President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon, colleagues,
This is our second meeting. I decided to hold this meeting before the New Year so as not to let too much time go by between our meetings. We need to exchange views on events in the country, on the work done since last time we met, and on what we have not managed to do yet.
Whatever the case, I want to start by thanking you for the last discussion we had. It was a substantial and meaningful discussion. I can say quite openly that after that meeting, I ended up with a large number of documents on my desk, passed on by you. As I promised, I examined them all personally and issued relevant instructions. This does not mean that all of the problems they mentioned have been resolved, but at least what I promised you, what we discussed together (the president’s personal involvement in examining these issues) was done. Today, I think we should continue working in the same way.
On the question of what has actually been achieved within the framework of the agreements reached, we discussed the matter of improving public organisations’ legal status. A special working group on enhancing legislation in this area was established and drafted amendments to the law on NGOs. These amendments simplify the registration procedures, reduce the number of documents these organisations have to provide to the authorities, and also reduce the number of checks and the time allowed for registration documents approval. As you know, I summarised these proposals and submitted the draft law to the Duma, and it has now been passed and come into force as a federal law. This does not mean that NGOs now have no problems, but we have at least succeeded in removing a number of the significant difficulties that we discussed and agreed to address.
We also discussed the need to have the Government Commission on Migration Policy resume work. The commission was formed in May and it is functioning now.
Of course, there were other points too on which I issued the necessary instructions. We will review them today, go over the work done and the work still yet to be carried out, and examine the areas requiring particular attention.
The work on enhancing our NGOs’ legal status is important. We will continue our efforts in this area and will further support the non-commercial philanthropic organisations that help in solving various problems, including social problems. These organisations can make a particularly important contribution in our lives during this crisis time. I will not start quoting figures just now, but will merely say that this year the federal budget allocated what for the crisis period is a considerable amount of money for supporting public organisations – 1.2 billion rubles. What counts ultimately, however, is not so much the money, important though it is, but the attention we pay to this area.
In my Address [to the Federal Assembly], I proposed introducing the institution of non-profit associations with a social focus. These organisations would receive all-round support from the state – financial, property and consultation support – including in the form of duty and tax breaks, preferences for state and municipal procurement, and transfer of property for them to use in their activities. A draft law has been prepared and I have already signed it and will send it to the State Duma today for examination.
Certainly, I think it is our common duty to support non-profit organisations’ influence in society and help to attract talented people and philanthropists’ money into this sector, because this is essential for developing the activity in this area that is in our interests too. We therefore need to encourage philanthropists and help create incentives and motivation for the volunteers also working in these organisations.
There are several other matters that I think we will also definitely examine today. They include implementing the National Anti-Corruption Plan. There is still much to be done in this respect. We all know well what the situation is today. I am not in favour of over-dramatising things and I think that the steps we have taken already at least send a serious signal that this is the direction in which our society should develop and the road for improving our political system. It is easy to lament that corruption is impossible to eradicate so long as the bureaucrats remain in place, especially in Russia with its ill-adapted political and governance traditions. It is far more difficult to actually work, make decisions, improve laws and introduce restrictions. I am sure that you will be frank in sharing your views on this subject with me today.
We will discuss other topics too that come under the Council’s mandate. This includes above all the situation with civil society development, the problems it faces today, and also the situation with protecting human rights and the changes you think should be made to our political system and our country’s legal system.
I will not take up any more of your time, because I am sure you have far more interesting things to tell me than my own opening remarks. I therefore propose that we start work. But I want to say from the outset that we should all understand that our discussions are friendly and at the same time open. As last time, I have given the instruction that our meeting today be recorded and the transcript made public for everyone interested in following our discussions and the Council’s work.
CHAIRPERSON OF THE PRESIDENTIAL COUNCIL FOR CIVIL SOCIETY INSTITUTIONS AND HUMAN RIGHTS ELLA PAMFILOVA: As a follow up to the [Presidential] Address we discussed various issues you raised there. I agree with you on a whole range of things – of course first and foremost the fight against corruption. We are ready to make our own contribution to the programme you outlined, depending on our mandate and within our area of competence. But there is only one very serious problem that we face every time when we want the best, but things turn out as usual: who is going to do it and how are they going to do it? Who and how? We haven’t been very successful in these efforts and people are tired of merely words. They want to see some real work here, and unless they see it, they won’t line up for joint action. That is our challenge.
Dmitry Medvedev: I would like to answer your question immediately while the media are still here, because they’re going to leave so that we can get to work. Just us. Not the United States of America or France. Just us, our civil servants and our civil society representative. And who else?
Ella Pamfilova: So it seems that the main subject of our meeting relates to all these issues; it will feature in all the speeches. So, what can we do in this regard? What share of responsibility should we assume based on the current capabilities of civil society? How practicable, effective and sought-after can civil control be, and how can we organise it? That is, given the fact that corruption has permeated virtually all aspects of life, it has become our most important challenge.
As far as the subject of corruption is concerned, of course our council, other non-governmental organisations, journalists who have written about this subject, human rights activists, experts and public figures do confront some serious attempts to exert pressure on them or to discredit them. And unfortunately murders of human rights defenders, journalists and public figures still happen.
Of course there are problems of the civil relations themselves. All of us were shocked by the murder of a priest. This is something from a different area, but still a shocking thing. Yet, there are problems that concern us in particular. Let’s say, these are not the problems that concern just the society or the government when such attempts are being made by state authorities or special services. These are now common, shared problems. Attempts to conceal violations of the law, to conceal involvement in corruption. It is a rare thing today to use these powers to fabricate false information that may subsequently be submitted and give rise to false charges. Given such unequal conditions, it is extremely difficult to legally protect one’s reputation. But this does not mean that it is impossible – it is possible. We're trying to do it the right way, we’ll continue to do it in the right way, and we’ll teach our citizens to do the same.
Unfortunately we have noticed that this scheme is also used against honest people who are sort of ‘persona non grata’ for criminals and law-enforcement officers involved in criminal activities – against the judges. To fabricate some really damaging evidence against them is a purely technical matter. For example, sometimes judges have a bad relationship with local law enforcement agencies, and that becomes one of the reasons they aren't appointed. But perhaps it ought to be just the opposite: a judge's independence should be a key quality in deciding whether or not he's appointed.
It is clear that the practice of law-enforcement officers’ extorting money from businessmen has already become notorious. The shocking murder of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky is now being widely discussed. As you know, the joke now making the rounds is that sudden death in a pre-trial detention centre is practically an occupational hazard for Russian businessmen. Of course this is a terrible thing, a terrible tragedy, when a 37-year-old lawyer dies, and as yet no one has been accused, it is still only under investigation. We have prepared a report on what can be done in this area and we will forward it to you. We are ready to become more involved in trying to improve this situation, especially because we have indeed seen some great improvements to the penal enforcement system after the State Council meeting devoted specifically to this topic. You have held that meeting and you keep the developments in this area under your personal control.
Of course much is already being done but unfortunately the problem remains when radical reforms are put under the care of governmental departments themselves. As a result, corporate interests often prevail over the interests of society. And it is really terrible when people are faced with situations – now I am talking about the courts – when the courts are regarded not as the place where justice triumphs but as a dead end, if you see what I mean. It’s nonsense that courts are a dead end for justice; it simply destroys the rule of law in the general public consciousness. In such cases, when officials say “take it to court” in response to angry complaints people see this for the mockery that it is.
It is perfectly obvious that it makes no sense to go to court in cases of massive electoral fraud and the use of administrative resources, or unsuccessful attempts to hold a rally or a procession by citizens who are, from the standpoint of the bureaucracy, non-compliant. For them, non-compliant people, people who don't understand, people with a different position are automatically not allowed to express it. And often judges at the local level support the position of [local] authorities. In general, this whole story of requests to hold a meeting, when the right to use the premises for a meeting is refused at the very last moment, is turning into an endless saga. The same is true of organising rallies and marches. This is the sort of things that our comic writers, Zadornov or Zhvanetsky, might joke about if it were not so sad.
Another arrest of a senior official or a high-ranking officer from law enforcement or security agencies sparks genuine interest among the public, leaving it wondering whether there is indeed an element of fighting corruption or a settling of scores between rival groups. Here we also believe that the challenge for the general public consists in making sure that this doesn't turn into a sham campaign. We are ready to help you because, as you said, putting people in prison is necessary, but this must be a true fight against corruption. Perhaps there is only one obvious advantage in this situation: given the fact that the probability of VIP arrests is still very high, it may be that many officials responsible for operating the system of pre-trial detention centres can actually do a lot of good, since it might one day come in handy for them too. I think that this is a bit of a burning issue.
But to speak seriously, despite the very limited resources at their disposal to this point, once again I want to say that many non-governmental organisations are ready to be directly involved in organising public control. Not as another supervisory authority. You rightly said at your meeting with United Russia that we already have a lot of inspectors. No, this is not just another inspector, someone to show what to do and how to do it, but rather someone who will work with others to address these problems.
We have had a very good positive experience – and I should say that the Public Chamber has done a lot in this regard – in organising public control of the penal system. We get fewer complaints from places where such public control commissions actively operate and more complaints where they don’t. This means that we can be effective if we have a proper and informal system of public control in place.
Now I would really like to say something optimistic about our strategic partnership with you as President, as the highest authority. This partnership gives us some optimism for the very reason that our first meeting was very productive. It means a lot that you yourself have made amendments, and done a huge amount of work to create the regime most likely to ensure the development of civil society. I believe that by the end of next year we will already have some systemic groundwork done so that civil society really becomes strong and has a greater influence on what happens in the country. In fact, the Commission is working on a migration policy and we are hoping for good results. There are already some preliminary results and the work is ongoing.
Of course, we are very grateful for your decision to nominate a member of our Council – he's right here – as a candidate for the position of the OSCE [Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe] representative on freedom of the media. It’s Mikhail Fedotov, the author of the law on the mass media. This is important for everyone who would like to see Russia's media truly free, independent and responsible. We very much hope, we really wish that he will be elected so that we can gain the support of our European colleagues, and so that we can have someone, Russia's representative, in this very important area. And we would plan to devote one of our meetings to freedom of the media, given that we have a lot of people on the Council who really know this problem and actually work on it. It is a very important and positive step that you have given an order appointing a Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights. It's extremely important for us that our colleague Alexei Golovan was appointed. Protecting the rights of children is one of our Council’s main priorities, and we believe that now is the time, given how much has already been done, to move from sort of urgent, ‘rush’ measures aimed at solving the problems of children to developing a long-term comprehensive family and childhood support policy, to creating a complex social infrastructure for children that would take into account all factors, that would create a safe, non-aggressive environment for our children.
Going back to the question of urgent measures, here I would like your support in at least two areas: to have the law on guardianship and custody passed, because it would enable us to maintain in the regions a smooth-running and well-functioning system of foster care. This is a topic that you have dealt with and that you know all about.
The problem of tightening criminal responsibility for sexual offences committed against children, as well as introducing tougher measures to prevent child abuse remain high on the agenda. As you know, here we particularly need your support and attention, because we have faced unprecedented opposition, perhaps even more determined than the time the lobbyists for genetically modified food producers came to the Duma and disrupted the session on that subject. And the fact that Mr Surkov [First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office] was aware of the topic has helped us in a number of ways to forestall this opposition. But unfortunately the law that the Duma adopted does not address the problems that we have. It needs to be reconsidered.
By the way, a number of Duma deputies together with Public Chamber representatives and some experts have prepared a draft executive order, but it requires your attention, because this lobby can leap into action once again.
The problem is really serious because, according to law enforcement agencies, last year 12,500 children were listed as missing by federal and local officials. Many of them become victims of crime, including those who go into the pornography industry, for example. Obviously we need to establish a national centre to coordinate the search for missing children, which at the same time could deal with preventing the proliferation of child pornography on the Internet.
Such a centre in the U.S. has been a great success. Perhaps you could consider this issue. We also need to make amendments to several laws that would prevent people who have done time for such crimes from taking up positions in organisations where there are children, because there really is a danger here.
And I would like to draw attention to just one issue (I think Ms Maleva is going to talk about this in more detail): we still need to increase the family allowance for those whose children have reached the age of eighteen months. The federal government has to be involved in this, because unfortunately regional benefits in effect dramatically increase the sort of inequality that families with children face in different regions.
You know how this happens? In some prosperous regions the amount of the social assistance benefits has already reached 100 percent of the subsistence minimum, and in the poorer regions it is less than 4 percent. That is the differences we have. To overcome this contradiction would require the introduction of a federal poverty benefit. The experts have been suggesting this for a long time. Apparently the situation is ripe. By the way, this does not mean that there will be more funds, just that they really will reach more people and that less will be stolen. That is especially important in a crisis. This is one of the distinguishing features of a large country: of course we want to have all the good things we see in Europe, but the way to guarantee the integrity of the country is not only by creating a single uniform electricity grid or transport and communications networks, but also a single social network, linking the different regions, along with basic social guarantees.
I would like to say that as a result of our last meeting we have established a very good working relationship with heads of many of the law enforcement agencies, as strange as it may sound, because I have been very critical of them and we will be criticising them in the future. Although it’s hard to say for sure – the results are mixed – at least now we’re talking to each other, as all my colleagues will confirm that. This includes the Prosecutor General's Office, the Military Prosecutor's Office, the Investigative Committee, the Ministry of the Interior and the Justice Ministry. Generally speaking, they all are staying in touch, they are all working with us. There are already some positive signs. We do have many other problems to resolve, but we also see some achievements.
By the way, law enforcement agencies are more willing to develop contacts than the social agencies. For example, the Ministry of Healthcare and Social Development has ignored a number of very serious things. And we have not received any response from the same Ministry on the question of what it thinks can be done to ensure housing rights for children, nor from the Ministry of Education. But I believe that we will fix this situation.
Something else I wanted to say is that, according to data collected by the Sova centre and other non-governmental organisations that deal with the problems of racial hatred, this year for the first time we can see the effects of increasing our efforts to prosecute organised groups who commit violent crimes for these reasons. The major share of the credit for this goes to the Interior Ministry Department on Extremism. Unfortunately this effect has been observed only in Moscow. Of course we need to extend it to the regions. It is important to focus on the legislative definition of extremist activity in its most dangerous forms. For this notion is often interpreted very broadly, and it can lead to unwarranted restrictions of civil liberties, especially freedom of expression.
I would particularly like to dwell on the problem of unjustified law enforcement practices in cases related to charges of inciting social discord. Of course there has been criticism, sometimes very harsh criticism, of certain ideological, professional, social and cultural groups, factions and communities, including even demands that they be destroyed, not in the literal sense, but as a social phenomenon. For example, often condemned are such social groups as today’s nomenklatura, corrupt officials, the bureaucracy in the negative sense, and corrupt policemen who are usually referred to as werewolves in epaulets, and so on. But these demands are an integral part of public debate within the legal framework of any democratic state. Our law enforcement practices in this respect often turn into absurd.
As you know, a comment that Savva Terentyev made in his blog led to his being accused of inciting hatred against a social group. Well, using the word pig [slang for a police officer] isn’t exactly flattering, it’s bad, but should people who say it be taken to court?
Last year's process in Orenburg was the same sort of thing, where the court qualified the contraposition of the people and the Governor against bureaucrats as incitement of social tensions. In July 2009 in Kostroma there was a new criminal case concerning the publication on the Internet of a hypothetical piece of legislation to prosecute former deputies responsible for the deterioration of people's living standards, and this was also considered incitement of social strife.
In Yekaterinburg recently Andrei Nikiforov, a member of the Communist Party, was found guilty by the court. Among the charges against him was the incitement of social hatred, namely a poster suggesting that employees of the FSB, the Cheka, the NKVD and the KGB were much alike. He had the right to say this. You may disagree with him, but he had the right to say it.
Recently the local prosecutor's office in Novorossiysk insisted that the city's Society for Human Rights be accused of extremist activities because of a slogan on a demonstrator's poster. What was written was: ”We should not wait for rights – we must seize them.“ This was interpreted by experts as a call to overthrow the government. The Prosecutor General's Office had to be contacted, and it really did react quickly to resolve this case, this conflict, call it what you will.
Now, with regard to unresolved problems. The issues relating to the events of August 2008 in South Ossetia, which we voiced at the last meeting, are unfortunately still up in the air. Particularly disturbing is the problem of obtaining veteran status for those who participated in the hostilities in South Ossetia. At the last meeting, Mr President, you were receptive to the issue and gave the relevant instruction. Unfortunately, the issue is not yet resolved, and the Committees of Soldiers' Mothers have put together more than 200 appeals from the servicemen, from privates to colonels, related to this issue.
And we are also asking you to consider giving a posthumous award to Lieutenant Colonel [Alexander] Koventsov, the commander of the strategic bomber shot down by Georgia's air defences in South Ossetia, an officer who is missing and presumed dead. Russia is concerned about perpetuating the memory of the victims in South Ossetia, and we would like to ensure that Lieutenant Colonel Koventsov is not forgotten as well.
To return to the problems in the North Caucasus, the Council shares your concern about the situation that exists there. Therefore we would suggest that perhaps one of the following meetings be devoted entirely to this subject – within the framework of our areas of expertise – because human rights defenders and community leaders continue to be harassed and even killed. People who have lived there all their lives are being forced to leave, if they pose serious problems by refusing to hang on the authorities' every word. It is a very difficult situation.
To that meeting of the Council we could invite the Council members dealing with this problem, the Ombudsman for Human Rights, with whom we are working very closely in this area, and some members of the Public Chamber, which is also very interested in resolving this problem, and most importantly human rights activists. They could talk about what is happening and how they are doing, about what can be done, and about how at the cost of their own lives and great risk they have defended individual rights and fought against the lawlessness and corruption that exists.
You know, the most absurd thing is that the people of the republics in the Caucasus, the regions most subsidised and therefore most dependent on the federal centre, according to our information are the people who feel the least connection between their personal status and the development of Russia as a whole. The least connection! They receive more than anyone else, and this relationship means nothing to them.
I would now like to draw your attention to something else that we need: I think we urgently need a separate programme for that region that is designed to work with young people, given the high birth rate and the fact that the level of youth unemployment is incredibly high there. We need such a programme.
And by the way, the public organisations that operate in the North Caucasus have extensive experience engaging young people in schemes that teach professional self-realisation for public benefit, programmes that are different in kind from the region's usual clannish and corrupt relations. It has become clear to everyone that these relationships have become a breeding ground for the spread of various radical extremist ideas, and we need to offer them an alternative.
This alternative should be connected with federal policy in Russia in general. There are such possibilities, and if you would agree to chair such a meeting, we could submit our proposals and thoughts on this topic.
However strange it may seem, precisely these efforts to create effective modern youth programmes in Russia's most sensitive region can also contribute to the overall development of youth policies across Russia. In this way we would no longer have to divide up our youth into ours and theirs, pushing some to the radical fringes, forcing others, the more creative ones, to leave the country, and turning a third group into purely materialistic and unprincipled conformists. I have defended this position in the past and will continue to defend it. We must reach out to everyone. The time has come to resolve the many problems that have already become acute for our young people.
For demographic reasons we have so few young people that we have to fight for everyone of them, struggle for them, reach out to them, gather together and integrate them with attractive ideas about the way the country might develop. And this can only happen if they have roughly equal starting conditions for further self-realisation, if we ensure that their knowledge and expertise will be needed here in the country, and if they will not have to sacrifice their freedom or their beliefs. That's what is most important. Not conforming, not serving the authorities, but asserting your convictions. I think that this is the prerequisite of a successful youth policy.
At the end of my speech, I would like to once again return to the theme with which we began, that is the modernisation of law enforcement structures. Of course, the Dymovsky case, precedent, effect, syndrome or however you want to call it (regardless of the identity of the Major himself) simply confirms the current state of the entire law enforcement system and not just the police; the modernisation of law is impossible without the drastic modernisation of all security agencies where bribery has become the norm and the humiliation of citizens is simply commonplace.
And I think that simply trying to strengthen law enforcement agencies as they are now is not only a doomed endeavour, but is also dangerous. You cannot cure someone who is mentally ill by giving him an ax as a weapon – first we must treat the cause and find a cure. So it is with the law enforcement system: before we strengthen it, we must purify and rehabilitate it. Once again we are ready to help wherever we are competent.
You know, the higher authorities may have one of the rare opportunities since perestroika [Gorbachev's reforms in the 1980s] to make a radical reform in this field that benefits from large-scale popular support. We have not observed such unanimity for a long time. In other words, the reform of the entire law enforcement system – and of course primarily the police force – is a unique opportunity to show solidarity with the aspirations of our people.
That is why the themes of civic participation, cooperation and public control are so relevant today. And as you said at the beginning of your speech, of course modernisation is impossible without freedoms and fundamental democratic principles. Therefore, of course we must develop basic democratic institutions first of all. We must value our past, but to look to the past for answers to current problems, for a national idea is simply a dead end.
We believe that freedom of the media, independent courts, genuine political competition and normal, real elections are also pressing issues. This is what you drew attention to in your Presidential Address and these are areas in which we fully support you – we will use our modest means to do exactly that.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.
We will now continue to discuss the issues you raised, even though you touched on almost all issues that can be discussed. You know, I want to just single out three things from what you said – I cannot help but react immediately because they are very serious – or rather just two things and one comment at the end.
One phrase that you uttered at the beginning is somewhat difficult for me to accept: “Of course all of us were shocked by the murder of a priest, but this is another domain.” In my opinion there can never be a “murder in another domain”. Every murder, be it of a human rights activist, journalist, priest, policeman, investigator, serviceman or any other person holds exactly the same consequences, social ones, for our society. This is a heinous crime. So I still think that we must be extremely careful in using such words; we cannot divide crimes into those that deserve greater public attention (even if we are talking about famous people) and those that do not. Because that leads us right into the impasse you talked about.
And there's one more thing that I cannot ignore, as someone who practiced law for quite a while, and that is the pointlessness of going to court. You know, we criticise our judicial system, sometimes quite scathingly, and in many cases it may well be justified. But in my heart I cannot agree with this approach. Because the alternative to going to court can be mob law which, as you know perfectly well, we have seen a number of times in the history of our country in different eras, or appeals to a party committee. And both of these systems are far from the mainstream development of civilization generally. So despite all our skepticism about the effectiveness of different legal institutions, despite the fact that we need to recognise the shortcomings of our judicial system, all of us, including those who have come here to advocate for the rights of citizens, should strive to build up the credibility of the court, even if we recognise its imperfections. Because the alternatives are a dead end for civilisation.
The third thing is not so much a response to what you said but a sort of general comment. I would like to say that everything we have discussed today will be summarized. I’ll be personally looking into your appeals. As for some of the most significant things, work on them has already begun. In particular, this applies to the centre for missing children, changes in legislation, and some other issues that you mentioned.
Concerning one topic that we certainly did discuss, the status of participants in the events of last August, the conflict with the Georgian armed forces: I actually gave this instruction to the Government. Of course as you well know this year has not been easy because of the crisis. However, I would like to inform you that the decision concerning equalisation has been made. Before coming here I spoke again with the Government Cabinet, and insisted everything should be done, regardless of the fact that this will require additional money. So this topic is now closed, or will be closed in the near future. I remember our discussion. This is indeed our duty.
As for the Caucasus, generally speaking I think it is probably a good idea to devote one of the meetings to a discussion of the situation in the Caucasus. I think we could even expand the format and invite some of our colleagues who work directly in the Caucasus, so they can tell us how things are and what they see as the principal threats. Even though of course we have a very good sense of this, it would be a way of acquiring firsthand information.
So thank you for your detailed intervention.
* * *
Let me now turn it over to anyone who would like to continue the discussion.
CO-CHAIRMAN OF THE RUSSIAN PUBLIC COUNCIL ON EDUCATION DEVELOPMENT AND RECTOR OF THE HIGHER SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS YAROSLAV KUZMINOV: The President has already talked about the working group on NGO legislation. I must say that the Surkov working group [after Vladislav Surkov, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office], as we call it, has become a very effective mechanism for coordinating the various positions of non-governmental organisations and the government. It turned out that we quickly agreed on most issues. The main thing is that the parties are willing to listen to each other.
As a result, early this summer President Medvedev amended the law on NGOs to mitigate excessive administrative pressure on registration and inspection and, most importantly, to radically simplify reporting for 80 percent of Russian non-governmental organisations. The most important thing here is the signal that was sent to local authorities, the signal that the government should not restrict but rather support NGOs and the civil society organisations which have sprung up in Russia's regions. Mr President, today we are likely to hear from members of the Council their impressions concerning who has heard this signal and how it has been received.
Today the working group agreed on a number of federal laws aimed at developing the economic fundamentals of NGOs. It includes the creation of tax incentives and the removal of tax barriers to volunteerism and philanthropy, facilitating the formation of trust capital and the development of publicity about social concerns. We think it very important that in the recent Presidential Address you gave political impetus to further work in this area, particularly concerning the promotion of socially-oriented NGOs. And judging by what we heard from you today you have been quick off the mark. This sort of serious approach to the problems of the NGO sector has elicited a great deal of respect.
In December, the working group expects to complete the discussion of the administrative regulations of Russia's Ministry of Justice on the registration and audits of NGOs, as well as the creation of an information portal, where Russia's organisations can file their documents and reports. Representatives of nongovernmental organisations believe that this part of our work is very important, because, as we all know, the devil is in details.
Mr President, traditionally, we present the results of our monitoring of civil society and non-commercial organisations in Russia at these meetings with the president (you have the brief report). There are some positive changes. Over 2007–2009, the number of people who are aware of NCOs and civil society organisations increased from 74 percent to 83 percent, and the number of people who say they are involved with NCOs, either as users, members of their staff, or participating in their work in various ways, has increased dramatically from 14 percent to 23 percent, bringing us very close to the figures in the medium-developed European countries. The non-governmental and non-commercial organisation sector holds an increasingly visible place in our economy. We carried out a comparative study using international methods, and it showed that 4.3 percent of the economically active population works in this sector today (this includes staff and volunteers).
We are still a long way behind the Anglo-Saxon countries and Scandinavia in this respect, but we have more people involved in NCOs than in Latin America and, interestingly, three times more on average than in the Eastern European countries.
The figures we have for Eastern Europe are their own figures, not the results of our studies. True, if we take the share of the economically active population involved as volunteers our country is still a long way behind everyone else, including Eastern Europe. This is evidence that the sector exists somewhat in isolation, cut off by barriers between it and the general public. This explains why most of our NCOs are usually only small in size and economically weak. We have a good number of enthusiastic people with initiative, able to establish organisations and keep them afloat.
We have no shortage of organisations therefore, just as many as in other countries, but few of them succeed in growing beyond the limits of personal connections and friendly ties. More than half of the NCOs surveyed have no permanent staff or have staff of fewer than five people. Around half of the organisations do not seek volunteers.
Given this situation it is no surprise that most of Russia’s NCOs experience economic difficulties. We are unable to find resources and raise funds, attract volunteer activity and donations. Of course, the economic crisis only worsened all of these problems. Would we be happy now just to return to the pre-crisis situation with a few partial improvements? No, of course not. The sector cannot develop successfully unless it organises full-fledged communication with society.
To be frank, this situation of isolation that I spoke about is in many respects due to insufficient transparency in the non-commercial organisations themselves and their heads’ lack of experience in public relations. This is not the only reason of course. But reforms to make NCOs more transparent should aim precisely at bringing them closer to the public. I think that ensuring transparency, guaranteeing the conditions for transparency, is just as important as providing state support through direct state grants or the possibility of taking part in state purchase programmes.
The survey of NCO heads shows that their primary concern is raising funds rather than attracting people to work with them or bringing their activities to the media’s attention. Sixty-five percent of respondents named raising money as a concern, and only 10–12 percent said that NCOs are not getting enough people involved in their work and enough publicity for their activities.
The survey shows that NCO heads expect support from the authorities at various levels. Two thirds of NCO heads surveyed state this, but only 20 percent expect support from the general public, and only 12 percent from the media. Do you understand what this means? Now, with the authorities making serious efforts to increase support and funding for NCOs, we could end up seriously distorting the development course of NCOs and NGOs in Russia.
At the same time, the studies show that the public is not familiar with NCOs’ work and is often suspicious towards NCOs, does not trust them. Sixty percent of our people are ready to take part in mass philanthropic activities. This is a big share of the population, the same as in the world’s most developed countries. But most of the time, in 80 percent of cases, these are individual donations. There are examples of Russian organisations’ activities getting broader support. This happens in cases when influential media outlets get involved. To keep time short, I’ll name just one example – Chulpan Khamatova’s Podari Zhizn [Give Life] Foundation. Big media outlets started to get involved and the initiative really did receive substantial support. But such examples are still few and far between.
I was asked under what circumstances people would be ready to spend more money on philanthropy. Forty-three percent of respondents said that they would spend more “if we could be sure that the money will get to its intended recipients”. Only three percent said it would depend on tax breaks. This is perfectly natural, because mass philanthropy does not yet exist in Russia. It is our job to develop it.
The recipe is obvious: we need to do as much as possible to give the public better access to information on NCOs. The reports prepared by the NCOs themselves should be one of the main sources of information. The reports drawn up for the Ministry of Justice do not resolve the issue of how to boost public confidence, because even if they are made public on the Internet they tell people precious little about the essence of organisations’ work and how effectively they spend the money raised.
The volume of mandatory reporting should depend on the amount of support and tax breaks that the state offers the NCO. All around the world there is a rule that NCOs receiving no breaks or support submit just one kind of accounting report – on the taxes they’ve paid to the budget. We need to look at how to make the reports and accounting process as simple as possible for ordinary NCOs and free them from having to duplicate reports to the tax services and the Justice Ministry.
Unfortunately, there are cases, as my colleagues will tell you, when Justice Ministry staff ask to see an organisation’s entire accounts, including personal data. The most detailed compulsory reports should be provided by organisations collecting private donations, donations from the public, or receiving budget money. There is still work to do on setting the reporting requirements for such organizations, but the first steps have already been taken towards self-regulation and voluntary transparency of Russia’s NCOs. A code of basic principles on NCOs’ transparency and reporting requirements has already been drafted, and it contains a clear mechanism for bringing in new participants. We held an expert meeting a few weeks ago on NCOs’ transparency and reporting and set out our conclusions in the form of proposals that we pass on to you on the structure of voluntary public annual reports, of two different types, by NCOs.
I think the state should provide large-scale and serious information support through two portals – that of the Justice Ministry and that of the Public Chamber – and make the transition to voluntary reporting as simple as possible for NCOs.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.
I want to say two things. First, I think that as a result of our work together (of course, nothing is ever completely ideal, but the work has been carried out more or less decently), as you said, not only have the laws changed, but an important signal has been sent to various organisations, because not so long ago, a large part of the civil service still looked at NCOs as enemies, essentially.
We have changed the law, and this should lead to a change in people’s thinking, or at least a change in the way relations are practised. Of course, civil servants might not like everything the NCOs are doing, and the NCOs might not like everything the civil servants do, but the changes will at least create a different atmosphere for contact between the two.
The second thing you mentioned that came as a surprise for me, or perhaps not so much a surprise as a rather disheartening piece of news, was that the majority of people think that NCOs’ activities should be primarily supported by the local and federal authorities, while only 20 percent think they should be primarily supported simply by help from people in general, by support from the public. This means that we are still only at the beginning of this road.
As for the proposals, pass them on and we will continue to work on this important subject.
Rather than having me decide who gets to speak next, let’s have you simply take the floor yourselves and speak.
Please, who wants to continue?
You have the floor.
PRESIDENT OF AUTONOMOUS NON-COMMERCIAL ORGANISATION CENTRE FOR DEVELOPMENT OF DEMOCRACY AND HUMAN RIGHTS GEORGY DZHIBLADZE: I will continue on the current situation for non-governmental organisations, the new hopes and old reality, and the challenges and prospects for our work together.
New hopes have emerged in civil society over the last few months for change for the better. This is a result of the new atmosphere created by our first meeting with you in April and the statements you made then – your disagreement with the perception of NCOs as enemies of the state, recognition of the need to reform the laws on NCOs, and your absolute support for civil control.
Your decision to establish a working group on legislative reform and the fact that you personally submitted the first package of amendments to the State Duma were important political signals that have bolstered hopes for serious change. These hopes got a new boost after your programme addresses and publications this autumn, including your speech on the Day of Memory for Victims of Political Repression. Thousands of people around the country share your view that only we can solve our problems, raise our children to respect the law, human rights and the value of human life, and preserve historical memory and hand it on to the next generation. No one can do this for us.
But changing reality is extremely difficult, especially when problems have been long neglected. These signals are not enough. The resistance to change is immense. It seems that those with an interest in maintaining the status quo and keeping their hold over power and assets are sitting there thinking “Let him say what he wants. The real power is in our hands.”
Being as they are at the forefront of change in society, the non-governmental organisations sense this contradiction particularly keenly, including as it affects their own activities. Unfortunately, NCOs’ situation has not improved yet over these last months. Many of us even have the impression that they continue to pressure us out of principle, in deliberate opposition to your statements. Justice Ministry officials, for example, continue to pressure NCOs with repressive inspections, requests for hundreds of documents, and procedural violations. Numerous other inspections paralyse our work – inspections by the tax officials and the police. I will cite just one recent example, from St Petersburg, where the Regional Press Institute and the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information currently face what can only be described as inquisitorial inspections, and Krasnodar, where the EtnIKA Centre for Tolerance is facing persecution. Sadly, we cannot even seek help from the courts, which, as a rule, take the side of the state organisations.
On the subject of the courts, there was the unfair civil trial and now also criminal prosecution of Oleg Orlov, the head of the Memorial Centre, the disgraceful parody of a trial in Yekaterinburg against member of the Public Supervisory Commission Alexei Sokolov, and the case that Ms Pamfilova has already mentioned, the overt misuse of anti-extremist legislation with regard to the Novorossiysk Committee for Human Rights – a case that would be almost comic if it weren’t so serious. All of this is evidence that human rights activists continue to face constant pressure, and it is obvious to everyone that they face this pressure precisely for their human rights activities. If we add to this the recent and insistent attempts to evict from their premises such respected and prominent organisations as the Moscow Helsinki Group and the National Movement For Human Rights it is clear why many of us feel that we have a case of two parallel realities that do not meet – your statements and what is happening in real life.
The attack and murder of public activists, especially those working in areas related to the North Caucasus, xenophobia, and arbitrary action by law enforcement agencies, have become very serious problems this year. This year has seen the greatest loss of life among our colleagues. After the murder of Anna Politkovskaya three years ago, the series of political murders continued with the killings of Farid Babayev in 2007 and Magomed Yevloyev in 2008, and over this last year we have lost Stanislav Markelov, Anastasia Baburova, Natalia Estemirova, Zarema Sadulayeva, Alik Dzhabrailov, and Maksharip Aushev. None of these cases has been fully solved and the criminals have not been brought to justice. This list is not complete, it includes many more names, and it is still growing.
This list includes young anti-fascists, lawyers, environmentalists, anti-corruption campaigners. All of these murder victims have one thing in common – they campaigned publicly and actively for a just society, and against powerful interests, violence and arbitrariness. All of the facts indicate that it was precisely for this that they were killed.
The lack of adequate reaction by law enforcement agencies or effective investigation coupled with the ongoing perception of human rights activists as enemies of the state creates a climate of lawlessness. It is essential to recognise the problem’s seriousness and show political will both in law enforcement agencies’ actions and in systematic statements by the country’s political leaders. Political murders must stop, and those responsible for them must be brought before the courts.
An operational reaction mechanism needs to be established. Mr President, we expect from you, indeed, we demand from you decisive action.
We still have a great deal of work to do to change this situation and break the inertia of hostile attitudes towards NCOs and civil society activists involved in the biggest problems facing our society’s development.
Even in the working group on legislative reform that you decided to establish in response to our request this process is proving very difficult. Even there we feel the inertia of these attitudes that perceive NCOs as a threat to the state that need to be controlled and limited rather than supported and helped. It is true that a lot of work has been accomplished and has produced results. Our council has set up an expert group that is working hard together with many NCOs to draft balanced proposals, often the result of compromise, for discussion with the state organisations in the working group. Agreements have been reached, not without difficulty, on some important points. For example, we highly value the second economic package of proposals for supporting NCOs that has been prepared for submission to the Duma.
But these results are still not enough. The first package of amendments passed this summer has great political significance as a symbol of change in the attitude towards NCOs, but we have not yet gone far enough in our changes. These amendments are limited and not sufficiently deep in nature. They do not establish real guarantees against arbitrary application of the law and unjustified intervention in NCOs’ activities during registration, inspections and submission of reports and they leave in place unjustifiably broad powers for the controlling agencies and an unlimited list of documents that organisations can be asked to present during inspections. The working group rejected around 70 percent of the amendments our council proposed on the basis that these sorts of incidents do not happen and these problems are made up, and that we just want to tie down civil servants’ hands and unjustifiably weaken control.
The attitude towards the NCOs in the working group does not see them yet as an equal partner in negotiations. There is often unwillingness to listen to us, and our proposals are often met with hostility, sometimes even with causal disregard. This situation has not changed even now when we have entered the second stage of work. It was with great difficulty that we managed to convince Justice Ministry officials to discuss draft administrative regulations on registration, inspections and reporting at the working group. But it is precisely these regulations that set out the procedures and powers, and it was these regulations that were cited in spring when our proposed amendments to the law were rejected.
I think that everything depends on whether or not we have a common goal. Sometimes we get the impression that for many of the official representatives the main aim in all of this work is to simplify for themselves the bureaucratic process but without relaxing control in any way. It seems they want to adopt only minimal changes and then report that the president’s instructions have been carried out.
An understanding of the common goal that you formulated in response to our appeal to create a favourable legal environment for civil society’s development has yet to emerge in the working group. For this to happen the state has to stop seeing NCOs as a threat and see them instead as an equal partner in resolving the most important issues our society faces. The problem is really more general in nature and lies in the privatisation of the state by civil servants, their lack of trust in the public, their perception of the public as just wretched subjects, small fry getting in their way.
We hope that with your support we can succeed in organising more effective work to change the legislation. We have ahead of us the third stage of reform in 2010. We hope that this third stage will enable us together to not simply patch up the situation a little with regard to the most serious issues in relations between the state and the NCOs, but establish effective guarantees in our legal system for NCOs’ freedoms based on international standards. If we succeed in achieving all of this, if we can end the murders of human rights activists, protect NCOs from arbitrary action during inspections and abuses in the fight against extremism, and create effective laws, we will be able to reach the ambitious goal of opening up the transformative potential of millions of our people and creating a real foundation for the modernisation we need and that our entire active society is talking about – modernisation based on the values of democratic institutions.
I would like to conclude by quoting your own words: “Only an active position can set the heavy machine that is government bureaucracy in motion.” We take this active position and we hope for your support and for work together.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you, Mr Dzhibladze.
I want to say a few words in response to your remarks.
First, on the question of continued pressure from federal officials, including in the Justice Ministry, pass on to me the information on the cases you mentioned in St Petersburg and Krasnodar and I will take a look at the situation.
On the question of investigations of headline-making cases, the murders you spoke about, this is a very complicated subject, of course, but I would ask you to be a little more attentive to what is actually happening, all the more so as we are not holding some kind of public debate here, but are simply discussing the situation.
The investigations have made progress, after all. You said that no action has been taken, but this is not quite so. I am also not satisfied with the pace of progress and probably not entirely happy with certain other aspects too. But materials on one of the cases you mentioned have already been sent to the court, an investigation is underway, and the court will make its decision. Regarding the other cases, I do not want to encroach on the investigators’ powers and jurisdiction. This would not be in keeping with my principles. But they have already done a lot of work. I simply ask you to be more careful in your choice of words so as not to insult the investigators who also have a difficult job to do.
One more very important thing in my view is an issue that first Ms Pamfilova and now you have raised. It seems rather the Russian thing to say that political murders must be stopped. And other murders – do they not need to be stopped too? What about murders of state officials? We cannot put things in these terms. I think it is to some extent a product of our specific mentality formed over the centuries to suggest that we need to put an end to one particular category of murders. We need to make sure that all murders are investigated, and we need to create an environment in which murder itself is a rare event, unlike today, when, in terms of our murder rate, we are among the worst offenders. Probably only the least developed countries are ahead of us here. We have a lot of plain ordinary murders, usually with alcohol involved. But is it any easier for anyone when ordinary anonymous people are killed?
I think we therefore need to take a serious look through our arguments. This is my impression based on my legal understanding of how best to approach particular issues. Overall, of course, I fully share your view that we do indeed still have many problems to address. You said one other thing too, namely that “we have the impression the officials just want to simplify for themselves the bureaucratic process”. Yes, this is precisely what they want. This is all they want. What else did you expect? Do you imagine they want to do some work?
But it’s another issue that many of our civil servants are acting in accordance with their own idea of their place in the world and the wages they are paid. Civil servants are a rather conservative class all around the world. I do not think that our civil servants are somehow unique in this respect. The difference is that our civil servants in many cases lack sophistication in the way they go about their work. In other countries, civil servants have developed far more sophisticated bureaucratic techniques. I think this makes a big difference. The other big difference is that civil servants in many countries are in most cases afraid now to take bribes, while here they are not, and the motivation, unfortunately, is usually close by.
Anyway, let’s continue, or else I will end up answering questions myself and waste valuable time that I could give you instead.
DIRECTOR OF TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL — RUSSIA CENTRE FOR ANTI-CORRUPTION STUDIES AND INITIATIVES YELENA PANFILOVA: On the subject of bribes, I want to say a few words about corruption today, as if I could talk about anything else. But, as you said, there is probably no sense in just giving a general description of how we assess the corruption situation today. I want to look above all at the implementation of the National Anti-Corruption Plan, because it is important and concerns practically all of the different issues we are discussing today, including the place and role of public control in preventing corruption.
I want to start by saying that we are following very closely the implementation of the National Anti-Corruption Plan and the measures being taken, and we see how difficult it is proving to push through legislation, above all on control over the civil servants and income and property declarations. We welcomed the executive order you issued in September on conducting checks of declarations, because we know this is something the civil servants fear greatly. They are not afraid to make declarations, but they are afraid of checks, because they fear that someone will notice the difference between what they actually possess and what they wrote in their numerous documents.
We see that these steps are being taken, but we also see that all of the current legislative measures aimed at fighting corruption are measures for the future. They will only start to take effect, including even the fundamental law on preventing corruption, and the law on procedures for providing information to citizens, on January 1, 2010. So no one really expected therefore that the level of corruption would immediately start to fall no sooner these laws passed.
What we see, in fact, is that the number of corruption cases is extremely high. We have statistics now on this from the law enforcement agencies, and we think this is a positive result of the National Anti-Corruption Plan’s implementation. The law enforcement agencies have finally started reporting the cases they used to keep silent: corruption cases, cases of abuse of official power. In some areas the levels are rising — rising sharply too — above all as concerns routine everyday bribes. According to the law enforcement agencies’ statistics, the average one-off bribe has increased from 8,000 rubles to 27,000 rubles.
But I really want to say a few words about the role of public control and the difficulties that exist. We all agree that the civil servants and officials are trying to resist public control, and that they do indeed see us as annoying little people poking their noses into what is not their business, all the more so as corruption, as they see it, is something that should be outside public control altogether.
But as we discussed last time, public control works. We said last time that practically all cases of corruption also involve violations of human rights. I am very grateful to my colleagues, who have provided us with unique statistics indicating that practically all of the public organisations represented here encounter situations involving corruption. This concerns the documents our environmental organisations provide, the allocation of land, management of forestry resources, and the organisation of auctions and tenders. Greenpeace has given us evidence of corruption in these areas.
I will give you an example that we received from the organisation Civil Assistance. I think this is a simply outrageous case and you should know about it because it concerns you directly. Civil Assistance has informed the Federal Migration Service about the fact that private companies advertise that for 2,500 rubles they can get someone a work permit, and for 47,000 rubles they can get them Russian citizenship. As far as I know, granting citizenship is one of your powers and prerogatives. They are selling not their own powers, but yours. This situation is of great concern to everyone and needs to be resolved not through having one organisation writing to the Federal Migration Service but through more decisive means.
Public control works in individual cases too. Kirill Kabanov will say more on this in his report, and you have received the written report on raider cases, because more than fifty percent of the cases bringing members of the public to our offices concern illegal seizure of property. Concerning property – homes, land, dachas – there are outrageous cases when small plots of land for dachas are seized from powerless citizens simply at someone’s whim. In Vladimir alone over the last year we have had 800 people come to our office – come seeking precisely an anti-corruption organisation rather than simply a human rights organisation. This is a huge number of people for the single city of Vladimir. As an active internet user you will realise just what a big number the following figures represent: our anti-corruption and legal aid site gets correspondence from 1,500 to 2,000 people a day on the average, and there have been days when up to 10,000 comments were registered. In other words, people have a huge demand for information and for being able to share their problems.
But this is where we hit the main problem – the way the bureaucrats react to our requests. The worst cases are those that concern personal interests. ‘Enemies of the people’ would be the mildest insult we hear. The problem is not what names they call us – we can put up with this – but that our requests to examine specific corruption cases get sent to the very people who are the subject of the complaints.
We need to do something to break this vicious cycle in which those accused of corruption are the ones responsible for investigating corruption complaints. Of course no action is taken in such a situation. Cases of productive cooperation are few and far between. I want to name them: the Economic Development Ministry and the Interior Ministry’s Department for Economic Security. To our great surprise (we simply were not used to such a situation) this department examines the complaints we pass on from members of the public and we have established fruitful cooperation. But unfortunately this is still the exception rather than the rule.
In principle, we were prepared for a situation in which any anti-corruption initiatives involving public control would encounter resistance, but judging by how difficult it is to implement the measures you have proposed we see what amounts to bureaucratic sabotage of anti-corruption reform in general. These people have something to lose, and we see this in the way they create a fog around important matters.
We have raised on numerous occasions with various agencies the matter that, when Russia ratified the UN Convention against Corruption it did not ratify article 20. In other words, we ratified the convention with conditions attached. You can imagine how this looks for our country’s reputation. We did not ratify the article on ‘Unlawful Enrichment’! We call on all of the state agencies to come back to this issue and make unlawful enrichment by the bureaucracy a criminal offence, but at best they tell us that the time is not right yet. How can ‘the time be not right’ to fight unlawful enrichment when we have set the goal of combating corruption in our country?
There is also something else I want to draw your attention to. During the very same week that you gave your Address [to the Federal Assembly] and spoke about transparency, fighting corruption, and the importance of getting people involved in civil society, a conference of countries party to the [UN] convention [on corruption] was taking place in Doha to adopt a mechanism for monitoring the convention’s implementation. The Russian delegation, unfortunately, voted for the soft option – the option that does not involve civil society’s participation, mandatory publication of a report, and mandatory reciprocal inspections. It was a very uncomfortable situation indeed to see that 120 countries voted for the open option, while Russia, along with countries such as Angola, Algeria, Venezuela, Egypt, Zimbabwe and Pakistan voted for the more closed option. It is not possible to be a little bit closed, a little bit open!
I think we need to make a clear decision on which side we stand, all the more so as the National Anti-Corruption Plan states that its objective is to “Establish a system allowing supervision by civil society institutions over the activities of state and municipal officials.” The federal law on countering corruption also gives a definition of civil society’s participation in these efforts. In other words, we need to implement our own laws, the laws we have passed, even if this is not always easy.
The final thing I want to say is something that you yourself have said on many occasions, namely, that a strong Russia means not just strong institutions of government but also a strong society. But civil servants sometimes interpret this aspiration for a strong Russia (which we all want: I want it, my colleagues want it, and you want it) as a call to strengthen the institutions of government with society being just the material used in the process. We need to fight this way of thinking, just as we need to fight attempts to narrow the fight against corruption to merely a campaign against bribe-taking. You cannot imagine the number of times we hear from officials: “This is all about bribes, isn’t it?” No, it is not just all about bribes.
Very recently, I heard a marvellous phrase from one quite senior official. I’m sure that you, as a lawyer, will appreciate it. “Kickbacks are not corruption, they are an economic instrument,” I was told. In other words, they see the fight against corruption as just about preventing envelopes from being slipped into officials’ hands. I think the president and the country’s highest authorities have the task of setting the emphasis and making the objectives clear on this issue. We heard recently from senior officials that corruption is a problem of the Russian mentality and that we are historically inclined towards corruption and legal nihilism. I think that maybe this was the case in the past, but now that we have set the goal of modernisation we should start calling a spade a spade. Maybe in the past Russia’s government needed obedient, loyal and corrupt civil servants who would be easier to manage and direct. But if we have made economic, scientific and technological modernisation our goal we also need to make it our goal to modernise our values. What do we need new technology and robots for if everyone is just going to keep on thieving and misappropriating? There is no real sense in modernising our technology without modernising our values.
I think the personal example set by our top officials is important. We also take on the responsibility of setting a personal example. If we see this personal example at the top levels of power we realise that the process is already underway. Now it does not really matter a great deal whether you are a supporter of a strong state or not, whether you are a nationalist or not, whether you are on the right or the left. I think that the dividing line in society should be between those who are honest and decent, and those who are not. This needs to be clearly affirmed. Honest and decent people, as I understand it, are those who are able to admit their mistakes and set new standards of behaviour for society. We propose the instruments needed, as you know. We set out our proposals to you. We want to strengthen public control because we need to increase civil society’s participation in fighting corruption. All of the measures taken to implement the National Anti-Corruption Plan should be made public.
For our part, we make it our responsibility to prepare a report for you once every six months on the state of public control over the fight against corruption. Let us turn it into something more than just conversation. We are probably your only natural allies in fighting corruption. The civil servants will step into line, of course, but only with reluctance, no doubt.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.
First of all, I want to say a few words in defence of technological modernisation. I think that its intrinsic value lies in the fact that the more technologically modern we become, the less room there will be for corruption. This is obvious really, because all forms of corruption are built on relations between people, and the more interaction takes place without having to go through the intermediary of concrete individuals, concrete civil servants, the less room there will be for corruption. This is 100-percent guaranteed.
Coming to the points you made, they are all fair, but at the same time, like all judgements, they are subjective in nature. First, on the issue of kickbacks, that was indeed a fine phrase that you quoted, but I want to note that from the legal point of view, a kickback amounts to the same thing as a bribe. Of course, corruption is not simply about bribes alone, but kickbacks are bribes and should be treated as such by the law enforcement agencies.
As for corruption, we know how much it has become institutionalised, how much it has become a part of life in general. It has become institutionalised in our lives. The main problem, as I see it, is that most people do not want to admit (and this perhaps even applies to some of those here today) that they see corruption as part of the public system. Some see it as an absolutely organic component of the system and are ready to accept its presence. Others condemn it but go along with the social trends, not wanting to stick out in the crowd. In other words, people look for ways to justify the fact that they play along with it.
I think we would be hard pressed to find many other such countries where the idea that corruption is a public institution has taken such deep root in the public consciousness. This, I think, is one of the big difficulties we face, as is many people’s reluctance to consciously admit that by carrying out this or that act they in fact commit a crime. This is clear and it applies to practically everyone – to those who give bribes and to those who take them.
We always talk about the most notorious corruption cases, the ones that make the headlines and that involve fat wads of cash, hundreds of thousands, millions. But a few miserable rubles handed over — we see that differently, thinking that if “them up there” are taking bribes, we’d be foolish not to do the same down here. I think we need to look at the problem at every level, however. It gets us nowhere to simply say those lower down the ranks are simply following the example of their seniors. This justifies neither the minister nor the rank-and-file policeman, neither the doctor, nor the teacher squeezing money out of his pupils. This is no justification for anyone.
One final point, or rather, the second to last point, regarding the issues you raised, in this case, the procedures for examination of complaints. This really is one of our big problems and it has been so throughout our history. This was the case under the tsars, and during the Soviet period. Today, as before, we still have this vicious circle that sees complaints examined by the very people against whom the complaints have been made, and there seems no way out of this situation. I have tried to fight this myself. It’s always the same old story: you write to the minister, the minister writes to the local agency head, the local agency head sends the complaint on to one of his deputies, and the deputy calls in the individual specifically complained about and says, “Look, you scoundrel, we’re getting complaints about you. Go and write a response!” And off the official goes and writes a response.
The problem is that we have so far failed to establish a mechanism that works. But you are right in saying that as soon as we break this vicious circle we will begin to see results. We will start to see progress, if only bit by bit, when it is taken at least one level up the hierarchy and officials no longer defend themselves, then they are freer to make objective decisions, like, say, when complaints are examined not by officials from the interior ministry district offices, but by the deputy head of the interior ministry’s city office, or some other official. This will help change the situation.
We need to get this system organised and working. In this respect, as someone perhaps overly convinced by the need for technological advancement, I can tell you that I hope very much that the spread of electronic systems of reporting will go some way at least towards helping to solve this problem. This is something that really does look very promising. When I was in Singapore they showed me their electronic government system. You know that Asian countries are also known for their love of bribes and they have big problems with corruption; we are not talking about Sweden or Finland. People understand the importance of greasing palms there. But what I was shown is a system that puts the individual civil servants out of the equation altogether – all contact takes place via computer. This is the direction we need to take.
One final point, what was it exactly that took place in Doha?
Ella Panfilova: It was the third conference of the countries party to the UN Convention against Corruption. They met to adopt a monitoring mechanism. The mechanism proposed was quite an open option.
Dmitry Medvedev: I see. I will look into this matter and examine just what position our delegation took and on what basis. Thank you.
chairman of the Public Organisation National Anti-Corruption Committee Kirill Kabanov: Our organisation directs its efforts to analyse and classify corrupt practices, in other words, we review information regarding particular instances of corruption. Today, there are three key powers whose activities determine the efficacy of countering corruption in our nation: the President, public servants, and society. As you just mentioned, last year you initiated a National Anti-Corruption Plan which was developed and is now being implemented through active support by the Prime Minister. Still, it can be said with certainty that light-fingered officials do not plan to give up their systemic, corrupt, multi-billion ruble business.
We have prepared and presented a written report – we have submitted it to you. We showed an analysis of several procedures and what is happening overall, using specific current examples pertaining to the National Anti-Corruption Plan.
Since corruption is the most lucrative business, it affects the most important elements of average citizens’ lives and interests: housing and public utilities prices, pension funds, and funding intended for developing public health. Here, we see problems with monitoring: this problem is present in regard to the use of all budgetary funds at every level. Currently, supervisory authorities only conduct audits on the use of funds – in other words, after the money has already been stolen.
We do have an example from last September, when the State Duma and Audit Chamber became interested in the problem of implementing pension reform. And that’s when they discovered some enormous gaps and problems. But this is not supervision with an eye toward the risks of corruption, including risks related to executive appointments, hence because of nepotism, we often see the appointment of questionable individuals to jobs and important positions, including ones related to the distribution of funds.
We already have a kleptocracy that in its activities is guided by purely its own interests, which is a huge problem. All the orders and efforts within anti-corruption policies originating from the top are met with strong resistance and sabotage on the part of the groups that have established their corrupt practices. Indeed, these groups involve various agencies. For example, if we refer to law enforcement, we would not mean the Ministry of the Interior only.
The entire law enforcement merits a separate discussion since, after all, it involves violent corruption where the subject matter is not just a corrupt deal, but rather extortionist demands. What is of the most concern is the dominant position of one special agency in the whole of the law enforcement system. There are outrageous examples of its interference with judicial processes and the judicial bodies, i.e. the examples of corrupt links. These examples …
Dmitry Medvedev: What agency are you referring to?
Kirill Kabanov: The Federal Security Service [FSB].
Dmitry Medvedev: Well then just go ahead and say it.
Kirill Kabanov: OK. We said it in our report, and indeed, we cited self-illustrative examples. In looking at the situation regarding corporate raids, we can see how everything is linked together. Incidentally, this situation is not improving, and we are seeing more such examples. In fact, we are now seeing raids of successful companies.
In recent years, the financial and banking system has essentially turned into a giant ‘Laundromat’ for money laundering which is, by the way, confirmed by data from the Ministry of the Interior. The corrupt schemes often operate under protection of those who should be fighting them. Individuals who actually try to fight corruption often find themselves jailed.
Against this backdrop, society has, as you stated, taken a watchful position. It is true that personal protests are growing, but these protests do not lead to supporting anti-corruption initiatives or developing public control. Distrust, resentment and fear are the main emotions felt by citizens toward public authorities. This is the result of inarticulate information policies by the government regarding this problem. The problem is rarely addressed in any serious manner on the federal TV channels and in national media. Those media only refer to segmentary facts of a public servant being detained for corrupt practices here or there, but such odd occurrences may not be perceived by the society as a national threat.
We are also alarmed by the bureaucracy’s ability to suppress anyone speaking out against corruption, as stated by our colleagues. Often, the cynically-formal approach by bureaucrats toward implementing anti-corruption initiatives, particularly in the regions, only serves to engender the view that no actual fight against corruption is currently underway.
Russia lacks a system of anti-corruption education. At the moment, we cooperate with the Higher School of Economics, Moscow State University, Transparency International, and Irina Yasina at her seminars, but this is our own initiative and anti-corruption education is in no way part of the government systemic education. Eventually, fear arises as a result of fist law and simply criminal actions
We believe it would now be advisable to expand the pool of government agencies involved in countering corruption. Civil agencies such as the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Economic Development should work on analysing and monitoring corrupt practices. The Prosecutor General’s Office and the Federal Guard Service should expand their capacities to counter corruption. In other words, we need better competition within the law enforcement system. And we believe that, most importantly, we must vitalise the work by the Presidential Council for Countering Corruption, to make it more practical and incessant. Indeed, perhaps we should get civil society representatives involved in this work; if this is your initiative, it will be an extremely important signal to bureaucrats at all levels.
Dmitry Medvedev: You know, I think that we all need to take an active role, and not just in regard to the traditional corruption-related crimes and corruption schemes. You mentioned corporate raids, for example, as one type of crime. Incidentally, we have just prepared a fairly good, tough draft law on this matter and we need to weigh all the pros and cons of this law before it is finally approved. It is currently lying on my desk.
In my view, the problem with corporate raids is this: many of our people perceive it as some kind of elite crime. It’s as though it does not affect anyone except the people whose property has been taken away. In reality, it is a systemic threat. When property is seized from the rich, people may think that’s probably how things should be, but when it is taken away from somebody not so rich, that’s when they want an investigation, and if some small shop is seized from somebody living next door, that really hits close to home.
But these crimes are of the same nature, even though their mechanisms are different, same as their practices and degrees of sophistication. The nature nevertheless is one and the same. That is why I think it is very important for crimes of this kind not to be perceived as applicable only to a very narrow stratum of people who should be taken down, or people who are crooks themselves, which would imply that what happens to them is a natural result of their earlier actions. Instead, this must be perceived as a common challenge to all social relationships. When property is taken away, the public must perceive this as a serious crime. Thus, I think it is very important to readjust public perceptions.
As for intensifying work by the Council, I will think about how this can be done without creating excessive bureaucracy, and at the same time, ensuring that the Council provides some kind of additional momentum. This is probably the right way to go.
And the final thing I would like to say is that I think all of our agencies are equally infected with corrupt practices.
Please, go on.
FIRST DEPUTY CHAIR OF KHABAROVSK TERRITORY’S MEMORIAL HISTORICAL EDUCATION MOVEMENT, MEMBER OF GOVERNOR’S COUNCIL IRINA POLNIKOVA: I represent a distant territory – the Khabarovsk Territory – whose distance from Moscow creates a multitude of problems that, unfortunately, cannot be resolved even with an appealing approach like reducing the number of time zones. I would like to draw your attention to the situation currently taking place on the Big Ussuri Island, where work has been completed to demarcate an eastern stretch of the border between Russia and China. I can tell you that this border is now half an hour drive from Khabarovsk downtown. You have visited us, so you are aware of this. If you drive fast, you can be at the bank of the Ussuri River in 20 minutes – it is all nearby.
The Chinese side is developing their land along the border with great enthusiasm. Their investments are just staggering – they are really taking this seriously. They are already extending a strategic highway into the island from their side. In a year, they plan to have an airport near the city of Fuyang, which is a 40-minute ride by passenger motor boat toward China from the Khabarovsk waterfront – the airport, too, will be international. Construction projects on the island itself are also being actively designed. With their natural entrepreneurial spirit, the Chinese have even preserved one of our frontier posts and have turned it into a museum with weekend tours for their citizens. In comparison, we look like poor relatives, or worse, because unlike the People’s Republic of China, which sees the development of the Big Ussuri Island as a part of its major policy, we have not yet seen this kind of intent from the Russian Federation.
Now, I’ll move on from large-scale politics to issues of human rights violations. The problem is as follows: because of the demarcation, plots of land were expropriated from dozens of individuals and entities. Naturally, since this was declared to be an expropriation for government needs, these people reasonably expected that their government would be responsible for providing financial compensation for their losses. However, this is not what has happened. During the last several years, the Government has not issued any resolution allowing some sort of compensation. The example of Mr Shevchenko, a farmer who went through the entire court system straight to Federal Arbitration Court, shows that even this method is ineffective, because he received the following answers: one, the Government has not made a decision, and so there is nobody to address; and two,[compensation for] compulsory alienation of land for government purposes is not the government’s responsibility, because demarcation is not legally seen as part of such alienation. This is the strange way that the denial was worded.
I would never forgive myself if I didn’t mention two other problems, since they represent a very sore subject. November 8 marked the one-year anniversary since the tragedy in the Sea of Japan. During the first sea trials on the Nerpa submarine that day, twenty people died, including twelve specialists from the Amur Shipbuilding Plant in the city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur. Today, the submarine is in good shape; it recently went out to sea to undergo state testing. The people who worked on its restoration – civil specialists – say that the submarine is not at fault – the Nerpa is a good vessel. A monument was erected in Komsomolsk-on-Amur in time for this anniversary, which displays the right wording and a marble crest of the wave. We know that a wave brushes away all the markings in the sand, but the same thing is happening today with our people.
A year has passed, and now, over 60 navy members in the Pacific Fleet have received state decorations for saving the Nerpa. The shipbuilders have a great respect for this decision and they are certain that these individuals received the awards entirely fairly; these sailors, mostly young men, evacuated those who were injured and dying. But civilian specialists also participated in the rescue of people, as well as the submarine itself. None of them received recognition. Why not? Because investigations of this event were labelled “top secret” and the documents were sealed. As a result, neither the management of the shipbuilding plant nor the city administration had documented grounds to apply for awards for their employees all by themselves, since they would need support from the Ministry of Defence. But the Ministry of Defence has never replied to such requests from the plant and the mayor.
Here in my notebook, I have many examples of personal courage on the part of people who did not panic or lose their nerve during the tragedy; instead, they did everything they could to save the young men inside. Incidentally, the emergency surfacing of the submarine was also possible due to the efforts by a civilian engineer Boris Sazonov, who had the difficult choice of either saving the boat or escaping from the compartment to save his own life. At that point, every second really did count; indeed, he performed 28 operations in 34 seconds, operating the controls flawlessly. The ship surfaced, coming up for air, which means that 188 individuals are alive today because of his efforts. I believe that as Commander-in-Chief, you must pay attention to this fact.
I have another minor request. I have brought you a letter from the children and teachers in a small village in the Nanai County. It contains some very touching words: “Dear Mr President, we are writing to you about a very delicate matter with the tremendous hope that you can help us.” What matter is this? You see, a young hunter named Maxim Passar was drafted to go to war in 1941 from a small outpost called Mukha. After some time, he became the best sniper in the Battle of Stalingrad. This was confirmed in the memoirs of his superior, Commander Batov. He died in 1943. Documents were submitted to award him the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, but they got misplaced somewhere. And for many years, veterans of the Great Patriotic War, local authorities, children, and the school museum have all been writing petitions with requests for understanding and support in this situation. And here is what they have written: “We, the schoolchildren, faculty, and all the Nanai people unanimously believe that our countryman deserves to receive this title. If it were not for him – if he had not done what he had done – it is frightful to think about how many more Soviet citizens would be killed by those 380.” The figure 380 refers to the number of Nazis killed personally by Maxim Passar. We have appealed to the Ministry of Defence, but received a very indifferent response; it stated that, unfortunately, the Statute on State Awards of the Russian Federation makes it impossible to negate previously-made decisions on decorations in order to grant higher awards. Veterans of the Great Patriotic War in the Khabarovsk Territory implored me…
Dmitry Medvedev: I would like to see the letter.
Unfortunately, I cannot award the title of Hero of the Soviet Union for obvious reasons, but I can grant awards pertaining to the Russian Federation. Please give it to me.
I would like to say a couple words on what you stated regarding the Big Ussuri Island. As far as compensation is concerned, I will give instructions to look into finding the root of the problem and see why these issues have not been resolved, because for obvious reasons, they should have been dealt with. The situation regarding awards following the tragedy that occurred in the rescue of the submarine – including awards for civilian specialists – will also be addressed.
Who would like to go next? Please, go ahead.
SPEAKER OF THE PUBLIC CHAMBER OF THE KALININGRAD REGION, FIRST VICE-PRESIDENT OF THE REGIONAL EMPLOYERS’ ASSOCIATION, UNION OF INDUSTRIALISTS AND ENTREPRENEURS OF THE KALININGRAD REGION, GARY CHMYKHOV: Mr President,
In your Address to the Federal Assembly, you said that the efficacy of foreign policy should be assessed on the basis of one simple criterion: whether or not it improves the living standards in our nation. I wish that this approach is applied in assessing the work of all our ministries and agencies. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
Kaliningrad Region faces numerous problems due to its geographical location and its isolation from the other regions of Russia. But I would like to highlight the issues of greatest concern to the region’s public, which federal ministries approach differently. We discussed these issues within the Chamber, since they concern the rights of nearly a million Russian citizens, and we have sent relevant requests to the appropriate federal agencies, but unfortunately, we have not seen any changes in the approaches toward resolving these problems.
It would be unfair to say that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not work on ensuring unencumbered travel for residents of the Kaliningrad Region to other regions of Russia. However, if we are to be honest, the situation has not improved over the years – indeed, it is getting worse. Now, in order to leave the region, all residents must have passports for foreign travels. In order to drive to another region of Russia in a car, residents need corresponding invitations and must pay to submit visa documents at the consulate of the Republic of Lithuania. It is impossible to get to Belarus, a nation where many Kaliningrad residents have relatives, without a Schengen Visa.
The current situation is such that freedom of movement for Russian citizens residing in the Kaliningrad Region – the freedom to travel and interact within the Russian Federation – is severely restricted. Kaliningrad residents appreciate the current situation and realise that much depends on the position of the European Union. But there are certain issues that are difficult to understand.
For example, will it be easier for residents of the region to visit Russia’s other regions if agreements are signed on visa-free travel for residents of near-border regions in Lithuania, Poland, and Russia – the agreement proposed by Russia’s neighbouring nations? I do not want to seem negative, but I do not doubt that the border crossing problems will aggravate, since there will be an increase in visits by Polish and Lithuanian citizens engaging in cross-border trade. An overall solution of the problems facing Kaliningrad residents when visiting Russia’s other regions may be thus pushed even further off into the distant future.
Why is it that Russia and the European Union have such different attitudes toward their citizens at the borders? When entering or leaving Russia we all must fill out customs declarations, specifically regarding personal vehicles, and have our passports stamped. The European Union does not have such requirement for its citizens. Furthermore, there are special drive-through lines for EU citizens at border crossings. Meanwhile, Russian citizens crossing our borders must wait in the general line. I could go on for much longer about Russian border crossing, but I do not want to waste time.
The Kaliningrad Region is affected to a much greater extent than Russia’s other regions by the protectionist decisions of other nations. In recent years, changes in railway tariffs in Lithuania in particular have resulted in a significant increase in the cost of goods going to Kaliningrad, and a reduction in the competitiveness of all the goods and services produced in the region, when compared with other regions of Russia. While from 2004 to 2008 transport costs on Russia's railways to ports in Latvia and Lithuania remained unchanged, the rates for sending something to Kaliningrad for the same period increased by more than 80 percent. At the same time, Lithuania hasn’t reduced the railway tariffs for goods destined for Kaliningrad and the Baltic countries but actually increased them. This situation has led this year to a dramatic reduction in the flow of goods in the direction of Kaliningrad.
The transport component of the price of goods produced in the region, compared with that of similar products produced in other regions of the country, is 30–50 percent higher. The highest prices for fuel oil, coal and gas are in the Kaliningrad Region. Why is this happening? The Kaliningrad Regional Public Chamber is being asked many questions , myself personally as a member of the Council, but unfortunately we aren’t likely to come up with answers, because the position of the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Transport is that it’s not worth responding to these actions by Lithuania. It might result in discriminatory retaliatory steps, though it’s not clear what else these new discriminatory measures might be. I think that such actions are not contributing to an improvement in living standards in the Kaliningrad Region.
Mr President, we kindly request that you take up this question. In our view, Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry in its negotiations with Lithuania and Poland concerning a visa-free regime for border areas should raise the issue of including Kaliningrad in this new, simplified setup, so that no invitations or multiple transit visas for travel to other Russian regions are required. At Russia's borders with Lithuania and Poland there should be special lanes for citizens of the Russian Federation.
We would ask that the Russian Government Cabinet realign railway tariffs for the transportation of goods to the ports of Kaliningrad and the Baltic ports, and also ensure that railway tariffs for transportation of cargo from the Kaliningrad Region to Russia’s other regions and back do not exceed similar rates for transport involving the same distance in Russia.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you for taking us back to real life issues, sometimes that can be useful.
Of course, this is a difficult situation, and I have gone all out in raising this issue at almost every summit with the European Union. By the way, it has to be said that the atmosphere at the recent Stockholm summit was very constructive. Even our colleagues in the European Union said that this was perhaps the most constructive summit in recent times or even for many years.
What did we spend all our time discussing? We pointed out that in view of what is after all Russia’s special status and our commitment to ensuring that we develop a wide range of full-fledged contacts with the European Union, as our most important partner – as you know, it accounts for more than 50 percent of our trade – the European Union should eliminate visas for Russian citizens on short visits. That’s our strategic goal. In principle, no one is saying no at the moment. The question is when the transition to this regime will take place.
We will certainly carry on our negotiations with Lithuania and Poland concerning partial measures for simplifying things. But the European Union is very much a consolidated association these days. I think that until we come up with some sort of general solution as part of our negotiations with Brussels, arriving at a separate agreement will be very difficult. In any event, I am looking forward to an agreement, not only on Kaliningrad transit but a comprehensive agreement more generally. That would free our hands to solve some of the very difficult problems that now exist concerning Kaliningrad transit.
As for the adjustment of tariffs, both rail fares and freight rates more generally, of course we will do absolutely everything that we can, because of course there is a lot of money at stake. This issue has my full attention and the attention of the Cabinet. Rest assured: this is a subject that is taken up at least once a month even by me, and that’s not counting the specialists in the civil service. We’ll succeed, but it’s not going to be easy.
Who would like to go next?
President of the Association of Independent Centres For Economic Analysis Alexander Auzan: Mr President, as you may recall, at our April meeting we presented you with a consolidated plan on how to work out a strategy concerning the authorities and civil society. In principle, this strategy involves three separate steps. First, facilitating the initial set up, and this you have done. We genuinely believe this is very important, and we have been speaking to a variety of audiences about the symbolic and fundamental changes in the legislation on non-profit organisations. Not all the work has been done, but the political signal has been sent.
Now we can take the next step: feedback. For us this feedback from those running the state apparatus is in fact a form of civilian control. I'll talk about civilian control over public services, administered by the authorities, and after that Tatyana Maleva will talk about social services. That is, we are trying to figure out and suggest how this might work in social and economic areas.
For the sake of brevity, I will suggest what is in our view one way of stating the problem, how it can be resolved, who can operate in these conditions, how they should proceed, and what sort of regulatory support is necessary. Let's start with problem definition.
You may recall that, ten days before you were elected President of Russia, there was a constituent assembly of the Institute of Contemporary Development, where we talked about how modernisation in Russia is constrained by the poor condition of its institutions – most importantly antiquated government institutions. Everyone agreed that the way out of this situation was first and foremost to provide feedback, to encourage demand for modernisation. At that point you consistently invoked the four I’s formula, starting with institute modernisation and going on to infrastructure, investment and innovation. In this regard, Mr President, you set the tone of the debate. And I would like to disagree with your putting your hopes in technological solutions, electronic solutions. True, the system of e-government is very important. But don’t delude yourself, Mr President.
As it happens I am acquainted with the experience of a number of countries in this regard. One of our neighbouring countries has introduced an absolutely electronic system for grading its national exam, something like our National Final School Exam (EGE). And what’s the upshot? Has corruption disappeared? No. It’s simply moved from teachers and education departments to programmers and cryptographers. In so-called invisible systems, in people-free systems there is always the invisible presence of a person. So fortunately or unfortunately the only way to solve social problems is by some sort of social agency. Technical solutions can create a certain level of performance in the institutions themselves. The persistence of institutional problems results in stagnation, which proceeds to get worse, ensures underdevelopment, about which you have repeatedly spoken out, and finally manifests itself in the domination of bureaucratic groups whose goals are collecting undeclared income and creating administrative barriers.
But I would like to say a word in defence of bureaucracy. We have all the usual ideas normally associated with that word: let's reduce the number of officials, let's lower administrative barriers. In my opinion, this is the wrong way to formulate the problem, because the result of such activities is usually an increase in the number of civil servants and the growth of administrative barriers in short order. Generally speaking the bureaucracy is the productive class; the bureaucracy produces public services for citizens and businesses. So let's change the way we formulate the problem; otherwise the easiest way to cut costs is simply do nothing, and the easiest way to eliminate administrative barriers is a moratorium on all legislation. Then we all have peace and quiet, but not the conditions for development. Therefore the challenge, in our view, is to reconfigure the bureaucracy to obtain high-quality public services for citizens and entrepreneurs.
Now, how to solve this problem? A lot has been said about the usefulness of performance indicators. For a number of years I have been a member of a government commission to assess the effectiveness of federal and regional authorities. Mr President, we do need indicators, but they themselves do not produce results, because some of these figures are manipulated and others do not reflect anything, which makes the indicator reflect not the result achieved but a simulacrum of that result. More than 150 years ago Hegel talked about people who confuse excitement for inspiration, stress for work, and fatigue for success. And if we bank everything on indicators, we’ll obtain a similar result. There is something to be said for using rating different departments or choosing among competing claims for budget funds, but even in such cases they can’t be the whole story.
In institutional economic theory no one would dispute the claim – they even gave a Nobel Prize for it a few years ago – that when the consumer does not know the quality of the product, then any sort of competition has an adverse effect on what's available: in other words, the most unscrupulous party wins in the end. The same thing happens in departments: competition won't produce the desired results, but will lead to a decline in services, if the clients for whom these services are intended have no way of influencing their delivery or their quality. Hence the idea of defining everything in terms of client interests. Can it be done?
When you met with Council members in June, you said that a significant part of the bureaucracy, especially in the social and economic spheres, was not under the control of the non-profit sector organisations, of civil society. And here I should probably try to say some comforting words, because civil society, as opposed to government agencies, is not organised on a departmental basis. There is no need to create a specialized organisation for each activity. Civil society is very mobile, and this is in effect what is already happening.
For several years we have been monitoring the quality of public services, building on the existing network of human rights organisations, the Society [for Defending the Rights] of Consumers, associations of small and medium businesses, and independent research centres. This monitoring was quite effective for several years in the field of antimonopoly policy. Then, together with the Higher School of Economics, the Levada Centre, the Public Opinion Foundation and the Ministry of Economic Development we did the same thing with administrative regulations, and the results were very encouraging. Moreover, this control didn't cost those being monitored anything. There were no surprise inspections and no disruptions. It is done by anonymous request. Among the thousands of requests for services or to register this or that document there were some checks on behalf of a businessman or a non-profit organisation or a private citizen. And the monitoring kept a close watch on them. It was like radiation: you couldn't see it and it put the whole department under stress.
The results were unexpected. We reported to the government commission as early as 2008, on the situation when the same legal requirement was understood and enforced by the territorial agencies of government power in four different ways. The law was in effect being eroded. So there is obviously the question of for whom we're doing this, and how to do what's necessary to make sure that it is done. We need a different means of regulation, a different kind of regulatory amendment.
Ms Pamfilova will give you a report, which our Institute put together with our colleagues in Perm at the Grani Centre and the Perm Civil Chamber. Our proposals involve the promotion of a model law on civilian control at the level of the Federation's regions.
I am convinced that we need to amend federal law. There is currently a bill in the State Duma related to the principles of governmental and municipal services in Russia. Last week, in anticipation of our meeting, the Council met with those responsible for this bill, and pointed out that the law will have to address the issue of the quality of services in monitoring facilities and independent appraisals.
Now, perhaps the most important thing. Decisions must be made as a result of the monitoring. We cannot force anyone to make this or that decision and we don't have to. But it is important that there be a review and then that some sort of reasonable decision be made. We would like your support in creating such an amendment, though there is already mutual understanding with those creating the law.
The point is that the Republic of Kazakhstan is already actively implementing these approaches, monitoring and a civilian audit of public services. Of course I'm delighted that a friendly nation sees the importance of this for improving the efficiency of the state apparatus, but as a Russian citizen I would like to see our country emerge from its stagnant phase by defrosting demands for change and encouraging active social groups that are keen to get on with modernisation. Thank you.
Dmitry Medvedev: I have almost nothing to add, no objections to make concerning what you said about feedback or about more modern forms of public control. But I just want to make sure that you've understood me properly: I do not think introducing e-government at every level or even providing electronic forms for communication is a panacea. God forbid, that is simply impossible.
The point is that if we do not introduce technological innovations, we don't simply lag behind in developing our own economy and its managerial environment. We won't be able to make use of technical, technological progress in order to face our most important challenges. Naturally you can worm yourself into any programme, or build any system you like. Well, here is a textbook case, one that I talked about in my video blog regarding how a wonderful site, ”zakupki.ru“ and some of its talented guys changed information from Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet, and as a result the whole thing is a mess. What can I say – brilliant people. These sorts are everywhere these days, but it does not mean that we shouldn't introduce electronic exchanges because there will always be rip-off artists interested in exploiting it for their own advantage. The more electronic exchanges there are the better.
If we're going to talk about this subject, one that I know a bit about since I worked in business in the 1990s, business these days is very different from what it was in the 1990s, in terms of both common practices and attitudes towards law enforcement. This does not mean that it's now untainted or that no crimes are being committed, but its general orientation has changed, and committing the most heinous crimes in modern times has become unpopular. The same thing should happen with public officials. How should this be done? These civil servants have to be part of the same framework. For this everything can be a help, the regulatory framework that you were mentioning, that is the adoption of the relevant laws, and the technological framework. The more we have of this sort of check, the more important these mechanisms become, the better, but this is no panacea either. Just so you understand my position too.
Director of Non-Profit Organisation Independent Institute of Social Policy Tatyana Maleva: I am expressing the point of view of independent economists who were acutely aware of the need to modernise our country during the period of economic growth and even when it was at its peak. And we are perfectly aware that modernisation cannot ignore the social sector, social policy. What is the main disconnect here? What is the vector of modernisation? For a long time the primary, overriding issue that completely dominated all other social objectives was the task of combating poverty. That is why the emphasis was on giving out benefits in the form of cash. In a purely formal sense we have achieved some results and managed to cut poverty by half. But we are perfectly aware that this programme could be more effective if it actually provided a real targeted social protection system for our citizens.
I’ll keep this short. Today, more than 60 percent of the poor have no access whatever to targeted social protection programmes and, on the other hand, the number of recipients of these benefits is twice the official number of the poor. Obviously this system has to be completely overhauled, and we have to keep in mind that reforming social protection systems is really almost impossible during a period of economic prosperity. But it is precisely in times of crisis that you can do what cannot be done at other times. And here we do not have much time to take some genuine steps. We have provided you with a document laying out a series of clear, specific steps that can be taken in this area.
So what is the vector of our modernisation? If we want to create a strong social sphere, we must abandon the policy of giving cash benefits only to the poorest, and instead invest in the creation of social institutions designed for the whole population, for the population to whom you appealed in your call for modernising the country's economy and society. And this portion of the population which has the power to effect modernisation, can respond by increasing labour productivity.
Let me cite a single example of the lack of such institutions: the pension system. Currently our policies concerning the elderly and the pension system are seen as one and the same thing, but it doesn’t have to be that way. In general the current pension system is a deliberate tool for combating poverty. Moreover, those innovations that were adopted in 2009 were addressed to the current contingent of retirees and those approaching retirement age. They did practically nothing for middle- or high-income workers or for younger employees. All the latter don’t consider themselves to be full participants in the pension system. They will thus keep their participation in the pension system to a minimum, stop declaring their income, and pretty soon we’ll be talking about the imminent financial collapse of the pension system.
And finally, the most important thing: throwing money at this problem is not the solution. When it comes to helplessness and illness, the pension ceases to be a lifeline, and in our society this is the biggest problem. Not just the low level of our life expectancy, but the low level of expectancy for a healthy life as measured by global indicators. In Russia this measure is still 10 years less than the level of life expectancy, and the gap between us and the world in this regard is even more depressing. So when it comes to this sort of problem, it is becoming clear that the problems of loneliness and helplessness cannot be resolved simply by spending money on them.
And if in respect to children, we can say that we have a market for social services involving the care and upbringing of children, even if it is still underdeveloped, for older people we need to recognise that in general what we have is practically an institutional vacuum, except for the system of nursing homes, which are firstly perceived by society to bear the stigma of social failure and, secondly, have a tendency to burn down from time to time.
Is not one of the reasons for Russia’s low level of life expectancy that these images of old age, sickness, loneliness and poverty are unlikely to inspire anyone to aspire to a long life? Nevertheless there is a solution. In 2008, with your support a fund was established to support children in difficult life situations. After all, what did many see as the solution? Let’s just increase the amount of subsidies or subventions from the federal budget. That will take care of the problem. Nevertheless, fortunately the decision was different. A fund was established in the form of a non-profit organisation that collaborates with all stakeholders, that is open to interaction with civil society institutions, that offers support in the form of grants, by the way, to the same NCOs that are engaged in social work. And in this sense this is just a prototype of the future, modern institution in the social sphere.
And I think that we need to reflect on this. Perhaps one solution would be to think about creating such a fund for the elderly, but the emphasis should be not on the fact that this is public money, but on the idea that those involved with it could work to raise its level.
Just the other day, last Friday, the issue of the Russian Population Census was happily resolved. But the attempt to postpone the census caused great concern in the community. I will not go through the reasons why we need a census – I think everybody knows why. But I would ask you, Mr President, not only that the census be held – and that the Federal Assembly support this – but that the results of the census be made public as soon as possible, because in fact the census is also a powerful instrument for public control. We would like to have the results of the census not after the election, but before the election, because the census is such an important tool: how many people are there in the country, where is the population situated, what kind of shape is it in. Only after studying the census can we answer, for example, questions about where we are heading in terms of demographic and social policy.
Dmitry Medvedev: I would just like to remark on a couple of things.
As far as the census is concerned: first, it’s a good thing that we managed to make the effort to do it. Secondly, this is where we really do need the sort of technological advances that we are sometimes afraid to implement, that we sometimes feel would be useless in our country. Because as I recall there was a census in 1988. I was still a graduate student and I worked on this census. The Soviet census was carried out. Putting together the results really did take a very long time, even if you take into account the specifics of system that existed at that time in the Soviet Union. Now we have the possibility of getting these results very quickly, if the appropriate technological innovations are carried out. So I think we will do all that.
Concerning the idea of a special fund to support the elderly: if we can find some mechanism that really does work, like the one we came up with for children, then in principle we can think about creating a government fund. Because on the whole I agree with you: support for senior citizens must consist of more than just a pension. The pension system that we do have is very cumbersome, although for the sake of objectivity we must admit that, despite the crisis, we have gone about reforming the pension system. I think that this was quite a courageous step for the government to take. The results are not yet in, but the fact that we had the courage to do it is already something, because of course the previous or current pension system is completely unfair, should be modernised and needs to be changed.
Please go ahead.
Executive Director of Greenpeace Russia Sergei Tsyplenkov: First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to you for the measures taken by Russia to release Russian environmentalist Andrei Zatoka, who was unlawfully arrested in Turkmenistan. All of the NGOs and members of the Council [Presidential Council for Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights] who worked for his release also express their heartfelt thanks.
Second, I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation for the declaration you made last week during the EU-Russia summit. I am referring to your statement that Russia is setting a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent. This really is an important signal – a signal not only for Russia itself, but to the rest of the world as well. This gives the upcoming summit in Copenhagen, which will take place in December, a better chance of producing some kind of results. It is also very important that many nations, including the United States of America, are now finding themselves isolated in a way, because their national commitment is much weaker than that of the European Union and Russia. In my view, this isolation can only be broken if the leaders of these nations really participate in the Copenhagen summit.
I do not know what decision you are leaning toward and what your advisors are recommending, but if you have the chance, we would very much like to ask you to participate in this summit and continue to embody leadership role that Russia is currently projecting. Indeed, thousands of children from all the regions of Russia are joining us in this request; they have sent in these postcards, which we will hand over to your Executive Office tomorrow. I would like to give you one of these postcards today.
We really do need a strong environmental treaty, to promote all of the goals you outlined in your article, Go Russia! and in your Address [to the Federal Assembly]: namely, modernising the economy and increasing energy efficiency. Indeed, all these goals are consistent with the environmental treaty. Furthermore, if Russia is truly to follow the path you spoke about, particularly in regard to energy efficiency, then it can easily comply with the stated goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and even surpass them.
There is another matter that you addressed in your article: all these plans face some very serious resistance. One of the causes for this is that around time of the publication of your article, which called for modernisation and energy efficiency, the government was simultaneously passing Russia’s strategic development plan through 2030, which is based on an entirely different set of approaches. I would like to just mention a few figures from this strategic plan, to clarify what I mean. The plan calls for investing 99 billion rubles in traditional energy every year; meanwhile, it provides for investments of only nine billion rubles into energy efficiency, and only after 2020 – 2022. To me, it seems clear that if we maintain this traditional approach, it will result in nobody needing energy efficiency. The plan appears to be aimed at building up our capacity first, and only later deciding on what to do with extra energy.
In our view, it is imperative to undertake a range of measures, as outlined in our letter. Naturally, it is imperative to revise this strategy – in other words, it must be based on the same principles that you declared in your article and Address. Perhaps those people who develop this standard strategy are unable to develop a strategy for modernisation. And it is imperative to stop subsidising traditional approaches to energy and the economy as soon as possible. Today, 100 billion rubles are spent on direct subsidies alone, to say nothing of hidden subsidies. Is it really possible for any kind of innovations to succeed in this setting or for any kind of energy efficiency to be possible in these circumstances? This, I suppose, is my most important message.
I also wanted to draw attention to the current situation in forestry. In August, you noted that since the Forestry Code is not being followed by anyone – businesses or society – so it is imperative to undertake certain steps. The situation is such that in the upcoming years, we may be facing a catastrophe in forestry – perhaps as soon as next year. I am not just referring to an environmental catastrophe, but an economic one as well. We need immediate measures. And we feel that the first measure required is the creation of a federal forest protection service, which currently does not exist. Right now, we have neither regional nor federal forest protection services. There are no guards in our forests, so we are seeing illegal logging, fires, littering, and unlawful seizures – which all reflect the part of your Address where you spoke about corruption. It is imperative to create a working group, based on professional principles, and to involve members of civil society who will support both the strategic development plan and a new Forestry Code.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you. I would like to say a few words in defence of the Americans. In fact, their position regarding climate-related matters has begun to change since the change in administration, as I have already said. Before, the Americans did not appear concerned with this matter. They did not participate in the Kyoto agreements, and moreover, were not involved in these activities in any way, but now they are showing an interest. The current President [of the United States] is working on it, and is trying to give it careful attention, but so far, he has not been supported by the Senate.
This means that we have recently seen some serious changes in relations between the heads of the leading nations in regard to climate change. Today, our American colleagues, the Chinese, and other nations that used to be very wary about these matters are now participating in these processes. We see this as one of our key missions, and we are truly ready to encourage these processes in various ways, for two reasons: first, because our economy really has fallen behind and we need to redirect it to an energy-efficient path; and second, because we really broke down in the 1990s, and to be frank, it is easier for us to do this than anyone else. But we must take advantage of this opportunity. That is why I also hope that we will be able to reach some political agreements in Copenhagen. But even now, one thing is clear: no binding agreements will be signed. Still, there is a chance that along with political declaration, we will sign a road map that we can all follow.
I cannot argue with you in regard to the strategic plan. It must be adjusted to take into account the priorities that we have outlined for our nation today. Naturally, we also need growth in traditional energy, because it is one of the budget-forming sectors – actually, the most important one. Nevertheless, it must be adjusted.
Chair of the Board of Independent Expert Legal Council [Regional NGO] Mara Polyakova:
Mr President, Colleagues,
We strongly support the policy of judicial reforms. A very important step that has been undertaken is the abolishment of the three-year term for first-time judges, which essentially served as a filter for selecting the most obedient among them. This is a very important innovation in our effort to ensure that judges are independent. We are also encouraged by the announcement on creating courts of appeal. We have spoken about the need for such innovations at previous meetings. It is very gratifying to see that our suggestion is also being advanced.
At the same time, it appears that these measures are not enough. We support your view that courts should not only be reprimanded, but supported as well. We also support various initiatives being suggested in this area. But as a special institution within civil society also engaged in public control, we see it as our duty to be on the lookout for places where things are going badly, where there is no justice, to report to you on these problems, while providing our own suggestions that might encourage our courts to take their rightful place, and ensure that judges hold an esteemed position in our society.
People come to us, we analyse current practices, we conduct research, and we have found that there is one very important unresolved problem: the problem of judges’ independence. We have learnt of cases when judges are obligated to report to the chairpersons about the verdicts they plan to pronounce for their cases, and wherein the chairpersons subsequently tell them what verdicts they should make. Some judges who try to make independent verdicts, regardless of instructions from their supervisors, lose their positions. Many judges are afraid to make acquittals, turning a blind eye to the shortcomings of the investigation and ignoring arguments by the defence. According to data from the judicial department, acquittals make up only 0.8% of the total number of verdicts, and nearly 40 percent of these are overturned. As a proceedings specialist, I can say that this is a sign of very low quality of investigation. In cases like this, justice is sacrificed in the name of reaching the necessary percentages and rates. Even more damage is caused by rate requirements from the internal affairs bodies. This situation is very alarming. I believe that we are gravely in need of changing the criteria for evaluating their activities.
A change in the policy for appointing court chairpersons could also influence judges’ independence. We feel that it would be more effectual to have them elected by the judges. We feel that it is imperative to take away court chairpersons’ authority to impose disciplinary measures against judges. We have already spoken about this before. We would also like to talk again about the need to start making audio recordings of judicial proceedings as soon as possible, because we often come across cases where the protocols are bent to fit with the pre-arranged decisions.
It has been proven that the most effective proceedings are ones that include a jury. It is our view that these proceedings allow for the realisation of the principles of justice and competing views. They impose higher demands on the quality of investigation. Today, however, a jury is involved in an unreasonably small number of cases. It is unfairly criticised when pronouncing acquittals. Acquittals usually attest to low-quality work by the investigative bodies. Making trials by jury more common may lead to a greater burden for the higher courts. In this regard, based on examples from other nations, we suggest having trials by jury when the defendant pleads not guilty. We have provided you with draft laws on this issue, along with our accompanying explanations. We would very much like to hope that our suggestions will continue to be implemented.
Dmitry Medvedev: To be honest, there was just one thing I did not understand in your speech, or perhaps I misheard it. What did you say is the proportion of acquittals in our nation?
Mara Polyakova: 0.8 percent.
Dmitry Medvedev: I think this is an inaccurate figure. Of course, I will check, because as a lawyer, I am interested in this. I will call the Chairman of the Supreme Court.
Mara Polyakova: These are data from the justice department.
Dmitry Medvedev: It’s true that we do not have many acquittals, but I have heard different figures, not 0.8 percent. I will just check into it. I myself am interested to find out about it, because this is actually a very important indicator of how the judges themselves regard their duties, since sometimes, the problem is also psychological. After all, an acquittal is essentially a contradistinction between the position of the court and the position of the investigation, which is often difficult for the judge. I am not referring to cases when there is a criminal influence on the judge, but rather, simply psychological and professional factors. Thus, this is a very important indicator. Still, this figure seems inaccurate to me. I will certainly look into it and let you know what I’m able to find.
A word about some of the suggestions you made. I think that we will continue working in this direction; this will include discussing the use of technology to make audio recordings of court proceedings – because really, I think the time has come to implement this kind of technology. Clearly, this will create some problems for the judges, but there should not be any discrepancies between what is actually happening in court and what is subsequently stated in the minutes and other sources of procedural significance. We have recently made some changes, so thank you for your positive assessment.
Expanding jury-based trials is a fairly complicated topic, and I’m not going to open this issue for debate right now. I feel that there is potential to get carried away, superfluously increasing the capacity of trials by jury, because in most nations, trials by jury are not that widespread, as is the case in our country. This does not mean that we should necessarily reduce them, but I am simply saying that we should be very mindful of this institution, because it is very delicate, so any adjustments must be done very carefully. Still, this may be a topic for a future discussion that may include present company.
Does anybody else want to say anything?
Head Researcher, Institute of Geography of Russian Academy of Sciences Dmitry Oreshkin: I'll stick my neck out and talk a bit about the elections and fraud. The situation is deteriorating and we need to do something about it. In the 1995 Duma election, the number of election commissions whose reports could be regarded as statistically significant signs of suspicious abnormalities was about 400, 398 to be exact; in the Duma election of 2007 that number increased to 850 and made up almost a third of the total number of electoral commissions.
I’ll spare you specific examples, because we don’t have a lot of time, and go straight to the most recent election in Moscow. The situation there was perhaps even worse. There are voting stations where obviously there was no fraud, no violations reported. These were the three voting stations where the President, the Prime Minister and the Mayor casted their votes. They are located in three different districts, Ramenki, Gagarinsky and Tverskoy districts of Moscow, but all produced approximately the same results: a turnout of 20 to 25 percent, with United Russia getting about 40 percent of the vote, and the Communist Party 30 percent. We can be sure that nobody worked on or fiddled with these results, to the extent that at the station where Vladimir Putin voted, the Communist Party came out ahead of United Russia.
By the way, these three voting stations were equipped with scanners, which put together electronic records, making subsequent tampering more difficult. But they had scanners only at these three stations in Ramenki, Gagarinsky and Tverskoy districts, where the top brass were expected; there were no scanners at the other stations in these districts.
If we look at the general results in Moscow and limit ourselves to stations where the turnout recorded was below 25 percent, i.e. where they clearly didn’t fix the turnout figures, there were 588 such stations where the voting alignment was as follows: United Russia – 49.5 percent; Communist Party — around 20 percent; the LDPR [Liberal Democratic Party of Russia], A Just Russia and Yabloko all received a bit more than seven percent each. The higher the turnout, the more votes there were for United Russia, to the extent that at stations where the reported turnout exceeded 45 percent, that is at 831 stations, United Russia averaged 75 percent and the Communists less than 10. All the other parties had less than seven percent each. So when the reported turnout is above than 25 percent, all the extra votes go to a single party, which is rapidly eroding the share of all the others.
Apparently the actual turnout in Moscow was somewhere between 20 and 25 percent, which means that the official version was arrived at by inflating the figures. That is the overall turnout in Moscow was inflated by about one-third and support for United Russia was inflated by about the same margin. United Russia’s actual result was therefore somewhere between 45 and 50 percent, not 67, despite what we were told.
This is just a particular example from a single city. The same phenomenon was observed in many other regions. And over the past few years the situation has got worse with each election. It has to be admitted that never before in Moscow, for example, had there been such large-scale false reporting. The scale of fraud has increased, and its geographical range has extended.
What is really sad is that this tampering with results has become a bit like doping, without which, let’s say, the party in power, like the exhausted athlete, can no long provide the desired result. What are we going to do in March? The big news is that electoral fraud has become a matter of public record, any way you slice it. Everybody’s talking about it in the open, the Internet is full of such stories. So they must not be hoping that we will not take notice or, more precisely, that society will not take notice of these facts, it definitely will. The Internet has already mastered the technology of identifying and figuring out the extent of the fraud.
As time goes by, elections are no longer the means of a dialogue between the authorities and society. Both sides receive distorted signals. The bubble of all this widely reported success inflates, like speculation on the stock market. The electoral figures get inflated. Sooner or later the bubble bursts. It is in our common interest to halt this process as soon as possible.
Perhaps the good news is that civilian institutions are now ready and, in my opinion, even willing not only to criticise and complain, but also to suggest what I would describe as an original, lawful, transparent, non-confrontational mechanism, involving no appointments or dismissals and causing no political grievance, in order to extricate ourselves gradually and smoothly from the situation. I mean an institution for public, possibly presidential, but in any case independent monitoring and auditing of law enforcement practices in elections, starting with one of the regions this spring.
If this topic is of interest, we are ready to suggest a specific strategy of action that will offend no one and neatly bring together the efforts of political parties, civic institutions and electoral commissions, in order to accomplish what Mr Auzan was talking about. That is, preserving and respecting the positions of the authorities while making civil society as a whole rather than the national leadership alone, a beneficiary of the Electoral Commission’s work to a much greater degree.
So there's a compromise here. If you are not opposed, we will work this up in more detail and submit it to you for discussion.
Dmitry Medvedev: I am glad that you raised the subject of elections at the very end of our conversation, because it is a very important subject for our young political system. And perhaps we should discuss it during these meetings too. A number of the conclusions that you've drawn involve your own assessment of the figures. We know that every assessment is always to an extent subjective. Nevertheless, it's true that past election has raised a substantial number of questions, and this really is something that we should consider for the future. What should be done? In my view, we need to do what I laid out in my Presidential Address, at the very least improve electoral law and legislation, I mean legislation concerning political participation in local government, that is, in the regions and local self-government bodies. Will this help improve the elections? I'm sure that it will help.
You spoke about the elections that will be taking place in the spring. Of course I don't want to prejudge anything, but I am sure that, because there has been some very spirited debate about the recent elections, because their results have been scrupulously analysed, because there have been a significant number of lawsuits filed on this subject, because all of this has turned into a very serious discussion, and because in the Presidential Address I gave this subject a great deal of attention, I am sure that the spring elections will be carried out more successfully than the previous ones. I am sure that they will be less contested precisely because the public's attention will be riveted by these elections.
Without doubt there has been all kinds of electoral fraud in various places. I don't want to estimate precisely how much fraud there has been, because if you can afford to make such assessments my position does not allow it as long as I don't have an objective picture of what happened. An objective picture will only be available when all these appeals will have been processed by the courts. If it's reported to me that the results of the voting in, let's say, 300 stations need to be annulled, than that would constitute an objective picture as far as electoral fraud is concerned.
Nevertheless, I believe that everything that happened will be of use to us. In this way we are simply improving our own instruments and means, and demonstrating that in civil society, as you rightly said, there are additional opportunities for control, including the use of Internet technologies. There's nothing wrong with that, it's a good thing. I myself am happy to have recourse to these means of control.
As for proposals on supervision mechanisms, if you have them, pass them on and we'll consider them.
Chairperson of the Expert Council of Regional Journalism Club Irina Yasina: Mr President, I actually wanted to talk some more about the outcomes of our discussions in April. I spoke with you about issues of great concern to me: the elite’s responsibility and philanthropy; we have seen some progress in regard to the latter. I found many points in your Presidential Address that I agreed with, in regard to volunteering, as well as other matters.
I would like to express my gratitude to [First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office] Mr Surkov, because he provided us with a great deal of support in regard to television. The topic of people with disabilities is now being addressed on television – it is still not enough, but progress has been made. However, we have not made any advances with regard to responsibility on the part of the elite class – they were irresponsible before, and this is still the case.
I would like to particularly support Tatyana Maleva with regard to the issue of a fund for assisting the elderly. You have probably seen the story of the nursing home in Yamm on the Internet.
Dmitry Medvedev: Of course. I even gave corresponding instructions.
Irina Yasina: Thank you very much. The subject was brought up by volunteers – wonderful people, three girls who are students at Moscow State University with a lot of heart. Indeed, they don’t just travel to Yamm, they travel much, all over the place. But now, there is a new problem, because the Pskov Region has decided to close down all nursing homes of this kind, even though there are some truly excellent ones in this category. In other words, the officials are showing too much zeal. So we have this very small request: please ask them to look into it. There are two more nursing homes nearby in Pskov Region – I will give Ms Pamfilova their names – and they are very good, but they are the same types of old buildings as the home in Yamm. The elderly can die as a result of being forced to move – it is too much of a strain for them.
And once again, I would like to suggest that we do something about instilling a sense of responsibility in the elite, because it is horrifying to see people walking around in an impoverished country wearing million-dollar watches. It is just unacceptable. We cannot live like this. I constantly want to say, “hey, have a little shame.” Let’s introduce the concept of shame into our everyday lives. I’m serious.
And finally, one last thing. You had told me at the previous meeting that we should not make people specifically accountable for non-compliance with building regulations and rules for the construction of wheelchair ramps – you said that people would observe those regulations anyway. Well, nobody observes any of it! In July, we rode down the newly renovated Kutuzovsky Prospect in Moscow in wheelchairs. We could have broken our necks! They have nothing! Please understand that until people are punished in some way, they will not do anything on their own. Unfortunately, that is the nature of our people, but we need to be able to say, “hey, there will be consequences.”
Dmitry Medvedev: As far as the Yamm nursing home is concerned, it’s true that the volunteers worked very well. Corresponding decisions were made as result of their activities. If they had not done this, nobody would have known about the Yamm nursing home.
What does this mean? It means that we are all interested in seeing more work of this kind. To be honest, after they revealed this, I thought I would need to be the one to resolve it. When all of this happened, I found out about it because I do indeed read this kind of information on the Internet, and I thought that I would need to pick up the phone and tell the authorities to address the problem. But what has happened is amazing, and I feel that it really is very important. The governor acted without any prompting from my end. This means that the system is slowly beginning to work, because the governors understand that we may find out about local problems here in Moscow, and it’s better for them to take care of it themselves. Clearly, this depends a great deal on the governor. The governor in Pskov Region is young, and he reacted with ease, taking care of everything quickly. And so, I think that on the one hand, this is a small thing, but on the other hand, it is revolutionary. And if this begins to happen everywhere, then we will see the very responsible elite that you are talking about.
As for the issues of whether wheelchair ramps are being built in the regions, I can tell you quite frankly: it depends on the region. Apparently, this is Moscow’s attitude toward the disabled.
Chief Researcher At the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Sociology Institute Svetlana Ayvazova: Mr President, I would like to talk about the issue of elections. I would like to just briefly draw your attention to the issue of employing the so-called ‘locomotive technologies’ [by parties placing on top of their election lists most prominent politicians and officials] as this is a very important topic. First of all, these technologies discredit the very institution of elections. And second, they lead to a direct violation of the principle of division of power. With the launch of this technology, the mass consciousness begins to perceive an entirely clear top-down dichotomy, with one party holding all the power – the party of the leaders – at one end, and all the other parties, who have no real power, at the other end.
And another suggestion.
Because of the use of this technology, we have distorted the legislative authority – its composition is distorted. It is overpowered by representatives of regional executive authorities. Today, the current legislative body is not representative of all our people. And in order to change this situation – since, as you rightfully emphasised, Russia is a young democracy – I believe it is imperative to apply the same principle that is used when electing a President.
Perhaps deputies should also be limited to only two terms. Ten years is plenty.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, this is an important topic for discussion – both in regard to the deputies and the governors.
Svetlana Ayvazova: Representation by women among our deputies is comparable to that in Cameroon. It is shameful for a developed country. This is another area where we need some kind of legislative measures.
Dmitry Medvedev: All of this deserves a separate discussion. I will not comment on this now, although I do agree with much of what you said.
Colleagues, I have a suggestion. Unfortunately, we will not be able to hear everyone out. First of all, as I promised, I will continue holding such meetings regularly in the future. Second, if I correctly understood the speeches of many among you, you perceive these meetings as useful. Moreover, although this may sound surprising, at least a few of the ideas voiced here have now been implemented. Since this is the case, we are clearly helping one another, and we will continue working together.
Finally, and most importantly: this time, I have received somewhat fewer materials from you; I do not know if this is good or bad. I do not think that we have fewer problems in our nation than we did before, but if you have anything that you have not yet given me, please pass it on to me through Ms Pamfilova, and at the very least, I will give instructions accordingly. We will make progress on some of these issues.
I would like to thank you for your sincere, emotional attitude toward life in our nation. Perhaps you are not used to hearing this from the people in power, or perhaps you do not believe that my words are entirely sincere, but I am nevertheless saying this, because I think it is right to do so. I want to thank you specifically for what you are doing – protecting people’s rights in our country, defending the role of civil society, and creating this highly important resource of communication. I feel that the work you are doing is very much needed by our people and our nation in these circumstances.
I would like to wish you all good health and I hope that we will meet again relatively soon. Take care.