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#11 - JRL 2009-72 - JRL Home
www.Kremlin.ru
April 15, 2009
Excerpts from [Medvedev] Speech at Meeting of the Council for Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights
The Kremlin, Moscow
[DJ: Complete transcript of meeting in Russian here:
http://www.kremlin.ru/appears/2009/04/15/1547_type63378type63381_215116.shtml]

PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Good afternoon, colleagues,

Today is the Councils first meeting in its new membership composition. Everyone on the Council is present here today. I hope that the Council in its new composition will make a useful contribution to the work of civil society and of the authorities. This is a very important but also very complex task.

Today we will discuss our work priorities, the work in which the public and non-governmental organisations [NGOs] are involved. I will not list all of these different areas of work as you are familiar with them. You are all working on these different tasks, each in your own way, and for the most part have been doing so for a good number of years now. Among the subjects we will discuss will be, of course, modernising the judicial system, fighting corruption and extremism, military reform and the associated legal and social issues. Then there is the subject of humanising our society in general, protecting childrens rights, and finally, there is the crisis, which is affecting all of us.

I want to say a few words about the NGOs themselves. We will discuss the NGOs actual operation and status. I realise that you face difficulties in your work and that there are many cases when restrictions are placed on NGOs activities without sufficient justification. Of course, this stems from the fact that many civil servants see NGOs and their activities as a threat to their monopoly hold on power. This is probably the case not only here in Russia, but in Russia we have the added weight of our own history, which to this day still has quite a visible effect on relations between the authorities and civil society, between the authorities and the NGOs.

Speaking of the laws on NGOs, I imagine that you have questions regarding such laws, and I am ready to listen to your views and your proposals on how to improve respective legislation. Clearly, the said laws are not perfect, even though we have spent a lot of time over these last years on improving them. I think amendments are possible, and in some cases even necessary. I am referring to all the different issues involved: taxation of NGOs, procedures governing relations between the NGOs and the authorities, public awareness of NGOs activities, state support for civil society organisations, the issue of public expert evaluations, and also public hearings on matters of importance for the society. The laws on NGOs activities cover all of these different areas, but there is probably still a lot that can be changed.

I want to put particular emphasis on the oft-stated truth that the authorities and human rights activists have huge scope for working together, and we only need to work out how to best combine our efforts. Furthermore, it is no secret that there is a seriously distorted perception of human rights activities in our country. This is due to our history and to some ideological concepts. We need to understand one simple thing: the state itself has a duty to protect human rights, and all those who wish to do so should also be involved in this work. If we pool our efforts and work together, we can perhaps achieve better results.

Another subject I mentioned at the start is the economic crisis. In the crisis situation, we need to reflect on how to build confidence between the authorities and civil society, because we will not get through the crisis without it. There is an objective need for this work today, and it is important to get the NGOs involved in education in every sense of the term, and in healthcare. I hope too that the Council will work actively on the protection of peoples social and labour rights, because these rights are in a particularly difficult situation at the moment. The crisis has led to an increase in the number of wrongful dismissals and cases of people being forced to take lengthy periods of leave from their jobs. Unemployment is on the rise, and this in turn increases poverty. These are our common problems, and we need to work on them together. ------- Colleagues, I will comment on some things, and there are others that I will not comment on because I myself still need to figure everything out, because there are many documents that require careful attention. The one thing I can guarantee is that I will read all of these documents personally. I do not know whether or not I will agree with the arguments they present, but when I do agree, I will deal with it and give orders to colleagues who are responsible for a given aspect of government work.

We have had a long discussion. First, a few words regarding NGOs in our country and the corresponding law that was passed in 2006. On many occasions, I have had to discuss this law with various people. You know what my feeling is? By the way, I would not say that the law is ideal and works perfectly, that it merely needs to be complied with, and subject to such compliance everything will be great, NGOs will operate within the legal framework and everyone will be happy, especially the government.

However, as I see it, the issue now is somewhat different. The application of the law has created a certain trend of how NGOs are perceived. I have to admit the fact that the law has been interpreted in such a way that many officials are now under the impression that all NGOs are enemies of the state and should be fought, so that they do not transmit some sort of disease that may undermine the foundations of our society. I think such interpretation is simply dangerous. The law was never intended for such an interpretation which is just impossible. I agree with the opinion that real law offenders or those who threaten national security would never bother to register NGOs and would engage in their activities through other means.

Nevertheless, the government must monitor these processes. Let us at some future point return to the issue of the legal grounds for the NGOs operation in the country. I will instruct the Presidential Executive Office to review your suggestions. No doubt, the initiatives incorporated into the 2006 law included some rational ideas, therefore we should not toss everything aside. Instead, we should look critically at the practice of applying this legislation, taking into consideration the points you made and the issues I have outlined. I will instruct the Presidential Executive Office and the Government accordingly.

Now, a few general notes. I would not break the history of the relationship between the government and society into some chronological periods, such as up to 2001, 2001 to 2004, or 2004 to 2008 although in terms of dating, it may be possibly done, as certain times are usually associated with activities of certain people, with certain leaders, or certain decisions. I agree we must shape a sound and adequate communication strategy. There must be political competition and nothing can replace it. So I think we should set a working group to see what can be done. I am in favour of such an idea.

In regard to civil control and confidence crisis, I believe you know the confidence crisis is global. In any case, everyone I meet to discuss economic issues begins by talking about one and the same thing: the effects, or rather, the cause of todays economic crisis lies in the loss of confidence in economic institutions and in the ethics behind their operations. That is why I do not feel that the crisis of confidence is specific to Russian society or to the relations between our society and our government. True, the 20th century was dramatic for Russia and hence a deep-rooted public distrust toward institutions of power. Such distrust has not been fully overcome and in some respects has even grown greater an extremely dangerous development which must not be ignored.

That is why control, including civil control, is important both in regard to law enforcement and in regard to civil servants. I cannot and will not deny evident facts, and moreover, I myself have stated that our government machine is steeped in corruption. For a long time, I reflected on attitudes toward corruption in general, whether it should be addressed or not, because when I came up with those ideas, I naturally heard lots of identical opinions on the subject. People would say, why bother, the problem may not be sorted out overnight anyway, there will always be complaints that certain facts are not disclosed and certain officials are immune to investigations. But ultimately, I decided that it would be an unforgivable mistake if I do not make the step, as the process must be initiated in any event. Even the tiny steps we have taken or the legislative instruments we have passed, even the tax declarations we have published, these are all the right moves. I do understand all of this is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, but it is still a step in the right direction, and it is useful if a step like that is initiated by the President. Doing something is never easy.

We need to move forward, and I fully support the idea of developing all sorts of civil control, including the Web blogs that were mentioned, among others. Blog-reading is a reliable and fairly independent indicator which I sometimes use when I want to get information that has not been retouched by my colleagues, my staff, who naturally do their jobs well. But nonetheless, sometimes it is important to have access to unfiltered information and not just sometimes, but really, every day.

Nevertheless, I should say the blogosphere is not an ideal instrument, because it is a corporately organised medium, so when you visit some blog, you are aware that the bloggers who submit their comments there would evidently share more or less the same opinion. I only say that to demonstrate there are no perfect scales or control instruments, therefore every tool must be employed.

-----

It was good to hear that human rights activists are supporting the military reform. Have no doubt, the reform will be fulfilled. As a matter of fact, it is the first military reform ever, while the previous efforts were pure imitations. I do not want to name or blame anyone in that respect, as there were various reasons for the lack of such reform in the past, there simply wasnt enough funding, or political will. This is the first reform, so it is fairly harsh, and naturally, it triggers disagreements. Still, the military do understand they will benefit from the reforms as it is clearly better to be paid 100 or 150 thousand roubles a month rather than ten thousand, for risking your neck.

------- Now, in regard to another very important topic: non-violent gatherings and the right to hold rallies or demonstrations. Of course, for our country, this topic is one of the more resonant ones. I think you know this better than I. Naturally, the authorities never want to allow these kinds of events, and their decisions are partially understandable, but in any case, they are not based on the rule of law.

Where do I see a problem here? The problem is that a great deal depends on the cultural background of the authorities who make decisions to either allow or not allow a demonstration or another type of gathering, or to even use law enforcement authorities to prevent it. Some authorities are wise enough to act accurately and make reasoned decisions on transferring the event to more or less safe areas, but others do not have that sense, and simply ban an event.

Most likely, we are talking about inner motives and fears of the decision makers. But there should be no fear. There should be caution instead, so as not to endanger lives and the safety of people who want to gather to make themselves heard by the authorities. So the core problem is about the motivations behind decisions made and the signals sent by central authorities. This is the point of importance.

At the same time, although our courts often deserve criticism, I feel that every denial should be subjected to judicial proceedings, and a court should be addressed with a request to review the reasons for a denial. The situation in Moscow, for example, differs from other places, as here we have special regulations and face specific challenges. But as far as all other cities are concerned, I am certain that not everyone, meaning the local authorities, would want to stand a court hearing for unlawful denial of a permit to have a rally, a picket, etc.

When I was last in London, I saw Hyde Park, which is quite lovely. Moscow authorities should be requested to create some kind of a Hyde Park here, to plant some trees and arrange everything in order to use the area for public gatherings.

------

We have also discussed crimes against individuals, against journalists, and against human rights activists. Investigations of such crimes must never be abandoned, there is no other way to do it. I spoke to the director of the Investigative Committee [of the Prosecutor Generals Office] about the latest serious crime which concerned the public opinion, I mean the murder of a lawyer [lawyer and human rights activist Stanislav Markelov] and a journalist [Novaya Gazeta correspondent Anastasia Baburova]. As far as I understand, they are quite close to completing the investigation, but unfortunately, you are right, we have often heard from law enforcement authorities that they had reached some results and were just on the verge of arresting the criminals, but ultimately, nothing happened and no one was arrested. This had a most negative effect on the public opinion.

I will request relevant reports from the Prosecutor General and the director of the Investigative Committee. You are right, dissent is no crime, and all of Russias history proves this.

------

As for the environment, it is true we have just come to realise the importance of the subject for the country. I shall admit the crisis has a very negative impact on addressing the environment. When I travelled around the country last year and spoke with entrepreneurs, some of whom are referred to as oligarchs, I saw, as surprising as this sounds, their desire to address environmental problems. They said, yes, we bought this even though it is rubbish, and we would like to invest money into bringing everything in order, so that the rates of emission and other indicators are acceptable. Now, of course, it is true that everything has slowed down in this respect.

And finally: climate change. This topic is very complicated, and I discuss it with my colleagues. I must say, in Russia, we are quite educated in this regard, as we have people who are concerned with the problem and try to monitor it, as we have you who care, whereas in some other countries, they just shut their eyes to it.

Some of our partners are quite indifferent to this topic. But we do understand that issues of climate change can only be resolved through joint efforts, that is why we signed the Kyoto Protocol, counting on others to join it, but different countries act in very different ways. Nevertheless, we will certainly continue our efforts.

I am ready to discuss it again at the G8 summit that will take place in Italy this summer, where all the key players will be present, along with the Group of Five members such as China and India. But this issue is extremely complicated. Nonetheless, the government must address it, so do not despair, we will be striving to implement the Security Councils resolution. ------ The last problem brought up here is that of extremism. I feel that we have made advances on the subject, because just 10 years ago, the law enforcement authorities were reluctant to deal with it or even discuss it. Now, they have begun addressing it, and they have been initiating some criminal cases perhaps not as often as they should, but nevertheless, progress has been made. ------ After all, submitting a report, establishing a committee of some sort, or making an appointment is not what is most important. You and I understand that in our country, that is the last thing that works. What is important is the impact we create, you at one level, and the President at another. And the important things are the practical decisions which will be brought to life.

Colleagues, this meeting was very interesting for me. We have not had an opportunity to talk in a long time, although I personally know many of you, and we have our own history of contacts going back to the days when I headed the Presidential Executive Office.

Summing up, I would like to reiterate that the practice of such meetings will be continued, perhaps even more often than once or twice a year, because there are too many problems to solve.

Goodbye.