Excerpts from transcript of meeting with representatives of the public in Ivanovo Region
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon,
I am happy to meet with you on the eve of March 8.
This is not a typical visit: the staff is almost completely comprised of women; it’s almost a women’s production facility because it is consumer goods manufacturing; but at the same time, it is directly related to the defence industry: parachute manufacturing.
Just now [Director General] Yulia Portnova and I realised that we both had a parachute jump, and I was very interested in seeing how this manufacturing works, what it looks like and how this technology has developed.
When I jumped, during my training at a special school, we had very different parachutes, a different technology and different materials. Today, of course, everything is developing very quickly and largely thanks to women. A woman even heads this great company.
Please give everyone my best regards.
Remark: Thank you very much.
Vladimir Putin: I really wanted to meet you like this on the eve of the holiday and congratulate you all. I hope that I will have the pleasure to congratulate you once again in the media, for the entire country to hear. But still, I believe it is time we began congratulating you. I can see that flowers are selling quickly, they are in high demand. The holiday is on a weekend, so men in the office are already congratulating their female colleagues, and I would like to join them.
I would like to note the city where we are as well as the company. I don’t want to speak in platitudes, but I cannot help it: Ivanovo has always been called the city of brides. Today I even received such a proposal here. I think the cameras were on and the young lady will become famous nationwide.
But I would like to mention, you know, on a serious note, that I am very happy that the number of children in Ivanovo increased by 18 percent. This is a very important and positive number.
It is also well-known, trivial, but still: the main burden in the family, as we know, still mostly lies with women, including the children and housekeeping. So I congratulate you and wish you all success, first of all, in your careers, so that this part of life, which is very important for the country, for society, for the state as well as for every family, I mean the family part, doesn’t hold you down but rather help you and encourage you to be more successful in your careers. And of course, I wish you well with everything at home.
We, I mean the government, try as hard as possible, with the known budget limitations, to find ways to support families with children, motherhood and childhood. You know about the large programme on perinatal centres, which have been built almost everywhere across Russia, and you probably know about the latest proposals that the former Government and I developed to support families, first of all families with children.
I am ready to discuss any topic with you and try to answer any question. I believe there may be difficult questions or questions I will not be able to answer that simply, but in this case I have support from women: here I have [Deputy Prime Minister] Tatyana Golikova, who, I must say, is the leading specialist on these issues and took the most active part, because she understands what this is about, in preparing all these decisions, including those set forth in the last Address to the Federal Assembly. I think you know them. Ms Golikova and I will be pleased to provide additional explanations, if necessary.
Congratulations once again and all the best.
Natalya Lokova: I would like to tell you about a new volunteer initiative.
Everyone knows that the most widely discussed topic at the moment is amendments to the Constitution. And we, the volunteers, decided not to stay on the sidelines but to actively participate in the process since every day, thousands of our volunteers help different people and improve their cities, towns and other communities. This is why on February 21 we launched a new movement: The Constitution Volunteers.
Two weeks ahead of the nationwide voting our volunteers across the country will explain to citizens what kind of amendments to the Constitution are being proposed and how the voting will proceed. We would also like to seize this opportunity to promote our volunteer activities and engage as many new members as possible, for example in such activities as For Dear Veteran, Victors’ Dreams, Your Vote Matters and others.
On the polling day we will be at the polling stations helping people with impaired mobility and will also try the role of public observers. In fact, this initiative is important because we mean to show every person in the country that our nation’s future depends on them, that they can influence the course of history, and also inform them how they can do a good thing.
On behalf of the entire volunteer community we would like to thank you for our country becoming the first nation in the world that will have volunteerism support enshrined in its Basic Law. Such a high status of volunteer work will show the whole world how important volunteer activities are for society and the state.
Vladimir Putin: A colleague here has already spoken about the social priorities we are adding to the current Constitution. It is already written in the current text that we have a welfare state but we are specifying these matters in accordance with our needs, the development of society and our capabilities, and add many specific things, which is rather unusual for the Basic Law. I think one of the facets of the state’s social characteristic is that we support non-profit organisations. To be honest, I do not remember who proposed it exactly, but the working group raised these issues and it will be reflected in the Constitution.
Why is volunteer movement, volunteerism in the country gaining pace so fast? The number of volunteers is growing exponentially. Why? Because, you know, it is etched on the Russian soul and the soul of every person living in Russia. Because providing assistance and support is in our nature, it is genetic with practically all the ethnicities in the country, because we live in a common space anyway – each ethnicity has its own culture and language yet there is something common that unites us all, shared elements of culture and traditions. This is why volunteerism hit the right spot, it woke the strings in our souls, hence such rapid progress. I see it not just progressing but progressing for the benefit of society, of the people. Absolutely different areas are all in demand.
Lidia Pukhova: Millions of our citizens are trade union members. This is probably why four union representatives joined the working group on amendments to the Constitution and were actively working there. The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia submitted a number of proposals including on the protection of the right to labour the way it was in the Soviet Union, indexation of social benefits and other guarantees to the employed.
We are campaigning for everyone here to vote on April 22 and express support for the social policy you have been pursuing all these years, the policy which will now be enshrined in the Constitution as guarantees. Yet we have concerns that State Duma deputies might trim some of the state’s ambitious social commitments and guarantees to the citizens.
Vladimir Putin: Indeed, some of the provisions of the Soviet Constitution were deleted from the 1993 Constitution on various grounds. We are not going to talk about that now. I already said at a meeting with the working group that I consider it justified to bring back the basic provisions to the Constitution because it will reflect the role of the working people in our society.
A worker, a working person today is very different from what it was in 1950s. Those who work in an office sitting at the computer are also working people. Thus the very notion gets a new content, of course. However, the prosperity of any nation and any society is centred around the working person. This is why it is vitally important to state it in the Basic Law. I do not think (I am even sure this will not occur) that State Duma deputies will try to water down any of such provisions. On the contrary, they will be happy to contribute to them.
I had a meeting last night – fairly late as it happened – with the leaders of all the political parties represented in the Duma, and we discussed the forthcoming adoption of the law on constitutional amendments in the second reading. It is the basic, substantive reading whereas the third reading involves purely technical matters. I did not see any attempts to undermine anything or to render a superficial sense cut off from reality. Quite the opposite, the people were very positive. I would even say enthusiastic and very purposeful. So I think your concerns are unfounded. These provisions were initiated by representatives of the trade unions and the working groups. I think it is the right thing. I am grateful to them for it.
Svetlana Orlova: A question related to you personally. At the end of last year you proposed that the provision about two successive presidential terms should be removed from the Constitution. We follow the news and we see that you have been repeatedly asked about that, and the media keeps wondering. So if you are no longer President, will you head another state body – the Security Council or the State Council?
We see that even extending the presidential term of office has been discussed. You see, your supporters and those who trust you want you to remain the country’s leader for as long as possible. But for some reason you have resolutely rejected all these proposals. Why? Are you tired of this work? You don’t look like you are.
Vladimir Putin: My work includes, among other things, our meeting today. Can anyone get tired of that? It is nothing but pleasure. On a serious note, I clearly understand your question and I am endlessly grateful to those who are concerned about that.
I want to say that it is not a question of my being tired or that I wish to step down. You know that anyone in my position, I am sure, perceives it not as a job but as a destiny. That is why I take it this way, too.
I am infinitely thankful to the people for supporting and putting their trust in me. It is absolutely impossible to work in this position without support. Starting with the 2000s, the hardest and even bloody years, it would have been impossible to do anything without people’s support. As we discuss different issues or various proposals come in, what do they suggest?
First. Remove the restriction about the number of presidential terms in office. What worries me here and why don’t I want to cancel the restriction dealing with the number of terms and so on? I do not fear myself, I will not go crazy, I am not the issue. We are not making amendments to the Constitution for the next five or ten years but for at least 30 or even 50 years. For that reason we must think in the long term. And it is not the issue of present. At present, stability and the country’s steady progress are probably more important. But later on, when the country becomes more confident, will accumulate more of various resources, the “fat” as they call it, then we will definitely need to ensure the alternation of power. And right now, just to remove the mandatory alternation [of power] from the Constitution – I can’t do it, I do not like it. That is the first point.
Second. Moving over to a parliamentary republic, which is practised in many countries. Our country will suffer without a strong presidency. We do not have stable political parties that were growing for centuries, like they were, say, in Europe. But even Europe faces huge failures in the parliamentary system. For example, Belgium has been unable to form a new Government for a year. The country is living without a Government due to a number of reasons, political and ethnic. Meanwhile, ours is a very complex country, and for us it would be impossible and damaging. Or there are proposals, as you said, to invest the State Council with some special powers and for me to head it. What would that mean? It will mean dual power in the country, which would be an absolutely ruinous situation for Russia.
The point is not that I am unwilling. No, I like my job. But what I fear and what I do not want to do is, for me to preserve power and authority, to devise a scheme in the power structure, which will be unacceptable for the country or will be damaging to it.
All said, I want to reiterate that I am very thankful to the people for their support, for putting their trust in me, trusting me to remain the head of the Russian state for many years. It is a great honour. This is how I feel about it.