Question: Mr President! Recently we have seen a persistent interest in Russia, the Russian language and Russian culture throughout the world. In your opinion, what specific practical steps can the Russian leadership make to strengthen the Russian-language media?
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you for your question. Of course the business of supporting, conserving and sustaining interest in the Russian language, Russian literature and Russian media must be described as a political task. In fact, this is one of the duties which today belong to the state, to the government.
I am not going to speak in vague generalities here. It is absolutely clear that, without promoting these spheres, Russia’s situation, the situation of people who live in our country and the situation of our compatriots abroad would be fundamentally different. All you need to do is look at the experience of our colleagues from other countries who work at maintaining and promoting their language and literature, to see how important this work is. And we have to be honest and admit that we have not done as well as we would like in this regard.
We went through some very difficult years. I am first of all referring to the 1990s, because the state at that time was rather weak, there weren’t many options, there wasn’t much money, and the only thing one had to work with was enthusiasm, which is what a number of people in this room ended up doing. Now that financial and institutional possibilities exist, and because Russia now plays such an important role in the world, we must do a lot more. I believe that we must continue existing programmes and federally targeted programmes and simply provide additional funding for them. We must also improve the functioning of non-governmental organisations and the funds which are the best instruments for working in the Russian-speaking area.
We must encourage our distinguished businesses to participate in such projects. And by the way business today understands that it has a serious responsibility in this area. In any event, when we were working on the Year of Russian Language (I was chairman of the organising committee last year), no business ever denied us assistance in the preparation of various activities aimed at promoting the Russian language or sustaining Russian in the world more generally. This means business has grown up with us. In other words, these challenges must be addressed by the whole of civil society. We must devote significantly greater budgetary provisions for this task than we do today.
And there is another subject that I just mentioned. We must use all the technological possibilities available today to strengthen the Russian-speaking parts of the world. I believe that we have taken some steps in this direction and it is fair to say that new possibilities exist. We have to deal with their quality.
I will say frankly that I’m not very happy about other things. In a whole range of areas we have not seen the sort of creative approach that we would like. But the first step is the hardest and this is obviously a growth period as well. The number of channels will increase and we stand on the threshold of the transition to digital broadcasting, to digital television. In this sense, I hope that we will have the opportunity to create different products and deliver them to the four corners of the earth.
In my opinion the electronic form of traditional print media is very important. Most of you are perfectly aware that today it is impossible to imagine an occupation that does not have an electronic counterpart. The thoughtful reader no longer devotes her morning to searching the pages of a newspaper, but very often reads it on the Internet. I believe we must do our utmost to bring about the allocation of future Internet domain names in Cyrillic. This is serious business – in fact it’s a symbol of the significance of the Russian language and of Cyrillic script more generally. And I think this too is a good area for cooperation. I think we have a decent chance of getting the right decisions from the Internet community.
These are more tactical things, but they are just as important. Once again let me say that I see this as a political task, as something that the Russian President, the Russian government, regional authorities and civil society should deal with.
Question: Dmitry Anatolevich! In your opinion, how can you ensure cooperation between the media and the state to counter effectively modern challenges and threats, including xenophobia, extremism and fascism?
Dmitry Medvedev: Unfortunately, these threats will not disappear. Moreover, perhaps we are beginning to encounter them in places and on occasions that we had not previously anticipated.
I will say frankly that when I was still a student at the university, I thought that, despite all the difficulties of life in the Soviet Union (everybody knows what they were: we had many shortcomings), xenophobia, extremism and resentments caused by nationalistic feelings and religious differences threatened neither the Soviet Union in that period nor Russia subsequently. Unfortunately, I was mistaken.
I won’t bother to list the reasons here – they’re obvious. Hundreds of books and thousands of articles have been written on this subject. We also do not live in a vacuum. Russia is a state that in a very short period of time has adopted a new political system and embraced the market economy. This could not help but provoke a number of negative processes, which led to the revival of such problems. Of course, we will fight them with all available means within the country, with every means at the disposal of law enforcement agencies and the judicial system in Russia. I know that such threats must also be fought in the media: in this sense you have a profoundly important mission ahead of you and one that will sometimes be delicate. But to fight them we need law enforcement measures, because if we do not apply the full force of law, the struggle only leads to a public outcry and attempts at exorcism, which are not particularly effective. That is why the state must do everything it can in this regard.
I also have to say that today in other countries things are not perfect either. Unfortunately, these phenomena exist throughout the former Soviet Union as well. This is in effect a problem for all of us. And I think we should frankly and without hypocrisy identify these phenomena for what they are.
Once again I would like to say that all the same I think that to a large extent this is an issue for the state. But in this sense the media, the Russian-language press and the Russian media, can fulfill their noble mission. And I hope that they will help the state by ensuring that, if it does not succeed in eliminating them, it will at least drastically reduce the number of such criminal manifestations in our country and will also show that such problems exist in other states. Once again I repeat, in many countries this problem is just as bad as it is in ours.
Question: Dear Mr President! I want to ask a question that came to me last week in Berlin, when I listened to your very interesting speech at the Hotel Intercontinental. Among other things you talked about how quickly and intensively new information space is being created as the Internet, television and electronic media come together. This is a very interesting, very keenly observed movement. You pointed out that today the state’s task, the authorities’ task in all countries is not to regulate this space or institutionalize it, but rather to preserve some sort of moral and cultural values within it, and that today nobody in Germany, Russia or any other country knows exactly how do to this.
I would like to take this opportunity to ask you, how do you see the steps that need to be taken? What can we actually do in this area?
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you very much for asking this question and for having listened so attentively to my remarks in Berlin.
This is a very difficult issue. I did say – and I repeated it today 10 or 15 minutes ago – that the world of information has become completely global. And in a practical sense there are no legal constraints for the distribution of media, at least via the Internet. I believe that in general this affords humankind unprecedented opportunities. Despite all the costs there are immense benefits: the opportunity to be in continuous communication, the opportunity to appreciate all the achievements and treasures of civilisation and the opportunity of gaining access to the most interesting sources in a very short time, to the riches of human history.
These are all obvious advantages but, as with any global phenomena, there are obvious drawbacks. And, indeed, the question of maintaining a proper level of morality, of spirituality in media generally, including those that now have a global reach, the ones that exist in electronic form – this is a very complicated issue. I think that, in addition to general recommendations about what to do, these recommendations should be international as well as national, because after all every state has its own history, its own way of conceiving its origins and its identity.
But in any case I think that this is a subject that humankind will have to consider. It is a matter of protecting morality and cultural values with the help of international conventions. It is absolutely clear that many legal structures involving copyright that have existed up until now (I am referring to the Bern Convention, the Geneva Convention and a number of other decisions that humanity has made) are only partly effective in today’s electronic environment. And our task is to prepare new approaches to regulating these relations (of course these must be international approaches) and to protect authors, that is everyone seated in this room. Copyright must not become a victim of the global era, despite all the advantages that the development of global communications represents. But how to create safeguards, how to make them effective, how to block what are frankly sleazy, immoral products – this is a very delicate issue. And we have to deal with it without imposing censorship or binding the hands and feet of those who simply want to be in constant communication with each other.
I believe humankind will be able to find ways of dealing with this subject, but once again let me say that it will be far from easy. And it seems to me that this too is one of our global challenges. We are used to saying that there are problems with things such as the climate and energy. These are both now global problems (and unfortunately we can add the food crisis to this list), but we talk a lot less about challenges to the moral order, and yet there they are for all to see.
And now I am talking not only about preserving the identity of language and culture: that is very important, but it can still be best dealt with by civil society, with the help and support of the state and business. I am talking here about global problems for which we have no collective answer. And I am sure that unfortunately they are going to get worse because as you know very well, in order to obtain a copy of any newspaper, book or new movie, something that might have taken years to create, is now just a matter of minutes. And these can be reproduced in fabulous quantities and then distributed as pirated material.
It seems to me that this is an aspect of the problem that we must not forget when we go to work on it.
Question: Continuing with this topic of protection, maybe not so much in the field of journalism but more in the political sphere. Could you just elaborate a little on your recent initiative concerning the establishment of new systems of European security?
Dmitry Medvedev: With pleasure. I didn’t talk about this simply to please my German audience. As you know, the system of security in Europe did not come into being yesterday; it has a history, quite frankly a difficult and bloody one. And I have no reason to think that the current security system on the European continent is universal, comprehensive or adequate. I suspect that most Europeans would agree with me.
Some time ago, in the 1970s, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe was convened. This meeting marked the signing of the Helsinki Accord and the emergence of the organisation which derived its name from the Conference [the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe]. Does this organisation today decide security issues in Europe, on the European continent? In my opinion, it does not. Unfortunately, it occupies itself primarily with local issues and does not represent the level of consolidation necessary to address challenges on the European continent.
The other very important, powerful instrument for maintaining security and stability on the European continent is NATO. Is the Atlantic pact sufficient to solve all the problems of security today in old Europe? In my opinion, the answer is again no. Otherwise we would not have had the problems and conflicts that we have had over the past 15 years and would not have the difficulties that we do have today. In any case, clearly a number of problems that could have been solved at the negotiating table, without resorting to armed force, exist in the heart of Europe and they are making things very difficult. And all of us are aware of the fact that unfortunately these problems are becoming even more serious, especially in light of several recent decisions, including the recognition of Kosovo.
In addition, the membership of NATO is rather restricted. There is a whole range of countries that do not belong to it and in all probability this situation will obtain for a very long time, which makes NATO a military block to which only certain European countries belong. NATO is therefore unsuitable for addressing issues of pan-European security.
What is the way out of this impasse? It seems to me that the way out would be to prepare a comprehensive European treaty in which all the states of Europe would participate: not states linked in any alliance or bloc, like the EU, but rather, since the distinct personality of states in Europe has hardly disappeared, as sovereign entities. Such attempts have been made before. I invoked the example of so-called Briand-Kellogg Pact, which was unsuccessful but worth a try. In order to discuss this issue of what might form the basis of the relevant European treaty, we could organise a European summit, which would be attended by all the states of Europe, not delegating their authority to anyone, and acting on their own behalf. Because in the end it concerns us all; it concerns all nations and, therefore, all citizens of a great Europe.
It seems to me that such an instrument is topical and could bear fruit. I do not think this represents a political panacea: in politics there is usually no such thing as a panacea. All the same it seems to me to constitute a move in the right direction, because all other institutions, despite their expansion, are still the institutions that are built on certain principles that instead of unifying tend to differentiate one European nation from another. Let’s wait and see. We have come up with proposals. We are ready to develop them in every possible venue. I will discuss this with our colleagues and with my European partners.
Question: Mr President, in the U.S. there will be a presidential election in November. The two candidates are known. In assessing both pretenders to the White House many are concerned about the future cooling of Russian-American relations after the election of the U.S. President. How do you see the future relationship of Russia and the United States — taking into account those differences that always exist in such relations, particularly the issue of missile defence, which has been regularly discussed? How do you see the future of our relations?
Dmitry Medvedev: Our relations are not going to disappear. It is clear that Russia and the United States are doomed to interact and have to collaborate on a wide range of international issues. I can say immediately that we will work with any administration of the United States of America: there is no other option, if only because the responsibility that rests on our countries to observe the international rule of law and to maintain stability on the planet is colossal. Therefore I am sure that even those differences that now exist and will persist in relation to various issues – you mentioned one of them, the problem of the European ABM system, and there is the problem of CFE [the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe] and the problem of NATO enlargement – on all these we have fundamentally different points of view. But even despite the fact that we have different positions, we nevertheless must continue to work together, because of the number of global challenges and the number of global threats faced by Russia and the United States.We have worked well in recent years on counter-terrorism and on all kinds of weapons of mass destruction. We have worked on climate change, not to mention the trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian spheres, in all of which, in my opinion, things are going well.
Therefore no matter who comes to power in the White House, Russia looks forward to a constructive and friendly dialogue with the new administration of the United States. We are ready to have such a dialogue, particularly because we do not want eight years to have been in vain. On the contrary, in many ways we have moved forward, as evidenced by the Sochi declaration which was signed recently. In fact, in it our two states summarised the eight-year period, and drew attention to those points on which we are in absolute agreement concerning international and internal affairs, and to those where we differ on principle. This is very important in terms of our partnership, this periodic checking of our watches to see where we are.
Therefore, in general, I am cautiously optimistic about our relations.
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Dmitry Medvedev: Dear friends, a couple more words before we say goodbye. I am sure that, first of all, the 10th World Russian Press Congress will be crowned with complete success. It simply could not be otherwise since you know each other well and you have very serious tasks to confront. The atmosphere at the congress is extremely warm. I think that is as it should be, because we are doing something very important: developing the Russian-speaking space that we love and appreciate, the Russian world, an inextricable part of what we all are. This is what, in fact, has formed us as citizens and as human beings, and I am sure that there is every reason to believe that the 10th Congress will be one more milestone in the development of cooperation.
If you come up with any suggestions or recommendations, we are ready to consider them very carefully at the level of the government cabinet of the Russian Federation and to make some necessary decisions, because after all we certainly have enough problems.
In my opening speech I said that we already have a different situation on our hands: we are capable of using our own forces to tackle many problems, help our compatriots, and develop the Russian-language media. Therefore, I hope that Vitaly Nikitich [Ignatenko, General Director of ITAR-TASS news agency] will pass on to me those suggestions and recommendations that might result from your work. I will give all the necessary orders and even if we don’t resolve all the problems that exist today, at least some of them will receive a much-needed impetus. That will be helpful.