Excerpts from the transcript of the meeting with schoolchildren
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, dear friends.
Before we discuss anything on September 1, I would, naturally, like to congratulate you, all school pupils, students, professors and teachers on this wonderful holiday and on the new academic year. Christmas and New Year rank among the favourite national holidays. But September 1 also heralds the beginning of the new academic year.
First of all, I would, of course, like to congratulate the little first-grade pupils who will go to school for the first time, as well as their parents, mothers, grandmothers and educators. In reality, we always do this, and this is the right thing to do because high school pupils are already in a sort of preset mode, they meet with their friends and peers, this is a continuation of the academic process they get accustomed to from the second or third grade. However, first-grade pupils are opening a new page in life, they are facing a new destiny, beginning to acquire knowledge and to choose their place in life and their subsequent careers.
This is a highly important period in the life of little children. As bureaucrats say in such cases, I would like to take advantage of this opportunity and to ask all other Russian school pupils to give a warm welcome to the little children at the schools and to support them all the way, in the direct sense of the word and figuratively speaking. This is the first thing that I wanted to say.
Secondly, you know that we have reinstated the Soviet-era, and later Russian, Znaniye [Knowledge] Society that aims to help people, and young people to find their place in life and to choose an interesting direction that will fascinate them, so that he or she will want to commit the rest of his or her life to it.
Of course, there are many so-called information resources in the modern world, including the internet and Runet. You name it, they got it. And it appears that users can learn just about anything there, including information about the stars, the centre of the earth, tacks, nails and diamonds. But there is a problem linked with the quality of this information. There is a lot of information rubbish which is often presented as the ultimate truth. But we should not trust this information which is provided by people posing as specialists, rather than real professionals.
Znaniye Society and its work involve real professionals specialising in every narrow field of knowledge, and it is certainly possible to trust them and to base one’s own perceptions of any specific phenomenon and its future development on their information and to decide whether it is interesting to you personally and whether it is something you would be ready to devote your entire life to later on.
So today we are having a proper class, am I right? Well, if this really were a real class, I would have selected a topic to discuss with you. As you know (you probably know), I have a law degree. I studied law at university for five years. We had great professors there, we can be really proud of the people who taught us. So, to some extent, I can consider myself a specialist, since I have a degree from the university. Now there is also economics – something I use almost every day, and I also have a degree, for a thesis on mineral reserves reproduction. An extremely important field for our economy, and here, too, I feel I am an expert and specialist. Then there is another field – as they say, wake me up in the middle of the night and I will tell you anything concerning domestic and foreign policy. I could have chosen this topic if I had wanted to.
But I chose history as today’s subject. I do not really consider myself a specialist or an expert, so this will not be a real lesson – just a conversation on the proposed theme. An exchange.
So why do you think I picked this specific field? Firstly, it is quite fascinating. Secondly, it is very important and covers a whole range of matters. In fact, history is the pivot, the foundation of all humanitarian knowledge including literature, music, philosophy, natural sciences, and so on. Learning all this is extremely important because we are interested in knowing how things were done before; it is even more important because it helps us understand the world we are living in today and the future we are heading into.
Look, I just said history spans – or affects, or has to do in one way or another – with all fields of study. Which of them do you think are the most relevant, significant, which of them dominate the public discourse? What do we talk about or hear most often in the media?
Let us do the following. I know that my question about what you wanted to do in the future has been conveyed to you. We will rely on this to look at various areas of activity and fields of study, and then we will proceed according to the plan I have in mind.
What did I want to convey to you in this lecture? You see, every lecture, every lesson or conversation, like the one we are having today, needs a specific purpose. Why are we doing this? Why am I dedicating my time to this and taking your time to listen to this conversation? What is the purpose? It is quite simple. Had I been an expert specialising in a narrow subject, I would have bored you by telling something about history that you do not know or may not be aware of. But I am no teacher, and my objective is much more straightforward. I want to get you interested in history and inspire you to study it. But why do we need to go down this road? Let us talk this over, but only after we see your answers to the question about who you want to become.
Do we have this information? Can we see it on the screen?
As you can see, the bigger the letters, the more people said that they would like to be this, for example, a teacher, a diplomat, an interpreter or a journalist. There is a diverse mix of occupations: public official, architect, philologist, psychologist, dentist, even clerk, athlete, coach, biotechnology expert, engineer, city planner, and environmental expert. What this means is that there is a wide variety of interests among you, and we can even see how advanced you are.
I have already mentioned the environment. We will also go back to the teaching profession, since we are now at an educational centre. In fact, we hear about the environment every day, how we need to protect nature, treasure it and so forth. Of course, we keep hearing about climate change. Its speed has startled and even awed some specialists. The year 2020 was the second warmest year on record, tying with 2016, while in some parts of Russia the climate is warming twice as fast as in other regions on the planet. This creates both opportunities and challenges for us.
Why am I saying this? Studying history is one way of learning what has been happening on our planet, and I will share with you what I heard from the specialists. They are drilling the earth to extract the so-called cores, going deep underground, and the deeper they drill, the older the formations they reach. After that, they study the extracted formations using the latest research methods in order to understand what was happening with the climate 100, 200, 300, 1,000 years ago or many thousand years ago. After that they create a sinewave chart demonstrating how the climate has evolved on our planet up to this day, and then project this sinewave into the future, providing us with a forecast of what is to be expected over the next 1,000 years.
In ancient times, there were numerous devastating disasters that destroyed almost all living things on this planet, not only the dinosaurs that we constantly talk about. Tens and hundreds of millions of years ago, events took place, which led to the almost complete extinction of all living creatures, reptiles and ocean life, as well as those on earth. Twenty, 30, 50, or even up to 70 percent of all living creatures died. What was the reason? There were different assumptions and different reasons: possible flares accompanying the birth of new superstars near the Earth, powerful volcanic eruptions that created climatic conditions similar to a nuclear winter, the fall of 10-kilometre-wide meteorites that produced the same effect, and so on. All of this is history, the history of our planet.
To understand to what extent today’s man-made emissions are influencing real change, we should take into account all these factors rather than only the things that are happening on this planet. It is necessary to watch what is occurring out there in the galactic, in near-Earth space, and in the bowels of the Earth.
You know, I was in the Russian Extreme North and saw permafrost, an ice cave of solid blue ice. And one can count, the cave has some sliced patches, which slice dates back to which century. All of a sudden, somewhere deep down, we spotted a stable, clear black trace, a trace of some event that took place about one thousand years ago (this is an approximate figure, I don’t remember exactly, but it was many centuries ago). And it was followed by blue ice again. Where did this trace come from? There were no emissions, no motor vehicles. More likely than not, it was a volcanic eruption. To understand what is happening right now and what may happen in the future, we should certainly know all about this. This is history. Undoubtedly, this is part of a certain science, but this is also history.
Or, if we depart from this section of history, we can come over to others. History, after all, is not just a set of figures, names and events. As I said, it is the foundation of knowledge in the humanities, because, based on what I have just mentioned, we can look at what is happening today and how we should behave in the future.
In our country, the Russian statehood disintegrated twice during the 20th century. The Russian Empire ceased to exist after the 1917 revolution. Russia lost huge territories in the west and north but gradually recuperated. But later, there followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. Why? We should closely analyse all this and find what triggered those dramatic events. Had they failed to happen, we should have had a different country now. Some specialists believe that we should have had a population nearing 500 million people. Just think about it. Today, we have 146 million. If these tragedies had not occurred, there would have been 500 million people. Do you feel the difference? This constitutes the combined might of the state, which constantly grows in geometric progression, creating an increasingly powerful basis for development, existence and wellbeing. We should see what was at the base of those tragic events so as not to let, under any circumstances, anything of the kind to happen in the future. We must know how to strengthen ourselves and how to build relations with our neighbours.
Or here is another highly popular subject: You have probably seen, on the internet or on TV, what is going on in Afghanistan, which is far away from you but not very far from Russia. What happened there? US forces were deployed there for 20 (20!) years and tried to civilise local residents during that period. It is possible to say that without offending anyone. In effect, they tried to impose their own norms and standards of life in the broadest sense of the word. This also concerned the political organisation of society. What are the results? This spelled nothing but tragedies, casualties and losses for the United States, and all the more so for people living in Afghanistan. This amounts to zero, if not even less than zero.
Why did this happen? The real answer is very simple: If anyone is doing something with regard to someone else, they should be guided by the history, culture and philosophy of these people and their life, in the broadest sense, and they should respect their traditions. One should realise that it is impossible to impose anything from the outside. The situation should become ripe for this. Yes, this can and should be done in a civilised way, meticulously and slowly, by supporting positive trends. It is necessary to be patient. It is virtually impossible to achieve any positive results without heeding all these factors. Of course, we should heed this for ourselves, in the first place.
Journalism is listed on your whiteboard as a job. Of course, this is a highly important thing, and every person has the right to voice their own opinion and to set forth their views. However, the main role of media outlets is to provide their audiences with objective information using certain information resources and to allow people to independently decide what is good or bad and in what direction they should move.
In this context, considering the fact that September 1 is a special day, teachers and educators listed in the centre of this whiteboard play an extremely important role, and an overwhelming majority chooses precisely this career.
Today, we are very actively discussing what education should be like and whether people should study online or offline, that is, in direct contact. Of course, modern methods of providing knowledge should, without a doubt, be used. But there are certain circumstances suggesting that the ability to work as a member of a team is a criterion for evaluating one’s performance. This is not my opinion, but the opinion of the overwhelming majority of experts. How will you learn to work with other members of a team if you study online all the time? This is impossible. Consequently, this highly important criterion of human success would be lost.
You have the profession of a teacher on your whiteboard. And there are educators too. And this is extremely important because it is crucial not only to share knowledge; perhaps there is nothing more vital than this. What is even more important is how to do it. I will not tell you anything new: a scalpel may be both an instrument that saves lives and a murder weapon, and it will bring nothing but sorrow. The same applies to knowledge. There are nuclear bombs and nuclear power stations. There is a great difference, isn’t there? And the educator’s role is in making the person who is getting all this knowledge and skills use them not only for their own benefit, but also for the benefit of other people, society and the entire humankind.
And it is not by chance that in the centre here, you have people working as educators and also tutors. And answering your questions and the questions that frequently arise and are asked, we will, of course, try to combine direct learning and modern methods of presentation. That is, modern methods of presenting the material. And we will do it wherever it is possible.
History is very important and not only that of our country, which is undoubtedly extremely important, but also the history of one’s ‘smaller motherland’ as well as family history. It is key because it ties each person spiritually to the land where he or she lives. The person starts to see him- or herself as part of a large country. Studying a family tree, you will not overlook that some of your ancestors took part in some major events. And, by the way, they were quite young, as a rule.
Currently, we are marking the 800th anniversary of Alexander Nevsky, a statesman, a military leader and a saint; the Russian Orthodox Church consecrated him a saint. And we are marking Alexander Nevsky’s 800th birth anniversary this year. How old was he when he took part in his first battle, as they say in our films with dog-knights, with crusaders, that he won victoriously? He led the Russian army at just 19. He was only 19 years old! And his brother, who was fighting beside him, was just 16 years old, as far as I remember. Can you imagine this? And our commanders of WWII and the Great Patriotic War? Still very young men, many of whom did not reach 40, led regiments, divisions and then armies. What about the builders of the Trans-Siberian Railway and the Baikal-Amur Railway? And those, who developed the Far East? As a rule, they were largely very young people. They were engrossed in their work. And, of course, it is very important and useful to know about this, in order to understand what exactly happened, and who was successful and how success was achieved. You need to understand and know it to be able to succeed.
You are mostly from the Russian Far East, aren’t you? No? But still, we are now in Russia’s Far East. Does anyone here know who discovered and explored this vast territory? What do you know about them? Can you tell us something about this?
Please, use the microphone.
Nikanor Tolstykh: Hello, Mr President.
My name is Nikanor Tolstykh, I come from the city of Vorkuta in the Komi Republic, from the Arctic.
I love history, but I do not know the history of the Russian Far East well enough to talk about it at length. At least I do know that these were brave people who were moving into unchartered territory, since only the European part of our country was being developed… But what lay beyond it? It was a void. For this reason, we must mention Yerofey Khabarov, who came to be known as the founder of Khabarovsk.
Vladimir Putin: That was in the 17th century.
Nikanor Tolstykh: Yes. We also have to mention captain Nevelsky, who was sent into the unknown. In his diary, he even wrote that he was “…sailing into the unknown.”
Vladimir Putin: Exactly. And how about Bering who was the first to sail through the strait separating Chukotka from Alaska? And the list goes on and on. There was also Muravyov-Amursky, Governor General of Siberia and the Far East. There is no shortage of fascinating people. Let me reiterate that they and their comrades were quite young.
But let me go back to family history, the history of the home region or the homeland in general. All of this is of course closely entwined. Feeling part of this history is essential.
We have gathered information on about 34 million people who contributed in one way or another to the victory of the Soviet people in the Great Patriotic War. This includes all those who were mobilised, fought on the frontlines or worked on the home front. The story is very interesting. Almost any family can find its relatives and ancestors in this database and feel a connection to the victories that shaped the future for us.
After all, why has the Immortal Regiment movement been so popular? This goes from the subconscious. First, this is a way to pay tribute to and perpetuate the memory of those who fought for us without sparing themselves. This is also about a sense of belonging on a subconscious, genetic level. If my grandfather or great grandfather acted this way and succeeded, this means that I also have what it takes to show the best of me in a critical moment and I can show my best abilities, serve my family, my near and dear ones, and my Homeland. This is an extremely important and a very interesting initiative that is also enlightening and relevant today, as well as for the future.
The history of developing these territories is just as interesting. It was done by Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians. All these people, who considered themselves and, for the most part, continue to consider themselves a single people, developed these vast swathes of land.
When I said that history helps us understand the present day (I can share it with you), I, not being a trained historian, still had to turn to historical events on two occasions in order to analyse the events preceding World War II, in order to see how the events unfolded during WWII, including as part of WWII. The Great Patriotic War, the war of the Soviet people against Nazi Germany, is particularly important for us. I must say that victory over Nazism is probably one of the most outstanding and significant events of the 20th century, this is certainly so. If it were not for that victory and, God forbid, if the Nazis had won the war, the world would have been a completely different place now, and the future of the Russian people and other ethnicities calling Russia home would have been completely different. There would have been no future for them whatsoever, because the Reich’s documents (this is not something I am making up) clearly show that a portion of Russia’s Slavic population, those who could work, was supposed to be used as workforce, those who were not fit for labour were deemed unneeded and were supposed to be relocated beyond the Urals or to Russia’s North, the unpopulated regions (that is, they were supposed to go there to die, to be clear), and some of them were to be killed in gas chambers.
The future of the Russians and Russia’s other ethnicities would have been different from the future of the Western European nations enslaved by Nazi Germany. They thought of those nations as more or less genetically close to them and hoped that they would be able to live side-by-side with them. With our peoples – no, not with the Russian people – the Russian people were doomed to liquidation and destruction. We must never forget this and must never allow all kinds of ranters to say things like, “why did we have to fight for Leningrad? It could have been surrendered and then we would have lost fewer lives.” Yes, maybe there would have been fewer deaths, but then there would have been no you, none of those who talk about these things today in this manner.
Or, I was compelled to turn to another part that goes back centuries, maybe you took note of this, maybe not. I wrote an article about the unity of Russians and Ukrainians.
It was not accidental that I mentioned that Ukrainians, Russians and Belarusians were developing these territories. There are lots of people who were originally from the territory that is called Ukraine today. Together with the rest of the people, they went ahead and developed these vast territories, not for their own benefit, but for the future of the country, a common country, our common future. And we should all know this and show respect for the people who accomplished this.
Again, young people have always been part of interesting turning points, critical or pivotal projects, and it is the same today. Now we are doing more work in the so-called Eastern Operating Domain. This is a new life, a revival of the Baikal-Amur and Trans-Siberian railways. Who built them? As I have said, young people built them. Or take the Crimean Bridge. It was also built by many very young people.
There are many interesting areas in science, for example, the defence industry. When I met with a small team of designers for our latest systems, I was honestly surprised; I asked them: “Where do you come from?” They were very young. Whole groups of university graduates came to a research institution and developed one of the world’s most innovative missile system to protect our national interests. It still has no counterpart. They were very young. What am I driving at? My point is that knowing all this, you should not put limits on your dreams or on achieving the goals that you set for yourselves, and you will certainly make it.
As for the Far East, if we return to exploring your home area and other regions, there are many places to see; I think those from the Far East know about them. As for those who are here for the first time, they should see the Museum of the Far East. As a nesting doll, it contains one more component: the Vladivostok Fortress with Fort No. 1 inside. I will not go into details now but we can surely include it in our programme. I would like to ask your teachers and executives to show all this to you and to other young people who come to the Okean Centre. Since you have come to Vladivostok, you must clearly understand where you are and what Vladivostok means to our country, to Russia.
I would like to wish you success and congratulate you on September 1 and on being in the Far East, in Vladivostok, a wonderful, cool place in Russia. I would like to hope that you will realise your dreams, and not only this year but in your life as a whole.
Thank you very much.
If you have any questions, let us continue discussing this subject.
Nikanor Tolstykh: We all had dreams when we were children. Which of your dreams have become reality and what were they about?
Vladimir Putin: Regarding my dreams and fulfilling them, I can consider myself a happy man because in different periods of life a person commensurates his dreams with his development level and his vision of the outside world. So, goals appear – immediate, more remote and strategic ones. Anyway, like most kids, I wanted to be a seaman, a pilot, and an intelligence operative. I wanted to do these things, and I carried out my plan. That is how life turned out. Sometimes, I even wonder – how has this happened? This is a complicated issue. You cannot just walk in and say bluntly: “I want to be an intelligence operative” and become a member of the intelligence service. This is not common, but it is how it happened in my case.
However, this is not the main point. What matters most is education, family upbringing and the environment. Everything was aimed at devoting one’s life to service to the Fatherland (I apologise for using this high-flown style in this case). After all, I was in security agencies and saw how security officers worked – they give up their lives if necessary. Everything was aimed at serving the Fatherland and this is exactly what I am doing now. In this sense, I think I have managed to translate my dreams into reality.
Alyona Velbik: As we all know, there have been friends and enemies in Russia’s history as well. Here is my question: what do you think are the attributes of a real friend?
Vladimir Putin: This is a philosophical question.
As for interstate ties, this is still a completely different matter from human relations. Interstate friendship is very pragmatic and is always related to national interests. Even personal relations between leaders matter but cannot be decisive. Any leader, either of a big or a small country, must consider the interests of the people who have entrusted him with this position as the top priority. Any leader must primarily proceed from the interests of his people.
As for human relations, they are a different matter. You know I think we can talk about true friendship when we do not just respect another person but acknowledge that he or she is better than we are in some way, smarter, more experienced or courageous than we are, better in something else but still better than we are in some way. This is the first point. The second major point is that we are willing not only to support our friends but to do all we can to make their lives good, to let them develop and move forward. Under certain circumstances, we would even be willing to sacrifice for those whom we regard as our friends and who consider us their friends.
Since we are talking history, there is one thing that sprang to mind as I was talking just now. I thought about my family history. My father fought in the Great Patriotic War, on the Leningrad Front among other places, on the Nevsky Bridge-Head. This is a small piece of land on one of the banks of the Neva. I think it covers an area roughly two kilometres deep and four kilometres wide, or something along these lines. All around this small piece of land were Nazi troops, while our main forces were on the other side of the river. This was a real bloodbath. The Germans were stationed on slightly higher ground, making it easy for them to sweep this area with their firepower. Our soldiers held on to this ground in order to use it as a springboard for lifting the siege of Leningrad.
Surviving this was no easy task. My father was wounded. To stay alive, he needed to get to a hospital, but it was on the other side of the Neva, and anyone who dared the crossing risked his life. To be honest, no one really wanted to do it, since even at night, an attempt to crawl to the other side of the frozen river, this was in winter, was a close call, since you could be easily spotted by a spotlight and become an easy target. But it turned out that my father’s friend, who lived in the same building and in the same shared apartment, happened to be nearby. And he took my father and dragged him to the other side of the river, risking his life. And he made it to the other side of the Neva, took my father to hospital, hugged him and said, “Farewell, you will live, and I am going back to die.” This is what friendship and a sense of duty towards a specific person, a friend, and homeland, are all about. And he did return to the Nevsky Bridge-Head.
Since I started this story, let me finish it. Sometime in 1962 my father came home crying. He met this friend in a shop by accident. It turned out he was alive.
This goes to say that these powerful impulses, maybe not always, but often, not only save lives, but also lift people and help them win.
Kirill Meshcheryakov: To conclude this meeting, I would like to ask the following question: what would you wish your 16-year-old self?
Vladimir Putin: I can hardly remember that time… Well, perhaps I can tell you. I have already said that all people seek and choose their own path, and I was no exception. When I was 16 or 17, I started thinking about this and making all kinds of plans. Having a goal is what matters the most.
Today, at the beginning of this meeting, what did I say about what matters the most for any lecture, any conversation or lesson? It is your purpose. Needless to say, the same applies to setting life goals. This is essential. As long as there is a clear goal, there is a chance of achieving it, and people start searching for ways to get there and do what it takes to achieve it.
For this reason, finding oneself and setting a goal is what matters the most. The second critical thing is not to be afraid and to believe in yourself. This is the path to success.