Excerpts from Transcript of a Meeting with Students at the Irkutsk State University 2000-02-18 00:03:52 Irkutsk Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon. If you have any questions, I would rather listen to you. Do you have any questions, ideas and proposals? Question: As the soul grows older one becomes more conservative. What do you think about that? Vladimir Putin: Not to worry: I feel quite young. At any rate, I don’t feel my age. Voice: We wish you to stay young. Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. Question: How important is political will, political power for a politician? Vladimir Putin: I am absolutely certain that for someone involved in politics willpower is the most important quality. People who have no will are just experts. They may be good experts or bad experts, but they are specialists who can only give advice. Without willpower you cannot make decisions. Question: There is a lot of discussion currently about a new education policy. What do you see as its main shortcomings? Vladimir Putin: You know, I wouldn’t like to criticise it because if I make any specific critical remarks I would instantly upset the balance among the groups fighting over the policy. Let me just say that some of the things in it are purely declarative. And that is probably its main shortcoming. The policy must be more substantive and perhaps more concrete in formulating the goals and the mechanisms for achieving them. I can say without exaggeration that science and education should be the main vector in the country’s development in the near future. I am not saying it simply because I am here at the university, talking to students. It is just that for a country like Russia, in its present position, accelerated development – and this is the kind of development the country needs – is impossible without advanced science and education. Everything begins with education. You know that the more developed a country is economically, the less it invests in education because it already has a foundation. We cannot say today that we are a country that is sufficiently developed economically. Of course, education and science are priorities. We have preserved the core of our military-industrial complex. The state has channeled huge resources in it for decades. Science is well-developed in that sector, but there has been no demand for its results in the civil sector. There were never any conditions for the development of market relations. Whatever it invented and produced has never found a broad market. Its products have always been one-offs, there was no serial manufacture. But the potential is huge and we should preserve it. It will be impossible to preserve unless we reinforce what has been created there over the years by injecting new human resources and fresh ideas. So it is obvious that education and science are among the national development priorities. Question: How do you feel about brain drain in Russia. And what should be done to reverse the trend? Vladimir Putin: How can anyone feel about it? It’s a negative trend, of course. What can be done about it? It is necessary to make people feel comfortable in their own country, and it must be done not by administrative, but by organisational and economic methods. It means raising salaries and encouraging science and creativity, especially in the spheres where a solid basis and technology are needed for experiments and research. I have many friends working in this sphere. And many of them say that no one would have left, for any amount of pay, if they had a chance to pursue their research in their own country. This is what we should invest in above all. And of course we should see what we can do to raise the salaries of university graduates. They may not be as high as in the West, but they should be higher than the average in the country. The only problem is public consciousness. Society must be mature enough to understand that investing in human resources, in young specialists is far more effective than dividing and spreading everything evenly. Ultimately, it is in the interests of society. Question: Do you think Russia will remain a super-presidential republic? And are any changes being planned in this connection? Vladimir Putin: What do you mean by a super-presidential republic? Voice: I mean the status of the president as sealed in the 1993 Constitution, with unlimited powers. I mean the status of the head of state as an arbiter between different branches of power. Vladimir Putin: With regard to the president, there exists the system of impeachment. Society, the state have the right and the ability to initiate and follow through the impeachment proceedings against the president. But there is no such mechanism with regard to governors. So, I wouldn’t say that Russia is a super-presidential republic. There has to be a balance between the federal, regional and municipal authorities. Everything should be considered, analyzed, and the right accents should be made. As regards the degree of centralisation of power in Russia, I think you and everyone would agree with me that Russia is a country which followed its own path of development. We have just seen a monument to commemorate the arrival of the first train. There is a figure of Yermak on its bas-relief. He died while being pursued by Tartars. He drowned, wearing a shirt of mail the Tsar had given him. Siberia was added to Russia as a result of a fierce struggle. Russia was created as a centralised state and that was how it existed. That is why we had Tsarism and then Communism. Now we have the presidential republic. And let me say that the forms of government we choose must not strangle democracy, which is the most important idea, because there cannot be a full-fledged state and society without internal democratic processes. But there should be a clearly defined mechanism to guarantee the rights and freedoms of citizens irrespective of their social and economic status, and so on and so forth. Only the president can fulfil this role. Voice: I agree. But then isn’t it the case that impeachment is merely “virtual”? Vladimir Putin: Not at all. You know that when there was a motion to impeach the first president, it fell only 7 votes short of being passed. And it could have been passed. It means that the impeachment mechanism is working. So, I don’t think that question was correctly phrased.