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BBC Monitoring
Putin pontificates on travel, history, corruption, more
Source: Channel One TV, Moscow, in Russian 1700 gmt 5 Jun 03

[Presenter] Vladimir Putin today received students who had taken part in the "My house, my town, my country" essay contest. Answering many questions from the young people, the president made several important political statements.

[Correspondent] The president and the competition finalists sat at a round table discussing current issues that worry the majority of young people in Russia. From time to time the students asked the head of state very personal questions, about his life, his work, his family and the books he reads.

[Passage omitted: Putin explains how his reading habits changed after he arrived in Moscow]

But most of all they talked about the problems of Russian education and of the country as a whole.

[Passage omitted: question about sending children abroad to study]

[Putin] Modern man must be free. He has the right to choose where he lives and where he works. That does not mean that a person who chooses to live and work overseas becomes a traitor, as was once considered to be the case. Now you work here, a little later you go back, and so on and so on. But in order to feel free like that, you have to have the possibility, including the documents showing the results of your higher education. In Europe, as you know, there is the system of mutual recognition of education documents. Now we are taking the first steps towards including Russia in this process.

[Correspondent] The young people asked the president about the development of small business in Russia and how he himself sees the progress of reform.

[Putin] The government is trying to do something in this area, but it isn't really working. I ask myself the question why, what is preventing it. The first and most important impediment to the development of small and medium business is bureaucracy and corruption. And why does that happen? Perhaps the wrong laws have been adopted, or something is missing. But the right laws are adopted in the right ways, and they either do not work straight away or they start to work but then disappear somewhere, their effectiveness disappears. I think I know the answer here. Unfortunately we do not have a sufficiently well-developed institution of democracy. That is the key element. When political parties, non-governmental organizations begin to work at full strength, the state will by natural means gradually abandon the area of economic regulation, where it is present but is a hindrance rather than help, while officials collect tribute by capitalizing on their status.

[Correspondent] Another important theme: life in the Russian provinces. A student from Yelabuga recounted the difficulties and problems that people come across in remote areas.

[Putin] Under the previous planning and administration system, most attention and resources were allocated first of all to the big cities, or to specific administrative entities where the main state interests were concentrated, primarily to do with defence. But in a normal society, a society with a normal market economy, this should even itself out. This will of course take time - I would not be able to say it would happen by a specific year. Nobody can give a precise answer to that question. It depends on the rate at which the Russian economy develops.

[Correspondent] One of the female students asked what historical event he would have liked to take part in. Vladimir Putin said he was very interested in the [1917] February revolution, although he thinks today is no less interesting or important for Russia's history.

[Putin] If somebody here was just talking about key moments in the history of our country, we are in one right now. So everything we do is very important not only for today but also for Russia's future.

The main thing at the moment is development of the economy, providing for its swift development. We have been talking about the provinces and education and so on - all of this will have its chance to develop if we can let the economy grow swiftly enough.

[Correspondent] The president was asked how he felt about the idea of changing the constitution so that the same politician could be re-elected as head of state not twice but three times.

[Putin] I think that two terms are enough. Whether it will be four years or five is an internal affair. It is important not to break the constitution. There may be two five-year terms but no more. But I think this is not topical for Russia at all, because we must preserve our constitution.

[Correspondent] The meeting went on for about two hours. At the end, Vladimir Putin proposed that these competitions should be held among schoolchildren as well. Student finalists can be encouraged with special training attachments, including overseas, while schoolchildren can be offered entry to higher education without having to take exams.

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