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Meeting with Rossiyskaya Gazeta journalists

November 8, 2010, Gorki, Moscow Region

At a meeting timed to coincide with the newspaper’s 20th anniversary, Dmitry Medvedev discussed topical social issues with Rossiyskaya Gazeta journalists.

In particular, the President answered questions regarding the law On the Police Force , the rejection of amendments to the law on protests, and the investigation into the attack on Kommersant journalist Oleg Kashin.

* * *

Question: Mr President, please allow us to ask you a few questions. The first is about the recent attack on Kommersant journalist Oleg Kashin. It is widely known that you were among the first people to make a strong condemnation of this attack, but the public would still like to know when journalists will be able to work calmly, without fear for their lives.

President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: You said it rightly: my reaction was immediate and strong. I spoke with the law enforcement agencies, for entirely obvious reasons.

The fact is, journalists find themselves at a heightened risk. You know, I later checked Twitter, and people there were saying, ‘Well, why aren’t you reacting to other crimes?’ Every day, crimes occur in this nation. And this happens not just in Russia, but in all nations, including some very serious crimes. Yet for some reason, the President reacted to only one of them, in a targeted way.

”Journalists are professionals facing risks, and the government must pay more attention to them and their work. Because a journalist’s goal is to uncover the truth, to tell about people and events in the nation, and to do so professionally and honestly.“

I did this intentionally, precisely because journalists are professionals facing risks, and the government must pay more attention to them and their work. Because a journalist’s goal is to uncover the truth, to tell about people and events in the nation, and to do so professionally and honestly.

That is precisely why the work of journalists – whether they are right-wingers, left-wingers, moderates, or radicals – will always elicit a variety of reactions. Many people do not like it when journalists talk or write about them. Many politicians do not like being talked or written about, and I suppose that I, too, do not always like what is said or written about me or our nation. But that is the journalists’ calling – to use their own eyes, their own arguments, and their own influence to tell about various events, giving them a subjective tint, because we are all people.

And in order for this right to be guaranteed, the state must certainly monitor journalists’ work very carefully and make the necessary decisions when a journalist’s health or life come under threat, perhaps even to a greater extent as compared to some other cases, precisely because of the social significance of their work.

As for this particular, rather saddening event, unfortunately, this is not the first such case, which indicates that the crime level in our nation is still very high. Furthermore, there are forces that believe they can silence anyone – including journalists and politicians – by using such methods, and that any means can be used to solve their own problems. These forces must be identified. Whoever was involved in this crime will be punished, regardless of their status, their position in society, and regardless of their other merits, if any. If this case involves some ordinary criminal motives, then they must also be fully proven through the investigation of this incident.

The investigation is underway. I spoke today with the Interior Minister; the investigation team is gathering evidence, working to bring to light possible existing evidence that may surround the case. Overall, regardless of what people may think – I saw today’s publications, which claimed that nobody will be found – the perpetrators will be uncovered; I do not doubt it for a second. These kinds of crimes get resolved.

Incidentally, although the statistics are saddening, many cases have been solved. There are some high-profile crimes that have not yet been resolved and are still under investigation, but I am certain that law enforcement will get to the bottom of those cases.

I will say again that regardless of the forces behind this – right-wing, left-wing, or centre – the people responsible must be found and punished. (I have the general impression that this is not an ordinary crime, judging by the evidence; wallets are not usually pickpocketed that way. Given these facts, this crime represents a purposeful action.)

I suppose that is all I can say. And naturally, I hope that your colleague recovers quickly.

Question: Mr President, what is the basis for your decision to veto the amendments to the law on protests? Did you find these amendments unsuitable for political reasons, or for purely legal ones?

Dmitry Medvedev: You know, law and politics are generally one and the same thing, because politics must follow the law, and the law is always an expression of someone’s will. Thus, I found these amendments unsuitable for political and legal reasons. But not all of them. I will tell you honestly, the amendment included things that I found entirely reasonable, but there were certain provisions that need improvement – they concern the procedure for organising such public events.

Thus, on the one hand, I would like to see us make well-considered decisions concerning the constitutional rights of our citizens, so that these decisions promote social order. These sorts of events, rallies, meetings and demonstrations should naturally follow social procedures; they should not disturb the public peace.

On the other hand, the provisions of the law should not suppress public activities. The most difficult part is finding that balance, and the President’s challenge is to establish a balance between freedom and security. In my view, the version that was passed contains positive elements, but on a certain level, it seemed to disrupt that balance. And it must be maintained. I will make concrete suggestions.

”We have started preparing for discussions of the law On Education precisely because, in my view, the experience from discussing the law On the Police Force was successful.“

Question: Mr President, following extensive discussions, you submitted the draft law On the Police Force to the State Duma. What suggestions from the public did you find particularly significant? And will this unique experience in discussing socially significant decisions continue?

Dmitry Medvedev: I will respond right away that this experience will certainly be repeated; I have already spoken about it. And we have started preparing for discussions of the law On Education precisely because, in my view, the experience from discussing the law On the Police Force was successful.

You know, I do not support extreme views like, ‘What was the point of the discussions? We suggested that they change everything, and they didn’t. What kind of discussion is that?’ A person holding a reasonable position must understand that if the President has submitted an issue for discussion, then the President approves of that concept. He cannot simply say, ‘You know, I’ve changed my mind, the concept will be different.’ In that case, this person isn’t being serious.

At the same time, in discussing the law On the Police Force, I can name a dozen cases when new regulations and provisions were added that we did not seriously consider at the initial stage, which seemed exotic, or which we thought we weren’t ready for.

There were many different discussions, including on well-known international rules and regulations – the right to a phone call, for example, which we have never had and which, let’s be honest, is not something that appeals to our law enforcement officers for entirely professional reasons. They say, ‘Letting them talk on the telephone means ruining all of our work.’

And here, we also need to find a balance between helping law enforcement agencies and defending the interests of an average citizen who may only be suspected of having committed a crime, who may be altogether innocent. There are also well-known rules concerning the clarification of rights and responsibilities, as well as many other examples. Incidentally, I wanted to also take this opportunity today to focus on an issue that has not yet been given much attention, although it is rather important. It concerns the territorial nature of authority for future police agencies.

Here I mean that traditionally all our law enforcement and police officers currently have absolutely the same possibilities and options, regardless of whether they are in the region where they work or whether they are on vacation somewhere else, for example, at a resort.

That is not the case throughout the world. A police or a law enforcement officer is seen as a common citizen unless he or she is on assignment or on a field trip. These staff members must certainly be protected, but they can not just go and simply use their police authority. In any case, this is a thing typical for federations, or nations with states.

”This needs to come to an end. The police force is not an apparatus for carrying out such activities or for protecting somebody’s interests.“

This issue has been included in our law. We still have to think some more about how it will need to be implemented, but essentially, it means that police officers have the authority to carry out law enforcement activities only in the region where they work, and if they arrive in other regions, that authority must be proven.

Because we know that unfortunately, there are examples when law enforcement officers, who in this case are acting unlawfully, arrive in another region in order to help some businessmen or simply to provide protection for certain crimes, and travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to do so. This results in a truly astonishing situation, when people arriving from an entirely different region for unclear purposes engage in ‘law enforcement activities,’ while the local police and law enforcement don’t even know about it.

This needs to come to an end. The police force is not an instrument for carrying out such activities or for protecting somebody’s interests. This is one of the vivid, significant examples that require clarification.

I’ll say again that overall, I believe this experiment turned out to be successful. Let’s see how successful the law itself will be. If we notice it has certain problems, we will make amendments. I said from the very beginning that this law is certainly the first experiment on the way to reform a system as complicated as the Ministry of the Interior. If we need amendments, we will make them. What’s most important now is to begin working on it. In the near future, it will be examined in the parliament, and I hope that it will go into effect by the second quarter of next year.

Question: You have said many times that there are currently no reasons to increase the retirement age. Still, when the budget was being drawn up, the question of shortages in the Pension Fund came up. Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin flatly stated that the budget’s resources to make injections in the Pension Fund are limited. So how will the stability of the pension system be guaranteed?

Dmitry Medvedev: Any pension system must be stable. But that certainly does not mean we must live according to pension laws that are over fifty years old. The world is changing and we are developing. We have ensured this stability for the upcoming years. We have enough money for pension payments. But in the long term, we need to think about whether the economy can support such expenditures.

Many people feel that the problem should be resolved by increasing the retirement age. Many calculations are presented in favour of this approach. But it’s not the finance minister who decides at what age people should retire. Decisions like increasing the retirement age can only be made at a political level, not ministerial. This is the first point.

Second, I would also like to say that in the upcoming years, we do not plan to increase the retirement age –not due to a lack of objective basis, but rather, because such decisions always require very serious discussion and social consensus. Hasty decisions in this area can provoke public discontent and cause socio-political problems, the kind of things we currently see happen in several European nations.

Third, I want to repeat again that decisions of this kind must be based on more than financial considerations. Naturally, the budget deficit in the pension system is a very serious problem, but it is not the end of the world. Our main challenge is to create opportunities for older citizens not only to receive a pension, but to actively work as well. And the most complicated aspect of resolving this problem is to understand when people are ready to retire, versus when they still can and want to continue their working careers. The retirement age in Russia is truly one of the earliest, and this fact causes us to consider the social processes that take place in our nation.

Yet, there is another issue that cannot be forgotten. Unfortunately, we have a fairly early mortality. In a society where people live up to 90 years, retiring at the age of 70 looks normal. In that kind of society, people are certain that given a high level of medical development and taking care of their health, they still have many years after retirement to relax, travel the world, and enjoy their time with grandchildren.

In our nation, this situation is still far from simple. And that is why we cannot simply copy western retirement systems; we have different living standards and average lifespan. In recent years, life expectancy has risen, but not as much as we would like. Average lifespan among men is very short. Granted, it’s longer than five years ago, but it is still under 65 years. Women are living longer, but still, not as long as in Western Europe or Japan. We have serious plans for improving the healthcare system and creating incentives for people to lead healthier lives. These plans will be implemented, and I have no doubt that they will bring positive results.

Ultimately, when making decisions on changing the pension system, consideration will be given to all these circumstances.

Question: Recently, you have replaced nearly one third of our nation’s governors. There were firings even among those who seemed they might stay in office for life…

Dmitry Medvedev: The ‘untouchables’…

Question: Were these governors a weak link in the chain of command, or is this a targeted personnel policy that will also affect other governmental institutions in the future?

Incidentally, I was at the inauguration of the new Tatarstan president. I was struck just by how civilized the transfer of power from Mintimer Shaimiyev to the new head of the republic was…

Dmitry Medvedev: I was also much more pleased with it than the transfer of power in Moscow…

Among federal civil servants – people working for the government or the Presidential Executive Office – there are those who have been in their position for a very long time and should probably leave. But in general, there is more turnover at the federal level, whereas some of our governor colleagues have been working hard and successfully for a long time. But that doesn’t mean that this should be a life-long position. And being governor certainly should not be a cushy job.

That is precisely why a significant part of my attention with regard to personnel policy has been focused on the governors. I have nominated a large number of new governors and I feel that this was precisely the right thing to do. It is a new opportunity for the regions. I want to note that in most cases, the departure of the old governor and the arrival of the new one was a concerted process. And in cases when this was impossible, we had to make hard decisions, to the point where some governors had to be removed. That is certainly an extraordinary measure, but not an extreme one.

We need discipline in the nation. That discipline comes from the top. The President serves as the ‘highest level’ in decision-making; that is the way any government works, including ours. If a civil servant develops his or her own ideas about government discipline, we are forced to part ways with that person, even if he or she has done a lot of good. And there shouldn’t be any illusions on this matter: nobody is immune. Even the President must leave one day. Any president.

That is how it should be, unless we decide to follow another path. But we are building a democracy. We have entirely specific constitutional provisions that say, for example, that the President can hold this position for a maximum of two consecutive terms. When I suggested changing several articles in the Constitution that govern term lengths for the President and for deputies, it was based on the logic that a certain period of time is necessary for effective governance. Twelve years is just about the right amount of time for a President to implement his or her programme. At the moment, our society is quite inert, and eight years is not enough. There aren’t any such provisions with regard to governors, but the logic should be the same. Two terms, or a maximum of three. There is no need for more to prove one’s competence and carry out one’s plans.

Naturally, age plays an important role. I think that everyone must understand that at a certain point, we need to make way for younger people, even if the current governor is competent and in good health. I won’t hide that I have had colleagues – governors – come to me and say, ‘I still have strength, I can do it.’ I have a lot of respect for these people. But there needs to be renewal. Otherwise, we will see the same thing we saw during the 1970s and 80s: stagnation.

Question: At the forum in Yaroslavl, you said that democracy begins only when a citizen can say to himself or herself, I’m free. Do you suppose there are many people in Russia who can say that about themselves? And another question: why are all reforms in Russia – and not just political ones – so slow?

Dmitry Medvedev: With regard to your question about the number of people who can say they are free… this is a question of self-perception.

All of us have many things we do not like – including myself, as President. But we must remember how things were before. And when we see or meet those who do not remember, we must tell them about it. It’s a question of a starting point. Constitutional freedoms and their meaning: we have made significant progress in understanding these terms. Unless, of course, your understanding of democracy is primitive, and you see it as being able to do anything you want, without taking responsibility for your actions. Now, any reasonable person understands that democracy is not just a set of freedoms, but a set of responsibilities as well.

As for the pace of reform, no one has ever been fully satisfied with it. I do not recall anyone saying, in any historical period, that they had done a great job with everything and reformed things ahead of schedule. Nearly every reform meets resistance; that is why it is a reform.

But I won’t argue with the fact that we have our own specifics. We have historic reasons that render many reforms more opaque than, for example, in other nations. Today, we already spoke about our level of corruption. But it was the same 100 and even 150 years ago. And we must admit that the level of corruption in our nation has always been very high. It is enough to read the classics to see that these problems did not appear for the first time in the last 20 years.

Sad as this may sound, the social model of behaviour is often passed on from generation to generation. In other words, things that were not seen as reprehensible at that time are not treated as such today. People weren’t ashamed to take bribes back then, and they consider it normal now. This happens at all levels. This is a model of behaviour, a stereotype, and it is very difficult to get rid of.

We have our own unpleasant habits, which I wrote about in my article ‘Go Russia!’ a year ago, that we certainly don’t need to bring with us into the future. Much like any other nation, any other people, we are always talking about the particular features of our mentality, our own self-identification. It is true that we need to preserve it. But the parts we must preserve have to do with language, classics of Russian literature, music, and art – all of our cultural wealth.

On the other hand, we have an enormous number of dubious traditions that should not be maintained. They are absolutely nothing to be proud of.

Question: In spite of the fact that our newspaper is, in a certain way, a state newspaper, we try to maintain the depth and poignancy in public discussions. We seek to gather around us the finest of minds and the finest of texts. And so, I want to ask, what kind of society are we building, what are its key social formulas, how do we maintain social justice in it, and what social ideals are possible within this society?

Dmitry Medvedev: This question reflects our own society. What difference does it make what colour the cat is? What matters is that it should catch mice.

We absolutely must give ourselves the answer to the question as to what we are building. Naturally, we have a set of principles, in accordance with which our nation is developing. All of these principles are fully reflected in the Constitution. It contains it all – about the social welfare state, about the rule of law, and about private property protection. I would like to see us build a just, modern, and powerful state, with an effective and socially oriented economy.

Question: Mr President, you will soon be meeting with the G20 leaders. A decision will most likely be made on preventing currency wars – in other words, a moratorium on competitive devaluation. Does this mean that Russia will no longer use devaluation as an instrument to overcome the crisis? It would seem we are taking on some very serious commitments.

Dmitry Medvedev: People have been talking a lot about how fairly different governments are treating one another. How just is it to have a weak dollar or a weak Yuan?

I am not responsible for the state of economic affairs in other nations. My responsibility is the Russian economy and the Russian state. I can say that overall, we have overcome the crisis with minimum costs. Yes, it was difficult. Yes, unemployment increased. Yes, we went for partial devaluation, which ultimately increased the ruble’s exchange rate. For some of our businesses, particularly export-oriented ones, this is not very good. But overall, a stable, strong ruble is a very positive thing.

Today, all nations are rather inclined toward agreeing on prospects for developing the currency system. Incidentally, I initially suggested making the currency topic a key issue at the G8 and the G20 [summits]. At first, there was little enthusiasm about it, and my colleagues said, ‘let’s not.’ There were problems with the dollar, and they still remain. There were problems with the euro, and they too are still there. Things were not so smooth with other currencies either. This topic will be discussed.

We are not going to resort to any extreme measures right now. Granted, we have our own problems. Unfortunately, inflation this year is gaining momentum because of the bad harvest and for several other objective reasons.

At the same time, I would be irresponsible if I said that the Government refuses to influence its own currency. Our currency is freely convertible. Moreover, we seek to make the ruble a reserve currency. In order to do this, we need to make it attractive, and that can only happen if the national currency reflects the actual state of affairs in the economy.

November 8, 2010, Gorki, Moscow Region