President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Colleagues,
As we agreed, this session of the State Council will be devoted to policies regarding Russia’s youth. I am not going to repeat the usual platitudes about how important this is to our future, especially given that young people, the individuals aged 14 to 30 in statistics terms, make some 27 percent of our nation’s population.
This session was scheduled back in March, and I am counting on our discussions to be specific, and most importantly, rich in ideas and proposals. I have always believed that the topic of youth-related policies should only be brought up for discussion if we intend to make some legislative amendments, develop new mechanisms, and offer encouragements to boost positive and productive activities by young people. This is what we will discuss today. As much of our discussion will be a videoconference, please be very specific and straightforward.
Recently, we began devoting a lot of our attention to this topic. Certainly, the 2006–2016 National Strategy on Youth Policies was developed, a relevant section within the Concept of Long Term Social and Economic Development was introduced, and a special ministry dealing with youth-related affairs has been functioning. Still, this does not imply that we have accomplished every goal. On the contrary, this is rather just the beginning.
2009 is the Year of Youth in Russia and in the Commonwealth of Independent States. Within its activities, major attention is focused on supporting youth initiatives and ensuring the capacities of the young people are fully realized.
Not long ago, I was talking with participants in the 2009 Seliger National Youth Education Forum. It was an interesting conversation that took place via videoconference as well, and the youngsters told me many fascinating things. The centrepiece of our communication though was innovative projects, because without youth’s involvement in innovation, we will never succeed in building the new technologically advanced society that we are aiming for.
All around the world, young people are the ones making advances in science and technology, so it is very important and relevant for us to promote scientific and technological creativity among young people, to offer the conditions favourable for developing new ideas, and even more importantly, for subsequently implementing those ideas in a commercial context. Afterward, such ideas should be widely promoted and competition as part of the process of innovation should be encouraged.
In fact, we have taken some steps in this direction. We have established the Presidential Award for young scientists – this is a serious, rather sizable award worth 2.5 million rubles each [approximately 80 thousand dollars]. We have increased presidential grants for young PhD and D. Sc. Degree holders, which are currently 600 thousand rubles [approximately 20 thousand dollars] and one million rubles [approximately 30 thousand dollars], respectively. The Youth Innovation Convention was held for the first time in Russia. Similar initiatives should now be developed on the regional level as well, as certain incentives for that have been offered. There was a suggestion which I supported, to form regional young scientists and specialists’ councils, and that is being done. I hope that in your remarks you will describe the specific formats you have employed.
It is also paramount to encourage businesses to invest in the newest technologies. I have manifested this on many occasions recently, but for the moment, we have not seen any progress, that is why a special Presidential Commission [for Modernisation and Technological Development of Russia’s Economy] was set. It is imperative to motivate businesses to invest in innovations. This is a difficult challenge, especially during times of financial hardship, but it needs to be resolved, and your efforts coupled with the contributions by the regional governors will be instrumental for that.
Right now, the Federal Assembly is about to approve a bill which would envisage developing small innovative businesses within universities. Let me remind you that I supported this measure as one that should help us in achieving two results. First of all, it would support innovative research at universities. Second, in the context of the crisis, it would employ some young graduates after receiving their degrees, thereby avoiding job-searching difficulties; these innovative small businesses would operate right alongside the universities. I hope that some graduates will stay on to work there.
Apart from that, there are some very practical suggestions on launching local training courses for young entrepreneurs, and we may also offer them a variety of grants to initially fund their business ventures. Such grants are available in many regions. I hope that process will unfold.
During this difficult period, we have purposefully increased the number of openings in postgraduate and Master’s programmes. As a result, this year, some college graduates will be able to take advantage of these additional openings to continue their studies, thereby mitigating some of the existing problems.
We need to improve our regulatory framework, because the regional regulations for youth policies are rather controversial and perhaps they require ultimate consistency, therefore thoughts on ensuring their overall conformity will be welcome. The arrangements, in terms of structuring such unification efforts, are most significant, too, and should be properly addressed.
One more topic I would like to highlight. We come up with programmes of supporting youth, but it should be remembered that there is no unbridgeable divider between college life and regular adult life, therefore, we should strive to not only engaging young people in businesses and launching more companies where they can work, but also to getting them actively involved in political and social life.
In this respect, I have a suggestion that I think we should consider at this meeting. I am proposing that we establish a single age requirement in every constituent entity for candidates in municipal government elections. I think that any citizen who has reached the age of 18 should be granted the right and opportunity to be elected to a municipal government. Currently, we see a situation where age requirements differ in various regions and may range from 18, to 19, to 20 or 21. Such practice seems to restrict to some degree the respective rights of the youth, because we are a single nation, and people can move about the country, independently or with their parents. Given the circumstances, regulations regarding the eligibility for running in municipal elections, becoming a municipal representative, should be universal.
We certainly cannot discuss every youth policy issue at this session of the State Council. This is work that needs to be systemic and requires particular effort. At the same time, to ensure that this meeting does not become a pointless chat about young people – something that has happened on many occasions in the past — I would like to once again state my belief that we must consider proper amendments to national legislation. Your proposals on the subject are welcome.
I would like to also touch on a few sensitive issues. First of all, we must teach our young people from a very early age to be tolerant toward all religions, and promote their interest and respect toward different cultures. You are well aware of the youth problems which all should be given the utmost attention. It must always be remembered that the country we live in is large, diverse, and varied; that its fundamentals are rooted in different traditions, but nevertheless we share common values. This is an issue to be dealt with by regional authorities, this is their responsibility.
Secondly, and no less importantly, we must promote healthy lifestyles. Of course, this problem does not concern only young people. Overall, Russian citizens are sometimes quite careless about their own health, but the health of our youth is the basis for the well-being of our society for many years to come.
I will present you with some saddening figures: according to the official statistics, more than 3 million Russian teenagers smoke. Not all young people, but just teenagers who are still in school. One third of them regularly consume alcohol. Last year, over 120 thousand teenager drug addicts were registered. These are the official statistics, the real figures are much higher. This really is a cause to be concerned about our future.
No doubt, we should not begin doling out useless instructions, but we do need to design an all-enhancing system of measures. We not only need restrictions and prohibitions which should definitely be used at times as well, but first and foremost, we need measures to open up new opportunities for young people to engage in sports and creative pursuits. This requires some full-fledged expository work, and we should not shy away from speaking about it openly.
Right now, we are running campaign that discourages alcohol abuse. This campaign does not harm anyone, wuite on the contrary, it is an additional chance for thinking twice. You should not have scruples about discussing this openly. I suggest employing major national and, more importantly, regional media to further promote the campaign, with additional air time to be assigned for it.
There are many other things to consider. I am sure we should review the options of restricting retail sales of alcohol, beer, and tobaccos, and we need to increase liability for selling any of these products to minors. You can make your own suggestions, and later, I will have a separate meeting on this topic, inviting key agencies and some regional governors.
I would also like to draw attention to the fact that youth policies are not just about the government’s attitude toward young people. Businesses and public organisations should also take an interest in the effective implementation of these policies. Naturally, your work is particularly important, because governors and mayors are the ones who immediately face the problems and who have many important regulatory tools at their disposal.
Thus, I support the suggestion to make a successful implementation of youth policies one of the criteria for evaluating the overall effectiveness of regional governance.
These are the thoughts that I wanted to share at the beginning of our meeting.