President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon, dear friends,
Seeing as a spare moment made itself available, I decided to use it to come here to see you. I am sure that everyone here today understands the value of the education received at the St Petersburg State University’s law faculty, loves and values the faculty, and thinks about how they will live after graduating from its walls. This always distinguished the graduates whose portraits hang down below at the entrance to the faculty and who are our best ‘promotional material’. Most of you here today have your whole futures ahead of you. You should treasure this time at the faculty. I say in all frankness (and have said before in this hall, where I once listened to and gave lectures), that these are clearly the best years in life. Good things will come afterwards too, many interesting meetings, important work, social status, and money too, I hope. But these years are the best of all, the finest, because everything is only just beginning. I sincerely envy you and say this right from the outset.
We had not planned any meeting. I will tell you honestly how this came about. I flew in yesterday, called our rector and the faculty’s dean and said that I’d like come by and visit. I asked if this was convenient and was there anyone at the faculty. He said that there is always someone here, but I did not expect to see many of you today.
Question (Alexander Kolesnikov, third-year student): Dmitry Anatolyevich, I think my question interests all our faculty’s students: a year-and-a-half ago you came here and said that you would like to give a series of public lectures on Roman law. I think all the students are eager to listen to you.
Dmitry Medvedev: To be objective, I must say that I did not promise to give a series of lectures. I am not that crazy as to promise to give a series of lectures knowing in advance that I won’t be able to do this. But I did indeed promise to give a lecture on Roman law. I have not kept this promise yet, but I certainly will. Moreover, I will let you in on a little secret: I have even begun preparing, getting my old notes together, looking at some of the new literature on the subject, but things have not worked out yet, either I have not had time or it has not been possible to give the lecture at the faculty because classes have already ended. I therefore decided to move the date back, but I definitely will give this lecture and have already outlined several subjects I want to speak about. I think though, given my current job, that I will nonetheless end up spending part of the lecture talking about completely different issues, problems affecting our legal system and country’s life today. This lecture most definitely will take place.
Question (Stanislav Medik, second-year student): Dmitry Anatolyevich, who do you think will win in the match between Russia and the Netherlands?
Dmitry Medvedev: You put me in a difficult position. Russia should win, of course, but we will have to do all we can to encourage and support this victory, because as you know, this is the first time in the Russian Federation’s history that our team has ever made it to the quarter finals [of the European Football Championship]. The last time was during the Soviet period. If I recall correctly, Lobanovsky was the trainer back then. Since then no ‘miracles’ have happened. I don’t know about miraculous good luck charms, but each of us should at least keep their fingers crossed this evening and support our team. Whatever happens at the European Championship (I can share my feeling with you, I am sure we have similar feelings), I am absolutely certain that the team has played very well. Even if not all goes their way, we should give them the credit they deserve for the match against Sweden, when they did not let up and pressed on right to the very end, setting up some magnificent opportunities. I think this was a real treat for everyone who loves football. No matter how our team plays, I will definitely meet with them and thank them.
Nikolai Kropachev (Dean of the St Petersburg State University Law Faculty): I just want to remind you that the president of the Russian Football Federation is a graduate of our law faculty.
Dmitry Medvedev: We will judge his performance in his job once the results of the championship are known.
Question (Nikita Gromov, third-year student): There have been a lot of reports in the media lately on the various provocative acts against our peacekeepers in Abkhazia and on the escalation of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict in general. Do you think there is any likelihood, for whatever reasons, of Russian intervention in this region in the future?
Dmitry Medvedev: You put the question in tough terms.
Russia is a peace-loving country. Georgia, like Russia, is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States. We are bound by common historical, cultural and state ties. Even though our relations may not be living through the best of times at the moment, there can be no question or even talk of any kind of pressure. Georgia is a country very close to us. The differences of opinion between us on a number of issues, the problems of these territories that have led to this situation arising, these are things that we need to settle through bilateral negotiations, talks involving Georgia, Russia and the appropriate representatives of the territories in question. This is just what we will do. It was four days ago, I think, that I spoke with President Saakashvili, and despite all the difficulties we face today, we agreed that we will continue our contacts. We will meet and discuss all the problems that exist. But we will not allow such behaviour towards Russian peacekeepers, of course. They are on Georgian territory in accordance with an international agreement and are carrying out their mission worthily and responsibly. But this is not reason to draw the kinds of conclusions you suggested in your question.
Nikolai Kropachev: Dmitry Anatolyevich, it’s just that this student is getting ready to sit his exam on international public law. This is part of his preparations. He probably has his exam tomorrow or the next day.
Dmitry Medvedev: You take very topical issues for your diploma theses.
Question (Stanislav Borodayev): I want to raise a question on behalf of many of the faculty’s graduates no doubt, and young university graduates in general. Graduates often encounter difficulties finding work and building up job experience. I want to ask you about the state’s role in helping graduates find employment. The state no doubt also has an interest in seeing graduates find jobs where they can apply their skills and be useful to the country and to society in general.
Dmitry Medvedev: Stanislav, you are absolutely right here. Of course the state has an interest in getting progressive young people with all the right skills into key positions. But this does not happen overnight, and there are probably reasons for this. What is clear today is that young people are moving into important and very responsible positions in our country’s life, and this is a trend we have a duty to support.
The state is committed to doing all it can to encourage young graduates to enter the civil service. This is not just talk. A number of the decisions and projects we are working on today are such that we will not be able to get by without people who have received a completely new and fresh kind of education. I am referring not just to lawyers (lawyers will always find work). We need to make more use of young people whatever the case, and we are doing this. What I say applies to young people in general, and I think that we should be bolder and not afraid to take a fresh approach. What do I mean by this? We need to establish a flow of people with good experience in the civil service, people who reached a certain level, into companies’ management, and at the same time, we need to encourage people who have built up good experience in business to return to the civil service. Of course, we must act in accordance with the law here and respect the restrictions that our laws set in this area. This is world practice. This is the only way to ensure that we have specialists of the right quality, not narrow, but well-rounded, full-fledged specialists who know life in all its different aspects, know how the state works and know how the economy functions. This can bring us positive results.
Question (Mikhail Ofitserov, third-year student): My question concerns absolutely everybody – it is about the environment. What measures is the state taking to protect the environment? This issue is getting more and more media coverage and it interests me very much.
Dmitry Medvedev: My colleagues are right in their hints. Have you already sat your environmental law exam or is this part of your preparation?
Mikhail Ofitserov: I already passed the exam.
Dmitry Medvedev: What mark did you get?
Mikhail Ofitserov: Four, it seems.
Dmitry Medvedev: Your answer sums up the attitude we had towards environmental issues until recently. Is it an important issue? Yes. What mark did you get? Four, it seems.
I am firmly convinced that our economy and state institutions have reached a level of development today that enables us to turn our attention to environmental issues. During the 1990s, the situation was such that people were busy just trying to survive. People were not even being paid, were hoping just to keep their jobs, not thinking about the environment. I am talking not just about St Petersburg, but about our entire vast country, where the environmental situation is very serious in many places and in some cases is really very severe indeed. But even in the worst-affected places talk of environmental issues died away during the 1990s. Today things have changed completely. If we have such an interest in fulfilling environmental commitments and implementing our environmental laws it is not because we have international obligations or because this is the trend in the world today, (though this is also important, of course), but we have suffered much to reach this point. We realise that our country, despite its vastness, despite the fact that we have such immense mineral wealth and huge fresh water reserves (the biggest in the world – 20 percent of the world’s fresh water reserves), is nonetheless in a menacing situation today. If we do not address this issue today, in 10–20–30 years time we could end up with a large part of our territory being unfit for life. This sounds very harsh, but this is the reality. This is why, for the first time in Russia’s recent history, and, to be honest, for the first time in Russian history in general (not much was done to address these issues during the Soviet period either), we held a Security Council meeting on environmental issues. This was the first such meeting. The environment, environmental issues, concern the security of each and every one of us, and this is why I think you should ask the dean to let you re-sit the exam and try to get the highest grade.
Question: Dmitry Anatolyevich, regarding the fight against corruption, you declared the political will to combat this problem. When will a federal targeted programme be adopted?
Dmitry Medvedev: We are preparing and will adopt an anti-corruption programme, and this will be done very soon, in the coming month, I think. Once the programme is adopted we will begin issuing the necessary laws and pass the anti-corruption law that has been eight years in the preparation, but this is a complex subject. You might be young and still in the process of formation, but you are nonetheless lawyer colleagues and are fully aware that this problem cannot be dealt with by laws alone. We need a whole series of measures in this area. This is to a great extent an economic problem and not just a legal issue. But we will draw up the whole legal base this year, will pass the new laws and implement their provisions in our work.
Question: Dmitry Anatolyevich, my question does not sound very modest perhaps, but the media says that inflation in our country is currently running at around 10–12 percent…
Dmitry Medvedev: Why do you say it doesn’t sound very modest?
Reply: Because I want to say that I can see this inflation based on my own experience. Food prices have gone up by 50–100 percent. What can be done about this? What is the outlook for the future?
Dmitry Medvedev: This is indeed a serious problem, and not just for Russia. The whole world is facing a food crisis. I don’t know if you know or not, but over the last year the increase in world food prices, not inflation, came to 40 percent. This year, prices are rising almost just as fast (and at the same time inflation last year went beyond the forecast parameters – the 10-percent figure we had planned). It has risen considerably in other countries too. But there is nevertheless a difference between rising food prices and the growth in inflation. Inflation is not an increase in food prices, and this is something we need to understand (you are no doubt also taking economic courses?). Unfortunately, we have not yet managed to reverse this negative trend of rising inflation, and this is a global problem. The G8 summit is coming up soon and it will discuss all the issues related to the food crisis, the inflation situation and the crisis on the financial markets. We also need to take our own measures, of course, and try to rein in these processes in our country. Unfortunately, we face quite an acute situation in this area at the moment, though compared to some countries we are not in such a bad position (in neighbouring Ukraine, for example, inflation rates a two to two-and-a-half times higher than in Russia, and this creates big problems there, of course). But this is no reason for us to let up our efforts. Inflation affects ordinary consumers and we will work to resolve this problem. You should also think about what to do in the future to deal with such problems so that you will be ready when your time comes to run the country.