President Dmitry Medvedev has stressed that it is crucial to maintain Russia's integrity while giving every culture in the country a chance to develop and every Russian citizen the right to choose a place to live.
“We have always wanted to live in a modern democratic state that can be called a free society of free people, in a world free of violence and poverty. And we are obliged to preserve the integrity of our country. Otherwise we will not have any country at all,” the Russian president said. “It either exists in its present form or we will not have any Russia.”
“We must maintain the integrity of our country despite the terrorists’ and extremists’ resistance,” he added.
On Thursday, Medvedev was speaking at the third annual forum in the Russian city of Yaroslavl. This year politicians, political scientists and experts from all around the globe got together to discuss “The Modern State in the Age of Social Diversity”.
While the topic might seem a bit academic, the president noted, it has a very practical meaning, especially in such a vast country as Russia, which is home to about 180 nationalities and where the gap between the rich and the poor is enormous.
“We have an excessive social stratification by living standards,” Medvedev said. Ten per cent of the richest Russians have an income which is 15 times larger than that of the poorest. Yet another problem that arises from poverty is that it becomes a catalyst to xenophobia. Inter-ethnic conflicts and intolerance spread rapidly among socially disadvantaged groups.
Medvedev said that of all aspects of social diversity Russia is currently facing ethnic relations and property stratification were the most controversial. “Real policy of the state and the effectiveness of this policy must be judged by these most complex processes,” Medvedev said.
The state should focus its efforts on overcoming mass poverty by stimulating and modernizing industry, the creation of new jobs, increasing salaries and providing social support to the low-income groups.
“I am confident that it will remain a priority for any political force that will form power bodies in our country,” the president noted.
He stressed that every citizen should have a chance to get high revenue and inviolability of property must be guaranteed.
“We have tried before to create a society without the rich. The results of this social experiment are well-known: it led to stagnation, poverty and, unfortunately, disintegration of the state,” Medvedev said. According to the president, the reason behind the collapse of the Soviet Union was not some world conspiracy plan, but “our own weakness and uncompetitiveness.” He stressed that “we will not let that happen again, no matter what populist slogans are put forward by certain politicians”.
Medvedev observed that separatism and terrorism in Russia have been weakened, but not defeated yet.
“Everyone knows what problems Russian society is facing. We have been fighting for years with separatism and terrorism. Although the enemy has been weakened, it has not been defeated to the end,” he said.
Increasing inter-ethnic tensions is yet another problem, the president admitted. The majority of migrants come from the Caucasian republics to the south of the country that has traditionally been a territory where ethnic Russians have lived. At the same time, the number of ethnic Russians in Caucasian republics is decreasing. This leads to ethnic and cultural closeness in some regions and inter-ethnic clashes in others.
However, the president underlined, no obstacles would make the country turn off the path of building a free and democratic state.
He underlined that it is unacceptable to limit rights and suppress criticism. Today, he said, the temptation is to go back to “tightening the screws”.
“There are always many reasons for that: [high crime rate], separatism, poverty. And this is always a simple solution,” he told the forum. “But what should be done? As they used to say before – to consolidate closer around the country's leadership and tighten the screws? The idea is not in this.”
Medvedev stressed that “people's rights cannot be restricted and, moreover, criticism cannot be suppressed”.
The president also outlined key directions the state should work on in order to become complex and flexible, as a modern society should be. The state ought to be able to understand its citizens, no matter what nationality, profession or culture they belong to.
First of all, the country's leadership should increase its financial and informational support to various non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Secondly, it should assist citizens' access to new independent sources of information, in particular, by the development of digital television and broad-band internet.
The government will also keep improving the system of education and science by encouraging international co-operation in the field of innovative technology and maintaining “the spirit of free creativity” in Russian universities.
Yet another priority task set by the president is the support and development of all the cultures and traditions that exist in the multinational state.
Article 13 of the Russian Constitution declares the principle of ideological and political diversity. Over the past years Russia has made its elections law more sensible to this concept, Medvedev told the international forum.
The president reminded the assembly that political parties had received equal rights for presence on the state television channels and that the threshold for the parties’ presence in the lower house had been reduced.
“This is a steady, yet gradual, modernization of our political system. In my view, this is exactly what we need, though many do not agree with me. Some say that we must do everything very fast and this is the only case in which we will succeed and there is a different position, according to which it is for the better not to touch anything at all and everything is not bad as a whole anyway,” the president noted.
But Medvedev called this second position “myopic” and said that the society must develop, but harmonically and gradually.
The president said that Russia had a complex society with numerous groups and centers of influence and thus, he said, decentralization in the country must continue and the state must pass some of its functions to private organizations.