President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Friends, let’s summarise the woesome results of this meeting. Many of its conclusions were disheartening, but I do not want to start with the sad things. Instead, on behalf of everyone present here, I would like to once again congratulate our hosts, the residents of Novgorod, on the city’s 1150th anniversary. Indeed, each time I come here, I am struck anew by the city’s history. And in this regard, although I am a big fan of digital technologies and the Internet (I feel that we will certainly develop them, I’ll talk about this more later), it is also important to travel within our country. No digital technologies can ever replace this experience.
Now, I’d like to make a few comments about what was and was not said today. Some time ago, when I was working within the Government of the Russian Federation, I was at the head of the Commission on the Safe-Keeping of Cultural Treasures. The Commission is currently headed by [deputy prime minister] Mr Zhukov. I would like for this Commission to complete its work, not in order to reveal thieves or punish those who did something wrong – although that, too, is sometimes necessary – but in order for us to finally fully appreciate the treasures we possess. I think you are all aware that a few years ago, when I had just begun working on these issues, we really had no understanding of all the wealth at our disposition. It had nothing to do with digital technologies or virtual reality; we simply didn’t realise what we had in our museums. I am not referring to our biggest museums, where overall, categorisation of items is well in place – in many cases, thanks to support from abroad as well as our own efforts. Rather, I am referring to the regular, medium-sized, provincial museums, rural museums, and museum branches. In some cases, it’s entirely unclear what they contain. And many of the showpieces have simply disappeared. This is not due to Soviet-era dissipation, although we like to blame everything on the 1930s, when the Bolsheviks repartitioned our entire nation. But no, these losses were recent.
I will say it again: we must complete this work, in order to understand what we have. We agreed to create a unified electronic catalogue that should be made available to any citizen of the Russian Federation through the Internet, so that he or she may “enter” any provincial museum and see what it contains. We need an open, transparent system, and we should not be greedy in channelling resources toward it. We also need a solid, well-funded system of security, corresponding to the parameters necessary in this field. I hope that this work will be completed soon and that the Cabinet will report back to me on this matter.
[Governor of the Novgorod Region] Mr Mitin spoke about a restoration centre based in Novgorod. I looked into it and it’s true that you have great capabilities, so we should look into this idea. Perhaps we should create a unified restoration centre for Novgorod and Pskov. I want to say right away that clearly, Pskov is facing much more difficult conditions and we need to think about how to maintain the items that still remain and how to implement the programmes mentioned.
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Now, I want to comment on what was said by [Governor of St Petersburg] Ms Matviyenko. Ms Matviyenko faces what is perhaps the most difficult challenge of everyone present here, including the federal leaders. How do you govern a city that is essentially a giant museum, without razing anything? And what makes it even more complicated is that she cannot transfer all historical items and buildings to private ownership: people don’t want them, they do not need palaces. Certain other cities have only two or three palaces, and they can always find the money to restore them, because they are seen as unique cultural gems. But St Petersburg is brimming with palaces. Thus, this is very difficult, painstaking work, so I would like to listen to and look into your suggestions.
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Now I would like to talk about music conservatories, a topic brought up by [pianist] Mr Matsuev. I think that we really need to think about creating grants to support specialised music schools and perhaps certain other specialised schools of that sort. I would like for the Presidential Executive Office and the Cabinet to work on this. Clearly, we will not come up with anything amazing, but even if we can just get a reasonable number of people and a reasonable amount of money, that alone will be important. I know that if we provide reasonable salaries, our music instructors will want to stay here, rather than going to other countries that already have 60 million pianists.
A word about folk arts. If it is true that the number of people engaging in folk arts is going down drastically, then that represents a very disturbing trend. Clearly, we need to support these individuals.
I would like to react to the emotional speech made by [filmmaker] Mr Mikhalkov. Overall, he is certainly right. It may seem that we are only dealing with small details: which instructions have been fulfilled and which ones have not, what happened to a given law and why it is not further developed through additional departmental bylaws, or why instructions have not been accepted. I agree that we must focus on big ideas. The idea of bringing about order in our own nation is one such idea. Still, we cannot just make calls to action and leave it at that; as all of us know already, that alone does not work.
It’s true that no one wants to live surrounded by garbage – the idea is disgusting to everyone. But as soon as you ask people whether they are willing to clean up that garbage, everyone distances themselves, because nobody wants to act as the janitor; instead people want to be entrepreneurs, lawyers, or economists. Calls to action alone are insufficient and even broadcasting a major programme on television or other means of media outreach are not enough. In this case, we need something deeper, something that will be able to motivate people.
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I fully support the idea of celebrating the 1150th anniversary of the formation of our nation, because if we stick to the traditional theory, rather than entertaining false mock-scientific theories about our history, we do not have any reason to doubt that our state was born at that time. Clearly, these were complicated processes, but we have a history that, for centuries, has been perceived univocally, and I think that anniversaries of this type should be celebrated. We would need to prepare a programme and release an Executive Order about it, and we should think about what it will entail. In addition to cleaning up our country, we will hold state events, because this date should be commemorated at the highest level.
I’ll make a few comments regarding digital content with artistic elements. Naturally, I fully support this idea, although we also need to travel throughout the country and visit one another. We must recognise that young people want to receive information in the manner they are accustomed to. We need to educate our youth and do what we can to encourage people to attend concerts and theatres. At the same time we should not be arrogant and assume that anything related to the Internet or digital television comes from the devil. That would be pointless, because it will not lead to anything good, new, or long-lasting.
Everyone has commented plenty of times that certain television channels we have access to – such as the Discovery Channel – are of very high quality. But where are the Russian channels of this kind? Sure, we have the Culture Channel, but even that channel is not ideal; we need make some improvements, or perhaps simply make it more modern and appropriate for current times. It is a good channel, but we need additional digital products, and so far, no one in our country has tried to tackle this idea.
I remember Russian businessmen approaching me and saying, “We want to produce a whole line of channels. We want to create a Russian Discovery Channel and other Russian channels that will increase the popularity of our achievements in science, technology, geographic exploration, and history.” But none of this has happened. We have a few decent documentary channels that use the NTV-Plus platform. In fact, they are not bad at all. They show old films and interesting programmes from the Soviet era. But that is not enough. We need entire series, of the kind that you see on the Discovery Channel. Naturally, I understand that this requires a lot of money, but it is something that we need to invest in.
In conclusion, I agree with Mr Mikhalkov, who is right in saying that change begins with ourselves. But I believe that ideals and ideology must be in harmony with concrete actions – they must go hand in hand; otherwise, we will face the same mistakes we had during Soviet times. We must teach people not only through brilliant examples of art, but also through modern tangible objects. We all drove through Novgorod today and saw the many restored houses. I feel that the educational value of those houses is no lower than the value of books, because they allow people to realise that this town is a part of their patrimony.
The realm of culture and the work that we do is not limited only to palaces. Incidentally, we have learned to work with palaces quite well, it is easy to allocate billions, decorate buildings with Italian furniture and install English bathroom fixtures. But in reality, this is not just about creating large objects; it is much more difficult to undertake the minute, painstaking effort involved in working with small museums, city and village libraries, small concert halls, and provincial theatres, which receive the most limited amount of resources. When we learn to resolve these problems, we can say that we have truly resolved most of our challenges of self-identity. But all this is very difficult to do. On the one hand, it is a technological challenge, but on the other hand, it is an ideological one. This is an issue where we are still struggling to find a good balance.
Despite the fact that our talks are taking place at a time of hardship and crisis for our nation, I hope that the people present today (the governors represented through the State Council Presidium and everyone else who is here) will nevertheless give this matter the utmost attention, even though you all face the challenges of providing daily bread to your people and resolving basic social challenges. But if we do not also resolve challenges in this sphere, we will never accomplish anything.