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Presenting national awards for outstanding achievements in human rights and charity work

December 18, 2017, The Kremlin, Moscow

Vladimir Putin presented the 2017 National Award for Outstanding Achievements in Human Rights Activity to Lyudmila Alekseyeva, chairperson of the Moscow Helsinki Group. The National Award for Outstanding Achievements in Charity Work was presented to Vladimir Vavilov, chairman of the Board of the Anzhela Vavilova Regional Public Charity Foundation for Children with Leukaemia, Republic of Tatarstan.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, friends,

I am pleased to welcome you all to today's grand ceremony.

Today, according to the already established tradition, National Awards for outstanding achievements in human rights and charity work will be presented. The laureates are extraordinary people who prove that there are no barriers to those who strive to be of use and to uphold truth and justice, and that an individual driven by selflessness can accomplish so much, can change the world around them.

It is important that the number of caring and energetic people in our country grows every year, which means that our society is becoming more mature and humane. Of course, such people have different views, professions, ages, and income levels, but they share common moral values ​​and ideas about life, a willingness to help those who are truly in need and to take responsibility, as well as to generously share the warmth of their hearts and souls.

Friends, many worthy candidates from many regions have been nominated for national awards in charity work and human rights. A lot of, frankly, difficult work was done by independent experts and the Public Commission to choose candidates.

However, sometimes there is a person chosen by unanimous vote. The National Award for outstanding achievements in human rights activity was awarded to Lyudmila Alekseyeva. She has been true to herself, her beliefs and ideals throughout her life regardless of the circumstances.

One can disagree or argue with Ms Alekseyeva on certain things – which I occasionally do – but this does not keep me from holding her in high esteem for her courage and point of view. Today's award is a token of gratitude to Ms Alekseyeva for the years and decades that she has devoted to human rights, and for her honest and dedicated service to people.

Vladimir Vavilov has won the National Award for outstanding achievements in charity work. In memory of his young daughter and to help other people, he did his best to create a hospice in Kazan both for adults and children, where patients are surrounded with love and care of their families and friends.

Let me remind you that last year the charity award was also conferred upon a man who is committed to the care of seriously ill children, Archpriest Alexander Tkachenko. He is in this hall today.

Creating a modern palliative care system, supporting people who face serious, incurable diseases is not only the most important aspect of healthcare development, but also our moral, human duty, highly humane and compassionate work. And it is necessary to do this work in active cooperation with public organisations that are well aware of the problems of people who need such help.

And of course, we need consistent efforts from the state. In this connection, I would like to note that it was decided to allocate from the federal budget an additional 4.3 billion rubles in 2018 to provide care for seriously ill people, providing them with medicine, medical equipment, including for home use. Such financing – on a regular basis, with a gradual increase – will continue in future years.

I am sure citizens, public and charitable organisations, business, and government authorities at all levels will continue to unite around meaningful projects that benefit people.

I want to thank once again the winners of the National Awards for their selfless work, for setting a moral example and a path forward for millions of people, because no matter how the world changes, the foundation will always be kindness, freedom, solidarity, mercy, and a commitment to truth and justice.

I wish you good health and all the best.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Lyudmila Alekseyeva: Esteemed Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,

Last year the National Award for human rights was awarded for the first time and it was deservedly given to Liza Glinka who is not with us anymore, for which we all grieve. She passed away within two weeks of receiving the award while on the way to those who needed her help. However, the charity organisation she established, Doctor Liza’s Spravedlivaya Pomoshch [Fair Aid], continues her cause.

Mr President, I would like to request that you and her assistants take Doctor Liza’s foundation under your patronage, making it easier for the foundation to continue and expand its noble mission. Thank you.

I am grateful to receive the award this year. To be honest, some of my human rights colleagues like Svetlana Gannushkina deserve it more than me. She is working not only selflessly but also tirelessly. Regrettably, I can no longer do this. I guess I am receiving this award for the totality of my human rights activities over more than half a century, since the very beginning.

On December 5, 1965 – then Constitution Day – about twenty Muscovites gathered on Pushkin Square for what is now called an unauthorised rally under the slogan “Respect the Constitution!” What other slogan could be used on Constitution Day?

The USSR disappeared 25 years ago and we now live in the Russian Federation that has a different Constitution. It recognises human rights as a supreme value and compels the state to protect them. The human rights movement is no longer a handful of dissidents as it was half a century ago. We do not have a single region where there are no human rights advocates but our slogan has not changed: “Respect the Constitution!”

It is addressed to authorities at all levels, because under the Constitution the Russian citizens have no fewer rights than citizens of the most advanced democracies. But what do the homeless gain from the constitutional right to housing or the unemployed from the right to work, or victims of torture in the Dalny police department from the ban on torture, or residents of Chelyabinsk from the right to an environment? All these people need protection of their rights. They need help from both civil society and the state.

Today, representatives of the government keep assuring us of their respect for the rights of man and citizen. These assurances are a major step towards real observance of our rights because this shows they understand that this is their obligation.

The institution of Human Rights Commissioner now exists in this country. This is a real step towards the observance and protection of human rights by the state, the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights is also an important human rights institution. I would risk calling it a public government body since it consists of civic activists and is headed by a presidential adviser. The President meets with us, members of the council, from time to time and listens to our reports on topics which we choose ourselves. He then gives the Government and his Executive Office instructions to remedy human rights violations uncovered by the council members.

These are joint steps our society and state are taking towards building a truly democratic, legal and social state in Russia, as our Constitution reads.

So why, despite the clear recognition of our responsibility to observe human rights, do representatives of the Russian government allow themselves to commit violations?

Let us carefully read the second chapter of the Constitution, dedicated to rights and freedoms. Its articles say: citizens have the right. Citizens are people who have shed the slave mentality, who refuse to accept the notion, implanted during the many centuries of our history, that we are little people and nothing depends on us. Citizens are not simply the population or residents: they know their rights and fight for them. Citizens form civil society, whose centre is non-profit organisations, which protect human rights and the environment, educate and do many other things. I do not exclude civic-minded people, who may not be members of a non-profit organisation, but participate in, for example, public oversight.

However, our civil society is still inexperienced and weak, and the authorities in a country really observe human rights and respect human dignity only if civil society is strong and experienced. Only by developing civil society can we become a truly democratic, legal and social state. Only strengthening civil society will change how the government sees civil society, and at the same time, how civil society sees the government.

Of course, the obstacles short-sighted politicians set on the path of civil society development as well as repressive measures slow this process down, but they cannot stop it.

In the 19th century, Alexander Herzen wrote that Russia needs two “unwhipt generations” to become a free country. One such generation has already grown up, I can see it looking at the young people in our civil society, at those who are about 25 now. But in the 21st century, history is moving much faster than in Herzen’s time, and we will not need another 25 years for our civil society to ripen.

When I was preparing my speech, my colleagues from various non-profit organisations called me. Each of them urged me to speak about the difficult situation of people he or she works with: prisoners, large families, orphans, people with disabilities living in care homes or about sick people who cannot buy the medicine they need.

There is an ocean of human misery. But because all these problems are important and because there are so many of them, I am speaking only about the things necessary to improve the situation of everyone in Russia: to strengthen the civil society and to provide for its equal interaction with government. It is impossible to do by adopting new legislative prohibitions or hollowing out real human rights institutions, such as the Public Oversight Commission.

We, citizens, should not blame government for everything, saying that nothing depends on us. Of course, it depends on us, because we are citizens, this is our country, and the future of this country all of us love so much depends on us no less than the government.

Thank you for your attention.

Vladimir Vavilov: Mr President, thank you for this award, which is very important to me, and your high praise of my contribution and the Anzhela Vavilova Foundation’s contribution to promoting charity work in palliative care.

We are happy because in recent years you and the Russian Government have paid significant attention to supporting non-profit organisations providing palliative care. The Kazan Hospice was the first one in Russia built by a non-profit. We managed to implement this project thanks to the support of President of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov, and all Tatarstan helped my team open the hospice.

Building hospices is a socially important activity which non-profits are ready to develop with state support. Many non-profits want to open hospices in the regions, following our lead, but to do this it would be advisable to amend the Russian Land Code to allocate free land for building hospices.

Mr President, we hope that the institution of hospices will develop in Russia with your support because hospices are the last and most important link in the palliative care chain.

Thank you once again for this award. It is a powerful impetus to continue my and other non-profits’ activities for the benefit of Russian people.

The team at our hospice is about 80 people, and when they saw on TV that you will run for the presidency, they asked me to tell you that we are with you, we support you and Russia is proud to have such a president.

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Friends and colleagues,

While congratulating today’s laureates once again, I would like to start with what they just said and add a few words.

Saint-Simon and other utopian socialists, and later other people, who sincerely aspired to goodness, dreamed of cities of the sun, but these cities do not exist and are unlikely ever to appear.

Ms Alekseyeva spoke about our Constitution. You may know, because it is not a secret, that passers-by were interviewed on the street in the US. They were asked questions, after hearing articles of the Constitution, in particular, the Bill of Rights. One person threatened to call the police, another called it obvious propaganda and warned that they would call the FBI. I think that the situation is the same in most countries.

As we cannot expect any cities of the sun to appear, people like you will always be in high demand. It is not about two “whipt” or “unwhipt” generations. “The Bell,” which Alexander Herzen and his allies rang, will always be needed in any society, and it will be in demand in our country for a long time.

For this reason, I cordially and sincerely congratulate you on your well-deserved awards. I wish you further success and I express my hope once again that the ranks of people like you will keep growing. Together we, both government agencies and public organisations, those people who do charity work and help others (and there are really very many people who need help) and who carry out human rights activity, will grow in numbers and we will do everything for the benefit and happiness of Russian citizens.

Thank you very much for your work.

December 18, 2017, The Kremlin, Moscow