to take action to properly build up collections in libraries for children and young people.
The Presidential Library should become the central link in the country’s library system. This major cultural project, like the Russian Language Foundation that is currently being set up, should be paramount priorities for the Russian intelligentsia.
We know that throughout Russia’s history its creative elite has always been in the vanguard of such initiatives. I hope that the Council’s members will become actively involved in this work and that you will not only act as experts and promoters but will also participate directly in these projects and initiatives.
I have mentioned just a few of the issues we will be discussing today, issues that are important priorities. But I am sure that you are very much aware that it is this generation, and you and I too, who bear the responsibility for the cultural heritage and potential that modern Russia and its young people will inherit. This is a very great responsibility indeed.
I know that in the second part of today’s meeting you are to decide on the candidates for the State Prize in Literature and the Arts for 2006. I very much hope that you will make a worthy choice.
Thank you for your attention. That is all I wanted to say at this point.