President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon, colleagues,
Today we are holding a joint meeting of two presidiums. This is something we have started doing lately in order to save on budget money and to keep you all on the ball, give you the chance to see what the federal presidiums are doing and get to know each other better.
We have a very good subject today. Even during the crisis we still have to think about the eternal. We spend entire days discussing how to raise budget revenue, how to tie different projects together, how to resolve urgent social and economic development problems, but today, crisis or no crisis, we are going to talk about Russia’s cultural and historical heritage. We are holding this meeting not just anywhere, but in Novgorod, a city that has a special place in our history, in the development of Russian culture, and is one of our country’s ancient capitals.
This city, one of the oldest in Russia (I am referring of course to the Russian state in its narrow sense), developed as a crossroads for different ethnic groups and cultures and a centre of international economic ties and educational and cultural contacts. This city is the birthplace of Russian democracy, and given our love of our country’s democracy this is something we should remember. Our ancestors gathered here to take part in the city’s assembly, the Novgorod veche, where they took on responsibility for the city’s life and thus the destiny of the entire people. Now while reflecting on what happened in our country we should look back at that time and its experience.
The preservation and use of cultural and historical heritage is a subject that has come up on various occasions at State Council meetings. This is the fourth time in the last six years that we are meeting to discuss it. But I do not think that is a bad thing. For a start, we need to keep coming back to this subject because it is so huge in scope, and then, frankly, we also need to come back to it because we have not done enough of late, although there are some strong positive examples of preserving cultural and historical heritage in some regions, and celebrations of anniversaries of some of our great cities and territories. Today we will continue discussing this subject here in one of these great cities.
But before turning to the good news I will start with the bad. Our experts have estimated that over the last decade Russia has lost 2,500 historical and cultural monuments that were under state protection. More than half of all monuments are in need of urgent conservation or restoration. We all realise that lost time in these cases often means the physical loss of historical and cultural sites. In this context, I will outline several areas requiring urgent decisions at federal and regional level.
First of all there is what would seem to be the simplest issue, but is in fact an area in which the situation is very serious (as I discovered to my surprise when preparing for this meeting once again today), namely, the legislative base. You would think there is nothing simpler than drafting and passing some laws and regulations.
But the fact remains that work on delimiting state ownership rights to real estate listed as cultural and historical heritage has still not been completed. This work has been going on for ten years or nearly ten years now, and it is still not finished. There are probably objective and subjective reasons for this. As for the regulations to develop the provisions of Federal Law No 73 of June 25, 2002, on cultural heritage sites, they are completely nonexistent.
According to the Audit Chamber’s report of December 19 last year, the Government was supposed to draft a number of regulations in order to implement the federal law’s provisions. The legal base needed to regulate relations in the area of the preservation, use, popularisation and state protection of cultural heritage sites is all but nonexistent. Such is the sad conclusion the Audit Chamber reached.
I remind you all, all of the federal authorities, that this situation is urgent. I understand when the problems arise from lack of money or other material resources. But it is the Government’s and the ministries’ direct responsibility to draft regulations. We will discuss this now. Whatever the case, I give you three months to address this matter and draft the basic documents that are still lacking today. If no one has gotten around to doing this since 2002 it is time to do so now.
There are also questions regarding the laws and regulations concerning museums and parks. There are issues concerning construction regulations in historic towns and settlements. These subjects have been discussed before, but no decisions have been reached yet.
Another important point is that, as I have said before, our unique cultural and historical heritage is an exceptional resource that we can use to develop tourism. Our country has 450 historic towns and settlements (that’s what it says in the reference materials here), but that depends how you count them. I think that if we counted them more carefully we would end up a much larger number. There are many more small towns and settlements that have historical significance. Practically all of them offer immense opportunities for developing domestic and international tourism.
According to the World Economic Forum (I am not certain about the fairness of these figures because this is a subjective assessment, but nonetheless) Russia is in ninth place out of 130 countries for the number of cultural sites. I think that we could claim first place, really, given the size of our country, but ninth place already offers us fantastic opportunities for developing tourism. Just look at the tourism industry’s share in overall revenue in an industrially and economically highly developed country like Italy. I think that tourism accounts for around a quarter and perhaps even a third of the country’s revenue, and this is in Italy, not some little country with a population of only 30,000–40,000 people, but Italy!
I think you realise yourselves that we are making little use of this potential and are lagging a long way behind the world leaders. There are some objective reasons that we all know such as lack of the necessary infrastructure, lack of financing, insufficient information, and the sorry state of the monuments themselves, which we will discuss today. But there are other examples too, and they are also known. In cases where the local authorities are working together with business and the federal authorities to start changing the situation tourism is becoming one of the most effective mechanisms for regional development. When it becomes a key sector everything will start changing. Monuments will be restored immediately and hotels and restaurants will appear, even in quite modest conditions. Public-private partnerships are therefore the key resource to develop in this area, and here too we need to make full use of the opportunities the legislation offers.
I remind you that the law on concession agreements covers 14 different categories of sites, including cultural sites. The Government worked on this and in 2007 approved a standard concession agreement for cultural sites. We need to make use of this possibility. I am not appealing to the Government now, but to the regional governors present.
We should also look at other countries’ experience of different kinds of trusteeship and collective management of such sites, and offering economic incentives and preferences for people investing in restoration work. I met just before with cultural workers, museum staff, and they raised the issue, of course, of introducing these kinds of incentives and preferences. Of course, we need to forge an intelligent policy in this area, because primitive incentives produce nothing good but only lead to all manner of schemes and swindles. But we need to think about the future. We have a law on endowments, but there is still more that we should do in this area.
Another very important area is that of children’s and youth tourism. This is important because it helps to develop national identity and civic spirit. Many of our regions have experience in this area, and I think this work deserves our full support.
A federal targeted programme, Russia’s Youth, is currently being drawn up in accordance with my instructions. This programme could also include the organisation of tours for children’s and youth groups as one component, and the formation of youth brigades who could take part in restoration and archaeological work and help develop the infrastructure in historical towns and settlements. Our colleagues here in Novgorod, working on archaeological excavations, said just before that they would like to see this happen. They think that this work should not be the preserve solely of archaeologists, but should be open to others too, and that there should be tours to these places. I think that this all goes in the same sense.
We need to make full use of national information resources in order to present in full Russia’s cultural and historical heritage in all its great diversity. Now, with the internet, this is something we can do in every single school. There is a proposal to establish a special centralised portal in this specific area. I think this is a positive idea overall. It would have to be interesting and able to compete with other internet resources, because too often we create state portals and sites that are poor quality, dull, and no one visits them. We need to take a creative approach to this work, put our imaginations into it, and make use of modern technology.
I conclude these opening remarks by saying that in these difficult times we need to do everything we can to encourage the search for new financing sources for cultural development. This is something we need to discuss too. Budget money, for all its importance, cannot be the sole source of funding. We need to take a non-standard approach, an applied approach, so that everyone gains – the public sector workers, and business too. Each region must make use of its own possibilities here.