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Official website of the President of Russia

Transcripts   /

Speech at the Constituent Congress of the Unity National Public and Political Movement

February 27, 2000, Moscow

Vladimir Putin: Distinguished Mr.Shoigu.

Ladies and gentlemen.

This is undoubtedly a momentous and significant day for you. You have made the decision to create a political movement. There is every reason for you to do this: the Unity bloc has made a good showing in the Duma election campaign. Indeed, quite unexpectedly for many, it has scored an unqualified victory. But on closer inspection there is nothing surprising about that. You brought clear ideas and a clear position to your campaign. And these ideas and position turned out to be consonant with the feelings of the majority of people in the country. You have sensed the mood of the electorate. You have demonstrated a commitment to working together to tackle the pressing problems facing Russia. This is the approach that is needed right now, and it has the approval of the majority of Russian citizens. People expect politicians to deliver, and they have come to believe you. This is indeed your main achievement.

I am addressing this congress because I have been supporting Unity, and I counted on your victory in the election.

We all need a reliable and effective party in the new State Duma. The tasks facing the country today can only be solved together with the legislative branch, only through cooperating with and helping each other. We have been proved right. You have already shown that you are able to work constructively and flexibly in the country’s supreme legislative body. The executive branch can count on your support, it can lean on you. That bodes well for our future work together. Any presidential candidate should draw support not only from one movement, but, of course, from a broad spectrum of political forces in the country. Forces which hold the destiny of Russia close to their hearts and seek to uphold its national dignity. But we should all be united by common goals: a higher quality of life, national dignity and progress in the country in which we live. In carrying out this task, we will rely on the broadest spectrum of Russian public opinion.

In the past decade the political process in Russia has been dominated by a battle between two ideologies, two world views. Society has been divided into two camps, all too often irreconcilable. This has brought us to the edge of an abyss more than once; in fact, this has happened quite frequently. Anyway, I think you will agree with me that it was not a duel of opinions, it was a life or death struggle. And we have often seen negative events like that in the country.

Today it is clear that political confrontation leads nowhere. Our course must be towards unification. We want to proceed in a way that will enable everyone to benefit – at least this should be our goal. Everyone who lives in Russia has an equal right to a peaceful and dignified life in our land. Today we are not simply learning to listen to and hear each other, we are genuinely looking for common values that could become the backbone of the state, further development and a powerful national spirit.

Russian citizens have grown weary of the war of ideas. They look to the authorities to display political will, perseverance in finishing the business they start, and they are themselves ready to energetically join in this work. People are regaining faith in effective government, and they are regaining faith in themselves. We have no right to betray these expectations. Expectations are very high, and I am sure you are aware of that. We have no right to let people down.

The real political work, our joint work and above all your work, is only beginning. Many believe that the Unity bloc was created only for the sake of one task, winning the elections. This is partly true, as I have said. But your congress today shows that the task of Unity – to move forward – is realistic, absolutely realistic. Building a solid and strong party, as Mr Shoigu was saying today, a party capable of defending its position, is no easy thing. It is a truly nationwide challenge. Without exaggerating, I can say that it is a historic task for Russia. Russia is already a multiparty country; there are more than 200 parties active in the field. But we have yet to create a party system that really works. The reason for our failure is precisely that there are 200 parties. What we lack is authoritative parties that can form the backbone of the political system and that the majority of Russians can rally around. If parties are weak and undeveloped, they are quickly supplanted in the political process by surrogates in the shape of various influential groups and simply “old boys” who have temporarily found their way into the corridors of power. I would like you to take note of this because it is one of the key problems of modern Russia, one of the main problems in the economy and in the political sphere.

Far too many people still see party activities as a political fad. Not all people are aware that it is hard work. But the main reason why the political system is undeveloped is that there is no real demand for it on the part of the people or state institutions. It would be wrong to wait for the situation to change by itself. We should create the conditions in which several modern, nationwide parties with clear ideologies emerge in Russia. You may think what you like about the communist ideology, you may criticize or support it, but you have to admit that one “backbone” party in Russia already exists. I hope that Unity will also become a truly representative, massive and stable political force that will make a real difference to the destiny of our country and its individual regions. Make a real difference.

But a party can only be a party if it forms a system of ideas that take root in society, when the values it promotes are accepted and backed by millions of people, when it is stronger than administrative gimmicks and the power of money. A party system that is helpless in the face of power and corporate institutions must be a thing of the past. But only a small number of parties can exert real influence on society. It cannot be otherwise in practice; that is simply impossible. To be workable, a system should have two, three or at most four parties. This is not to say that small parties will have no impact on the life of the state. I think that there is enough work for everyone in our country, including work in the political field.

We have already seen attempts to create parties that have massive official support, but their success hinged on the party leaders, who were members of the executive branch. As a result the ruling parties became parties of bureaucrats and as soon as a leader dropped out of the official vertical power structure, the party collapsed. It is important not to repeat these mistakes today. They have resulted from a preoccupation with time-serving tasks. Instead it is high time we thought about and worked out a long-term strategy, developed a new effective policy whose main goal should be to provide a worthy life for Russian citizens. It is important to bring back a sense of civic dignity to our people. That of course cannot be done without reputable and authoritative parties. By the same token, no genuine parties can be created without the active participation of citizens. I am sure that the only parties that receive popular support will be those that truly uphold people’s interests and demonstrate that the paths, means and methods they propose to solve this task are more effective than those proposed by their rivals.

One often hears that “politics is a dirty business.”

But it is people who make it dirty. Politics is only as dirty or clean as the people. It is a truism that if the government has no honour today, the people will have no future and no bread tomorrow. We in Russia face the challenge of proving that a moral government is a height that Russia can scale. An absolutely scalable height.

We should be aware that an effective political system is not something that can be created overnight. But together we will meet that challenge. We have every reason and every possibility for that. Most importantly, ordinary people in Russia have faith that we will complete this task. Provided, I repeat, we work together.

I wish you successful work. Thank you very much.

February 27, 2000, Moscow