President Vladimir Putin: Mrs Federal Chancellor,
Mr de Maiziere,
Mikhail Sergeyevich [Gorbachev],
Ladies and gentlemen,
Over these last seven years, the Petersburg Dialogue forum has indeed taken a special place in the regular direct contacts between civil society representatives from Russia and Germany. It has provided wide-ranging opportunities for concrete and ongoing dialogue between our business communities and serves as an additional forum where business people can make contact with each other.
In the modern world, where economic, cultural and ideological boundaries are gradually being erased, it is particularly important that civil society in different countries move closer together. I think that the main subject chosen for this year’s meeting – Russia and Germany’s contribution to building European unity – is especially relevant.
Mr de Mezier spoke just now about his visit to Novogorod. Indeed, contacts between our countries were taking place not just through the Hanseatic League, starting back in the XIV century, but perhaps even earlier. And there was contact in other areas too.
I would like to remind you that many members of the Russian imperial family came from Germany. This was another important channel that established contacts between our two peoples. Also, many members of the imperial family married members of the German aristocracy and went to live in Germany and this also had its weight.
As far as business contacts between our countries went, our relations have always known very intensive development and Russian-German business ties have always had considerable importance in Europe and the world.
The Federal Chancellor recalled Dostoyevsky. Not only Dostoyevsky spent time here, but also Turgenev, for example, and the Russian intelligentsia in general made it a tradition to spend their holidays in Wiesbaden.
It is said that Dostoyevsky gambled at the casino here and managed to lose everything he had, ended up having to borrow money and was always writing home to Russia, asking people to send him money. Our history in general is full of moments that have seen us variously win or lose. Today though, Russia and Germany are probably closer than ever in the way they see the future of Europe.
We still have, and probably will continue to have, differences in the way we view the current situation or in our position on this or that problem, but what is absolutely clear today is that we sincerely want to resolve these problems. The question is not one of do we want to find solutions or not, for we do want to find solutions. There may be differences as to the means by which we try to reach our common objectives, but the fact is that we do share the same goals. We are also very much aware of our common responsibility for strengthening trust and cooperation between the countries of Europe.
Not only are our countries the biggest in Europe. We share a wealth of experience in business and humanitarian cooperation. This forum, the Petersburg Dialogue Forum, which has brought us together today, will also help us to take new steps towards each other.
I know that members of our respective business communities are among those present today. The Federal Chancellor and I spent a lot of time discussing economic cooperation between our countries. This is really what has brought us together today in Wiesbaden. Essentially, the entire Russian government has come here to Wiesbaden. This is a unique form of working together. There are not many countries with which we have developed this means of finding solutions to problems. Probably there is no other country with which we hold these kinds of regular intergovernmental meetings.
We share the view that our economies should be as open as possible for mutual investment. The greater the inter-penetration of investment, the easier it will be for our business communities and our countries in general to move closer together. Any questions and concerns that arise will be settled through working together, including with the help of the Petersburg Dialogue Forum. We hope that the ideas and proposals that come out of this forum’s work will contribute to efforts to develop the partnership between Russia and the European Union. What is important is that technical problems, in particular, excessive visa barriers, should not be allowed to hold back our cooperation. We have already accomplished much in this area and the number of visas issued to Russian citizens is growing with every passing year. But I think you will agree that we could greatly expand our possibilities for developing tourism, youth exchanges and civil society contacts.
It is pleasing to see that the Petersburg Dialogue Forum is forward-looking and always on the look out for new ideas. This is reflected in the wide range of subjects that you will be discussing in Wiesbaden: from the outlook for cooperation between Russia and the EU to young Russian and German cinema.
An important new subject has been added to the Forum’s agenda this year: the role of churches and religion in the relations between our two countries. I note that Wiesbaden is home to one of the most beautiful Orthodox churches in Western Europe. It was built in memory of our compatriot, Yelizaveta Mikhailovna Romanova, the wife of Adolf, Duke of Nassau. I hope that the Orthodox community in Wiesbaden and other towns will become more actively involved in the whole range of Russian-German relations.
This year, members of the German National Coordinating Council of Russians Abroad are taking part in the Forum’s work for the first time. We greatly value the German authorities’ efforts to guarantee the rights of Russian permanent residents in Germany. For our part, we want to ensure that our compatriots have the possibility of preserving their cultural heritage and maintaining spiritual ties with their historic homeland.
The Russian World Foundation, which was established this year, has as its mission to help consolidate these kinds of contacts, spread the Russian language and promote various humanitarian projects. We hope that the Foundation’s work in Germany, just like the work of the Goethe Institute and other German foundations in Russia, will contribute to the cultural enrichment of our peoples and, also extremely important, will help to form a more objective and non-politicised image of our country among German citizens.
The Youth Exchange Foundation is successfully carrying out its programmes. We are thankful to Germany for the great help it provides in training young Russian managers. Furthermore, we are also interested in Germany’s experience in implementing youth policy, building political parties, and in a number of other areas. The Petersburg Dialogue Forum could play a more active part and take more initiative in all of these areas.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Petersburg Dialogue Forum has proven itself to be more than just a good forum for discussion. It has launched new projects and has helped to establish direct contacts and conclude the relevant agreements in a most diverse range of areas.
As you know, parliamentary and presidential elections are due to take place soon in Russia. I am sure that the new authorities (of course there will be a new configuration in power in Russia – new people will arrive) will continue our policy of cooperation with Germany and Europe. This policy is in the interests of our people and is in our national interests and I am sure that there will not be any changes in this respect.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the co-chairmen of the Forum — Lothar de Maiziere and Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev – for their great personal contribution to the Forum’s success and for enriching its work with interesting new undertakings and initiatives. My wish to all the Forum’s participants is that you continue this important and noble work in the interests of our peoples and our countries.
Thank you for your attention.