TRANSCRIPT: [Putin at] Meeting of the Council for Interethnic Relations

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( – October 31, 2016)

Vladimir Putin chaired a meeting of the Council for Interethnic Relations in Astrakhan. The meeting addressed current issues related to implementing Russia’s National Ethnic Policy Strategy.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues,

We are here today to discuss current issues concerning implementation of the National Ethnic Policy Strategy.

As you know, we approved this strategy four years ago. Since then, we have established the Federal Agency for Ethnic Affairs. The local and regional authorities have received the relevant powers in the area of interethnic relations, and we have a federal targeted programme that aims to strengthen our national unity and ethnocultural development.

In our country, which historically developed as the common home for hundreds of different peoples and ethnic groups, interethnic harmony is an obvious priority and essential condition of our country’s existence. We have a solid foundation here in the form of our long centuries of experience. At the same time, we know that interethnic relations are a highly complex and sensitive area. These relations are in constant evolution and we see new problems emerge here, and also serious challenges, sadly. Competent and substantive responses to this situation require us to come up with modern and flexible solutions.

This is precisely the kind of approach the National Ethnic Policy Strategy takes as its base. This strategy has done much to help Russia to withstand the global threats of extremism and terrorism with success. Our efforts to prevent and pre-empt ethnic and religious conflicts are also of tremendous importance.

The result of this work is that close to 80 percent of our population – and I am pleased to see this – consider relations between people of different ethnic backgrounds friendly or normal. A few years ago, surveys put the figure at 55 percent.

It is unmistakeably a good sign that the number of people who assess positively the situation in interethnic relations continues to rise. But this does not mean that we can lessen the attention we pay to preventing extremism and interethnic tensions, all the more so when we see a growing trend to erode traditional values in today’s world and ignite interethnic and interfaith enmity and conflict.

We must and will resist these destructive trends. Our people’s public and spiritual unity plays a key role in this. This unity has its roots in our citizens’ awareness of the fact that they belong to different ethnic groups but together form a single country and that they all share common values and traditions and the great Russian culture and language.

Forming a Russian identity is a complex process that cannot happen overnight. The process is certainly underway though, and has been quite active over recent years. People have an ever-more solid perception of themselves as part of Russia and feel greater responsibility for their country. This does not mean, though, that we should simply sit back and watch these processes unfold, be mere observers noting developments.

We need organised, purposeful and persistent work in this area, educational and organisational work. The authorities at all levels, political parties, and public organisations, including religious and ethnic associations, must take part in this work.

This work must take all different circumstances into account, in particular the fact that preserving the traditions and customs of all peoples in Russia and a respectful attitude towards religious values are part of our society’s spiritual and cultural unity, shared values and patriotic spirit.

At the same time, I say again that interethnic relations are a highly sensitive and delicate area and we need to act with great care and tact. A rigid, formalist and bureaucratic approach is not only unacceptable but is fraught with dangerous and sometimes destructive consequences.

It is clear that we need professionally trained and competent specialists in interethnic and interfaith relations. We have an obvious shortage of such specialists at present. But we have great need of people, especially in the area of religion. Here, we need not only religious figures but also secular people who understand the issues involved and can convey to all parts of society their understanding of what is happening in this area and what deserves our support. I would like to hear your proposals, of course, including on drafting professional standards for these specialists.

Coordinating the work of the different state bodies responsible for carrying out ethnic policy is another very important matter. There are more than ten such bodies at the federal level alone, plus the organisations working at regional and local levels, but their interaction is sometimes very ineffective and very lacking. Ongoing cooperation has not been organised with research and expert organisations either.

How will we resolve these issues? I know that there are hopes for the specialised state programme the Government is currently preparing.

This programme needs to be developed in such a way as to become the single main guideline for all involved in implementing the Ethnic Policy Strategy. But as I said, we can resolve this problem only if we coordinate the efforts of all relevant organisations. The question of how best to do this remains open, though I do not think there are any insurmountable difficulties here.

Particular attention needs to go on developing the laws in the area of ethnic policy, including as concerns migrants’ social and cultural adaptation. This area currently lacks sufficient legal regulation and organisational and economic instruments.

We need to decide on the federal body responsible for this work. We need the relevant specialists too. I already mentioned this issue and I want to add that our solutions must take into account the demand for specialists who will work with foreign citizens coming to live and work in Russia.

Support for non-commercial organisations working in areas related to interethnic cooperation, preserving and protecting the cultures, traditions and languages of Russia’s peoples, and migrants’ social adaptation is another important matter. The services such organisations provide are not currently on the list of socially useful services. This means that these organisations cannot benefit from the preferences accorded to organisations with a social focus. This can be a problem and a restraining factor. Let’s discuss these matters too.

I propose that we begin the discussion now.

Vladimir Putin: Colleagues, I do not want to go back to what we all know – the importance of what we are doing, something many of you have devoted years to. I want to thank you all for your collaboration. I hope we will continue and will further analyse what is actually happening, in order to adjust our national ethnic policy.

Of course, I once again want to thank my colleagues who have delivered reports, and all the other speakers. We will summarise all this, we have the minutes, and will take a closer look at everything. Each proposal deserves to be worked on.

Some things would certainly be of practical use – for example, Mr Arif Kerimov [President of the Federal Lezghin National Cultural Autonomy] proposed a list of ethnic groups, so that these people would have a preferential right to obtain citizenship, and so on, while at the same time focusing on those without statehood. This is a good idea, so let’s think. But if we go down this path, we will encounter certain difficulties, because we will immediately exclude all the former Soviet republics. This is the first point.

Secondly. We will face controversy between, say, the law on traditional religions, where Buddhists are described as people of a traditional religion, without a state of their own, or Jews, for example. Judaism, too, is considered a traditional religion, but they have a state, Israel. So the idea itself is good, let’s just modify it, as well as many of your other suggestions.

What is absolutely possible and necessary to implement, to think of in practical terms and start working on, is the law on the Russian nation. Mr Vyacheslav Mikhailov [a member of the Presidium of the Council for Interethnic Relations] has suggested transforming the strategy we have worked out together, only we need to work on it some more.

Mr Vladimir Zorin [a member of the Presidium of the Council for Interethnic Relations], I think, proposed holding a year of unity of the Russian nation. I think this might be a good project involving all who are here in this room today, so that we could work together. Just choose the year. We have some plans for years, so we need to make sure that different events do not overlap. This could be a very big milestone, a consolidating event that would involve virtually every ethnic group living in Russia.

Among other things, it could be very interesting. Unfortunately, we do not even fully realise what a beautiful country we live in. For many people, even those who live close to their neighbours, it would be interesting, perhaps, to learn about the ethnic groups and peoples that inhabit our country. These are things that we do not come across every day, unfortunately, but they still make up the foundation of Russia’s multiethnic population, and are our treasures, our absolute values

Thank you. I look forward to continuing our cooperation.