The meeting was attended by representatives of the legislative and executive bodies, scholars, arts society, as well as prominent public figures.
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Excerpts from meeting with members of the working group on drafting proposals for amendments to the Constitution
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues,
I know that you have been working energetically. According to available information – you will now inform me if it is correct, you have received some 900 proposals.
These are deep-going and meaningful proposals that cover nearly all spheres of our life and functioning of the state; they come from a wide range of different people and pertain to pivotal but different subjects.
I know that this time you suggested that the heads of the relevant structural divisions of the working group report on the results of your work in certain areas.
On the proposal to enshrine in the Constitution provisions on implementing a unified socially oriented state policy and the principle of targeted social support
Vladimir Putin: I believe that this is extremely important and in demand.
You mentioned the 1990s. But still, it would not be fair to say that the people who were involved in the country’s development and the transition to the market economy did not care what would happen to the average citizen.
It was simply thought – not everyone thought so, but most of the people who made decisions believed that a properly developed economic policy ensuring the economy’s effective functioning would automatically lead to the solution of social problems. But it turned out that this was not quite so or not so at all.
There is an expression “to target inflation”, which means to purposefully lower it again and again. It turns out that if we want to get rid of poverty, for example, we need to target poverty, we need to build a targeted policy to increase people’s incomes, to reduce the number of people living below the poverty line, and so on.
Therefore, the fact that the Basic Law will have such an orientation towards such work, in order to give our entire activity and the state itself a social character, is in demand and, of course, cannot but be supported. We will definitely support it. Thank you very much.
On the proposal to enshrine in the Constitution the responsibility of the Government of the Russian Federation to ensure the implementation of the social partnership principles
Vladimir Putin: Of course, it is necessary to support it, because this is an extremely important component of the search for compromises in resolving issues related to the development of the social sphere and the economy. We have a tripartite commission – this is one of the central tools to find compromises between the business community and trade unions with the state authorities as a mediator. Therefore, of course, this can be enshrined in the Basic Law.
As for the clause “Promote the development of entrepreneurship and private initiative” – I also fully agree with it. I just attended the annual meeting of the Interior Ministry Board, which reviewed the Ministry‘s performance, and I talked about it there, as I always try to talk about it.
It is obvious that we still have in our public consciousness the idea that entrepreneurs are some kind of criminals. This does not create a favourable environment for developing entrepreneurship, and, accordingly, our small and medium-sized businesses do not develop as we would like them to, not as fast as we would like.
Therefore, the consolidation in the Basic Law of the entrepreneurship role and the state’s obligations to promote the development of entrepreneurship and private initiative is appropriate and in demand. I completely agree with you.
Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on International Affairs Konstantin Kosachev: My colleagues and I worked in the International Law subgroup. For obvious reasons, we focused on the amendments related to sovereignty, and we strongly believe that, regardless of how international law looks today, the sovereignty of a state is ensured above all by a flawless national constitution and national law.
During its entire existence in its current form, our country has always been under external pressure, facing attempts to restrict its sovereignty. In fact, the current Constitution was written when the unshakable Soviet sovereignty was lost, but Russia had no time to find a new one, in fact. For many years, our country resembled a living organism without skin and, moreover, affected by the aggressive external environment.
During those years, significant national resources were taken from state control, including with foreign incitement, and then a well-known group of oligarchs based their attempt to take state power on this.
At the same time, assets flowed abroad, under the protection of foreign jurisdictions, which meant that Russian sovereignty essentially flowed abroad. If this had worked out, Russia would have probably lost its independence in favour of international companies and the foreign countries behind them. And in the end, of course, not just the state interests but the interests and rights of Russians suffered from this.
First of all, we are talking about expanding the rights of the Constitutional Court by granting the right to decide whether it is possible to execute the decisions of not just international bodies as your amendments suggest but also foreign courts and arbitration tribunals in case they contradict the basic principles of Russian public order.
Second, we propose specifying and elaborating a certain norm envisaged in Chapter One of the Constitution, The Basic Principles of the Constitutional System. Our proposal is to add a clear paragraph to Article 67, prohibiting actions to alienate territories of the Russian Federation as well as calls to such actions.
And finally, third. We believe it is of principal importance to impose – for senior officials responsible for ensuring the sovereignty and the national interests of Russia – restrictions on dual citizenship and residence permits as well as liabilities abroad, such as opportunities to have accounts and deposits or keep money and valuables in foreign banks located abroad.
I mean Government members, heads of federal agencies, senior regional officials and other heads of federal executive bodies, senators, deputies, judges, prosecutors and human rights commissioners.
We believe this is not a repressive measure that restricts rights and freedoms, but above all, protects the aforementioned officials from foreign pressure, blackmail and threats. This measure would ensure the protection of the rights and interests of all Russians who entrust their future to them and the protection of the Russian Federation.
Vladimir Putin: A short comment, if I may. I wholly agree with what was said about the Constitutional Court’s right to decide whether to enforce or not to enforce international court rulings in Russia. You are right; this is directly related to upholding our sovereignty and suppressing attempts to interfere in our domestic affairs.
Now, about the alienation of territories. Last time, I said I completely agreed with this proposal. The only thing is to choose the proper wording that will not be in the Foreign Ministry’s way when it starts demarcating borders in the future.
We understand that this is an almost ongoing effort with many states, especially the former Soviet republics.
Finally, regarding restrictions governing senior officials’ ownership of assets abroad, including bank accounts. Yes, there are restrictions, but when someone chooses to assume a high post in a particular body, he or she must decide for themselves whether they want to own assets abroad or to serve the people of Russia and not burden themselves by whatever ties there may be.
These ties may impose certain restrictions on them when making decisions in the interests of Russia. So, I completely agree with that, and we must include all officials, including the President. So, I propose adding the President to that list as well.
On the proposal to include in the Constitution the provisions on protecting historical truth and preventing falsification of history, on the values and principles of Russia’s foreign policy, on protecting the interests of compatriots abroad, and preserving Russian cultural identity, which makes it possible to maintain the spiritual unity of the Russian world.
Vladimir Putin: I carefully reviewed this proposal. With regard to preventing falsification of history, I have mentioned this many times, and if you think it is necessary and possible to do this in the form you are suggesting, I think it would be appropriate to focus on historical truth, the unacceptability of falsifying history, and downplaying the grandeur of the feat of the people who defended the Fatherland. This is very important and will be a contribution to the public consciousness and, no doubt, be good for the country.
Now, regarding the attempts to steal our Victory from us. These attempts are being made, but they are futile. Who assaulted Berlin and whose flag flew over the Reichstag? This will never be forgotten. But attempts are being made, that’s true, attempts based on fleeting considerations, and we must oppose them, which is also true. It would be appropriate to delicately reflect this in the basic law as well.
Supporting our compatriots abroad is likewise important. Many of our people are living abroad, and I have had the chance to see many times that ethnicity doesn’t matter.
Everyone is Russian outside of Russia, and everyone who speaks Russian and is steeped in Russian culture is entitled to call themselves that. So, we must protect them and keep in touch with them. Correct.
On the proposal to make amendments on security of identity, society and the state when using information technology and processing digital data
Vladimir Putin: This is a vivid example of why we need amendments – in this case, to the Constitution.
The need for amendments has come up because basically, there was no similar regulation before and the development of information technology raises a number of issues which we must, of course, address.
Of course, here you touched on a very important problem, which is identity security. Many of our colleagues who are present here have been monitoring public discussions in this area, which are becoming rather heated as these technologies develop.
The question is: what can the state use for the purposes of economic development based on these digital technologies and how? And to what extent the state can disclose data on an individual and how this data can be used publicly? What is a secure way to upload this data to cyberspace? What are the implications for a specific individual?
This is an issue of overlap between the importance of technological development and ensuring security. Let’s say a Big Data system cannot do without data on a specific person, on the one hand, but on the other, it is necessary to protect this individual. How do we find a balance? This is not an easy goal.
Your proposal to lay it down in the Constitution that developing technology goes along with protecting identity, society and the state is an extremely important and, of course, topical proposal. Therefore, without doubt, all of this will receive support, like the environmental issues do.
The relevance of environmental issues in the world in general and in our country, in particular, is also obvious. We have passed entire laws, tough laws, concerning the use of the best available technology to curb emissions and reduce the adverse impact on the environment.
Major efforts are being taken. And, of course, it will not hurt to record it in the country’s Basic Law, including building environmental awareness and culture, as you wrote here. So we will absolutely implement everything, including (as you propose) responsible treatment of animals. Also important and not a minor issue. I agree with you.
On the proposal to introduce amendments related to historical state unity, cultural identity of all peoples and ethnic groups of Russia, as well as Russian language as the language of the state-forming people in the multi-ethnic union of equal peoples
Vladimir Putin: Of course, this will be a good addition to the Basic Law, and this wording, I am reading it aloud: “The state language of the Russian Federation throughout its territory is Russian, as the language of the state-forming people.”
Then you propose article 4: “The preservation of ethnocultural and linguistic diversity shall be guaranteed throughout the Russian Federation.” I think that the combination of the first and the second points will work very well.
And of course, if we are talking about culture, then it should be supported, maintained by the state. It is strange that this had not been enshrined in the Basic Law before. And of course, the coherence of our history, millennia-old history – it is extremely important, bearing in mind that Russia has developed historically, and in all its periods – during the era of Ancient Rus, the Tsardom of Muscovy, the Soviet Union, and now, in our time – this is one country, and we just have to keep this in mind, always.
We cannot and should not say or instil into our consciousness that our past has nothing to do with our present. If we do so, we will have no future, so I completely agree with you. We must get rid of these clichés – “white,” “red” – it seems to me that the proposal has the same message, so certainly this is a useful and interesting initiative.
Vladimir Putin: (in response to a speech by the Chairman of the State Council of Tatarstan Farid Mukhametshin, who spoke about teachers’ request to tell the country’s leadership that children should be protected from some programmes on state television channels that do not contribute to the upbringing of the younger generation) We will also try to influence this. I cannot help but agree with the teachers who shared this point of view with you. Indeed, sometimes it is…
But, unfortunately or fortunately, I do not have time to watch all this, I do not see it, but people do. I understand what they are talking about, and I agree with them.
We will try to influence this as much as possible so that it does not look like interference of the state in the work of the media.
Now let us move to another topic that you raised. An extremely important thing – linguistic diversity for Russia as a multi-faith and multi-ethnic country.
I have said many times that our strength is in our diversity. Adding up the positive qualities of each of the peoples in Russia gives a distinct multiplicative effect and strengthens our country.
So, anyone who has shared these concerns with you should understand: the adoption of these amendments should remove their concerns. For the first time, a provision will be introduced into the Constitution according to which the state will be obliged to protect the linguistic diversity of Russia and the peoples of Russia.
Vladimir Putin: What would I like to say in conclusion?
First, I would like to thank you for all the work the working group did.
Second, we will try to finalize everything that we just discussed, including some of your remarks that have not yet been recorded officially as amendments. When I say “we” I am referring to the lawyers that are working in the Presidential Executive Office as well as those we engage in this work. Let’s try to add to it the results of our today’s meeting and discussion.
Of course, we will work with the deputies to make sure they take into account as much as possible the suggestions of the working groups, including on the responsibility of citizens for their health.
After all, the final version must be formulated and adopted by State Duma deputies. However, I am hoping it will be based on the proposals of the working group for the most part. This is the first point.
The second point, and this is also a big request for you, is to not stop working. Why? Because, as I said, I would like to repeat this: the law on amendments to the Constitution will be adopted only if the results of the national vote are positive, if our citizens turn up and support our proposals.
We have discussed that for people to be able to understand what this is all about and decide whether they want to support our proposals or consider them inappropriate, to explain all this to people, it is necessary to work in the regions.
You have been to the regions many times and continuously met with people and public organisations. I urge you to continue this work until we hold the national vote. I hope after this work is over you will find a few minutes to gather once again and sum up the results of our joint efforts.
Thank you very much. I appreciate this.