Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with representatives of different faiths, ethnic and public organisations


“The Popular Front was established for the exact purpose of uniting people of different faiths and ethnicities so as to be able to identify the problems that are facing us and come up with the best ways to address them in an open and honest discussion.”

Transcript of the meeting:

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,

I am glad to see so many of you. To begin with, I’d like to remind you that Russia is a multiethnic state. However, it is not an exception. There are a lot of multiethnic and multi-confessional states in the world. There is nothing peculiar about this.

Still, Russia has some special features, as over 180 peoples and ethnic groups inhabit the country. Over 180! This is a national peculiarity. No other country in the world can boast such ethnic, confessional and cultural diversity.

I believe there are no such countries in the world. There are countries mostly inhabited by immigrants, like the United States, for instance. But in Russia each ethnic group occupies its national territory and has its own roots. Regardless of the confession or ethnic group, our citizens have only one native land, which is Russia. That is why resolving interethnic and inter-confessional issues is of such importance to us.

Today, the world is facing a number of problems related to inter-ethnic and inter-confessional relations and their number is growing like a snowball. This is due to the development of the world’s productive forces and people’s movement en masse from one region or country to another, which is also typical for Russia.

According to various data, there are around 7 to 10 million immigrants, or even more, residing in Russia. The United States and most developed economies in Western Europe have just as many immigrants. What is the reason for this?

Both immigration and internal migration have to do with the movement of a great number of people, including those moving outside the territory of their ethnic residence.

Migration entails contacts with people of different ethnic groups, confessions and cultures. It means that in order to resolve such issues – let me repeat that the number of these issues has been increasing in Russia as well as in other countries – we should treat migrants like full-fledged citizens of Russia regardless of where they live. They should be protected by law and public morality, which is equally or even more important. We should teach our citizens to treat each other respectfully, and if someone moves outside the territory of ethnic residence, he or she should also respect the language, traditions and culture of the people among whom they are going to live.

These are delicate issues and it is impossible to settle them properly while merely relying on the power of the state, which is a compulsory power, as a rule. To do so, it is necessary to use the moral strength of ethnic groups and confessions. Therefore, your work is of great importance for our country, because only relying on your prestige and authority as the leaders of ethnic associations and the leaders of religious confessions can we resolve the difficult issues that we are facing today.

Still, our country has another distinctive feature, as compared to other countries, where many peoples and nationalities reside. Our country was originally formed as a multiethnic state. Present at this meeting are both very active and well-educated people, who know quite well the history of our Motherland. You remember that during the first stage of the formation of the Russian state, when there was no concept of "Russians” at all, these territories were occupied by representatives of various Slavic tribes – the Polans, the Drevlyans, etc. They too had their own distinctive identity, but have nevertheless gradually formed a single state. Different ethnicities have been pouring into this state since the very beginning…

The Patriarch will correct me if I’m wrong, but our original Orthodox Christian sources indicate the need for tolerance, speaking in today’s terms, towards other faiths. This was a revelation for me as well. This was so from the very beginning. This means there could be many things that we have never even noticed, but they are in our blood. This respect for other ethnicities and religions is in our blood.

Let me reiterate: in today's world, there are things that have become shaky and have started to burst at seams. But we simply cannot allow anything like this to happen on our soil. If we let this happen, it will be disastrous for the future of Russia.

The platform that brings us together, the Popular Front, was established for the exact purpose of uniting people of different faiths and ethnicities so as to be able to identify the problems that are facing us and come up with the best ways to address them in an open and honest discussion.

The name itself – the Russian Popular Front – emphasises the idea that every man or woman of any religious or ethnic background should realise that he or she is part of a single multi-ethnic Russian nation, is a citizen of Russia, and should be proud of it.

I'll conclude my monologue now, and gladly give the floor over to you. I would very much like for the Popular Front to be used on an ongoing basis as a platform, as I mentioned earlier, to identify the problems that confront us and to find the best solutions to these problems.

Of course, we will provide all the help that you need. We may even appoint a coordinator to oversee this work. Let’s think about who this could be. You know, we have an interdepartmental working group in the government led by my deputy, Dmitry Kozak. I think that in the near future, we will establish a dedicated working group within the Government Executive Office that will be responsible for looking into these problems.

That is all I wanted to say in my opening remarks, and I am now pleased to give the floor to Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia.

Patriarch Kirill: Mr Putin, let me thank you for taking it upon yourself to bring together representatives and leaders of Russia’s traditional religions and faiths, as well as ethnic associations. You were absolutely correct in saying that relations between ethnicities and between religions are becoming crucially important in Russia, where there is a vast number of ethnic groups, and worldwide as well, in connection with the processes of globalisation. Ultimately, the future depends on how well humankind is able to solve the problem of creating harmony between different ethnicities, cultures and models of civilisation. Many of those who are present here today think about this constantly as part of their job. I would like to emphasise the large role of the Inter-Religious Council of Russia, which extends beyond discussions of interfaith relations, and takes actual concrete, practical steps in this area. We are aware of the fact that we have many theological and doctrinal differences, and have never attempted to overcome these differences in outlook, creed or theology. Instead, we have tried to come together on socially important issues. God willing, we are making progress, and I am grateful that today, in this way, within the framework of the Inter-Religious Council of Russia, many practical issues are being solved.

Now I would like to say a few words about what may be the most important thing. In my lifetime, I have participated in at least one hundred inter-religious meetings. I have never met a person at such a meeting who would say that we shouldn’t live in peace – that they have their own interests and goals that must be reached without consideration of other people. No, everything is always very respectable, great resolutions are adopted. Some people read these resolutions; others, who plant bombs using their religion as a cover, don’t. That is why I believe that we need to take these inter-religious, inter-cultural and inter-ethnic dialogues to a new level, at least in Russia, because we have the potential to do so. We must identify the reasons underlying these bloody clashes. They happen almost everywhere, in wealthy Europe, overseas, and in the Middle East.

As you know, there are several ways to resolve ethnic conflicts. The most popular model is the brand of multiculturalism that was first adopted in America because the very nature of the United States called for it. It was accepting immigrants from many countries who were people of different views, faiths, and beliefs. The model they adopted was naturally aimed at overcoming any disunion, dissolving ethnic differences in the melting pot of a country that was forming under specific laws and secular values that were set apart from those of religion. Western Europe largely followed a similar approach, although it is now being seriously reconsidered.

What can be and cannot be achieved by this approach? On the one hand, discordant faiths and cultures smooth each other out and traditional values are toned down. But what is becoming obvious now? A multicultural society ultimately loses its values while differences and sources of discord remain. And these contradictions are so strong that people end up throwing bombs at each other and toppling cars.

Europe is facing a big question: what comes next and what must be done? The melting pot approach is not working. There are laws, there is legal thinking, there are law enforcement agencies, but people still clash and fight. It happens in our country as well. And I believe that the key point here is that it is not possible to try to tone down our differences thereby ignoring the values of human life. If we want to build a society that distances itself from these values, an absolutely secular society, a society that tolerates all kinds of behaviour, we reject that common foundation that unites people of any religion – we destroy the moral foundation of our life. And this is the main issue that I am concerned with today – the destruction of our social morality, as you called it. I am referring not only to the Russian Federation. It is the moral foundation of our lives that is being destroyed. I believe that it would be impossible to prevent major social catastrophes in such conditions. Not even the police would be able to stop the interethnic violence of those who are not bound by moral restraints and norms of behaviour, those who are emancipated in the fulfillment of their ambitions and will thus stop at nothing. That is why I believe that there should be another model for regulating interpersonal and interethnic relations.

Make no mistake about it. Interpersonal relations are an equally serious problem. Although society appears to be consolidated under common laws and programmes, the individual can become incredibly alienated, and our social systems leave them behind. People become lonely. They lose connection with others. There is a serious moral crisis taking place. And I believe if we can overcome our interethnic and interfaith differences, we can strengthen what you rightly called social morality, a personal social morality. The moral values promoted by all religions are very similar and form the common foundation of our humanity. Our human civilization has developed on this foundation. It was only very recently that someone decided that our traditional values are worthless and that only the freedom of personal choice matters. “Only I choose what is right.” Society cannot exist on such terms.

Today the issue of moral values is not a question of secondary or tertiary importance as it so often appears in party programmes. Economy and infrastructure come first while morality and culture are dragged behind. Today the issue of moral values is the most fundamental for the existence of not only Russia but of all human civilization. It holds a very important place for us because our traditional moral values are still alive and, instinctively, we maintain these values, both our older generation and even young people. But we do so only instinctively because modern trends are very dangerous as they threaten to eclipse and destroy this common moral foundation.

Now, why do I think this issue is relevant for interethnic relations? Because respect grows when there is communion. Why does one ethnic group so easily attack another? Because they have nothing in common. As they have nothing in common, they strive to unite on an ethnic ground in order to protect their businesses, while forcing out locals. That is what, unfortunately, happens in Russia sometimes. There is no unity. People do not feel like they are a family. I recall a very good model of interethnic relations, albeit hard won, between the Cossacks and the mountain peoples of the North Caucasus in the 19th century. What did we get when the military conflict ended in the Caucasus? A rather stable system.

The mountain peoples respected the Cossacks, their way of life, morals, traditions, and self-government. And what about the Cossacks? The Cossacks respected the mountain peoples’ moral traditions, virtues, and way of life. It resulted in a surprising interaction. Both sides had strong morals, strong traditions, and strong beliefs. On the one side, there were Muslims, and on the other, Orthodox Christians. But how well they lived together! The only problem was that they sometimes stole each other’s women as brides, since both Cossack women and women from the Caucasus are so beautiful.

But, overall, it was friendly interaction. So I believe that the question of restoring the moral foundations of our national life, developing national self-awareness, reaffirming our religious beliefs, and re-committing our loyalty to moral laws and principles should be treated as a priority, as this is also a question of shaping spiritually strong individuals worthy of universal respect.

This means that those who come to Moscow will respect Russians who keep the faith, stick firmly to their moral foundations, and set a moral example for others. Similarly, Russians will respect newcomers who maintain their religious beliefs, moral grounding, and principles. Thus, I believe that religious education, the fostering of morality in each religion in compliance with its laws, and the simultaneous development of what we today call a dialogue between different religious and national communities about their common problems is a way to resolve this issue.

I would like to assure you, Mr Putin, that what I have said today does not merely reflect the thoughts of one religious leader: many people today are thinking about these issues, feeling their importance, and realising that there is a moral crisis in the life of our society and that of humankind in general. The results of this moral crisis can be witnessed, among other things, in the extremely volatile interethnic and interreligious relations all over the world.

God help Russia to build, based on our wealth of historical experience and potential for good, both interreligiously and interethnically, such relations and such a system that will help us resolve these issues and offer our model to the world. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.

Mufti Ravil Gainutdin, chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia, please.

Ravil Gainutdin: Thank you, Mr Putin, Your Holiness, muftis, and distinguished participants of this meeting.

As has already been said, we live in a multiethnic and multireligious state. Our country may be like some other multiethnic and multireligious states, but, as Mr Putin has said, it is also in many ways unique. Indeed, we are not newcomers to this country, we are native citizens of our Homeland. The graves of our fathers and grandfathers are on its soil, and we have a common history, as well. Together, we created this state; together, we protected the interests of our Homeland; and, today, we are re-committing ourselves to its well-being and prosperity.

Today, the Muslim peoples of this country – and there are some 50 peoples and ethnic groups in this country that adhere to Islamic culture, traditions, and beliefs – have no other Homeland. Russia is our Homeland. We have lived together for centuries and we will continue living together for centuries to come. Yesterday, as we completed our working visit to the Republic of Tatarstan and the Nizhny Novgorod Region, we held a conference that was very much in the spirit of our meeting today. It was titled “Finding Approaches to Interreligious and Interethnic Harmony in Russian Society” and was held in the village of Medyany in the Nizhny Novgorod Region. Listening to the speeches and meeting with my fellow Muslims, it became clear to me that they wanted nothing more than to live in peace and harmony in their Homeland. They would say, for example: “We have lived in the Nizny Novgorod Region since time immemorial, side by side with Russians, Mordovians, Tartars, Chuvashs, and we have never known any religious or ethnic conflicts.” This is our treasure, and it is no coincidence that the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights turned to us to hold forums and conferences in order to study our experience of peaceful coexistence within one state and within one region. And we have held such conferences together with our brothers – Orthodox Christians and Jews – in the Republic of Tatarstan as well as the city of Nizhny Novgorod, where the Volga forum was held. The entire world is looking to our experience, and we believe that, as we lived together for centuries in peace and harmony, finding a common language, we also interacted and cooperated, learning from each other’s culture. When I go to conferences in Europe, European Muslims ask: “How do you live in Russia? How have you adjusted to life in Russia? Do Christians there accept you?” And I proudly answer: “I am Russian. I am also European – I was born in the European part of this country – and we do not need to adjust because we were born in Russia and it is our country.”

Here, I must agree with His Holiness, who said that it is necessary to create an atmosphere of communion. Yes, we, different peoples, should have common values based upon the religious, humanistic values of our monotheistic religions. They are common to us all; but there are also common human, nation-wide values that unite us all in a single country. And these are the values to which we should turn our attention. We should bring up our children and young people with a feeling of love for their history and Motherland. We must cultivate this sense of patriotism in our people. Patriotism should unite our citizens, our young people, our children. And we must build trust and respect between different ethnicities in our country. If these different ethnicities have mutual respect for each other, our peoples will treat other peoples, other cultures and other religions with respect, too. If there’s respect, there’s trust. If there’s trust, then our people will treat each other with respect.

I am confident that today everyone in our country can feel that Russia is recovering. Today’s Russia is very different from that very weak country it used to be during early stages of democratisation.  Today, everyone across Russia remembers Mr Putin’s important speech in Munich, when he made it possible for Russians to be proud of their history, their people and their country.

Today, thanks be to God, Russia is a country to be reckoned with, it enjoys the respect of other countries and provides a wealth of opportunities to those countries that expect support and protection from it. Today, our country can provide this support to Arab and Muslim countries who believe that Russia is their friend. They told us back in the early 1990s during our visits: “When will Russia show its strength of a great power? We respect Russia. We want Russia to be strong. We want Russia to be whole and united. We also want Russia to turn its face to the Islamic world, where there is a great deal of respect for your country.” We hope that Russia, with its coats of arms featuring a double-headed eagle looking east and west, will not forget that we are a Eurasian state combining Western and Oriental traditions, which is why different cultures and different peoples can coexist in our multi-ethnic and multi-confessional Motherland. They consider themselves Russians and feel that Russia is their Motherland.  

If we want peace and harmony in our shared Motherland, we need to further promote interaction and cooperation. The patriarch has mentioned today, that by establishing the Inter-Religious Council of Russia in 1998, holding its meetings and discussing important issues pertaining to our religious organisations and faiths, we set the general public an example of cooperation, friendship and mutual respect.

Our people should see this, follow the example and collaborate, respect, work together and love each other. Mr Putin, we would also like our people to be able to see this solidarity represented on television. We are more than just Moscow and St Petersburg, we also have all the richness of our regions. People in Moscow, St Petersburg and elsewhere should be able to have a window onto life in remote areas of our country. There, in those regions, our people are promoting culture and traditions, reviving the economy and fostering civil accord and peace.

We all need to be proud of our land, its riches and the multiple ethnicities steeped in different cultures and different faiths, who are still citizens of one nation. As for us, Muslims, I can clearly say that our Muslims, wherever they live – whether in the Caucasus, Siberia, the Far East, the Volga regions or European Russia – all say one thing: “We want our country to retain this unity, and we will make our contribution to peace and stability in our nation.” Thank you for your time.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. Mr Talgat Safa Tajuddin, chairman of Central Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Russia, please go ahead.

Talgat Tajuddin: Mr Putin, Your Holiness, distinguished participants, on behalf of the Central Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Russia, the oldest ecclesiastic centre in our country, I extend the warmest of welcomes to you. Mr Putin, you are indeed correct in your observation that Russia is a unique country and that it is unlike any other multi-ethnic and multi-religious country, because no one has ever subjugated or enslaved us, but by the grace of God we were brought together on this vast section of the globe and the Almighty bestowed on us untold riches. Most importantly, we incorporate almost 200 ethnicities and peoples, but we are one Russian nation. As both you and His Holiness mentioned, our history proves that we are not united by some fleeting, transient, values or goals. Instead, we live in a single Motherland, and we believe in one God.  

Our peoples have lived as neighbours for over 1,000 years, and for almost five hundred years we have been part of one single Russian state. Our grandfathers fought their way victoriously to Paris and Berlin. I don’t want to say much today, but I do want to lend my support to what His Holiness said about our most valuable assets being the spiritual and moral values that bind our souls together, because there can be no strong or resilient state without these ties. Our forefathers defended our Motherland, because this love for the Motherland is part of faith: they defended their Motherland, their families and their children, taking pride in their past and working hard for their present and future. However, these links unravel unless they are founded in spiritual and moral values. Even now, as we mark the anniversary of beginning of the Great Patriotic War, we marvel at the courage and resolve our fathers and grandfathers showed when, despite years of reprisals and the tens of thousands of places of worship that had been destroyed, they stood up to defend their country against that terrible onslaught from Nazi Germany’s massive war machine which had engulfed the whole of Europe. Faith and spiritual values passed down from generation to generation have always been instrumental in this.

Today, we want offer, in person, our sincere gratitude to you and to the government, for adopting the proposals put forward by the Interfaith Council of Russia, which brings together the traditional faiths of our country and operates on the basis of brotherly cooperation. They adopted the proposal to teach the basics of the traditional religions at primary schools. As a matter of fact, over the past 70-80 years even adults have lost almost all understanding of our spiritual and moral traditions. We can hardly talk about interethnic problems today: we just don’t have any, since we have lived together for so many years, centuries even. We don’t need to invent anything new, we just need to preserve what our ancestors handed us down and share it with our children and grandchildren. They are our children and grandchildren, and we cannot have hard feelings against them, because we are the ones responsible for them.

Societal relations have changed in Russia over the past twenty-something years. Before the October Revolution, people in Russia lived as one nation and respected each other. Our ancestors lived by the adage: view everyone except yourself as a saint. This attitude has always been there. Improve yourself first, start with your family, not just here with representatives of faith-based, public or ethnic organisations. It starts with families and parents. What will the parents teach? If today they only think about getting through the day, feeding and clothing their children, if they only think about these worldly issues, then who will teach them spiritual and moral values? The older generation is not conversant with all this. We can see that young people represent the majority of parishioners in our churches, cathedrals and mosques, up to 90%-95%. Where are the older generations? They are still here, but they don’t go to mosques or churches, because they are not comfortable doing so in front of their grandchildren or just feel shy about being so illiterate in the basics of their religions. Then, interethnic relations… We could see it even during the Soviet years… Yes, they called us the Soviet people, but no one forgot their ethnic identity, and the majority has even preserved their mother tongues. However, today, in their pursuit of all that is worldly, young and old alike turn to spiritual and moral values, not even as a second or third priority, but as a matter of last resort.

As a matter of fact, interethnic problems became part of our life quite recently. They are certainly much easier to overcome if we act together; using the Russian Popular Front, together with the whole world. When we talk about migrants, we do not mean people from India or Africa. We are talking about people who have lived side by side with us for several centuries and who share a similar mindset. If all ethnicities and peoples who live in Russia are one Russian nation, if we can give them a good example of civil coexistence, civil society, then they will be able to find their place. We welcome Muslim migrants from Central Asia in all our community centers with open arms. We teach them, we show them how we live and share the traditions of our ancestors with them. As Mr Gainutdin mentioned, the television plays a great role here. When there is conflict, a conflict with extremism and terrorism, sometimes it crosses the line. What percent of the general population actually attends churches and mosques? How many do we reach? And if there is one explosion, it gets non-stop coverage. This pains the hearts of 140 million people hour after hour, all of these religious teachings can go to waste. This is why we know more from the main channels about the lives of animals, or life in other countries than we know about our own people, our compatriots, about their traditions and beliefs. Maybe more airtime should be spent on getting to know each other instead of concentrating on the actions of extremists and terrorists.

Pardon me, but let’s consider an apartment block... Some in it may have bedbugs or cockroaches. When people try to get rid of them, they rarely tell their neighbors, because some will say, what flat owner would allow that? Perhaps we should speak less about acts of terrorism on TV, or cover it less in the mass media. We need to work on that, to be more positive in our lives, in interethnic relations in our country and in the relations between the main faiths. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.

Chief Rabbi of Russia, Berel Lazar, please.

Berel Lazar: Distinguished Mr Putin, Your Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All-Russia! I would like to thank you for bringing us together once again. I believe that the Front was perhaps not intended for religious organisations, but we too would like to do our part, to contribute our experience to improving relationships between the people.

It has been said here that Russia is a multinational, multiconfessional country. Many consider that to be a drawback. But what can be done? Multinational – we do not have a choice. Migrants – it is a problem, but we need to address this issue. I believe that most will agree that it is an advantage.

Russia is rich in its multinational experience. Peoples and religions that are present here… When we look at each other we see that perhaps there are differences: we are dressed differently, have different traditions, speak different languages. But what unites us is a lot stronger. If we emphasise the values that we share, the history that has always brought us together, I believe that we could then enjoy these riches.

Unfortunately it is rarely mentioned in the West how people live together in Russia, cooperate and understand each other, and how religions live in peace. I believe this is unique. I am not certain that there is another nation in the world that lives in peace, where all leaders of religious unions not only cooperate, but also assist, consult each other, and meet each other half way.

I am not speaking about the Orthodox Church here. It never harboured any animosity toward the peoples of the world. But when we consider the case of our Muslim brothers in other countries, we see conflicts, we see great differences. Here things are different; we have a good relationship and no issues that divide us.

Yes, there are sometimes problems, issues, but I would like to thank you for founding the Front. This idea is unique, it is a new platform where we can live and help each other, join our efforts to improve the standards of living of all citizens.

Frequently we gather at the table, tell jokes, parables, stories – that also enrich Russia. I suddenly remembered that today is a very special day for all Jews. Today is the 17th of Tammuz, which marks the breach of the walls of Jerusalem. I thought of a Talmud parable that I heard as a child. It is not coincidental that we gathered here today.

The Talmud asks, how did God decide where to build his church? The world is so big. Why there, why in Jerusalem, in the city that presently brings together all denominations? The answers are in the story of the two brothers. One brother had a big family, the other never even married. While staying at home with his children one brother thought: “It is unfortunate that my brother does not have a wife and children; it must be difficult and uninteresting. We always divide our harvest in equal halves; he should have the bigger share, it will provide him with material wealth”. He got up in the middle of the night and brought his brother more grain than he had previously received. At the same time, the other brother had similar thoughts; “I am single man, how much do I really need? I do not need a lot of food, but my brother has a wife and many children, I will help him”. He got up at night and delivered some grain to his brother. In the morning the brothers were surprised to see that the amount of grain had not changed. The brothers thought that they may have taken less grain than they thought and brought even more grain the following night. But in the morning the grain was still there. In the third night the brothers encountered each other pulling a load of grain. “What are you doing?” “What are you doing?” They then realised what happened. God looked down from above and decided that this was where he wanted to build his church. What can we conclude? We frequently think only of ourselves, which does little for those around us. It is important that we think more about the needs of our neighbours, our friends and other nations. If we think about them, help them, I am certain, our lives will be improved as well. God will bestow upon us that which we lack most, and we will live in peace for many years to come.

I would like to thank you once more. Many often say that Russia has many imperfections. Our gathering here today disproves that, for I do not know of any other country whose leader would bring its religious leaders together. Despite your busy schedule you brought us closer together, and that is unique. Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. Permanent representative of the traditional Buddhist Sanghas of Russia in Moscow Sanjay Lama, please.

Andrei Balzhirov: Esteemed Mr Putin, Your Holiness, distinguished Supreme Mufti and participants. Thank you for allowing me to speak. Unfortunately Hambo Lama (Hambo Lama Damba Ayusheyev) could not attend the meeting; he is presently traveling through the regions, attending annual events. He could not be here. What can I say? Hambo Lama’s wish is for Russia to celebrate its ethnic, cultural and religious diversity and to take pride in its heritage and traditions. Interaction will enrich us all spiritually. And true interaction is impossible without ethics.

Mr Putin, we really appreciate that you travel to the provinces every now and then and that you recently paid a visit to Buryatia.

I believe we should make sure Russia develops throughout its territory rather than just in the centre. Your trips across the nation really help this process along. Thank you for this. 

Vladimir Putin: Thanks a lot. Does anyone of you have any ideas or proposals to share? Please don’t hesitate.  

Mikhail Chlenov: My name’s Mikhail Chlenov; I represent the Federal Jewish National and Cultural Autonomy. Taking up Mufti Ravil Khazrat’s point, I’d like to stress that Russia’s Jews don’t feel like outsiders in this country, where they settled some 2000 years ago. The first mention of Jewish settlements in Russia dates back to the 1st century BC, when Jews made their home in the Krasnodar Region. The history of Jews in Russia is long, dramatic and fruitful.

Earlier today, we spoke of the role that religious and ethnic communities play in maintaining Russia’s inter-ethnic harmony and in shaping its ethnic policies. We should realise that ethnocultural organisations and autonomies are an important ingredient in civil society.

Nowadays, the role of religious organisations in Russia is greater than that of ethnic ones, with the latter’s influence falling short of what our lawmakers intended it to be. So what should we do to redress this imbalance?

The role of ethnic organisations is already quite wide-ranging, but we should work to enhance it further. First of all, we should raise their status, engaging them in efforts to cope with the many challenges related to inter-ethnic harmony, tolerance, that kind of thing.

In the Russian government, the Regional Development Ministry is responsible for ethnic issues. For my part, I must say that I’m quite comfortable with the way the ministry handles its tasks, and we get along together.

It’s somewhat strange, though, that most Russians believe the housing and utilities sector is the ministry’s primary responsibility, while ethnic policy is just one of its minor tasks.  

Having said that, it’s highly desirable that all the government agencies involved in ethnic issues should take advice from ethnic and religious associations. Their representatives delivered a beautiful sermon here today, and we listened to it humbly and respectfully.

The activity of ethnic associations may be multifaceted, but it is aimed primarily at consolidating the Russian state and society and creating an atmosphere of friendship and tolerance.

There is also an international dimension to the work of ethnic associations, which is about building bridges between Russia and countries where the majority of these ethnicities live. Earlier today, we mentioned the Middle East as one such region.

Expanding on Ravil Khazrat’s point, I’d like to say that the Russian Jews expect Russia to act as a world power. As we all know, some 1.5 million Israelis are Russian immigrants. Each of them must have left behind a dozen relatives and friends, meaning that in today’s Russia, several million people have a personal stake in achieving peace settlement and stability in the Middle East, where their loved ones live. As many as 550,000 Russians visited Israel as tourists last year alone. I hope most enjoyed the trip. Each of them also has about a dozen friends and relatives who would like to go after the tourists shared their impressions with them.

We are certainly interested in peace and stability in the Middle East. A unilateral proclamation of the Palestinian state is being planned, and will be submitted to the United Nations for consideration. As we see it, this unilateral move will undermine the legal foundations of the Middle East peace process, which is based on several agreements – the Oslo agreement and several UN resolutions. We are waiting with concern for a Russian government decision on its policy in this affair. No one has asked us about our opinion yet, but we should be asked.

Multiethnic communities have many other problems, too. To conclude my short speech, I would like to say that it is especially important for ethnic organisations to step up their activities, to promote greater public support. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course. I dare comment on the unilateral recognition of Palestine. Russia is the legal successor to the Soviet Union, which recognised Palestine long ago, so the matter is settled.

 Mikhail Chlenov: It was settled in 1988 but will be reconsidered now.

Vladimir Putin: You should talk it over with the Foreign Ministry: the issue concerns only formalities with no bearing on current events.

Mikhail Chlenov: At any rate, we would like to contact the decision-makers on this matter.

Vladimir Putin: Everybody knows that Israel is a very special country with respect to Russia. In fact, it’s a Russian-speaking country, one of the few countries outside the former Soviet area where Russian is spoken so widely. Russian speakers make up more than half of its population. That’s evident.

Mr Martens has the floor.

Heinrich Martens: Mr Prime Minister, Your Holiness the Patriarch, esteemed Mufti, ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to further address the theme taken up by Mr Chlenov – the present state and prospects of Russia’s ethnic cultural development. The law passed in 1996 proclaimed the right of all ethnic entities in Russia to have ethnic cultural autonomy. That law placed Russia on a par with most advanced countries in Europe and the world.

The first-ever federal ethnic cultural autonomy appeared in Russia. It was an ethnic German autonomy, established on December 17, 1997. We have every reason to say that ethnic cultural autonomies are an acting institution in Russia – there are 13 federal ethnic cultural autonomies, and a network of ethnic cultural autonomies in the regions. There are many relevant initiatives. Ethnic representatives know us and we work with them. I needn’t cite many figures – suffice to say that the federal ethnic German cultural autonomy alone arranges more than 600 cultural, educational, youth and children’s events a year.

I would like to mention certain problems now. Regrettably, there are obstacles to nongovernment organisational development. I will mention three obstacles.

First, we think that the state badly underestimates the potential of NGOs in Russian public affairs, which Mr Chlenov mentioned. This country still has no permanent platform for a state dialogue with ethnic communities. In the late 90s, there was a commission chaired by one of the deputy prime ministers that included representatives of all the ethnic cultural autonomies. There is no such commission now.

Ethnic communities are not represented in the Public Chamber or the Federal Assembly. When one looks at party programmes, one gets the impression that these programmes, just as political parties’ practical activities, do not reflect the interests of Russia’s ethnic entities –as entities, not as Russian citizens – as comprehensively as they deserve. In other words, interethnic policies are occasionally made in the absence of the people responsible for the ethnic entities.

Another problem is the absence of systemic and non-systemic government support for the cultural activities of Russia’s federal ethnic cultural autonomies.

Last but not least, there are no government measures to promote the independent development of NGOs – measures practised in the majority of developed countries: tax breaks for the commercial sector, promotion of patronage, and preferential property leasing by the state.

These are three of our biggest problems. Despite all that, we can say that ethnic cultural autonomies are on a firm footing now. They are really the state’s active and responsible partners. However, Mr Putin, I have to say that we don’t think our autonomies have enough opportunity for further development. They are stagnant, and I think my colleagues would agree.

I would like to offer the following practical proposals. First, we need a permanent discussion platform between the ethnic communities and the state. Religious communities might join the dialogue, too. As a first step to this goal, I think we should reinstate the government Council for ethnic cultural affairs. One of the deputy prime ministers should chair it and be responsible for this pivotal aspect of national life. The council should have the right of consulting government agencies in ethnic and interethnic relations. We do not insist on equal rights with the state. We want merely to counsel, advise and take part in the processes.

Later on, we might examine the possibility to establish a public council on ethnic affairs, an analogue of the Public Chamber, under parliament or other federal agencies, or include representatives of federal ethnic cultural autonomies and communities in the Public Chamber.

There is another opportunity for the state’s discussions with ethnic cultural autonomies as representatives of civil society. I am referring to the interdepartmental group on interethnic relations. It is a state structure, but I think it would be worthwhile to attract representatives of ethnic cultural autonomies to this work, wouldn’t it?

I have another practical proposal. We think this country needs a long-term state programme to support every ethnic entity’s cultural identity. At the same time, this programme should promote a broader sense of civic identity. Every entity should see an opportunity to join the programme – some need support for schools, others for a cultural centre, a stage company, etc. At any rate, it should be a comprehensive long-term programme envisaging a regular system of activities. Naturally, we don’t mean that people should receive salaries for their work in federal ethnic cultural autonomies – we only say that we need a system. At present, the autonomies are competing with each other as they implement the programme on its grants but only in fits and starts. Programme-related events are very rare while what we need is regular work. Otherwise, the autonomies will become weak if not perish altogether.

Second, I think Federal Law No. 74, concerning ethnic cultural autonomies requires amendments on the status of the federal ethnic cultural autonomy as a socially oriented organisation, which will allow tax breaks.

There is another painful problem. It concerns all public organisations through I am speaking only about ethnic cultural autonomies. The social tax rate for ethnic Germans’ federal autonomy was 14% till January 1, 2011 while now it is 34.2%, meaning we cannot afford a major part of our work and so are far less effective than before as a civil society institution. The matter must be reconsidered. Why should a cultural autonomy and Gazprom pay taxes at the same rate?

Next, we were under the impression that the legislators – the State Duma, I suppose… I am not sure, I don’t know the problem well enough because I was away at the St Petersburg Dialogue forum at the time. At any rate, I think that the State Duma endorsed a bill amending the 2nd part of the Tax Code. You see, we want the federal ethnic cultural autonomies to be effective tools for civil society and serious, reliable and responsible partners with the state. There are only two ways to achieve this: either the state merely supports us with state programmes – which is the right way – or, again, grants opportunities to federal ethnic cultural autonomies themselves, giving them not fish but an angle to fish on their own. For that, we need reduced taxes, support for patrons of the arts, and programmes to promote our organisations’ independent work. We do not want to sponge off the state – we want to make money for our cultural activities.

Naturally, we say that the state concept of the nationalities policy in the Russian Federation, which was adopted many years ago, needs to be updated. We can also make relevant proposals if we are asked to make them.

As a Russian citizen, I think that our federal ethnic cultural autonomy should become not merely a reliable and responsible partner. We are responsible enough as it is. We do not colour ethnic affairs with politics. We work with the public on many practical things – German language classes and other things that ethnic cultural autonomies do. But we should have some independence. I think we should have the chance to present our position to the federal authorities.

Here is just one example. It’s hard to say now – something might change with the establishment of the Popular Front. Anyway, next year is the 250th anniversary of mass German immigration to Russia because of Catherine the Great’s manifestos. This is a theme with widespread interest, and an opportunity. I have talked with my colleagues in Germany – the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the German ambassador to Russia. When I was in Germany, my hosts heard about the anniversary and said it deserved to receive international attention.

Mr Putin, I cannot reach you or others at the top federal level for some reason or other, so I’m just putting the matter in simple words now.

Vladimir Putin: That’s why I have come to you myself.

Heinrich Martens: That’s very good! There are about four million former ethnic Germans from Russia in Germany now. The two countries need a new intergovernmental agreement on support for them. Whatever I do, I couldn’t convince anyone to take the matter seriously. I have the necessary documents with me. I would be grateful if you could find a few minutes later to discuss this.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you.

Heinrich Martens: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Chlenov mentioned the Ministry of Regional Development. As I understand, you think this is not enough?

Heinrich Martens: Why, there are housing and utility problems…

Vladimir Putin: They keep interethnic relations in the background, right?

Heinrich Martens: The programme wouldn’t work.

Vladimir Putin: That’s it. If you cannot arrange a celebration for the 250th anniversary of German immigration, it means something is wrong with it. We will think how to arrange this.

As for contacts, I said at the beginning of this meeting that I propose to establish a standing contact group on the problems we are discussing today – based in the Russian Popular Front or in the federal government. We will establish a special department within the government staff and consider ways to organise the work of the concerned ministry most efficiently. This will be even more important in the post-election period than now. I am not sure whether we should divide the ministry and have a separate one. Possibly, a specialised agency would be good in such a country as Russia. We will certainly think it over.

Thank you for mentioning the problems. I have noted them all. I see four major problems and proposals on certain issues.

As for Federal Law No. 74 – your status as a non-profit social organisation, I think it’s possible. We’ll see what might follow from it.

The decision on the 34% social tax rate was also made in one fell swoop, without thinking about the functions of these organisations. You propose tax breaks, but I think they engage in commerce…

Heinrich Martens: Mr Putin, we engage in community work, but pay taxes at the rates as Gazprom and other commercial entities.

Vladimir Putin: Who do you think should get tax breaks? Sponsors or NGOs? We will look into it because charitable donations are made from net profits after tax payments. Got it? As for the taxation of non-profit organisations themselves, they should not pay taxes at the typical rates. We will surely consider this. But no one here is naive, and you understand that all businesses in this country will become ethnic as soon as we cut taxes for ethnic organisations. Still, we will think it over. Thank you very much. Speak up please.

Valery Kazakov: My name is Valery Kazakov. I represent the Belarusian Russia federal ethnic cultural autonomy. Mr Putin, you have worked in different posts for ten years now to build a strong, powerful and independent Russia.

Thank you for gathering us here today. I think this is the first step to a very serious conversation. It is high time for this conversation – things are not as good as we would like. Federal ethnic cultural autonomies are on firm footing. Mr Martens is right: we have really assumed a part in state functions. But there are two laws – one on federal ethnic cultural autonomies and one on public organisations – which are not based on financial criteria and so cannot guarantee the work of the autonomies. I resolutely oppose any kind of privilege granted under any pretext because commercial businesses claiming to offer us services will take advantage of this. What we really need are normal programmes approved by the State Duma, which the cultural autonomies could properly implement.

Second, I think the discussion platform of today’s meeting should develop into a full-fledged government agency to address Russia’s ethnic problems directly. You said correctly that we have close on 200 ethnic entities (170 to 180, depending on various criteria), and they have no one to appeal to with their problems. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is addressing them from its own point of view, the Ministry of Regional Development from its own. Same with the Interior Ministry and the Migration Service, but there is no special agency for us to apply for practical assistance. We also have no unified programme to work with the autonomous ethnic entities.

Last but not least, Mr Putin, many of us Belarusians see ourselves as part of Russia as we belong to the Russian Orthodox Church though there are also many Catholics among us. We are a nation of many religious denominations. We are worried as economic and other differences between Russia and Belarus get publicity. Particularly, they can be used by certain politicians in both countries for their own personal ends. We would really like to set up a platform for people’s diplomacy to show that we are two fraternal nations, and God protect us from a split. I am in contact with my colleagues from other [post-Soviet] countries, and I know how attentively they watch Russia’s conduct toward Belarus, one of its closest partners. Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. It’s a critical and very subtle question. All of today’s speakers – the last ones, to be precise – said that they have no permanent partner in a federal agency. I listened to what they said: federal ethnic cultural autonomies have no established partners in the government or the presidential administration. We will review this. I know we have the Ministry of Regional Development, which has a relevant department, and I thought it sufficed. From what I have heard here, I understand now that this is far from enough, and we will do something about it.

As for support, we have not yet made the final draft of the budget, and we will see what we can do for you. I don’t think you need real big money. Possibly, we will earmark something for the direct support of ethnic organisations even in next year’s budget. This is evidently an extremely important matter. We will also think about the tax rate. I don’t want to make hasty promises now. These are very involved issues, they demand expert analyses, but I will certainly give the necessary instructions.

Now Mr Kerimov has the floor.

Arif Kerimov (president of the Lezgin federal ethnic cultural autonomy): Thank you. Mr Putin, allow me, on behalf of the Lezgin federal ethnic cultural autonomy, to thank you and the Popular Front leaders for the platform you have provided here. This directly links these public organisations with the highest authority. We thank you for your idea to establish the Popular Front, and we fully support it.

I know the moods and opinions of the Lezgin people (there are 650,000 Lezgins in South Dagestan). They fully support your ideas. We have put our proposals on interethnic and interreligious questions in writing, and I will submit them to the Popular Front offices. I would like to speak on another question, which our friend Mr Chlenov, the Jewish autonomy leader, has raised. That is the question of our fellow countrymen abroad. Many know the fate of the Lezgin people, but many others don’t. In 1921, at the Second Congress [of Soviets], Joseph Stalin divided us by ordering a new border along the Samur River. Part of the historical Lezgin territory went to Azerbaijan and the rest to the Mountain Republic, or present-day Dagestan.

These borders were inviolable until 1991. We were in one country and communicated freely. The social and political situation changed drastically after 1991 of course. As a divided entity, Lezgins lost their socio-political status in both Russia and in Azerbaijan. Here are the latest statistics as of a month ago: the OSCE considers there to be 700,000 Lezgins in Azerbaijan, while according to our statistics, there are no less than 1.1 million.

Mr Putin, the fact of the matter is that, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Lezgin people were confronted by a very serious problem. Relatives could not visit each other. Our borders with capitalist countries in the Soviet era were not as tight as this one.

Take, for instance, a recent incident involving two Russian enclaves in Azerbaijan. This area, comprised of two villages – Khrakh-Uba and Uryan-Uba, was transferred to the Azerbaijani jurisdiction with 600 Russian citizens left to the mercy of fate. I have written to the Presidential Plenipotentiary Representative in the North Caucasus Federal District Alexander Khloponin and the Foreign Ministry about this, but couldn’t get an appointment with either one. I managed to meet with a deputy head of department. Fine, they gave them up. The main point is that the Soviet border between Russia and Azerbaijan changed. The Lezgins woke up one morning to find themselves in a different country.

The drinking water shortage is the most serious problem that South Dagestan faces. The Samur River is now in Azerbaijan and the water parting line that was established there in Tsarist times and the bridge – everything went to Azerbaijan. We have handed 90% to Azerbaijan, free of charge, over the past 20 years. For free! Water from the Samur could be used to meet 90% of our needs. We can’t just divide things like that anymore. Frankly, the Lezgin people are outraged. You know that this is the most peaceful region in South Dagestan, and the Lezgins have been and will always be the most law-abiding people in Russia. But this incident and the stance adopted by our Foreign Ministry… I will not comment on it.

Vladimir Putin: When was that, about 12-18 months ago?

Arif Kerimov: It was ratified by the State Duma on June 17, even though…

Vladimir Putin: Oh, just recently.

Arif Kerimov: Yes, yes. Even though people collected signatures and asked the Duma to wait six months until they settle the issue with the Russian enclaves Khrakh-Uba and Uryan-Uba.

There are many similar situations around the world. Uzbekistan has three enclaves in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Why did we give ours up voluntarily? All right, we gave them up and now we have an international treaty we need to abide by. Fine, I understand that. But why draw new borders? This is the second time we have been split: first in 1921 and now in 2011. In addition, all water sources were handed over to Azerbaijan, and we are very unhappy about that.

Recently, when I learnt that I will get the chance to meet with Mr Putin, many respected Lezgins, including the director of the Institute of Philosophy and other academics, asked me to ask you exactly what we got in exchange for all the resources that we ceded to Azerbaijan? We gave all that away, and what did we get? Nothing. And we also left 600 people to the mercy of fate. Mr Putin, do ask your staff to sort this out. Unless you do it, no one else will do anything about it.

Azerbaijan is offering them just 45,000 dollars for their property. People who have lived there for 100-150 years are now offered 45,000 dollars! In Dagestan that will only get you four hundred square metres of land: it’s a small republic with mountains on one side and the Caspian Sea on the other. That is why, Mr Putin, I am here to ask you to help, so that these people can get land plots and some financing and be able to return… They refuse to become Azerbaijani citizens … They say, we don’t want to, we have always been Russians and we will die Russians.

Vladimir Putin: So, they didn’t draw a precise border line?

Arif Kerimov: That’s it. A totally new border. The one that preceded the Soviet Union… And they drew the new border on the Russian side. Why? On what grounds? What did we get in return? The Foreign Ministry says we get gas from them…

Vladimir Putin: Well, we’ve got enough gas of our own. So, the issue is about water intake? Old stations, I don’t remember exactly, it’s been a while since I’ve looked into it.

Arif Kerimov: I’ve got all the papers ready, Mr Putin.

Vladimir Putin: Let me have them. Thank you.

Arif Kerimov: With your permission, I’ll give them to your aides.

Vladimir Putin: Good.

Arif Kerimov: And the final question, Mr Putin. The ethno-cultural autonomous region of the North Caucasus – there are actually two autonomous regions, Lezgin, we are furthest south, and Karachay – is a very powerful force and a serious partner. Most importantly, it’s a reliable partner for the government, a national force. I have always operated on the basis that we never received a kopeck of foreign money and we will never do so as long as we live… This is a very reliable partner.

And finally, Mr Putin. The young people, young researchers who are leaving our autonomous region… Economists drafted plans for socio-economic development of South Dagestan. We submitted this programme to Mr Khloponin, and he approved it. The Ministry of Regional Development also liked it a lot. But for some unspecified reason, the government of Dagestan views it very warily. As far as I can understand, that’s because there’s no place for kickbacks in it. It states unequivocally that one brick costs one rouble. The Dagestan government ignores it, even though both your deputy and the Ministry of Regional Development approved it. We also ask for your help with this issue, too.

Vladimir Putin: What is this programme called?

Arif Kerimov: Socio-economic development of South Dagestan.

Vladimir Putin: It is currently being considered by the Dagestani government, correct?

Arif Kerimov: Khloponin and the Ministry of Regional Development have considered and approved it. The government of Dagestan ignores it and says, I quote: “We have our own programme drafted by us and the Ministry of Regional Development...” However, as far as I can tell from what we have heard from the plenipotentiary representative’s staff, our programme is 20 times better and more specific than the one drafted by the Dagestan government, and it rules out kickbacks.

Mr Putin, with your permission I would like to say a few words about interethnic relations. The Political News Agency recently published an interview with a Russian political scientist. It revolves around one key issue: how Russia could disintegrate. The political scientist answers. You know, all signals don’t have to come from Moscow. As long as we keep straightening things out in the minds of Moscow-based officials, we’ll be in a difficult situation...

Vladimir Putin: No, you will not. We gathered people together in order to find an answer to another question: how to make Russia stronger.

Arif Kerimov: Thank you, Mr Putin. You know what this political scientist suggested? He said he advocates separating all Muslim areas off from Russia. When asked how that could be implemented, whether he had a plan, he said he did. His proposal is to establish international commissions led by a former US president to ensure it all goes ahead in a civilised manner. This is a government agency!

Vladimir Putin: That’s one wise man… We should let the Lezgins have him. They will decide what to do with a political scientist of that ilk.

Arif Kerimov: Mr Putin, let me say that we fully support the Popular Front. I would like to convey the wishes of my people to you. They told me: tell our esteemed leader, that he should follow what he started right through to the end. That is what the people want. So far, they’ve phrased it as a request. This desire that you see your work through to conclusion might become a demand at some stage. Thank you very much for your attention.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. I haven’t commented on concerns about the squabbles between high-ranking officials in Belarus and Russia. You know, all I can say is that this is regrettable. We, for our part, are doing and will continue to do everything we can to ensure this is never repeated. But I am really concerned, because I already see problems arising in everyday life. This is not good at all.

Please go ahead.

Ara Abramyan: Ara Abramyan, president of the Russian Union of Armenians.

Mr Putin, the Russian Union of Armenians has been working successfully for over 10 years now on interethnic relations among young people. We operate through branches in over 640 cities and towns, and we work with all ethnicities. I am in a position to say that we have done a great deal of work over the past 10 years, and our public organisations hold over 2,000 events each year. All 640 branches support the establishment of the Popular Front. We can see this as a mechanism for implementing ideas and proposals that spring up in the course of our work on interethnic and youth policy.

Our colleagues have said a lot already, and I will not take much time. I just wanted to say that there really is a problem in youth policy. This is the case in Russia today. It has somewhat diminished over the past 10 years, but it’s still there, and it is an on-going concern. We cannot even conduct high profile events in the centre of Moscow after dark. People get killed, and there are a variety of problems. My proposal is to set up a committee or commission at the Popular Front which would function as a kind of forum for us, public organisations, to discuss ethnic issues in youth policy. We could work through the Popular Front to keep the country’s top officials in the loop. This is a very important issue.

Last year, we held a nationwide youth forum in Sochi. All Russian regions took part – over 80 youth organisations in all. Listening to them, you really do begin to realise that social problems are everywhere, including higher educational facilities, drug abuse and crime. Of course, there are successful young people, too.

To get all of this organised… There’s not enough time today to go into detail about it. If we had a forum, under the Popular Front, then we could discuss all this. These questions would then be referred up to you, through the hierarchy of officialdom, and measures would be taken. This forum would be a space where our young people would be able to discuss ethnic issues, and the state…. It would be very good, going forward, with your permission I will pass our proposals to Mr Volodin (deputy prime minister and chief of the government staff), and we can proceed. Thank you for your time.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. Mr Dolgikh, please go ahead.

Vladimir Dolgikh: Mr Putin, Your Holiness, today we have heard a vast number of wise, outstanding ideas, and it is hard to find fault with them. I think we should focus our attention on ways to make sure that these great ideas about youth policy become a reality, on the issues we face in this area, on youth issues. I believe that our youth policy is facing a crisis, because the power of money, loss of honour, conscience and spirituality have all reached unprecedented levels and threaten to inflict major losses on the state in the future.

We have lost respect for real work, we reward people for what they appear to be, not for what they really do, and I believe that this is wrong. We should think about how to take this further. The way I see it, the government should draft a fundamental programme that would include educational issues. We should ensure that our public organisations are focused on ingraining such spiritual values as a sense of honour and conscience, and that they promote traditions, which are very important.

You recently spoke about integrity, and quite right. This issue is fast becoming of immense importance. Values such as justice and integrity should be promoted. There are cases where veterans’ organisations are working on this in schools, and we do a lot of other work, but unfortunately it is not enough. This government programme should reach out to families and parents to help them take on more responsibility. Parent-teacher associations should be given more rights. Young people need to have access to gyms and other sports facilities. This should all be included in this area of work because these today are defining issues for our country. Of course, these issues should be addressed by the country’s leaders. They are worth it. I think the fact that you and the Patriarch are present here at today’s meeting is very significant. But, at the regional level, we need to see this work to being taken up not only by the federal authorities; we need each region to work on this, each governor to assume responsibility for it, rather than only concerning themselves with economic growth rates or oil production; we need to see that those individuals back this. Developments like this have been observed in some places, but it is not being supported.

I was in Krasnoyarsk recently. Mamiashvili runs a wrestlers’ school there. I expected it to involve a small group of people, but when I got there I saw that as many as 2,000 children attend it, but it has no support. This needs to be part of our work in this area. I think, if we had a permanent platform for discussion… We need to be able to develop and submit proposals. If we don’t do it, and just go our separate ways, then things will stay as they are. We need to make sure that this doesn’t happen.

Vladimir Putin: That means that we will find a coordinator who will be able to turn today’s event into a rolling forum. Not just so we can get together and talk through everything, but so we can tackle specific issues. Someone here today made the point that we don’t draw enough input from the ethnic and cultural autonomous regions when drafting federal laws. In all other areas, when we work on this in the Duma, we have what is called a zero reading. If the issues that we consider in the government or the parliament have an impact on ethnic policies, then of course these zero readings should involve representatives of the cultural autonomous areas.

Please go ahead, Mr Baklanov (chairman of the board, International Union of Public Associations Kievan Rus).

Oleg Baklanov: Mr Putin, first question. This platform comes at a very opportune time, and we will do everything we can to support it. I am speaking on behalf of Ukraine. We in Russia have about 12-13 million people who have relatives in Ukraine and about the same number of people in Ukraine. I am speaking from a position of authority – as I myself am from Ukraine. What do we need?

First, we had Sotsialisticheskaya Ukraina daily back in the Soviet era. Although we lived in one country, it was published in Ukrainian, and there were other newspapers in Russia that were published in Ukrainian. I first tackled this issue back with Mr Kuchma, my old classmate, but it remains unresolved. I believe that we, Russia, should be pro-active in dealing with this issue and go ahead and do so. Then, the Ukrainian authorities will feel awkward until they reciprocate. I believe this is the right thing to do.

Second, we should establish a Ukrainian TV channel. This will be a step forward in our relations, because there is a group of people in remote western parts of Ukraine who collaborated with Nazis during the war. I was in Kharkov during the occupation, I saw Nazis, and I know that Nazi collaborators are still there. We need to re-educate them – not just through words and admonitions – but set an example as I mentioned earlier.

And my final point. I am not asking for anything. We have launched our own little newspaper, and we would like to get preferential treatment. I would like you to issue an instruction … to Mr Volodin. We will list our proposals.

And finally: we cooperate on space exploration, defence and aviation, but we don’t have a venue. We are based in the Ukrainian cultural centre, but we don’t have a venue where we could get together and tackle these issues. We are sorting this out using our business contacts, but we would like to have at least 500 meters here, in Moscow. We have already raised this issue, but our legislators have still not responded. I am asking for your support and assistance, so that we can work with Mr Volodin, and we would draft a proposal. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you, I’ve made a note of it. Please.

Toktarbai Dusenbayev: Mr Putin, colleagues and friends. My colleagues have said a lot. I would like to voice some of my ethnic goals. The Federal National and Cultural Autonomy of Kazakhs of Russia was registered four years ago in the hope of resolving an issue that I believe is very important for Kazakhs living in Russia and that is studying their native language. We think the situation with the Kazakh language in Russia today is inadequate, although there are possibilities for resolving this issue. The only school that offers tuition in the Kazakh language in the village of Kirei in the Altai Territory – the only school in the Russian Federation – is shutting down due to lack of funds. And young Kazakh people…

Vladimir Putin: Is it in the Altai Territory or in the Republic of Altai?

Toktarbai Dusenbayev: No, it is in the Altai Territory, in the village of Kirei. It is the only school that has functioned in Russia for 70 years…

Vladimir Putin: Do they teach in Kazakh?

Toktarbai Dusenbayev: Yes. Otherwise, we, Kazakhs living in Russia, do not have an opportunity to study our native language, even though we live in border regions, such as Astrakhan (where some 170,000 Kazakhs live), Volgograd (50,000) and Orenburg (130,000). Overall, there are about 400,000 Kazakhs living along the border. Today, our children do not feel confident going to Kazakhstan because they do not know the language. We went to the World Kurultai, or Congress, of Kazakhs, which was held in Astana in May and which was attended by our compatriots from 35 countries. We did quite well in many competitions – we took first place in football. But when it comes to a competition of akyns, or improvising poets, for example, we cannot compete because of our feelings of inferiority.

So this is the issue, Mr Putin, that we have tried to get resolved through law for many years. We have turned to many agencies, both to the Russian Ministry of Education and to all agencies on the regional level – in Omsk and Saratov, but it has not been resolved. We would like to ask for your assistance. We have not been able to resolve it for many years. Our center, the Federal Autonomy, is situated in Samara, and we have been trying to get a plot of land for seven years. There is a possibility to do it, but the attitude to our request is very inefficient, so to say. When Mr Titov was the Samara Region’s governor, we raised the issue. Today the governor is Vladimir Artyakov, and we have already received folders full of letters, which are just run-around replies, and it still has not been resolved. At higher levels, everyone says that Kazakhstan and Russia are strategic partners, but, for some reason, these simple issues are not being resolved.

Vladimir Putin: You mean land is not given.

Toktarbai Dusenbayev: No. So we would like these issues to be resolved, Mr Putin.

Vladimir Putin: I will definitely talk to the governor.

Toktarbai Dusenbayev: I think that Kazakhs in Russia have never had any interethnic conflicts.

Vladimir Putin: Of course.

Toktarbai Dusenbayev: And except for these language issues, we have lived here well and we will live well in the future.

Vladimir Putin: Very well, we will definitely address your concerns.

Mr Muliulis, please. (Alvidas Muliulis, chairman of the Federal National and Cultural Autonomy of Lithuanians of Russia.)

Alvidas Muliulis: Mr Putin, participants of the meeting, Your Holiness. First of all, I would like to thank you, Mr Putin, for the opportunity given to all of us to gather today at the Popular Front’s site, to talk to you, to ask questions and to talk to each other.

For historical and geographic reasons, a majority of Lithuanians, one third of them, live in the westernmost region of our country, in the Kaliningrad Region. A total of 132 ethnic groups live on this small territory, and what we all have in common is that we are citizens of Russia.

As everyone has already said, the variety of cultures, traditions and customs constitutes Russia’s cultural wealth. But there is a paradox: today, we can walk by foot to Lithuania or Poland, but to get to “mainland” Russia, as we call it, we need to cross two countries, Belarus and Lithuania. A train trip from Kaliningrad to Moscow takes 24 hours including customs and border procedures.

At the same time, we know that today’s technology allows covering this distance in seven hours, and there are good examples of it. Meeting with our governor (we have a council of ethnic and cultural communities), we have repeatedly raised this issue. But, it seems, it cannot be resolved on our own, so we ask you, Mr Putin, to look into the possibility of a high speed railway carriage between Kaliningrad and Moscow.

I believe that we, Russian citizens, no matter what our nationality is, will be closer to Russia and will feel that we are Russians more fully. Not everyone can afford to fly; the majority of our people cannot, so I would like to draw your attention to this request. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: The connection of our exclave with the rest of Russia is certainly a pressing problem. You know, we have introduced discounts for airplane tickets, and now young people and people over 60 will be able to fly at a cheaper rate.

As for trains, it is not completely up to us; a lot also depends on your historical homeland, Lithuania. We keep in touch with them. Overall, I should say that the dialogue progresses smoothly, and we will try to reach an agreement. Of course, it should be accelerated, and the barriers should be eliminated.

To a large extent, it will, of course, depend on how we can resolve these issues with the EU in general, but something can be done additionally on the bilateral level, too. As you certainly know, in recent years we have resolved some issues related to simplifying both rail and motorway trips; corresponding decisions have been made. But I agree that this is not enough, we should strive to de-bureaucratise everything related to the contacts between people as much as possible. And I assure you that we will definitely continue working on it.

Alvidas Muliulis: Just for your information, a plane ticket from Kaliningrad to Moscow now costs 16,000 roubles. I don’t know why the prices have surged so much, perhaps, because only Aeroflot is left and there is no competition.

Question: Is it one way?

Alvidas Muliulis: No, return.

Vladimir Putin: Let me repeat that there will also be discount fares.

Sergei Ryakhovsky: Mr Putin, Your Holiness, priests and leaders of ethnic communities. I represent the Council of Leaders of Protestant Churches. It is a very big community with over 5,000 registered religious organisations. Thank God, we have had some success. I am very grateful to His Holiness for what he is doing to normalise relations between the state and different faiths. I have a very simple question. Recently, there have been more cases of… For example, I met with the Defence Minister to discuss the transfer of a base that we have been occupying for 13 years now. The Kingisepp district has given it to us, but the Defence Ministry needs to formally confirm this. We have our biggest rehabilitation centers for drug addicts there; we have a total of 550 such centers all over Russia. But the issue has still not been resolved. We have been offered an expensive lease. We have invested in these centers 30 million roubles. You see, Mr Putin, all that we are asking for is… We are engaged in significant social service, we are not engaged in politics and we do not plan to be, we just serve our people. We want to see our country strong and healthy, rid of such evils as alcoholism, drug addiction, and so on. And what we hear is, “Yes, you have invested money, yes, you have turned this base into a good and worthy undertaking, this is great, but please continue to pay.” And then we ask, “What can we do?” What can you do? There is the Popular Front, Putin, go ahead!

Vladimir Putin: Did they really say that?

Sergei Ryakhovsky: This is what many officials say. It is as if, you know, they had broken loose and were trying to put the responsibility on you for everything. I have prepared a number of letters, and there are many … Ours is a socially oriented organisation. And they say, “Yes, you are socially oriented, and Russia has a lot of land, a lot of everything, a lot of empty buildings, but we won’t give one to you,” something like that. Mr Putin, I have a huge request. At the beginning of your speech, you mentioned that a coordination center will be organised, and there will be those to whom we can address our concerns… I am ready to hand over my request today to Mr Volodin; I have prepared it in your name…

There are many issues, but they are minor, insignificant. We do not ask for money, we ask only that we are not prevented from doing the work that Christians, Muslims and Jews are doing already. You know, we have had an amazing experience. A Muslim community and Christians donate blood together. We have specific dates set in the biggest cities of Russia, and we come together and donate blood. We have inter-faith parish football teams. We have held championships between different faiths at the Dinamo stadium for several years. We only want certain officials to not interfere. I have written all this to you, so I won’t take up your time any more. Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: But they do not interfere with your playing football?

Sergei Ryakhovsky: No.

Vladimir Putin: Thank God.

Sergei Ryakhovsky: Unfortunately, the Muslims have been winning so far.

Vladimir Putin: Ismail Berdiyev, please. (Mufti Ismail Berdiyev, chairman of the Religious Board of Muslims of Karachayevo-Circassia and the Stavropol Territory.)

Ismail Berdiyev: Thank you, Mr Putin. Your Holiness, colleagues, participants of the meeting. Today, we have met within the Popular Front. Before, we, the clergy, thought about where we should be in this front – in the center, in the front, in the back, or at the side. And we came to the conclusion that we should lead the way. And everything that has been said here is based on one thought: everything comes from religion.

You have said that we should respect other people. When you come to someone (and the Koran says so), do not sit down in his place, wait for him to show you where to sit and sit there, and speak when he allows you to speak. You have said so, and the Koran says the same. What you did before, the money you collected for the stabilisation fund, the Koran has it all. You did not know then that such a crisis was going to break out, but you foresaw it all. This all comes from religion. What His Holiness has said… He could not say openly, “Let us abide by religion.” But we live in a secular state. And we have not forgotten even what Mr Dolgikh, a member of the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee, said, we know all this. Decency comes from religion.

We should try to live our life following God’s laws. Of course, we should not touch the eagle, Russia’s emblem. Mr Tadzhuddin once drew one of its heads wearing a turban and another with a cross. We should not do this. As time passes, man forgets. But we do remember a time when we used to live… it was anarchy. You have put it right, Mr Putin, you have set it straight.

And so we will be helping this front. Of course, its members will not all be religious people. But we will help them. Let Allah give them strength and health! We will move ahead together. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. Ms Demetr, please. (Turns to Nadezhda Demetr, president of the Federal National and Cultural Autonomy of the Romani of Russia.)

Nadezhda Demetr: Thank you. I am very grateful, Mr Putin, Your Holiness, for an invitation to such a high-profile meeting. This inspires hope that our situation will improve. I am Nadezhda Demetr, Doctor of History, and I represent a Romani autonomy in Russia.

Today, Mr Putin has very correctly noted that when you visit someone, you must honour the customs of the nation that has received you. I would like to say that the Roma arrived in Russia 500 years ago and embraced Russian culture in an extremely enthusiastic manner. They became part of Russian culture. Today, it is even hard to single them out. For instance, it is now hard to discern between the romances of Roma and Russian music. It is also impossible to say whether the famous “Tsyganochka” (Gipsy Girl) is a Russian or a Roma dance because both dances have become so closely intertwined.

We have made a great contribution to the development of civil society. I will not discuss this now, and I will not distract you because I understand that everyone is very tired. Nevertheless, I must mention that the Roma are among the few nations in Russia that lack their own statehood and that have never had such statehood anywhere, on any territory. The Russian Roma see Russia as their only homeland, and they expect no assistance from anyone. At the same time, many ethnicities have their own autonomous territories either in the Commonwealth of Independent States or abroad.

I must say that the Roma have now found themselves in an extremely perilous situation. I don’t think that we have ever faced such a situation. We have been completely excluded from public and economic life. Everyone accuses our nation of being a bunch of criminals. The crackdown on crime has gradually escalated into a rather offensive crackdown on the Roma. Unfortunately, this was facilitated by the media. This crackdown is absolutely inadmissible. All this has led to glaring abuses, and the Roma are being expelled from various territories, including Kaliningrad. In all, 140 homes were simply bulldozed after the Roma there were accused of selling drugs.

Look at what is happening in Sagra today. An interethnic domestic dispute has flared up there. No one has sorted things out. Most importantly, the conflict involves about a thousand people of different ethnicities. I don’t want to act like a tabloid and discuss it on such terms. But I can say that there was just one Roma who was blamed for everything. This is absolutely natural because there is no one to defend him.

A nation cannot be persecuted for centuries. It should be given some equal opportunities and a chance to break this vicious cycle. The Roma are currently the least educated nation in Russia. I will not analyse this for various reasons. They are absolutely uncompetitive on the labour market for lack of education. Special programmes are required …

The current position of the Roma amounts to a dramatic problem. A nation is dying, and it needs help… It cannot always be blamed for popular sins. Consequently, we need state assistance and a special state programme for the socio-economic development of the Roma. Such a programme should be similar to those being drafted for other ethnic groups in Russia. Special committees are being established to deal with Cossack affairs, including those under the Ministry of Regional Development. There is still no agency, even with the most unimportant representatives and in the smallest building, where Roma could come and ask for assistance and support. There is nothing like this in Russia.

Frankly speaking, we wrote you ten letters some time ago during your presidential tenure. Unfortunately, it seems that you didn’t receive them. May I give you another letter today? If possible, please take a look at it, and please help the Roma. Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. Please.

Soyun Sadykov: Good afternoon, Mr Putin and round table discussion participants.

My name is Soyun Sadykov, president of the Federal National and Cultural Autonomy of Russia’s Azerbaijanis. I will not talk much about our organisation. Everyone knows what we are doing and that we have been doing it for a long time. I would like to suggest that the Russian Popular Front establish an expert council to monitor interethnic and intraethnic relations. This is because many problems arise, and many officials even don’t know about the existence of these problems in Russia. In some cases, it seems that there is no problem, that it is being created artificially, as is the case in Kondopoga. I was there and met with that Russian boy. I don’t think that the conflict was ethnically motivated. People said openly that they were financed and ordered to take away that restaurant. That’s it! Such incidents happen often here. For instance, the same thing happened in Yekaterinburg. I suggest that the Russian Popular Front ask all the media, primarily NTV, to devote less time to all the evil that takes place. It creates even greater evil and fosters hatred in people and between ethnic groups. In so doing we are dousing the fire with petrol rather than water. The media should be held accountable in order to prevent such incidents. This is especially true of NTV, which regularly features such violence in a bid to boost its ratings.

Second, Mr Putin, unfortunately, there is no Russian ethnic organisation present here today. I think it would be good to invite them. This would provide an impetus for interethnic accord.

Third, I believe that the immigration issue is the most complicated national issue today and in the future. No one seriously addresses it. In effect, virtually all of these immigrants can either become Russia’s friends or enemies, citizens or non-citizens. They can bring risks that currently exist in underdeveloped countries. The Federal Migration Service should cooperate rather closely with national cultural autonomies and ethnic organisations in order to resolve this problem and create friends rather than enemies.

I think that the Russian Popular Front should also assume this initiative in your person because Russians and other ethnic groups are loyal to you. They respect you because you really saved the country. In 2001, I attended a European Parliament session on ethnic and minority issues on behalf of the now-defunct Ministry for Nationalities. I saw the way they “welcomed” us there. The same was true of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2003. This was particularly the case with politicians from former Soviet republics rather than Europeans. Our generation lost the Soviet Union thanks to those three characters who were present there… This must be prevented in Russia. Unless we seriously tackle the ethnic issue… It is good that the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service monitor the situation. But independent monitoring is also essential. Independent monitoring will make it possible to arrive at an accurate diagnosis. It would all come to nothing if we failed to act and lost our country. This is our home, the home of our children and grandchildren. Our organisation is always ready for cooperation. It is always ready to offer ideas and proposals for strengthening the state. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: We need to wind things down. Mr Sulyandziga, the first vice president of the Association of Small Indigenous Nations of the Arctic, Siberia and the Russian Federation’s Far East, will say a few words, and we will sum up the results of today’s meeting.

Pavel Sulyandziga: Thank you very much, Mr Putin. I would also like to sincerely thank you for the opportunity to take part in this forum for discussing highly important issues in Russia’s national life. I represent the Association of Small Indigenous Nations of the Arctic, Siberia and the Russian Federation’s Far East. The association comprises 41 small indigenous nations. Of this number, seven nations have a population of under a thousand, and another 12 have a population of less than 2,000. I think that it is very important for this country, for Russia, that all these ethnicities should be able to develop within the family of this country’s larger nations. Today, you have aptly remarked that this country has a very important asset, namely, its many ethnic peoples. I would also like to note a difference in the mentality of our nations. Our small ethnicities are sometimes called the children of nature. This is really so. The mentality of many nations is that, if offended, they must take their revenge or at least seek the punishment of the aggressor. Things are different with our small peoples. If offended, many prefer to commit suicide. I can say that suicides account for 30% of our nations’ mortality rates. I think that this is a telling symbol of their position and self-perception in the country today.

The state is now exerting substantial efforts to prevent the small Arctic, Siberian and Far Eastern ethnic groups from feeling underprivileged in their own land. Regrettably, we have yet to see good results. This can be explained by substantial setbacks in the implementation of such decisions. For instance, I’m considered a persona non grata at the Ministry of Regional Development because they claim that I make too many critical remarks and some rather unpleasant statements. But I reply to them that I’m only telling the truth, and, if they don’t like it or don’t want to hear it, then I’m also ready to stop. When I was lecturing students, one of them asked me the following question. He said, “Mr Sulyandziga, you represent a nation. My nation, the Udege, are descendants of the famous Dersu Uzala. We now have only four towns and a population of 1,800.” He wanted to know how to preserve this extremely small nation, and whether the effort was worth the time, resources, money. I thought for awhile and asked him whether all other nations were small as compared to the Chinese.

I think that a rather grim future awaits us unless we all consider how to preserve our cultural and ethnic identities. Consequently, I believe that it would be very important to implement all these state decisions, especially the resolution on approving the strategy for the sustained development of small and indigenous nations, which you have signed. This extremely important document has, unfortunately, been virtually torpedoed. Plans to implement the strategy are also being drafted. First of all, the Ministry of Regional Development claims that it knows best what should be included in these plans. Second, even if it does include something, it never fulfills its own provisions. This is deplorable.

As for interethnic relations, we all know that the Arctic where our small nations live has always been stable. There are no interethnic conflicts there. Nor will there be any conflicts. I don’t even want to knock on wood because I’m confident that the mentality of our people and all our ethnic groups will prevent such conflicts indefinitely. Sometimes there are some drunken brawls. But there have never been any interethnic conflicts, and such conflicts will never occur. I myself have seven children with an Udege, Russian, and Ukrainian background. And I’m very much afraid that someone will tell them one day that they are aliens in their own land or among these nations… Therefore, I believe that we have worked and will continue to work for peace and tranquility, primarily in interethnic relations.

And, finally, Mr Putin, I would like to raise another issue. I have arrived from Buryatia this morning. An Evenk community representing one of small nations lives there. Four years ago, we conducted a nationwide conference there together with the Office of the President’s Plenipotentiary Envoy in the Siberian Federal District. It is among the few indigenous communities to successfully combine a traditional economy with business operations and so on. This time I went there because of an attempted hostile takeover in the area. Armed men arrived, the police locked up all the security guards and told everyone to mind their own business. One had the impression that the police were involved in some way… The people are trying to develop, to provide assistance to other nations, and then this happens…  

Vladimir Putin: Please go on. And what happened then?

Pavel Sulyandziga: I notified the Presidential Executive Office, I arrived with a chief federal inspector, had a meeting, he called the Minister of the Interior, and those guys with assault rifles disappeared.

Vladimir Putin: And you are talking about ineffective cooperation. People with assault rifles vanish into thin air as soon as you arrive.

Pavel Sulyandziga: Well, we cooperate rather fruitfully with the Presidential Executive Office. I’m a member of the Public Chamber. We receive tremendous assistance while tacking various problems. I would like to thank you once again for your consideration. We will be involved in all affairs of benefit to Russia, no matter what.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. As for improving the performance of the Ministry of Regional Development, this issue has already been discussed. I would like to draw your attention to improving the entire policy with regard to small indigenous nations. Of course, this sphere is very subtle. These ethnic groups are extremely vulnerable, just like the Arctic environment itself, and therefore require special attention from the state. An entire system of measures and methods for supporting them has been perfected. It appears that we should once again merely agree with those advocating such preliminary coordination during the creation of the relevant legal framework. This implies the approval of an initial version, just like in the State Duma. Public organisations of national autonomies should be involved in this process so that such legal norms and bylaws immediately become effective. We will stipulate this in practice. Please, let’s sum things up, okay?

Vasily Tso: (President of the All-Russian Koreans’ Society) Thank you, Mr Putin, Your Holiness.

I would like to raise one issue concerning former Soviet citizens. Mr Putin, you have noted that the Russian Federation is the legal successor of the Soviet Union and that it has retained both its assets and liabilities. His Holiness has just mentioned one of our most important assets, and that is human life. The Soviet Union disintegrated 20 years ago, but, frankly speaking, Russia has left these people to their own devices. It has failed to support them. It has taken away the ships, the missiles, and so on. But the people remain. Over ten million Russian-speaking individuals now live outside the Russian Federation. On television, I recently saw a piece on a Russian family that had arrived in Nizhny Novgorod from Uzbekistan. It has been living there for eight years now. Babies have been born, but the family is unable to obtain Russian citizenship.

I would like to draw your attention to the fact that people are our greatest asset. Human, rather than material values, form the wealth of a nation and a powerful state. Why are we unable to guarantee the simplest procedures for granting citizenship to people who speak Russian and want to become citizens of the Russian Federation. I don’t see any international obstacles to this. Or maybe I am missing something. I think people cannot be deprived of this right. That’s what I wanted to say.   

Vladimir Putin: I agree with you completely. Considering the country’s demographic problems, this method for increasing the population, that is, by attracting immigrants, including those of a similar ethnic background who are fluent in Russian and well-versed in our culture and traditions, is a good option. Questions linked with material support, social adaptation, and employment, however, arise in this regard. What are these questions? When people resettle, the state must provide them with housing. Local residents in an area that attracts migrants want to know why they don’t get the housing that they also require. They want to know why housing should be allotted to immigrants when those who have lived here their whole lives have received nothing. But this does not mean that nothing should be done. I’m just saying that this problem is not so simple.

Other problems have to do with crime. Nevertheless, I suppose that the point you raise has become entangled in red tape. That much is obvious. We should address this problem in a new and civilised manner and with the help of modern methods. At the same time, we must guarantee the interests of immigrants and the interests of the existing population. Modern regulation methods provide this opportunity. All we have to do is introduce them more persistently in our practical life.

Esteemed friends and colleagues,

I would like to thank you all. To be honest, I didn’t suspect that we would have such an interesting conversation. But the conversation has become so detailed and down to the point that, if the Russian Popular Front had nothing else to discuss, it could remain wholly preoccupied with only the issues that we have examined today. Moreover, the establishment of the Russian Popular Front as a platform merely for discussing these issues, bringing them into the spotlight, and searching for solutions would be justified. I’m simply convinced that we will establish a permanent platform for work in separate areas, and, hopefully, will more effectively regulate state activities in all the areas that we addressed today. I’m talking about the need for rigorous public checks by experts during the adoption of national decisions as regards issues of national and cultural autonomy.

Thank you very much for today’s conversation.

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