21 december 2010

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with representatives of football fan associations

Vladimir Putin

At a meeting with representatives of football fan associations

“Only an open country with an open labour market, education and sport has a chance to succeed. And an open country cannot be a nationalist country.”

Transcript of Prime Minister Putin’s remarks during his meeting with football fans at the Ministry of Sport, Tourism and Youth Policy:

Vladimir Putin: I’d like to greet everyone again. Good afternoon! I learned of this meeting yesterday from Mr Vitaly Mutko. Naturally, I also wanted to meet with you to discuss the problems we’ve been facing.

But before beginning our dialogue, I’d like to make one point. Fans of different [football] clubs often react emotionally to each other. I’ll revisit this issue later on... And if this occurs under the auspices of good sense and the law, it’s one thing. But a recent tragedy took place that touched all of you and, let’s say, our society. Because of a repeat criminal – and I’d like to underscore that he is a repeat criminal – a member of a fan association is dead.

I believe – and I’m sure you share my opinion – that you should take it as an attack against all of you, regardless of your place of residence, nationality or religious beliefs. A young man, Yegor Sviridov, was killed. That is a big tragedy. And before we begin, I’d like us all to honour his memory with a moment of silence.

Thank you.

It’s good that representatives of leading football fan associations have gathered together here today. I’ve just returned from the unveiling ceremony of the restored monument to the heroes of the Great Patriotic War and the people of Georgia. If you remember, a year ago the monument was destroyed in Kutaisi at the behest of the current Georgian government. Incidentally, during its demolition, innocent people were killed in the blast. Accidentally. Not only did they commit an act of vandalism, destroying a monument to heroes of the war – they did it ineptly, and people died as a result.

As we unveiled the new monument, we talked about how, throughout our history – and our history is complex and often dramatic – we always managed to achieve victory when all peoples of our vast country united in their effort. Incidentally, Russia came together – I’ve spoken about this many times before and perhaps someone remembers – as a multinational and multidenominational country, even in its very cradle. Our state took its first steps as a multinational country. Because of that, our peoples have acquired a culture of reciprocal relations and mutual respect – and that has always been our strength.

What we see today, however, is a powder barrel waiting to explode and a very serious danger – and that’s what I’d like to discuss with you now. For if we tend to our abundance – our rich variety of cultures – it is always to our great advantage. I’ll share a few examples that give meaning to my words.

If we turn to our history – say, the 17th century – when foreign intruders (Poles at the time) had seized Moscow and its rulers were virtually paralysed, who rose up to defend our homeland? Ordinary people. Do you know where they came from? They were brought together by Kuzma Minin, whose monument now stands on Red Square. Do you remember the monument to Minin and Prince Pozharsky? Do you know who Kuzma Minin was? An ordinary citizen of Tatar origin… He donated all his property to the liberation movement, rounded up the people, and they called upon Pozharsky and together they marched to Moscow. And they liberated it.

And what about the Great Patriotic War? The same was true. That, of course, does not prohibit us from remembering that 70% of those killed were Russians. But this fact in no way diminishes the heroism of all peoples formerly belonging to the Soviet Union, least of all those in the Russian Federation.

Or let’s look at more recent events. I remember my visit to the village of Botlikh in highland Dagestan in 1999. You may have seen it on TV. Terrorists attempted to invade Dagestan from Chechnya, but the locals took the brunt of the first attack, without waiting for regular Russian forces. Many died or were injured, but the people managed to hold out. I was amazed that despite severe wounds and injuries they showed great fortitude and willpower, fighting not only for their homes but also for the interests of entire Russia.

What worries me today? We have always been immune to nationalism and xenophobia due to our historical traditions. But this immunity seems to be getting weaker. I can’t say it’s weak, but it’s definitely getting weaker. Incidentally, this trend can be traced in football fan clubs’ activities. I sometimes see banners with nationalist slogans at stadiums. But do you remember who plays for your teams and who coaches them?

The world today is completely open. A country that withdraws into itself loses its positions. Only an open country with an open employment market, education and sports can succeed. In an open country that kind of nationalism is impossible. But let me be blunt – there are some nuances. On the one hand, we all have shared moral values, no matter where we live and what religion we practice. These are basic values, clear to everybody. The main values include devotion to our homeland, our vast country, Russia, respect for the elderly and pride in the heroic history of our common homeland.

But Russia is a big country with a variety of cultures, and everybody has their own smaller homeland, which they are also proud of. Each of the various cultures has its identity. I have nothing but contempt for those who come to the North Caucasus republics from central Russia and treat the Koran without due respect. Similarly, those who come to different parts of Russia from the North Caucasus and other regions should respect local traditions, culture and law. We can capitalise on the strengths of our great homeland and advantages of the cultural variety only if we respect each other.

The death of Yegor Sviridov is a tragedy. But I repeat, the person responsible for his death has already served two sentences, if you didn’t know. First he was sentenced for assault and for severely injuring his victim, and the second time for drug dealing in 2009. I can’t understand how he got out of prison in 2010 and came to Moscow to commit a murder.

But it’s an issue for ethic communities, for all ethnic communities, no matter where they are, be it Russian communities in the Caucasus or other ethnic communities here, in Moscow and St Petersburg. They need to intensify personal contacts with people. It is critically important.

This does not exonerate the state from responsibility, which we noted more than once. We need to create jobs in the regions for the people who were born and live there. We need to give people an opportunity to get an education and work in any region. But unless we understand what I’ve been speaking about and learn to respect each other, what can we do? The government will have to amend registration regulations in certain regions, especially in our biggest cities, Moscow and St Petersburg. But we tried our best to make these regulations as liberal as possible, in accordance with the Constitution.

Why does this worry me? Why did I decide to meet with you? Because I believe that you are a strong force. But unless we learn to control your strength, if we handle it like a lunatic handles a razor, we can destroy our country.

There are over 160 ethnic groups in Russia. Theoretically, there can be over 160 nationalist movements. But if we allow this, Russia will never be a great, united, powerful and successful country, respected by the international community and a great place to live. It will be a conflict-ridden decaying territory that anyone will be able to bring to its knees. In that case, we will never make any progress in the economy or public services, let alone sports. There will be nothing for us to be proud of. This is what we must understand.

What is happening in the Russian fan community resembles the processes going on in other countries, including in Europe, where destructive forces try to muscle in on football fan movements and to gain control over them.

I’m referring to various radical groups. They do not want to develop sports or the fan movement – they pursue their own narrow, selfish political interests, trying to rock the boat and weaken the country. And then they will claim they are the only ones who can rescue this country. If we allow it, it will be a real disaster.

Fan movements have always been very independent from the government or any other political forces. I am calling on you to do everything possible to avert a situation where someone has control over you and manipulates you.

We – and when I say we I mean the government – will certainly try our best to sever radicals from fan movements and those who promote sports. But we cannot do it effectively without your involvement and assistance. Let’s look at how we will address this problem together.