29 may 2010

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with participants and organisers of the charity show The Little Prince

Vladimir Putin

At a meeting with participants and organisers of the charity show The Little Prince

"We have to be certain that, by relying on our own resources and through playing a worthy role in the world economy, we can resolve the numerous challenges that confront us."

Transcript of the beginning of the meeting:

Vladimir Putin: Ms Freindlich has given me this bell to moderate our meeting. Is everyone here?

We've gathered at a very good time. This city is celebrating its birthday. The weather's good and everyone's in a good mood.

Alisa Freindlich: Well, the weather...

Vladimir Putin: ...is very good!

Alisa Freindlich: It cleared up just a minute ago, but it's been raining heavily today.

Vladimir Putin: It doesn't matter now. It's all in the past. And we should think about the future. Fine weather, good mood...

Okay, first of all, I'd like to thank Ms Chulpan Khamatova for her effort, and for gathering us together. It's a very important cause. Thank you very much. I'll also repeat it publicly, when we start the show.

The government is doing everything in its power to address at least the most acute problems more effectively than before, and we have gathered here to discuss these problems today.

As you know, a large medical centre is being constructed in Moscow for children with oncologic diseases, primarily hematologic diseases. This centre will be the largest in Europe, without exaggeration. It'll accommodate between 250 and 300 patients, servicing another 300 patients at its ambulatory clinic. Also, there'll be a research lab and a hotel for the families of young patients. They will be able to come and stay there for the duration of the treatment. This option is very important for such patients. They need their family there.

The government is doing this on its own. It'll cost the budget 11 billion roubles. Construction will be finished by next June. The centre will have the latest high-tech equipment. I hope it'll be able to receive its first patients at the end of next year.

Construction, equipment... everything's done by our specialists and with our money, and in cooperation with doctors. Also, our European partners and friends, primarily from Germany, the leaders in this branch of medicine, have given us invaluable help.

I'm mentioning them because they are very enthusiastic: They have spent so much personal time on this project, giving everything to help our specialists. And we can see the results of their efforts.

I discussed this project during my latest visit to Germany. One of the leading European and even international specialists in this area told me a very moving story. When one Swiss child fell ill, his family came to a German clinic for consultation. The German doctors said that the child should be taken to Russia because the world's number one specialist in this disease works there. I think it's great that we have such specialists in our country.

Well, we nevertheless lack the research base, equipment and other things. I hope... I'm sure that next year we'll resolve this issue almost completely.

I know that Ms Khamatova pays special attention to these issues. She's constantly in contact with the doctors, the families of the children, and the children themselves. And she follows the progress of this centre. Do you know this story? In 2005 I received a letter from a patient at this clinic, a little boy, Dima Rogachev. He invited me for pancakes. And so I visited him.

Chulpan Khamatova: Sorry to interrupt you, he wrote that it was his sweetest dream. We ask children what their most desired dreams are, and we - and our friends and volunteers - try to make these dreams come true. Some wish for a guitar, some for a video camera. But this boy wanted to have some pancakes with the president! Mr Putin received this letter and came... excuse me.

Vladimir Putin: That's okay. Sadly, Dima passed away, but it was he who inspired us to build this large medical and research centre in Russia. And I've got an idea... It just occurred to me all of a sudden, and I'd like to hear your opinion... I think it'd be good if we named this centre in honour of Dima Rogachev.

Chulpan Khamatova: We would need to discuss this with the doctors. His parents must have come here today. His mother comes to every concert here.

Vladimir Putin: In any case, it was he who initiated it. He was the inspiration for this idea. Not that he asked to build this centre, but...

Leonid Yarmolnik: It's a good idea. Unprecedented... No centre has been given the name of a young patient.

Vladimir Putin: Unfortunately, he died in Israel where he was being treated.

Leonid Yarmolnik: Good idea. Such centres are usually named for doctors or the person who founded them. And this centre could have the name of the boy who inspired the idea. I don't think the doctors would mind.

Chulpan Khamatova: It's their call after all.

Vladimir Putin: Okay, let's say I've finished my monologue. Now you please.

Chulpan Khamatova: Well, I was told that this should be a low key discussion, and I'll try to keep it so. First, I'd like to say while everyone's here - and we scheduled this reception before the concert, not after it - I'd like to thank everyone for coming. Some have come from other cities, not just from Moscow: Some were touring and giving other concerts. Thank you very much. When so many talented and generous people come together, they can provide a lot of positive energy... You know, when we put on these shows, I have goosebumps because I feel this energy...

I'd like to ask two questions on behalf of the fund. They're more like requests...

The problems we're facing today... I'm not sure whether I'll sound low key enough now, but still I'd like to touch on the problems that keep us from developing it as quickly as we could. I'm speaking on behalf of the Podari Zhizn [Grant a Life] fund, but I'm sure many charities are facing the same problems...

You most certainly know about the problem with orphan drugs, which are...

Vladimir Putin: ... very costly and are not mass-produced.

Chulpan Khamatova: Correct, they haven't been mass-produced because it's an unprofitable business.

Vladimir Putin: Very few patients need them, and there's no general production, therefore they're expensive.

Chulpan Khamatova: Yes. I'd like to tell you how we're dealing with this problem. Of course, it's an unprofitable business, and sometimes the situation borders on the absurd. We have to spend donated money on it. First, we need to find a doctor abroad, who agrees to give a prescription. Sometimes the same person doesn't agree to do it twice. And the drugs are needed urgently; a child's life is at stake. So we find a doctor, and even if this doctor agrees to fill the prescription, we need to find someone who'll agree to take the drug across the border, which is also difficult. Some people panic thinking that it's something illegal even if we show them all documents. They sometimes just leave these drugs, which cost a fortune, at an airport. And they just disappear.

This is why I'm asking for your help. Ours is not the only foundation facing the problem of treating rare diseases and the procurement of rare drugs.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, this problem exists. In many countries the state makes an official list of rare diseases and rare drugs, but there's no such list in Russia, which causes the problems with the import and production of drugs, if such production can be organised here. I agree that this list must be created and managed properly.

Chulpan Khamatova: And this should be done as soon as possible.

Vladimir Putin: We'll do it. The Ministry of Healthcare and Social Development has been given a directive already.

Chulpan Khamatova: I know they're doing all they can to resolve this issue but...

Remark: They need a push.

Vladimir Putin: They will finish this work on their own.

Chulpan Khamatova: They need to be prodded a little.

Vladimir Putin: I understand that a) it's a problem and b) it's an acute problem. And it will never be settled without the government's direct support because companies do not profit form it, and these drugs are produced in very small quantities.

Sergei Garmash: There is a related problem with some of the base substances that cannot be imported. If you recall, some of them are just not mentioned in our customs regulatory acts.

Vladimir Putin: Well, it's not a matter of import. If they are not produced in Russia, and are produced in small quantities in other countries, and are not on the list of special drugs, there will be problems with customs. We'll work it out.

Chulpan Khamatova: Thank you very much, and my second question...

I'd like to discuss tax benefits and tell you how it works.

Unlike first aid, second aid is taxed.

Vladimir Putin: What's second aid?

Chulpan Khamatova: For example, our fund wants to help the same child twice the same year. During the first treatment, we might purchase some inexpensive drug, then, when the child needs transplantation...

Vladimir Putin: It's taxed.

Chulpan Khamatova: Yes, and this tax is levied on the parents of this child. And they receive notification 12 months later...

Vladimir Putin: ...as the recipients of help.

Chulpan Khamatova: Yes, transplantation can cost 15,000 euros, and treatment 40,000 euros, and the parents must pay this tax even if they don't have the money.

Vladimir Putin: I see.

Chulpan Khamatova: We've prepared a draft law. It's now in the Duma. It's a big project, and we hope it'll settle all the issues related to non-profit organisations.

And we have a request. Could we include in this draft law a tax relief provision for the second round of treatment? Sometimes the foundation assists with organising funerals, and you can understand what bereaved parents feel when they receive a bill a year after losing their child.

Vladimir Putin: We'll need to alter the Tax Code to specify that all help received during the course of treatment be tax exempt.

Chulpan Khamatova: Yes, the whole course of treatment. It'd be perfect.

Vladimir Putin: We'll do it.

Chulpan Khamatova: Thank you very much. That's all I wanted to discuss today. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Okay. We can actually discuss any issue, whether it's related to today's event or not. Please.

Yury Shevchuk: May I?

Vladimir Putin: Yes.

Yury Shevchuk: You know, some aide of yours - I don't remember his name - called me yesterday and asked me not to bring up any sensitive issues, political problems and other things...

Vladimir Putin: Excuse me, could you introduce yourself?

Yury Shevchuk: Yura Shevchuk, a musician.

Vladimir Putin: Yura, it was a provocation.

Yury Shevchuk: Provocation, ah, whatever...

Vladimir Putin: My aide would never call you to say such a thing.

Yury Shevchuk: Okay, not your aide, some lunatic, yes...

Remark: It's getting funny!

Yury Shevchuk: But I've got some questions. In fact I've got a whole lot of questions. First, I'd like to thank everybody for gathering. What you see here is the emergence of a real civil society, which you speak so much about and dream about.

Here's what I'd like to discuss. I have some questions. First, freedom. Such a word, freedom... The freedom of the press, the freedom of information... What's happening in the country... We're living in a class society that has remained the same over centuries. There are rich dukes with their privileges and then the common people who toil away... And there's an immense gap between them. I'm sure you understand this.

The only way forward is making everyone equal before the law, both the dukes and the common people. Coal miners shouldn't go to work as though it's the last battle. The system must be fair. An individual should be free and have self-respect, which would result in a natural patriotism. You cannot arouse this feeling with a banner. I see what's happening now, and everyone intelligent and sensible can see it.

We see these banners, but it's all so superficial. It's a lame attempt to show patriotism and maybe conscience... These chants and marches... We've seen it all before. The only effective solution is civil society and equality for everyone, absolutely everyone, before the law, you, me and everyone else. Only then can we move ahead. We'll build hospitals and help children, people with disabilities and elderly people. We'll do it sincerely and willingly, it'll come from the depth of our souls.

But to this end, we need freedom of the press, which is missing. There's one paper and a half in our country. The same with television. What we see on TV cannot even be called debate; it's the same marches and chants.

The protesting electorate is growing in number, and you know it. Many are critical of the present situation. Are you honest when you say you want real liberalization and modernisation for a real country, where public organisations are not suffocated and where people don't feel scared of a policeman on the street? The police now serve their bosses and their pockets, not people.

There are a lot of persecutors in this country. I really think so. On May 31 a March of Dissent will be held in St Petersburg. My question is whether it'll be dispersed or not.

That's it.

Vladimir Putin: That's all?

Yury Shevchuk: So far yes. I can show you what we've made up with guys. Not even made up, these are just some facts describing what's happening in our country, plus our opinion.

Vladimir Putin: Okay, thanks, I'll take a look, be sure. First of all, without democracy Russia has no future.

Yury Shevchuk: It's understood.

Vladimir Putin: It's obvious. An individual can build on their capabilities only in a free society. And if they are able to do so, they contribute to the development of the country, its science, its industry, taking it to the highest possible level. Otherwise, society stagnates. It's an obvious fact, understood by all. It's the first point I'd like to make.

Second, everyone must abide by the law. You're correct in this. But we need a professional approach to this. You mentioned coal miners...

Yury Shevchuk: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: I take to heart everything happening there.

Yury Shevchuk: Me too.

Vladimir Putin: A professional approach suggests analysing the legal and economic conditions thoroughly.

Yury Shevchuk: That's true.

Vladimir Putin: Why is it happening? What's one of the reasons? They say one reason is the base salaries at coal mines, for example, at the Raspadskaya coal mine, where the base salary accounts for about 45% of a miners' income, and the rest is bonuses. And so the workers disregard the safety rules to earn these bonuses.

Yury Shevchuk: I know.

Vladimir Putin: I made a decision and gave a directive to the government to raise the base salary to 70%. But, Yura, let me emphasise that it applies to coke mines only. You need some knowledge of this issue to understand it. In addition to coke mines, there are steam coal mines, which are less profitable. And the base salary rates depend on the price of the finished product. If we increase it thoughtlessly, steam coal mines will become unprofitable overnight and will close. If you are for a market economy, you should understand that they'll just close. And as far as I can see, you're a proponent of a market economy, not a planned economy. They'll just close. That's it. And this is only one aspect of the problem.

Now you say that policemen serve their bosses only. There are many different kinds of people working as police officers. It's a microcosm of our society in general. It's a part of our country. And these people haven't come from Mars. Many are people who risk their lives and health to faithfully serve our people. Yes, there are traffic police whose only purpose is to make money from bribes, but there also are those who would protect a child with their bodies, who use their own cars to stop criminals and who get killed. So it is unfair to tarnish the image of all these people.

Yury Shevchuk: I don't!

Vladimir Putin: No, but you said that cops serve only the officials, not the people.

Yury Shevchuk: This is true in general. For example, I have taken part in the March of Dissent, and there will be 500 participants and maybe 2,500 special task force police. What, did we stab or kill somebody?

Vladimir Putin: I didn't interrupt you when you were talking. Don't turn the discussion into a noisy argument!   

I think it is unfair to reduce everyone to the same level. We do have problems there. It's our culture: when a guy gets a license or some "stick" in his hands, he immediately begins to swing it and try to make money using it. But this applies not only to the police but in every area where people have authority and the opportunity to make illegal money.

As for these Marches of Dissent, there are rules stipulating that such events be controlled by local authorities. We should think about the rights of those who are not participating in the "dissent/approval marches."  

If you are going to hold a March of Dissent, pardon my sharp words, near a hospital and disturb sick children, who will allow you to do that? Of course they have the right to prohibit this!

Yury Shevchuk: May I say?

Vladimir Putin: No! And if you want to hold a demonstration blocking a road so people cannot get to their dachas on Friday or return home on Sunday? They will curse you. And they will curse the local authorities, too.

But this does not mean that the government should make excuses and limit freedom of speech. This is an issue which should be discussed with the government.

I hope that in St. Petersburg, everything will be organised in an acceptable way. People's right to express their disapproval of the government should be protected, but participants in such demonstrations should not disturb those who do not want to demonstrate, but just want to get home in time and be with their families.We have to work around that.

I really want you to understand this: That I and the other government members need people's opinions.  

Yury Shevchuk: Of course.

Vladimir Putin: If I see that people go into the streets not just to talk or promote themselves but to say something important and relevant and draw the government's attention to some problem, there is nothing wrong with that. I will thank them.

Yury Shevchuk: Indeed.

Vladimir Putin: And I mean it.

Yury Shevchuk: But you also see that local authorities install amusement rides on main squares when we want to hold our protests. This is nothing but hypocrisy.

Vladimir Putin: I agree with you on that.

Yury Shevchuk: You know, last year, the whole city fought to preserve St. Petersburg's historical centre. You cannot imagine what they [the local authorities] did to block our efforts! You were born there; it's an amazing city, a wonder. But they fought us off and people got really angry. What was this all about? Your words have weight, so use them...

Vladimir Putin: My weight is 76 kilograms.

Yury Shevchuk: Oh God...

Oleg Basilashvili: Mr Putin, let me support Yura. Just one word.   

Vladimir Putin: Sure, Mr Basilashvili.

Oleg Basilashvili: Speaking of this skyscraper. I cannot tell if it's beautiful or not, it is not my business. Maybe it is gorgeous. But most people who are concerned about St. Petersburg, who love the city and know its history say this building doesn't belong there, especially a 300-400-metre tall building.  

Federal and local laws have been flagrantly violated and the authorities just laugh in our faces. We basically feel like those with power say to us, "It's you who has to abide by the law, not us, so piss off."  And all the newspapers say is "it will be constructed."

I fear that this is not just about this "Gasscraper," but really about the confrontation between the government and the people whose opinion is never taken into account. Dissent has been growing and I agree with Yura on that. And this is just one small example of hundreds.

Yury Shevchuk: Millions.

Vladimir Putin:  Mr Basilashvili, this example isn't small, it's huge. 

Oleg Basilashvili: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: And very tall. Of course, everyone should obey the law, it is an obvious fact. I made my position clear when answering Yuri's question. If you remember, I spoke about the dictatorship of law back in the early 2000s; at the time I was criticized for that. I still believe it is an appropriate phrase. It assumes that the law must be observed by everyone: the government, ordinary people and various government officials.

I'm not going to state my final opinion on the tower. I do not want to make it in public. This is clearly an issue for the municipal government to decide. Naturally, in such cases the public needs to be consulted. This is clear.

You know, we often compare ourselves with our neighbors in the West, and we always say that we are inferior. This humiliates our national dignity. Let's look at London or Paris. How was the Pompidou Centre built? What's in the middle of the Louvre?

Oleg Basilashvili: Something really horrible!

Vladimir Putin: I am not making any assessments here. I am just saying how things are there.

Oleg Basilashvili: Let them follow our example and not the other way around. It's time to finish with these skyscrapers. Nobody builds skyscrapers any more in the world, whereas we want to put one up in the middle of the Neva.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Basilashvili, I am not even saying whether it is good or bad. I am simply saying that this issue exists everywhere in the world. There are people who support this concept of urban development. There are people like that in our country and elsewhere in the world. Once again, I am not going to say who is right or wrong. But I certainly agree with you that when making such decisions, the authorities should consult the public and take the public opinion into account.

Oleg Basilashvili: And first of all, they should be guided by the law

Vladimir Putin: Of course, and not just guided, but must obey the law.

Oleg Basilashvili: The law that has been violated in this case. And one final point, if I may?

Vladimir Putin: Of course.

Oleg Basilashvili: If you remember, about two years ago, we discussed the law on patronage. I fully support Chulpan now. What she and her friends have been doing is truly a great thing. We should be grateful to her. And the proposals that she has made here are also very sensible, useful, and necessary.

But on the other hand, I think that the law on patronage can give an impetus to this work and make it more dynamic. We have talked about this, and you told me that the law seemed to be ready, that it was in progress and would soon be adopted. And yet there has been no movement in this respect.

It is not difficult at all. Such laws exist in almost every country in the world. It also existed in Russia before the revolution - honorable citizens, the nobility, and so on. People should be interested in investing not in 40-billion yachts, but in giving their money to Chulpan, to children, etc.

Vladimir Putin: Well, what can I say? I have to agree with you. Of course such activities need to be regulated. You just mentioned the fund created by Chulpan. I look at them from time to time and, frankly, I too cannot help but wonder how consistently and tenaciously they deal with these complicated and delicate matters persistently and - what I find most appealing - without putting themselves first. And, of course, a legal framework is necessary.

You spoke about what we had in this country before the 1917 Revolution. I think it was a completely different country then and even a different civilisation, to a certain extent.

Oleg Basilashvili: Well, yes.

Vladimir Putin: Many things are different now. What is the problem? Rules are easy to write, the problem is how to enforce them. There are too many abuses.

Over the past ten or fifteen years, as soon as good ideas are put into practice, be it in the economy or in other administrative spheres, people start abusing them. It is very difficult to regulate and administer, because people start using the rules for the opposite of what they was created for.

But on the whole - Chulpan also knows this, she told me - there are things that call for special attention. We will address them, and we will make sure that no one can abuse them. This is the point.

Of course we want to do it, but we don't seem to have the brains to design them in such a way as to prevent abuses. As you know, hundreds and thousands of people work on our laws and millions are thinking of ways to evade them.

Alisa Freindlich: We are a very talented nation in that way.

Sergei Garmash: Yes. Mr Putin, look. We have been building a new state since the mid-1980s: many things are changing, and we are trying to change a lot of things. But for some reason no one, in my opinion, has given serious thought to comprehensive primary education reform.

New directives are issued, new textbooks are written, and we have the Single State Examination (EGE). People have been designing curricula for their universities however they like. But education is basically the same as it was in our time and in our parents' time.

But times have changed, with computers and all the new things. Granted, you and I learnt computer skills very quickly. But when it comes to the difference between computers and books... The list can go on and on, as you know.

Why hasn't anyone thought of this reform and implemented it to change the approach? I have met all sorts of people in my life, but I can't think of a single instance when I felt embarrassed because I couldn't remember one of Newton's laws or a single formula.

But if I had paid more attention to literature and history after grade six, I would be a better man now. I think the times dictate these things. But we see nothing but directives, inventions and subjects getting cut. I see the cuts they are making: just compare how much Pushkin we were taught and how much is taught now.

Orthodox education is now being introduced. There is Orthodox education even in small towns. It is being introduced into the system. The rationale is not very clear, because it costs government money.

Well, in general my question is about what I think is as important as oil and defence: comprehensive education reform.

Vladimir Putin: I think it is the most important thing, especially primary and secondary education, which is the basis of everything: higher education, science, and, consequently, the modern knowledge-based economy.

You know that Dmitry Medvedev has come up with an initiative called Our New School. So, it would be wrong to say that no one has given it any thought and no one has been concerned about it. We simply have to do it, and we are, and here I have demographic problems in mind. Our demographics move in waves. In the coming years, the number of university students will drop sharply because of demographics. That is another challenge. Anyway, primary and secondary education is the foundation of all education, science and an innovative economy. Do you have specific proposals?

Sergei Garmash: No, I don't have specific proposals. On the one hand, I am in favour of liberalisation, but on the other hand, I have a sense that things are out of control. Let me cite a concrete example. There is a government-funded Arts Academy in the city of Samara. I was invited to give a master class there. On the way to the master class, my host tells me third-year acting students study the business of the theatre and marketing. "How many voice coaching classes are there?" "One a week." I ask, "Who designs the schedule?", and she tells me, "Our rector."

Vladimir Putin: This is a government-funded school?

Sergei Garmash: Yes.

Unidentified voice: This guy's got it coming (laughter).

Vladimir Putin: We will respond (laughs). It's in Samara?

Sergei Garmash: Yes.

Unidentified voice: Get the rector (laughter).

Ilya Lagutenko: I have a not very serious question from the Far East. My name is Ilya. In addition to singing songs about Vladivostok, I help an organisation that is trying to save the Siberian tiger. I know that you have given an order to organise tiger summit in Vladivostok.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, we have agreed that there will be a summit... Honestly, I am not sure that all those present know that the tiger summit will be a very high-level event. Heads of state and government are taking part.

Ilya Lagutenko: Yes, I have met many of them, and I've travelled to Washington. But a couple of days ago rumours began to circulate that the governor of Primorye said that he has no money and Vladivostok does not have the necessary infrastructure to host the event.

Vladimir Putin: We will hold the tiger summit, but unfortunately, we cannot hold it in Vladivostok.

Ilya Lagutenko: So, it's true....

Vladimir Putin: No, it's not that he has no money. The problem is that we are organising a major international APEC event, and all the construction capacity, both local and from other Russian regions, has been committed to preparing for that event. Vladivostok is, in fact, one big construction site today. You come from Vladivostok yourself and you see what is going on. We are building a brand new airport there. We are making the best use of it. It was originally my idea to hold this major international event, the Pacific summit. We are building a new airport there with a new runway, which I believe will be 3,400 (metres).

Ilya Lagutenko: We will eclipse Hong Kong.

Vladimir Putin: It will be a good, modern airport. We never had such an airport in the east of the country. We are building several roads and two bridges. One of them is truly unique - a bridge to Russky Island. Almost every pylon has hundreds of meters, making it possible to monitor them from space. It will be a good and major event. The summit will be held on Russky Island, where a whole new city is being built. Later it will be used for a new research and education centre, a new university.

Andrei Makarevich: While we're on the subject of laws, we have been struggling for over six years to improve the law on the protection of animals. The current law is full of flaws. It doesn't make owners responsible for their pets, like elsewhere in the world. That is why we have a staggering number of homeless animals, who are killed in very cruel ways in secret. Our efforts have hit a wall.

Voice: Makarevich doesn't have enough clout.

Andrei Makarevich: I met with Luzhkov four times in Moscow to discuss the matter.

Vladimir Putin: Where is this draft now?

Andrei Makarevich: I have it here. Actually, we have reworked it since the State Duma sent it back seven years ago. I am prepared to submit it.

Vladimir Putin: OK. We will revisit the issue. I'll ask our party at the Duma to take it up again and go over it together with you.

Andrei Makarevich: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: I watch your programmes in which you crawl under water. Aren't you afraid?

Sergei Garmash: It's not as frightening as the streets of Moscow.

Vladimir Putin: No, no, no. He has very interesting programmes, very beautiful. I don't have the time to watch all of them, but what I've seen is great.

Leonid Yarmolnik: Mr Putin, there is something I want to tell you. First, I would like to thank you for being with us today. Over the last ten years, I've witnessed how whatever you pay attention to somehow works out. That is very important. My heart aches for children, above all. As most of those present are actors, who age and get sick... In our country you basically have to live from hand to mouth. As long as you work, you can get by. But if you drop out for three months, the money runs out. There is a fund I would like to tell you about. It is the Artist Fund created by Masha Mironova and Zhenya Mironov. I am a member of its board of trustees. We have ways to raise money, to ask for money. It is funded, and much has been done. What worries me is that many charitable funds are used as fronts for money laundering. Of course, not all funds are like that. We had a lot of problems, and I told my colleagues, "I'll talk to such and such people and they'll shell out the money." But you are up against such odds.

Here is a fund; lots of resources can be raised to be invested for a profit, which the fund would use. But we just don't have that kind of mechanism.

Vladimir Putin: Sure we do.

Leonid Yarmolnik: No, Zhenya and I have been racking our brains...

Vladimir Putin: There is a mechanism. It can be done.

Leonid Yarmolnik: Because this is the most painful thing...We have already lost so many actors. They died in poverty and misery.

Vladimir Putin: If the fund has raised a great deal of money it can live off the interest on its capital.

Leonid Yarmolnik: Yes, of course, but it is all very complicated. I was involved in it myself. Sberbank was advising us. There is always something in the law that needs to be changed. Because, again, there are so many actors... And they are all proud and decent people... They don't talk about their hardships. We only hear about it when it is too late to treat them and help them.

Generations have been raised on the work of these actors, including you and me. It is horrible, a disgrace. There is so much neglect. So, we would like to be able to reach you more quickly in case something crops up that can't be resolved without you.

Vladimir Putin: Leonid, you simply have to formulate it... Chulpan has been specific: a decision is needed on rare drugs and we will do this, we will respond. No tax on second-time assistance. I assure you we will follow through on it. These are specific things. When you say that you have problems, I need to know exactly what problems. Be specific.

Leonid Yarmolnik: OK. I understand.

Sergey Garmash: I propose that before the Health Ministry implements this law we should ask Mr Putin to bring us medicine. Surely he won't get checked at customs.

Vladimir Putin: You want me to import drugs? Work as a shuttle merchant? (laughter)

Vladimir Kekhman: I have a follow-up on the theatre. Since we are in a theatre... We think of you as a theatre person. I am new to this field. I've been a theatre director for three years...

Vladimir Putin: Yes, we've heard. As we were coming here, I said, "Were you the guy who imported bananas?" "Yes," he says. I say, "We have opened a new line linking St.Petersburg to Latin America, so you should help us even more."

Vladimir Kekhman: Moreover, we are beginning production in Ecuador together with you.

Vladimir Putin: What?

Vladimir Kekhman: We are starting production in Venezuela... and now also in Ecuador. Ecuador accounts for 95%.

Vladimir Putin: That much?

Vladimir Kekhman: A million metric tonnes. We are the biggest firm. We control 30% of production in Ecuador and 5% of world production.

Vladimir Putin: What is your turnover?

Vladimir Kekhman: Our company? Our company's turnover is 680 million.

Leonid Yarmolnik: Are we talking about fish? (laughter)

Vladimir Putin: You'll get it in a moment. We are going to discuss charity for your fund.

Leonid Yarmolnik: Thank you.

Vladimir Kekhman: I wanted to say one more important thing. Two issues. One very critical issue is succession. After a difficult twenty years at the Musical Theatre we no longer have choreographers or teachers - some have left, some have died. Presidential grants ensure that we are doing well financially. Therefore, the most important thing is this: we have the law on the cultural worker (an umbrella law), but there is no law on the theatre worker, which is very important because these are different things. Librarians are not the same as theatre actors. When it comes to money, all is well, but as far as the law on theatre workers is concerned... there should be a separate law because a theatre, be it musical, drama or any other theatre, needs succession in order to exist.

Vladimir Putin: I see.

Vladimir Kekhman: That is the first issue. And the second issue is a very important one about the budget, the cultural budget really. There are rumours that it will be cut. Is this true?

Vladimir Putin: First of all, I would like to say that although Vladimir and I began our discussion with bananas, he has done a great deal for the theatre. It's true. His contribution can be seen with the naked eye. So I should be the one thanking you.

Now, about the law on theatre workers. Let me be frank. I am not prepared to answer it now. Why? You see, we have been having a lot of discussions about the law on youth, for example. Those who oppose it argue, "why the law on youth, why not a law on middle-age and older people?" You‘re talking about theatre workers. And next we will need a law on librarians, and then on other cultural workers. Maybe we need that kind of specificity, or perhaps it is enough to have one good, big law. I don't know.

Vladimir Kekhman: Can I propose an initiative?

Vladimir Putin: You are welcome to. I think we have the Culture Minister here. You can speak to him directly.

Vladimir Kekhman: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: There was a second part to your question.

Vladimir Kekhman: It's about the full budget for Russian culture. For example, Tatarstan is the leader today. They spend 1% of their budget on culture.

Vladimir Putin: Not only that. They spend it wisely.

Vladimir Kekhman: That is true. Maybe we have 2%, and we should at least leave it at that level.

Vladimir Putin: You know that our economy has contracted because of the crisis. Even though oil prices are pretty high, $70 on average, and could still go higher, all the same, the overall budget revenue has dropped significantly. Regardless of the price of oil, the economy has contracted a bit. That means we will have to cut certain items, because now we are financing our budget deficit using the savings we accumulated over the past few years. But this deficit cannot last forever. Why? Because if we go down that road, we will quickly find ourselves in the same situation as Greece. And we will not have Germany by our side to open its purse and pay for us.

Our situation is different. We have to be sure that we can, relying on our own resources and through playing a worthy role in the world economy, resolve the numerous challenges that confront us: defence, medicine, education, security, counter-terrorism and so on - and culture.

Unfortunately, there will be a slight cut compared to last year. If my memory serves me right, it will not be less than in 2008, which was a good year, before the crisis. Last year we added a bit extra to respond to the crisis. But we'll see what can be done.

Vladimir Kekhman: Please, if there is any chance at all, we are not talking about an awful lot of money, 75 billion.

Vladimir Putin: I know. When I addressed the Duma...

Liya Akhedzhakova: Seventy-five billion. We can't raise 40,000 for a child, and he says 75 billion is not a lot of money.

Vladimir Kekhman: It's for all culture.

Liya Akhedzhakova: Well, I never.

Oleg Basilashvili: Liya, it's money for the entire national culture. It's the country's entire culture budget.

Vladimir Putin: Leave Liya alone. She's right. It is a lot of money.

Liya Akhedzhakova: This is outrageous.

Diana Arbenina: Excuse me, can I go back to the issue of childhood?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course.

Diana Arbenina: I gave birth to twins four months ago and I want to breast-feed them.

Vladimir Putin: Congratulations.

Diana Arbenina: Thank you very much. I am doing just that. But recently I was involved in an incident at Koltsovo airport because they didn't want to let me board the plane with a bottle of breast milk. Like many mothers in our country (and actresses among them), I can't always feed my children in person. And I do what I've got to do every day to make sure that my twins get nothing but their mother's milk.

I would like our laws to have a clear provision concerning this vital liquid. I do not want mothers like me, who are prevented by circumstance from being with their children 24/7, to have to present a paper certifying that milk is vital for babies. This would be like something out of a Bulgakov novel. I would like this to be established in law.

Because each time I go on tour I have to go through this ordeal at the airport. I never know whether they will let me in or not.

Marina Neyelova: You have to do it in front of them.

Diana Arbenina: That won't help. I have two of them.

Marina Neyelova: It's a great idea.

Leonid Yarmolnik: It's wonderful.

Emmanuil Vitorgan: It's like in that joke.

Vladimir Putin: The first thing I can say, Diana, is that we all understand the reason for this.

Diana Arbenina: Yes, terrorism, I know.

Vladimir Putin: The need to fight terrorism. But I admit that there is a lot of formalism.

Diana Arbenina: That's what Yura Shevchuk spoke about. Everything depends on the person. The official. Either he is a good person with a kind heart, not callous, or...

Leonid Yarmolnik: The human factor.

Vladimir Putin: You know that last year - I am not sure of the exact figures, but passengers tried to smuggle tonnes of flammable substances onto planes. Tonnes. Can you imagine?

Diana Arbenina: Can't they check if it is milk or something else?

Vladimir Putin: Well, they can, but you wouldn't let them taste it, would you?

I just said there's a lot of formalism. It's true. But how can we keep the passengers safe and avoid formalism? It's not an easy question. I'll ask that it be reviewed again.

Diana Arbenina: Good, I hope they'll do something about it before my children grow up.

Leonid Yarmolnik: Marina (Neyelova) and I were wondering - if this were to be allowed, there could be a new type of substance that terrorists can take advantage of. It cuts both ways, you know.

Ilya Lagutenko: But breast feeding is allowed on board. Technically it is allowed.

Diana Arbenina: Not formerly.

Chulpan Khamatova: And what if the child is not with you, if the child is at home?

Leonid Yarmolnik: You have asked so many questions there that I don't feel like asking any more.

Vladimir Putin: You see, another problem is that they keep inventing new forms.

Liya Akhedzhakova: What is frightening is that a terrorist can bribe his way anywhere.

Oleg Basilashvili: You mean if you are not a terrorist you can't?

Vladimir Putin: For a bribe?

Liya Akhedzhakova: Arbenina cannot get in, but a suicide bomber can.

Vladimir Putin: She can get through. In the end they let you pass, don't they? Liya, even so, she can get through and she does eventually. She is annoyed because it takes so much time. But she can handle it.

Yuri Shevchuk: I suggest having a drink before we get down to work. Can I propose a toast? To our children... whether they live in a country that is bleak, corrupt, totalitarian, authoritarian, with one party, one anthem, one thought...

Vladimir Putin: A country should have one anthem.

Yuri Shevchuk: ... оr a bright, democratic country where all are equal before the law. That is all that is needed. Unfortunately, this is not yet the case. I would like our children to live in this country and to get well. This is my toast.

Leonid Yarmolnik: Wonderful.

Vladimir Putin: The drink suits the toast. (Laughter)

Yuri Shevchuk: By the way, children should stay away from alcohol.

Vladimir Putin: That is true. But with regard to the anthem, Yura, you went a bit too far. The bit about "one anthem" was a Freudian slip, as they say. In the early 2000s, when we looked at the constitutions and the charters of the Russian regions and republics, we found a lot of democracy. They had everything: sovereignty, their own borders and property. The only thing that was lacking was some indication that it was part of the Russian Federation.

So, I completely agree with what has been said. Democracy and law-and-order always go hand in hand. Rule of law is impossible without democracy, but democracy is impossible without adherence to the law. I think this is obvious.

Yuri Shevchuk: Ours is an ignorant nation. Nobody knows this.

Vladimir Putin: Many know it...

Yuri Shevchuk: We should educate people. That is what we do.

Vladimir Putin: And if we speak about it more often in the presence of such highly respected people as are present here today, there will be more such people and things will be better still.

Leonid Yarmolnik: Marina and I are wondering why Garmash has shut down the school in Samara.

Sergey Garmash: No tabloids, please! Yarmolnik, you did its job just now.

Leonid Yarmolnik: The worst of it is that the people in Samara don't know about it yet and will sleep easy.

Chulpan Khamatova: I wonder if you could let me go and get ready.

Voice: Me too.

Vladimir Putin: All of you?

Voice: Yes.

Andrei Makarevich: Yes, we have to get started.

Voice: Let's go watch the play.

Voice: Mr Putin, are you aware that it is based on the work by Saint-Exupéry?

Vladimir Putin: Yes.

Voice: Would you like to go over your lines, ladies and gentlemen?

Voices: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you.

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