TRANSCRIPT: “Joint meeting of the Council for Culture and Art and the Council on the Russian Language”

Map of Russia and Russian Flag adapted from images at state.gov

(Kremlin.ru – Dec. 2, 2016)

Vladimir Putin is chairing a joint meeting of the Council for Culture and Art and the Council on the Russian Language in St Petersburg.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues,

We have gathered today in St Petersburg, which has a very concentrated cultural programme these days. The International Cultural Forum is taking place here, and the closing ceremony of the Year of Russian Cinema will be held here in the evening. I would like to wish productive work to all participants of these events.

Today, we are holding a joint meeting of the Council for Culture and Art and the Council on the Russian Language in this wonderful, beautiful hall. This format was not chosen by accident. We are going to talk about the consolidation of the country’s integrated cultural space and its foundations – the Russian language and classical Russian literature, which have always determined the common spiritual and moral values of the peoples of the Russian Federation and helped us preserve our cultural code and pass it on to the future generations.

Moreover, the diversity of our mother tongue and the humanitarian values reflected in the best examples of Russian literature help us gain a deeper insight into the wealth of Russian culture as a whole, its historical significance for Russia and the entire world and, of course, our inclusion in our homeland’s destiny.

Much has been done to enhance the status of the Russian language and literature in the past few years. Owing to system-wide measures in schools and universities, active support of reading, film adaptation of classical literature and educational media projects, more and more people are choosing meaningful, so to say intellectual leisure.

It is enough to say that almost 120 million people visit museums every year. I do not know whether any other country comparable in population size has such figures, but I doubt it very much.

Theatres are also becoming more popular, gathering 39 million spectators per year, as well as theatre festivals devoted to our great writers: Chekhov, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and a more modern galaxy of authors, such as Shukshin.

Not to miss a premiere and to regularly attend exhibitions and classical music concerts is becoming not only a matter of savoir vivre but an urgent need for Russians. It is very important to preserve this positive attitude in society.

Naturally, we will continue to support major socially important cultural projects, as well as our leading creative groups and educational institutions.

At the same time, state support alone is not enough to involve a broader audience, especially young people, in the world of high, insightful art. I touched upon this in my Address [to the Federal Assembly] yesterday, as you might have heard. We need new, original interpretations of classical works in cinematography, theatre, television and social networks. This is a task for the people of art: to create contemporary works while preserving the content of the original, its moral message and our rich and evocative language.

I spoke about my position on interfering in creative processes, and I want to reiterate that the freedom to create should be inviolable. However, all freedoms have their alternate side, namely, responsibility. We know it very well. This, actually, is acknowledged by all renowned philosophers.

Artists, “the rulers of our hearts,” have a special responsibility in everything they do. On the one hand, any disruptive behaviour, any attempts to sabotage a play or exhibition are absolutely intolerable and should be punished in accordance with the law. And we will do so. At the same time, the creative community – especially the creative community – should acknowledge the line between a cynical, insulting provocation and an act of creativity.

Renowned and respected people of art have gathered here today. I hope that you will voice your opinions on these issues.

I have no doubt that in accordance with the adopted Basics of the State Cultural Policy we will be able to develop and implement programmes that will boost the development of projects related to the preservation of cultural heritage and the Russian language in academic, folk and contemporary art.

There will be many volunteers, I am sure. By the way, Mr Mironov had a birthday recently. We all wish him a happy 50th birthday, and in that spirit I’ll give him the floor first. Mr Mironov, go ahead please.

Actor and Artistic Director of the State Theatre of Nations Yevgeny Mironov:

Thank you.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen.

I can state with confidence that modern theatre in Russia is on the upswing. I am particularly pleased to say that it is not limited to the two capitals. Gone are the times when the alluring lights of the capitals literally devastated regional cultural life and lured actors away not only from small towns but even from regional centres.

At present there are about 700 theatres in our country. New, very powerful theatre centres are being established in Yekaterinburg, Perm, Yaroslavl, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk and Saratov, to name a few. It has become fashionable to go to premieres in these cities. Plays staged by local theatres are depriving the masters in the capitals of their “golden masks.” Theatre festivals in Voronezh and Omsk, for example, have become more competitive with the cultural offerings in the capitals due to their extensive programmes.

The Federal Touring Support Centre is three years old. It was established by the Ministry of Culture at your initiative, Mr President. It helps arrange exchanges of guest performances not only for Russian companies but also for theatres from former Soviet republics. As far as I know, there are about 30 tours per year.

We see all the interesting things happening in theatre in small cities, which have 150 professional companies in 53 regions. City theatres of Novokuibyshevsk, Minusinsk, Glazov, Kudymkar and Lysva have become famous throughout the country.

The State Theatre of Nations has developed a programme in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture, which is aimed at meeting theatres’ creative needs, from supplying them with qualified teachers in different areas of theatre to helping compile their repertoire. The best companies from all parts of the country get together for an annual festival of small city theatres.

Quite recently we received very good news. I understand that the State Duma adopted a decision that means a lot for us, as it adds support for small city theatres to the state budget that is being now discussed. I hope this initiative of MPs will also receive your support, Mr President.

Long gone are the days when the theatre was just the usual three: drama theatre, children’s theatre, and puppet theatre. Many cities now have successful modern drama centres, such as in Yekaterinburg; and documentary theatre centres and modern dance centres, such as in Kostroma. Supporting independent projects and promoting a variety of theatrical forms to compete for audiences are important for ensuring an exciting and productive future for our theatres.

All these efforts focus on our ability to achieve one of the most important goals for federal policy on culture, which is to raise regional theatres above their provincial level, consolidate Russia’s cultural space, and promote theatrical and cultural life in the regions.

However, there are a number of long-standing issues. Salaries remain a problem for regional actors. It is important, first, to resolve this problem; and, second, it should not be resolved by cutting creative personnel jobs or closing theatres. Sometimes such ideas are voiced. On the contrary, it is imperative to preserve the theatre network in our country, because we take pride in our theatres.

Mr President, the theatre community clearly sees a need for more children’s theatres, which account for only about 10 percent of the total number of state and municipal theatres. Children’s theatres are a place where the audiences have their first experience of the theatre. Art shapes our outlook on life, the spiritual meaning and value behind the life of an individual and the entire nation. Childhood is a critical stage in this process. Unfortunately, public funding of children’s theatres traditionally has been lower than for regular theatres. Children’s theatres cannot increase revenues by raising ticket prices. They don’t have the same ability as drama theatres to raise ticket prices, and besides children’s theatres should remain affordable to as many children as possible. The situation with puppet theatres, of which there are just over 100 in our country, is even worse. Salaries in some regions are as low as 10,000 to 19,000 rubles a month.

I would like to make another very important point. Sorry if I am repeating myself. Participants in the recent meeting of Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Sergei Kiriyenko with artistic directors of Moscow and St Petersburg’s leading theatres discussed questions that are the subject of widespread debate, and my colleagues asked me to make this appeal to you, all the more so since you touched on very important issues today and in your Address to the Federal Assembly yesterday.

The problem of education in the arts, from a young age, and understanding the language of art has become particularly urgent recently. This is true of everyone – both ordinary spectators and government officials in the provinces. The level of culture in the provinces is often higher than the national average and it is important to make sure that this disparity, which is nothing tragic, leads to normal dialogue rather than an order shouted by minor officials.

As you know, Mr President, in the last few months the theatre community has become worried over restrictions on artistic freedom. These apprehensions are largely the result of illegal actions of some officials, including those in the provinces, that simply banned a number of shows, citing representatives of this or that civic organisation.

We are equally concerned over the actions of different activists, who go virtually unpunished after rushing into theatres during plays that caused disapproval or destroying displays at exhibitions. Contemporary art is always provocative but this does not mean that it should hurt someone’s feelings.

However, if no law was violated, evaluations of a piece of art should only be made in a professional, civilised and respectful atmosphere. We believe that in complex times society should rely on the opinion of the professional community, people whose achievements and names have earned them unqualified authority. I know Valery Fokin wanted to speak about this and offer a proposal.

To be continued.

[featured image is file photo, not directly related to article subject matter]