President Vladimir Putin: First of all, I would like to say that I am very happy to be at this gathering. And I would like to thank my colleagues, the President of Finland and the Prime Minister of Hungary, for taking the time and to come and celebrate this holiday.
I am sure that the first International Festival of Finno-Ugric Peoples will be an important event, not only for Mordovia and Russia but for the whole Finno-Ugric world.
In Russia the number of people in the Finno-Ugric group may not be very high – it is about 2.6 million – but Russia has 13 Finno-Ugric groups, more than any other country.
Response: Even more than that.
Vladimir Putin: You know better, I won’t haggle over the exact figure. And we are fully aware of our responsibility to preserve their culture and languages because of course they constitute the common heritage of Russia and the entire world. We will do everything possible to maintain and develop the Finno-Ugric languages and culture, exactly like we will do with the languages and cultures of other peoples in Russia.
The languages and cultural traditions of the various Finno-Ugric ethnic groups vary considerably. [The President of Finland] Tarja [Halonen] was telling me, for example, that she doesn’t completely understand our Hungarian colleague. All the same, traditions and cultural origins constitute our collective roots. And it is very important for the Finno-Ugric peoples to come together on the basis of their common culture.
Various presenters have been speaking about adverse demographic trends, but as I understand it these are related not only to Finno-Ugric ethnic groups but to the whole of Russia. That is precisely why we have initiated a population programme that should generally help increase the birth rate.
As far as cultures, languages and traditions are concerned, these are demographic problems that must be resolved together.
I want to point out that it is in Russia that the first important forums for developing cooperation among Finno-Ugric ethnic groups were developed. Mr Markov and Mr Mosin have already talked about this. In fact, next year in Khanty-Mansiysk the 5th annual World Congress of the Finno-Ugric peoples will take place.
I should point out that Yugra in the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous District is one of the most dynamic regions in Russia. Population problems there are being resolved more effectively than in many other regions of the Russian Federation. I very much agree with previous speakers about issues such as supporting language development, bilingualism, and so on. Tarja [Halonen] and I have discussed this problem: perhaps we have to revisit some of the experiences of the Soviet era, because some things have been lost, and of course we still have all these issues to resolve today. Some presenters have talked about creating two national cultural centres in the Komi Republic and here in Saransk. And of course we will support their work.
I am very glad that the money allocated to these purposes is being put to use, and that there is tangible evidence of local and regional authorities working effectively. And in this respect I would include the theatre in which we find ourselves today, the National Theatre, the first one to feature performances in Mordovian.
I already said at the festival opening that a sense of psychological well-being for ethnic groups is one of the critical elements for the stability of the state, particularly a multi-ethnic state such as Russia. I want to point out that international and community organisations of the Finno-Ugric peoples have always sought to work constructively with the state. This certainly constitutes a major contribution to the development of Finno-Ugric culture, languages and traditions, but at the same time it helps to strengthen the Russian state.
And finally, I want to thank the leadership of the Mordovian Republic and of Saransk for the development of this region. By the way, there is a big difference between what I saw six years ago when I was here for the first time, even from when I was here a year ago, and what I have seen on this visit. In fact, a new town centre has been created.
Our cooperation at the cultural level is helping business ties between the countries to develop. Hungarian companies have interests in six of the Finno-Ugric regions of Russia, including I think in Khanty-Mansiysk where MOL [Hungarian Oil] is producing oil — I think it is producing 3 million barrels a year. Finnish companies are active in various regions of Russia, especially near the border, of course, but in others where Finno-Ugric peoples live. And there is all sorts of cooperation in fields as varied as wood processing, energy, and high-tech. Government officials in Russia will do everything to facilitate this development.
I am confident that the cooperation, including the festival that has brought us here today, will benefit our country, our people, and cooperation in Europe more generally.
Thank you! [in Finnish]
* * *
Vladimir Putin: I would like to thank everyone here.
I have listened carefully to all the speakers, and of course everything that has been suggested here can and will be supported. This includes the development of bilingualism and the study of minority languages in schools. This includes the use of minority languages in the media and the establishment of national media such as newspapers, as was discussed.
But there are other things that haven’t been mentioned today. For example, support for authors who write in a minority language represents a very important new direction. With regards to the political status [of these peoples], we need to think creatively: there are no political obstacles here nor could there be. But I want to be clear on this: the Finno-Ugric ethnic group constitutes 2% of the country’s population. A total of 160 such groups live in Russia, and some experts believe we have as many as 200 peoples and nationalities. When deciding questions of status we must not create a situation like the one that exists in the European Union.
In Russia it will be much worse, it will simply lead to chaos if the average citizen is unable to fill out government forms and communicate with the authorities. I would say that this is the goal to keep in mind. We must simply approach these problems rationally, so as not to make the ordinary citizen’s situation worse. But in any case it seems to me that all the issues we have raised today are extremely important and interesting. In certain areas of government affairs these discussions will be used as a guide for action.