President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Colleagues,
We are here for what is essentially the first joint meeting of the State Council and the Commission for Implementation of Priority National Projects. We organised this meeting in order to discuss various aspects of state policy in the area of family, motherhood and child support.
We often say that children are our future. The commonplace nature of these words in no way lessens their meaning. These are true and accurate words. Traditionally, we try to paint the future in optimistic tones during the holiday season, and I would like to give today’s meeting such a spirit too, but New Year is still a few days away, and today is an ordinary working day. We are here not to exchange our best wishes on the New Year, though we will do this too of course, but there are a few subjects that we will discuss first.
Indeed, I think we should change our agenda today in order to discuss something without which neither we nor our children will have any future at all. This is our biggest national priority, for without it our country simply cannot develop, and it is the biggest task for the State Council and state bodies, because its resolution is essential to preserve and develop our state. This is a common cause involving millions of people, a cause in which we all play our part at the everyday, social and political level. What cause am I talking about? I am talking about maintaining civic peace and interethnic and inter-faith harmony in our country.
There is no need for me to remind you all that our country was built by the labour of many peoples. This is the simple fact of the matter. Peoples of different religions and cultures worked year after year, century after century, to build our vast country. As you know, our history always had its difficult and complex moments, our modern history included and there is no need to try to paint everything in rosy colours.
We must look reality in the face, all the more so as no recipe for complete social harmony has ever been found yet in the world. But at the same time, we cannot deny the fact that Russia really is a unique country with an invaluable and inimitable experience. What distinguishes Russia is that, unlike in many other countries and federations of peoples, the peoples of our country have in large measure preserved their customs, languages and religions, while at the same time forming a political and cultural unity within one of the world’s strongest countries.
This combination of unity and diversity is what makes us a powerful and influential nation. But this is not something we can take for granted. It is enough to recall the events of the late 1980s and what happened to the Soviet Union to realise that this kind of harmony is achieved only if the entire state and society make systematic efforts to nurture and preserve it.
Let’s ask ourselves how productive our efforts in this area have been? We should be frank about saying that interethnic relations in many parts of our country are tense. I remind you that Russia is in second place after the United States for the number of immigrants it takes in. This shows that our country is attractive and that millions of people from other countries place their hopes for a better life on Russia. This is good for our self esteem, no doubt, but at the same time, this demographic pressure also creates a large number of problems, problems that other countries face too. Furthermore, as our modern country grows and develops and general living standards rise, internal migration is also increasing, and this is changing the ethnic balance in many places, a balance that formed over the course of centuries.
We are not unique in this situation. Many economically developed and relatively prosperous parts of the world face similar problems, and frankly speaking, these changes are often a very painful process that gives rise to interethnic conflict. Political extremists and ordinary criminals help to inflame these conflicts. But such conflicts are a mortal danger for Russia, a mortal danger! No matter where they take place, in the Caucasus, Volga region, Siberia, or Moscow, they undermine our society’s foundations.
But we all know that interethnic relations were never one of the big priorities in regional life and administration. They are usually a secondary issue or simply a formality. We remember what happened in Kondopoga a while back, and we saw similar events recently in Moscow. Was no one aware of the migration processes, the corruption, or the problem of criminal influence among young people? Perhaps we should ask what the federal, regional and local authorities were doing. Where were the Interior Ministry, the Regional Development Ministry, the Healthcare and Social Development Ministry, the Education and Science Ministry, the Sport, Tourism and Youth Policy Ministry, and the Defence Ministry? I have not listed all of the agencies responsible for migration and demographic policy, interethnic relations, patriotic education, civic education, work with young people, and maintaining public law and order. We have so many different agencies!
When problems of one sort or another arise, we always hear the proposal to set up some new organisation or ministry, some new ‘ministry of nationalities’. But in the past, these kinds of organisations never proved very effective or produced any particular results. I therefore want to say that we are not going to set up any new organisations in this sphere. There is no need to multiply the number of bureaucrats and bosses with flashing blue lights and all the requisite staff. We – the people here in this hall – must get to work ourselves. This is why I think we should discuss this matter today and fulfil our direct responsibilities.
What, in my view, is to be done?
First, the regional governors must personally monitor interethnic and interfaith relations and efforts to cultivate tolerance and raise legal awareness.
Second, the heads of ethnic republics and territories within Russia should expand their contacts with respective ethnic communities in other regions and promote interethnic concord.
Third, the Russian Federation Government shall assess the quality of programmes and methodology aids for civic education of schoolchildren and students and propose the necessary adjustments. The Government and regional authorities must systematise and expand efforts to build an up-to-date agency to take care of organising youth leisure activities, especially for teenagers including teenagers from disadvantaged families.
Fourth, the law enforcement agencies must clamp down on illegal immigration channels, and they can draw on other countries’ experience where necessary. Other countries have good experience that is worth studying. The law enforcement agencies must act immediately to suppress any attempts to incite interethnic strife and provoke riots. Firm action is required here. There is no need for ceremony. Criminals have no nationality. They must be isolated and punished regardless of their ethnic or social affiliation. There can be no dividing them into those closer and those more foreign, as has sometimes been the case.
Furthermore, colleagues, priority in these efforts to maintain civic harmony must go to dialogue, communication, cooperation, education, and patient, painstaking efforts to bring positions closer together, even in sometimes very difficult conditions, and even if only a millimetre at a time. Coercion must be reserved only as a last resort. But at the same time, we cannot dally with those who do not want dialogue, with those whose acts are hostile to our entire society. There is no sense in extending a hand to someone who will never shake it. We cannot let ignorant rabble rousers destroy our common home, all the more so as they did not build it and are not the masters here. No ethnic specificities, customs and particular social problems can justify insolence, vandalism, violence and pogroms. None at all! A bad inheritance is no explanation.
All civil servants, no matter post they hold and what region they work in, must act in the interests of the people as a whole, and not individual ethnic groups. I stress this: the entire people!
I want to say again that people representing state power do not have the right to take sides in interethnic conflicts. The authorities must be fair and objective. There can be no letting popularity and emotions get involved here. We need to realise that the consequences of this kind of populism could be disastrous.
Colleagues, we are living in a time of global change, transition to a new technological level, immense mobility and rapid movement of people, knowledge, goods and services, and a completely unprecedented degree of information openness. Recent events have shown us that often even before the law enforcement agencies are aware of an event the news is already circulating on the internet and other communications channels. This is something we need to adapt to and learn to work with. Of course, this is harder than developing prevention plans and drawing up scenarios, but this is the reality in Russia today and in other countries too.
Life in modern society is very complex and intense. This intensity gives the energy required for economic and cultural growth. Modern societies’ strength – not just Russian society, but Russian society in particular – lies in their diversity. The world will probably never be all calm and quiet. It never was. Every time had its problems, but they were not so global in scale. What is happening now is the price we pay for development. We need to remember that no borders, walls or barriers will ever stop the mutual attraction of peoples, traditions, cultures and opportunities. It is not possible to close off from the world. All peoples must therefore learn to live with each other. This is not easy, but in our country’s case, this has to be second nature.
Our country really is truly multiethnic, and we know this very well. Present today are people representing many different ethnic groups, people running the different regions where all of these peoples live. It is our duty to preserve our interethnic harmony so that people will feel at home in any part of our country no matter what their ethnicity, and so that our children will live in a peaceful and prosperous Russia.
Therefore, along with the child support programmes we have discussed a lot, and on which we have made some progress and even produced some results (we have the results of the last five years’ work to add to our balance), I suggest that we also discuss this subject I have just outlined. I propose therefore that we do not listen to the working group’s reports today. They are well put together, have already been distributed, and follow in the line of the Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly.
Let’s have a frank exchange of views on ensuring interethnic harmony and also on demographic policy, because interethnic harmony and dialogue, children’s welfare and support, and promotion of the right demographic trends are all very much interlinked issues in our country, as we all know well.