President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Hello.
Let me say first how pleased I am that you have chosen such a beautiful place for your encounter. This year we have a sophisticated new way of communicating with each other. I have been to Seliger and liked it a lot. But now we have come up with this means of talking to each other. I think that this is a reflection of the spirit of the times and the issues that you are meeting today to discuss. First and foremost, this is all about innovation. Our country’s development is inextricably bound up with this subject. It’s great that we have hit upon this way of talking to each other.
I am not going to ply you with a long list of figures about our current activities or the projects that we are implementing, but I will remind you of one thing: this year in our country is the Year of Youth, and they constitute a quarter of our Russia’s population. It’s true that as always this depends on how you do the math, but if we consider people between 14 and 30 as young, that is approximately 38 million people, nearly a quarter of the population. That is why I think that, despite all the difficulties, we must not let this year go by without trying to implement a whole bunch of different ideas, from the small to the very large.
Let’s talk about this, let’s talk about everything. I am at your disposal.
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Yevgeny Kurkin: I’m from Samara and have brought to Seliger a wind energy system for the urban environment. Our wind turbine can operate even at wind speeds of 1.5 metres per second, which is half the speed required for the standard version. It can generate a current throughout the year in all our country’s different weather conditions.
At Seliger we met with the ONEXIM Group [a private investment fund] and we agreed to cooperate. In the next six months, by February 2010, we will have worked out a full-fledged plan for the automated production of wind turbines.
Dmitry Medvedev: I am glad that you got together with ONEXIM at Seliger: this is a watershed event in the development of the Seliger movement and in the life ONEXIM. I hope that they will live up to your expectations.
I would like to know more about your wind turbine. I suppose you have good wind conditions in Samara. Is it already generating a current now or not?
Yevgeny Kurkin: Yes.
Dmitry Medvedev: Good. If I may, I’d like to say a couple of words on this subject, because what you have touched on is so-called alternative or new energy, green energy. This is a very topical subject now and much talked about. In a few days I’ll be going to the G8 in Italy, where one of the major projects to be discussed will be the green economy and alternative energy more generally. Why is this important for us? After all, we’re the world’s largest energy producer and we have gas and oil that will last for many generations to come. Yet we know that life does not stand still, and that in some cases gas and other traditional sources of electricity generation as well as energy in general are unavailable or turn to be quite expensive. And finally new sources of energy are currently being explored, such as hydrogen fuel and those produced by thermonuclear reactions. By the way, our major companies and foreign companies are both engaged in these areas. So what we are doing with regard to green energy is for the future. That is why I’m pleased to hear that you invented this gadget and brought it along. It is a vivid illustration of our abilities to create good designs in this area. And it corresponds exactly to the five priorities we recently set ourselves for the modernisation of our economy, about which you have no doubt heard.
We even set a special commission to deal with the modernisation of the Russian economy [Commission for Modernisation and Technological Development of Russia's Economy]. It will focus its efforts on a few priority areas, such as energy efficiency and energy saving, including development of new fuels, nuclear energy, the pharmaceutical industry and the medical industry, along with some other priorities that we will be talking about.
So congratulations on coming up with this.
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Dmitry Koch: You just mentioned the five strategic areas for innovative development in Russia. Could you please describe how you see the participation of young people in this project?
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, I can’t imagine this going anywhere without young people’s involvement. To put it in the simplest possible terms, if young people don’t become involved in these innovative projects, then our grand idea of transforming the country’s mainstream development is simply not going to work. Because we all know who are the most active, who have the most energetic minds, who can work hardest, who come up with the greatest number of innovative ideas – it’s young people, of course.
Consider the energy sector, for example. After all, we talk a lot about energy efficiency. I just chaired the State Council Presidium meeting to discuss the subject. But this project is still at the level of a bunch of conversations confined to generalities. Whereas what we absolutely must come up with is very specific solutions to technical problems at the level of those things that you actually touch with your hands, light bulbs, wall sockets and so on.
So I looked it up: after my visit to the city where the meeting took place [Arkhangelsk], the discussion turned to incandescent lamps. I had said there that it was high time to get going – or rather running – toward reducing production of incandescent lamps and shift to producing other types of lamps such as fluorescent ones and so on. What we need is a revolutionary new way of thinking. And I looked it up and the whole notion has taken hold: they are even discussing it on the internet.
Again, the specific things that will be needed for housing construction and at the level of engineering solutions for resource- and energy-saving technologies, all these areas must involve young people and their particular strengths and abilities. But these are general things: as far as concrete changes are concerned of course we must create the means that will enable them to occur. Do you have this basic format at home, whereby you hold contests or actively seek out investors? In fact we should have such mechanisms everywhere. Of course they exist at the national level, but they should be in every city, in practically every town. We must seek out young people who want to get involved in these things and develop commercial mechanisms for the implementation of their ideas.
This is the most important thing, because currently there is a basic gap between invention, the technical solution of a problem and its commercial application. I have repeatedly had occasion to talk about this and I am willing to say it all again. Of course the main challenge now is to encourage business to invest money in implementing innovations, as the new ideas are abundant, and many young people are willing to get involved, but we need to establish the mechanism that will put this whole process in motion. And here I mean resolving not only the outstanding organisational and economic issues but meeting the intellectual challenge, the mental challenge, if you like. During the meeting of the State Council Presidium, we talked about the fact that energy saving and energy efficiency are difficult issues for our people to apprehend, because we do not know how to economise on energy or electricity. Other sorts of energy we can’t seem to economise on at all. We’re not even used to turning off the lights when we leave a room, it simply has not become a habit because we still think rich, wealthy and enormous. That’s why we need a revolution in our consciousness. And of course it’s the young people who have to deal with all these revolutionary things.
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Kenzhebatyr Bekmyrza: I am representing Kazakhstan. We are not coming from Seliger, but rather, from Dubna, where the second Supreme Courses for young scientists, post-graduate students and last-year students from CIS nations on advanced methods of research in nanosystems and materials are being held. I have a question regarding education. After all, young people without an education are…
Dmitry Medvedev: Lacking greatly.
Kenzhebatyr Bekmyrza: Well, yes. Young people’s futures are likely to be tied to their education. How would you rate the role of having a unified learning environment in CIS countries in creating closer ties between our peoples?
Dmitry Medvedev: Education is key to all individuals, for their careers, and for their futures, regardless of what country they live in, but our nations are linked by a unified past and, I hope, a good common future. Thus, we feel that common education projects among CIS nations, as well as other international communities, such as the EurAsEC [Eurasian Economic Community] which links us with Kazakhstan, are very important large-scale education projects.
We have created a fairly large number of branch campuses of Russian universities and joint higher education institutions that operate in the CIS countries. Each year, about 4,600 students from the CIS countries and some Baltic states get free education in Russia.
That is not a lot of students; we need to provide education to more. Of course, there is a fee-paying option, but today not all the countries can afford it, and not all young people are able to pay for their education. I think that this is one of the most promising areas in which we can cooperate and create joint programmes.
You have come to Dubna to take classes on nanotechnology. First of all, I wish you success in those courses. And second, I would like to point out that we have made the decision to create a Hi-Tech Fund, although granted, we did this within the EurAsEC, rather than the CIS, although CIS nations that are not EurAsEC members can also join in. All the documents for this Fund are ready. The decisions were made in June. So we are hopeful that through the work of this Fund, we will develop joint projects and joint programmes. Thus, I feel we have opportunities to implement large-scale joint projects with CIS and EurAsEC member-states. And the youth of our nations must take part in these projects.
I hope you have a successful stay in Moscow and in Dubna.
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Maria Kislitsyna: The key goals of our programme are to improve relations between Russia’s ethnic groups and to create an appealing image of Russia. One of its key projects is called Lessons in Friendship. This programme was developed in 2005 as a way to counterbalance aggressive nationalistic trends. We have held 40 thousand lessons. And now, I would like to make an immodest request. On September 1, schools will be teaching lessons on peace. I would like to request that you use your influence to suggest that schools also take time on September 1 this year, and perhaps every year, to hold lessons on inter-ethnic tolerance and the cultural diversity of our nation.
Dmitry Medvedev: It is a good idea to have lessons on September 1 devoted to our ethnic diversity, tolerance, and how we can continue to live and develop our society. So I feel that indeed, lessons like this should be taught in every school. This is a very good, benevolent matter. In essence, you have touched on all the problems we have in this area. I must admit that today, many of them are indeed very alarming.
Some of the problems have appeared very recently. During Soviet times – which, naturally, you do not remember, but I remember them quite well – we saw almost no nationalism or xenophobia within our society. It is true that in Soviet times, there were many other difficulties, our society was far from perfect, and one could say that many of the ideological standards used then were not very modern. But then again, at the time, we were moving toward the creation of a monolithic society.
Now, everything has become much more complicated, and we must work to ensure that inter-ethnic relations in our country become harmonious, because we have an enormous number of ethnic and cultural groups, and a variety of beliefs and religions. This will be a very large and difficult problem for decades to come. Still, our society is certainly capable of overcoming this challenge. Otherwise, the alternative is very grim, because our country cannot develop in any other way.
I will give you the example of another multi-ethnic nation that has successfully dealt with this problem: the United States of America. They also have their fair share of problems, but they were able to create the framework of an American nationality, which was achieved through very difficult work that lasted for many decades. It began almost immediately after the abolition of slavery in the United States, and has achieved success much more recently. We have not had the same ills that they had over there, but we have major problems, and we absolutely must work on them. Thus, everything that you are doing is exceedingly important for our country and for its preservation as a strong, unified state.
I wish you success.
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Darya Morina: All sub-cultures have clearly visible uniforms: for example, heavy boots and a shaved head. People who conform to this appearance have an influence on our society, and perhaps call unnecessary attention to themselves, but the same may be true of those who would like to advocate a positive way of life, peace, and friendship.
We are hopeful and certain that if we can create a community of young people who can overcome the disunity in our youth cultures, then we will make our country more appealing, as a place where everyone has the right to self-expression.
Dmitry Medvedev: Youth sub-cultures are always a topic that stirs up very mixed reactions. Some people feel that they result from idleness and will be grown out of, while others feel that this is part of how individuals express themselves and adjust to their surroundings. I think that there is nothing wrong with sub-cultures, so long as they do not engage in any unlawful activities. If they do not disturb the peace or create problems for the people around them, then they are entirely normal and interesting.
I remember my own days as a student. I wore my hair somewhat longer than I wear it today. I wore it long through my first year of college, which was in style at the time, but after that, I found myself experiencing dissonance between my inner world as a fan of hard rock and being a law student at the university. And so, I cut if off. Maybe I shouldn’t have, but so it goes.
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Stepan Digonsky: When I was a teenager I had nationalist sentiments but now I’m involved in discouraging the development of xenophobic attitudes among young people. When I was at university I witnessed an incident, a clash between two groups of students, one from Uzbekistan and the other from Yakutia. The conflict occurred because one group didn’t like the other group’s music. When I realised that things could get serious, I went up to them and persuaded them not to start anything, not to end up in an actual fight over it.
Dmitry Medvedev: How did you do it? What enabled you to keep them apart?
Stepan Digonsky: I just went and talked to them, explained that it wasn’t worth it, that it was wrong. I subsequently learned that being a mediator is an actual profession. There are specially trained people who, having gone through the requisite psychological and practical formation, go to the scene of conflict in order to nip it in the bud. At Seliger now we want to work together to train 200 such mediator specialists. I think it is extremely important and should be a federal project.
Dmitry Medvedev: You have raised an important subject, that of interethnic conflict in an interdenominational country. It’s a difficult problem; nevertheless it can be and will be resolved. It’s good to hear that you have professors there who are working on conflict resolution and ways of facilitating negotiation. But as someone who is sometimes involved in difficult negotiations myself, I can assure you that the only way to acquire mediation skills is by actually practicing them. Because of course you can go to as many lectures as you want on this subject, but when you actually get down to negotiating with someone, whether it’s an everyday disagreement about some run-of-the-mill thing or talks on strategic offensive nuclear weapons, it’s always a delicate art: how to structure the conversation, where to draw the line, what procedures to suggest. So this is an important, noble cause. I wish you every success with it.
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Marina Zademidkova: The question of tolerance, culture and respect is a very important one. But surely it is equally important for the government to support healthy lifestyles for young people. Unfortunately as we all know there are urgent problems associated with drinking, smoking and drug abuse among young people in our country.
Dmitry Medvedev: All too urgent.
Marina Zademidkova: Yes. But our own experience at Seliger shows that if you can interest kids in things and provide them with strong leadership, these problems can be resolved. But this is our own experience. I would like to know what steps in this regard the government is prepared to take.
Dmitry Medvedev: You have touched on a subject that is certainly very painful for our country, one that quite frankly we do not like to talk about. As far as bad national habits are concerned we’ve got the whole works. In Russia 40 percent of our young people aged between 15 and 20 are smokers. That may not sound all that terrible since we’ve all tried it at some time or other. But the point is that 40 percent, almost half (and in fact I think the real figure is higher) of our young people have deliberately chosen to start their life with one foot in the grave. That’s the first thing.
Then there’s alcoholism. We all know what the historical roots of this are and how this addiction became so prevalent in Russia. As a country that has a relatively cold climate in general, we tend to like our alcoholic beverages strong. People naturally get used to this more quickly and end up taking even stronger doses of alcohol, which of course leads to the problem of alcoholism.
In Russia there is a huge amount of pure alcohol consumed on a per capita basis. Just think about this figure for a moment: approximately 18 litres of pure alcohol a year per resident of our country. And we have 142.5 million people in Russia. How much is 18 litres of pure alcohol? That is approximately 50 bottles of vodka for every man, woman or child in Russia, including newborn babies. That is a horrendous figure! And doctors tell us that anything beyond 9 or 10 litres of pure alcohol per year per capita is a big problem for the gene pool and leads to its deterioration. That is why we need to figure out a variety of ways to create a fundamentally different attitude to these issues.
Of course it is easy to talk about this when you have a certain amount of life experience under your belt. I’m already a middle-aged man, with a perfectly developed sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. At 20 life looks a little different. But in any case what I want to say to you and to everyone watching us now at Seliger is that being cool has absolutely nothing to do with what is sometimes called being cool, with drinking and smoking cigarettes. Rather it involves actually communicating with someone and getting a contact high from that experience. That’s what’s really interesting. And there is absolutely no need to use alcohol, or drugs for that matter, to put yourself in such a state. Drugs are also a very painful and serious problem for us. And incidentally this is a challenge facing every nation, even our close partners, such as Kazakhstan. We have to fight against this contagion and that will involve government initiatives as well.
This is a large and complex subject. It cannot be resolved in our country via silly interdictions. We’ve already tried that, with deplorable consequences for the government and our people. But this can be resolved through a combination of measures, including new, appropriate, contemporary programmes, normal human recreational activities, and finally normal incomes that allow people to relax in some normal, human way, and not just go to the store, buy a bottle, sit in the kitchen and stare with blank and bloodshot eyes at a television set.
So this is a very important challenge. And of course we will be coming back to it and offering some very serious solutions for it. We absolutely have to tackle this issue. This is the Year of Youth in Russia and you must do your part as well. The State Council is about to meet in expanded format. We will be talking about this problem there, along with the problem of education and proper attitudes towards one’s own health.
Of course sport is very important in this regard. I can say this from my own experience now because I’m involved in a lot of different sports. When you’re young, it seems that you can get by without paying too much attention to such things, because your own physical capacities seem limitless. But when you get a bit older, you realise that if you don’t regularly devote yourself to some activity, no matter what, as long as it’s interesting for you, meaningful to you, something you take to heart – if you don’t do this you cannot stay in decent physical shape. And if you’re not in decent physical shape, it’s hard to be at your best at work or at home … So sport is actually another critical component in the nation’s health.
We absolutely must return to all of these subjects. And I am very glad that everyone currently at Seliger has spent their time in such useful and interesting ways.
I envy you guys a lot. You’re involved in something really great.
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Robert Schlegel: My question relates to gambling zones. On July 1 the law on the establishment of gambling zones came into effect. I think that the vast majority of our country’s people are grateful to you and Prime Minister Putin for your consistency in resolving this matter.
However, many of these gambling places have reinvented themselves as internet cafes or poker clubs, which means that people can gamble there in circumvention of the law. Moreover, there remains the serious risk of driving gambling underground.
How would you evaluate this situation? And how do you think the government will react? What should it do?
Dmitry Medvedev: It should do what it has already done. Despite all the scaremongering, despite all the negative scenarios people have come up with, we have consistently gone about implementing the new law. In the legal sense – and I want to stress that word “legal” – all gambling establishments are currently closed, and the ones to be created in the gambling zones are not yet open. So we now see some gambling vacuum. Of course it will be filled with something. It’s human nature to enjoy gambling games and games in general – they’re fun to play. The main thing is that this kind of game must be carried out according to the rules and not to the detriment of the health and economic well-being of the family. That is precisely what we have to be concerned about.
Unfortunately in the post-Soviet years in Russia there has been an enormous increase in all kinds of gambling, and people spent hours sinking all their money into games. In fact this is an addiction, something similar to alcohol or drugs. Our challenge today is to create conditions in which this kind of business can exist only in limited, designated areas. Of course there will be attempts to use some gaming forms that are not yet properly classified by the law as cover for gambling. I think that if this sort of attempt assumes certain dimensions we will have to respond to it. This might even lead to the prohibition of any activity that current gambling activities could use to camouflage themselves. In that sense everything has to be utterly transparent.
Now I want to say something to our businesspeople involved in the gambling business in Russia: do not expect any changes to the current law because there won’t be any. But in places where gambling is legal, it could be a strong, prosperous, well-developed business that could employ a significant number of people. And whoever wants to, can go to one of these zones and gamble. But we are going to have four such areas, and we are not going to further increase their number. We are not going to deviate in the slightest from what we said we are going to do.
With regard to any sort of private club – which are in fact nothing but gambling dens – the law enforcement authorities will simply be obliged to respond to whatever information is provided them. I believe that our social organisations and public associations should also get involved with this. If you know that in a given city there are underground gambling facilities of this kind, they must be closed, we have to slam the door on them. The general public has to help out with this, which is exactly as it should be. It’s a matter of abiding by the law. We can live without gambling. It’s not a genuine need, like eating, drinking, playing sports. Gambling is not a vital necessity. Still, we are not shutting it down completely, but it will only be allowed in strictly designated areas. I would ask you all to proceed on this basis. The government needs your help.
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Alexander Berveno: I came here from Siberia, from Kemerovo State University. I am submitting to Seliger a project called “A new generation of carbon sequestration”. It will help solve problems associated with alternative energy and protecting the environment. In terms of cost the materials involved are 2 or 3 times, sometimes 100 times cheaper than their foreign counterparts. I am confident that at Seliger I can find an investor to implement this project here in Russia.
But I have a question: how can young researchers and inventors find ways to implement their projects, especially now that we’re in the midst of a global financial crisis? Can we hope for your support in these matters?
Dmitry Medvedev: You can.
Regarding alternative energy, let me go back to what I was saying at the beginning of our conversation: it is precisely this sort of breakthrough solution that we need. Of course I don’t know the details of the invention you’ve come up with, but if it really is dozens of times as cheap, that’s fantastic! You must find the money for testing and implementation without fail. I hope that you will find the sort of sponsorship you’re looking for at Seliger.
As a matter of fact this is something I wanted to mention. We recently announced a series of measures to encourage this sort of business, this type of activity on the part of young people. I’m not saying that these measures are all we need, but they are certainly going to help. I'll start with the biggest, the National Award for young people. We have already awarded three such prizes. This is a big award for our country, a very sizable, worth 2.5 million rubles each [approximately 80 thousand dollars]. We’ll be awarding these prizes next year as well. And from these National Awards on down, there should be a pyramid structure designed to support this type of research. This consists of grants available at the executive and federal levels – these in fact do exist now, their number and amounts have been increased, and of course we’ll continue to monitor them in the future – as well as regional grants and grants from business.
In principle this resembles support systems for this kind of projects in other parts of the world. But we need to add a very important component to our pyramid, and that is genuine support from the business community. We have already talked about this today. To date our businesses have not been very keen to invest their money. I don’t know about your project, how much work you’ll have to do to find a sponsor. But we have to come up with a system of incentives to encourage businesses to participate in such programmes. We could even ease off on certain taxation aspects. Investments in innovation may be partially tax exempt, or reported as part of cost price. As you rightly said, this is a very difficult challenge at a time of financial crisis. But although it’s hard to resolve such problems, we are obliged to deal with them.
And, finally, even in a financial crisis, we should also think about young people fresh out of university. We have to make sure that they don’t simply disappear into the woodwork or abroad somewhere, by giving them a chance to hold on for a couple of years until they can stand on their own feet as they say. What do I have I mind? In addition to our system of grant support, we have come up with a bill concerning small businesses and the sorts of businesses that can be developed at universities. I hope that it will be adopted very soon. This is the bill which will allow establishing small businesses within universities. Let’s say there’s a young person, a graduate who does not yet know where he or she wants to go or who has specialized in an area for which there is no demand. He has got to have something to cling to, some way of continuing his studies and research activities, maybe by working for 2 or 3 years in a university based company. Okay, his salary there is not going to be fantastic, but it will enable him to get by for a certain time. And then maybe he can start his own business or get hired by some larger company. Our relevant efforts are, I believe, very important during the crisis.
Another important issue that we haven’t talked about today is linked to higher education. I have often had occasion to speak to this issue. I myself was a postgraduate at one point. It is a wonderful time, but it is also difficult in some ways because there is never enough money. All the same, during the crisis I believe that we need to increase the number of places available and increase the funding generally for postgraduate study and Master’s programmes. And this has been done. I think that we have almost doubled the funding for places in Master’s programmes. This is also a way to support young people, and at the same time it gives us a chance to retain good professionals in higher education institutions where they can teach and conduct research. If all of this works, then we can hope to minimize our losses while we weather this crisis.
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Once again I would like to say how pleased I am to have been able to touch base with you. I think that you’re involved in a great undertaking, one that already is several years old. As for this forum for innovation and the time that you’ve spent at Seliger, you may think of it as simply everyday life, but believe me in a few years you'll remember these moments as some of the happiest and most memorable of your life. I’m green with envy, despite the fact that you haven’t been so lucky with the weather. But to judge by your mood everything else has gone splendidly.
I hope that the projects that you have been discussing, including the large, breakthrough, innovative ones, take practical effect after you find business partners to implement the projects and to build relationships with for the future. And not just finding business partners but also finding each other – that will be just as important in your lives. I wish you the best of luck with this and every success. I hope things work out for you.
See you again!