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Statement on the Bills on State Symbols Introduced at the State Duma

December 4, 2000, Moscow

Vladimir Putin: We held a meeting of the heads of the two chambers of the Federal Assembly, the leaders of the parties in the State Duma and members of the Presidium of the State Council at the Kremlin today. Several issues were discussed: the results of the CIS summit in Minsk, the immediate law-making priorities of the State Duma and of the Federal Assembly as a whole, the problems of introducing a visa regime between Russia and Georgia and the state symbols. I would like to dwell on the latter topic.

The question of the Russian state symbols has been discussed in the country for the past 10 years. The discussion has waxed and waned. The issue appears to have joined the same category of problems as housing renovation, which is said can be never finished but stopped. The only way out is to stop the discussions. The Constitution stipulates that the state symbols – and they include the coat-of-arms, flag, and national anthem – should be approved by law. Unfortunately, so far these symbols here have had a temporary status, having been introduced only by presidential decree. Why have the relevant bills still not been passed?

The answer is clear and it is quite simple: because there are still two positions in society and in the State Duma. The positions are diametrically opposite. One view is that we cannot use today the symbols of pre-revolutionary Russia, of tsarist Russia. Others believe that we cannot use the symbols of the Soviet period. The former claim that the traditional Russian tricolour flag cannot be used because during the Great Patriotic War it was improperly used in the fight against our own people. And in general, how can one use, for example, the coat-of-arms of the Russian Empire, an empire which was in its time described, and not without reason, as the “prison of nations”, which had its own victims and dissidents. Remember the Decembrists, who were exiled to Siberia or sent to the gallows. Things are even more complicated when it comes to Soviet symbols. They are more complicated, because people who have experienced the horrors of Stalin’s prison camps are still alive. We cannot ignore that. But let me note that the advocates of both points of view, in building their case, follow the same logic. One and the same logic. They invest these symbols of state with heavy ideological content. They associate these symbols with the dark sides of our country’s history, grim periods in our country’s history. There have always been times when the authorities treated their people with unreasonable cruelty and their actions could not be justified. But if we follow only that logic, then we would have to forget about the achievements of our people over the centuries. What do we do about the achievements of Russian culture? What do we do about Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky? What are we going to do about the achievements of Russian science, Mendeleyev, Lobachevsky and many, many others? What will happen to much of what we are proud of today? Yet, these names and these achievements were also associated with these symbols.

And isn’t there anything to remember from the Soviet period except Stalin’s prison camps and repressions? What about Dunayevsky, Sholokhov, Shostakovich, Korolyov and our space achievements? What about Yury Gagarin’s spaceflight? And what about the brilliant Russian military victories since the times of Rumyantsev, Suvorov and Kutuzov? And what about the victory in the spring of 1945?

If we think about all this, we will have to admit that we can and must use all the main symbols of our state today. It is another question that they should be formalised and systematised accordingly. And that system should assign a worthy place to the red banner because this was the colour of the banner of the victory of our people in the Great Patriotic War.

Bills on state symbols will be sent to the State Duma today. They propose the traditional Russian tricolour as our flag. It is more than 300 years old.

For the anthem, I will ask the deputies of the State Duma to approve the music by Alexander Aleksandrov, the tune of the former Soviet anthem.

And I will ask the deputies to approve the coat-of-arms with the traditional Russian two-headed eagle, which is about 500 years old.

The red banner can be the official banner of the Russian Armed Forces.

The most heated discussions recently have had to do with the anthem, the former Soviet anthem to Aleksandrov’s music. We know the results of an opinion poll. The overwhelming majority of Russian citizens prefer that melody. One can hardly challenge the argument that not every issue can be solved by a majority vote. But let us not forget that we are talking about the majority of the people. At the end of the day, these state symbols are offered to the people.

I do not rule out that the people, including ourselves, are wrong. But I would like to appeal to those who disagree with this decision. I urge you not to dramatise events, not to erect insuperable barriers, not to burn bridges and split society again.

If we agree that the symbols of earlier epochs, including the Soviet era, cannot be used, we would have to admit that a whole generation of our fellow citizens, our mothers and fathers, have lived useless and meaningless lives, that they have lived in vain. I cannot agree with that in my heart.

We have already lived through a period of history when we rewrote everything. We can act in the same way today. We can change the flag, the anthem and the coat-of-arms. But then we would certainly fit the description of “Ivans who do not remember their kin”.

Remember how cheerfully and loudly we used to sing the lines that we will “raze everything to the ground and then build our own new world, where he who was nothing will be everything…”? You know how it all ended.

Let us direct our brimming energies and all our talents not to destruction, but to creation. And then, I am absolutely sure, most of our ideas and most of our dreams will be fulfilled, and most of the tasks we set ourselves will be carried out.

I am sure that we will succeed.

December 4, 2000, Moscow