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Official website of the President of Russia

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Speech at the plenary session of the Global Policy Forum The Modern State: Standards of Democracy and Criteria of Efficiency

September 10, 2010, Yaroslavl

President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Dear colleagues, dear friends,

Before we begin our work, before I say what I want to say, I would like us to recall that democracy is a form of social organisation that is periodically subjected to tests. And in contrast to totalitarian regimes, democracy is more vulnerable. Yesterday in Vladikavkaz a terrorist act occurred. People, citizens of Russia, were killed. I ask that you honour their memory.

[Minute of silence.]

Thank you. Please sit down.

In this context I would like to say that we are absolutely determined to fight the war against terror in Russia to its end. We have no other choice, we have no other objectives; this struggle will continue and the terrorists guilty of such crimes will be destroyed.

I would like to welcome you all once again and thank you for your participation in the Global Policy Forum in Yaroslavl. These words of gratitude are not simply evidence of politeness. I believe that this forum really can affect the further development of our country and perhaps even to some extent international debate on these issues.

I believe that the forum's invitees as well as, incidentally, young public servants, will be (and already have been) witnesses to highly professional discussions on the development of democratic institutions, democratic values and the quality of public administration.

I hope that this will help young politicians as well as mature citizens to become more aware of the zeitgeist of modern life, exchange impressions about how democracy is developing in our country, the fate of democracy in the world today, and simply get to know each other's political culture.

I also think that the discussions in Yaroslavl will have a positive impact on various global political processes, facilitate the development of ideas by the broadest range of people about a just world order, the goals of international development, the transformation of government systems and international institutions to make them more rational and effective, and responses to the challenges posed in the third millennium. For all these reasons, it is important that foreign friends and colleagues participate in our activities.

I would like to separately express my gratitude to Prime Minister of the Republic of Italy Mr Silvio Berlusconi and President of the Republic of Korea Mr Lee Myung-bak. Thank you for joining our discussions despite your very busy schedules.

We are holding this event during celebrations for Yaroslavl's 1,000th birthday: it's one of Russia's oldest cities and I would like to join everyone in thanking this wonderful Russian city for the hospitality we've all received.

During our forum we'll discuss the challenges of increasing the efficiency of government institutions to strengthen global security, the state's role in modernising the economy and stimulating technological innovation, and the principles for creating universal standards of democracy based on the unique experience of many nations.

I am pleased to now join this discussion even though I actually already did so this morning. We met with our political analyst colleagues from Russia and other countries. I judge that we had an interesting conversation.

Obviously, this conversation is important for at least one other reason: not only do I believe in democracy as a form of governance, as a political regime, I also believe that the practice of democracy can save millions of people in Russia and billions throughout the world from abjection and poverty.

Recently while speaking to the diplomatic corps of the Russian Federation, I cited one of our foreign policy priorities as ensuring that the greatest possible number of countries enjoys the proper standards of democracy. The most powerful democratic governments share this interest. Mr Berlusconi who is here today remarked in one of his speeches the crucial importance of “working together to spread democracy in the world”. True, democracies can be different and have different historical roots, but their shared values are what unite us. And it is in this sense working together is what is to be done.

I think that the United Nations Millennium Declaration which reads, “We will spare no effort to promote democracy and strengthen the rule of law, as well as respect for all internationally recognized human rights” is of practical importance for all of us.

Just like human rights, standards of democracy (which in fact include human rights) should be internationally recognised. Only this can make them truly effective. Along with this, it is important that common standards not be double standards nor hollow slogans, as everyone who participates in their development must apply them too.

In these circumstances all countries could subscribe to such standards without fearing that they would be instrumentalized to impose sovereignty limitations or justify interference in another country's internal affairs. Or be used for demagogic purposes, that is to exert pressure to further the economic and geopolitical interests of some countries, and sometimes the banal prejudices and ambitions of certain leaders. This also happens.

Incidentally, similar criticisms have been made with regards to Russia. Along with fair criticisms that we regularly hear and which we accept positively, we sometimes also hear unfair and simply very biased assessments of our political system.

I want to tell you something: I know the shortcomings of our system, perhaps better than anyone else. If only because, as President, I have more information and my past work experience and education give me additional opportunity. But I categorically disagree with those who say that Russia isn’t a democracy and that authoritarian tendencies reign.

There is no doubt that Russia is a democracy. There is democracy in Russia. Yes, it is young, immature, incomplete and inexperienced, but it's a democracy nevertheless. We are still at the beginning and for this reason we have a lot of work to do. But we are free.

Today I would like to offer my view of how such criteria might apply to the modern state in the 21st century. In other words, what might the universal standards of democracy be? Naturally, I am not claiming to have uncovered the absolute truth. These are simply some personal remarks, keeping in mind that this forum obviously is a place for discussion and polemics.

I will list five criteria which I consider essential.

The first is the legal realisation of humanistic values and ideals. In other words, all our values should be enshrined in law. We must turn values into the practical force of law, one that guides the development of social relations and lays out the main goals of social development.

I consider the second standard the state's ability to provide and maintain an advanced level of technological development. Ultimately, promoting research and providing incentives for innovation produces numerous social benefits sufficient to allow citizens to achieve a decent standard of living.

Today we had a discussion about precisely this. And I think it is very important to note that poverty is one of the major threats to democracy. It is evident that poor people can not be free. Attempts to bypass democratic forms of governance in poor societies (we know countries where this has happened before and happens still) very often lead either to chaos or to dictatorship. We must promote economic development in these countries alongside political reform.

This is precisely what happened in our country during the 1990s. Just recently, during the period of mass poverty generated by the first stage of reforms, in Russia the very word 'democracy' acquired a negative meaning. In a certain sense, it simply became a swear word. Now, after several years of sustained economic growth, we have a higher standard of living. For this reason Russian democracy has become more comprehensible or, if you wish, more profitable. It proved its validity: it is no longer denied by a significant portion of our population, it is no longer alien.

To continue this history of liberty, albeit a short one, in our country we must further facilitate the improvement of our citizens' well-being and strengthen their confidence in democratic institutions. Leading American sociologist Seymour Lipset has written that the richer the country, the higher its chances of sustainable democracy.

The economic foundations of a free society rest on the increase of labour productivity, market-based economics, the introduction of innovations, as well as improvements to the quality of life and increased revenues of society and its citizens. The foundations rest on the atmosphere of novelty.

Incidentally, this always has an absolutely specific aspect: our wealth, our potential, our abilities permit us to overcome the most difficult challenges. This year's anomalous heat and weather in Russia demonstrate that only new technology can withstand the elements during such a difficult period, the new technologies professionally employed by the people, because without people it is impossible to use these technologies. And social solidarity is also very important in this respect, as well as help from friends.

I would like to thank both Mr Berlusconi and Mr Lee Myung-bak for the assistance that the Italian Republic and Republic of Korea provided Russia during this difficult time.

The modernisation of our economy and technological production is among our most important political priorities. I laid out this new course a year ago and, in principle, it received the full support of all political and social forces. No one doubts that modernisation is necessary. I have not heard any political force state that they are categorically opposed to it, that they want to preserve everything as it is. Rather, the debate concerns institutions, capabilities, forces and the pace. Of course, we all would like to see modernisation happen faster. But there are laws of social development and we are limited by our capacities. Finally, every country has its own mindset.

Incidentally, I would like to note the high level of interest our partners have shown in our desire to modernise. We are grateful for this and very much look forward to your support.

The third standard is the ability of a democratic state to protect its citizens from attacks by criminal networks. This includes terrorism I already mentioned, corruption, drug trafficking, illegal migration, and several other phenomena which threaten our way of life, our values and break our laws. Eradicating them poses a direct challenge to our democratic society. Democratic society and democratic state would not hide under the covers when difficulties arise, but will respond to these difficulties, sometimes quite decisively. Here I would quote the words of President Lee Myung-bak who said that ”human rights and freedoms must be protected at any price.“

Democracy must effectively and fully perform a wide variety of functions, including police functions. The 1999 OSCE Charter for European Security called for the establishment of a political and legal environment that allows police to perform their tasks in accordance with the principles of democracy and the rule of law. Nevertheless, the Charter links the performance of these tasks with support for a strong and independent judiciary and a humane prison system. All this is incorporated into our approach. Those who follow events in Russia will know that, as President, I deal with these issues regularly.

I think that the fourth distinctive feature of democracy is its high levels of culture, education, communication and information exchange. The more educated people are, the more cultured they are, the more freely they can judge and adopt independent positions. A free democratic society remains a society of well-trained, educated people, people with a high level of culture.

We have known other times, as have almost all other countries. Perhaps it's true that in Russia such times ended just recently. For many foreign representatives here today, such times were over quite a while ago. When I met with political analysts earlier today, I told them that in this regard our country is quite unique. We have had centuries, in fact a millenium of undemocratic development. And our democracy is only 20 years old. This is the reason for some of its problems, quite significant ones, and hence its significance for our country and the world.

The times when the 'leaders' told the so-called 'common people' how and why to live are over. It was in the 20th century, under the slogan of the 'common man', that the worst dictatorships were created. I am sure that the 21st century will be an educated, intelligent epoch – if you prefer, that of the 'complex' person who disposes of his or her abilities as they see fit, who does not need leaders, patrons or others to make decisions for him. But there must be a smart government, smart society and clever policies.

Today political and legal culture, as well as that of social interactions and civil dialogue all hold particular importance. Citizens who benefit from a range of opportunities and freedom must take on more responsibilities. Democracy is inseparable from duties – I think this is clear to any modern citizen. A democratic state which reduces the regulatory and oppressive burdens weighing on society, transfers to that very society some of the functions of maintaining order and stability.

And a low level of culture and related intolerance, irresponsibility and aggressiveness destroy democracy. The freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and organisation may only be practically effected within clearly-established legal boundaries. This is how it must be in the future.

We often talk about democratic institutions. As a lawyer I cannot but say again that democratic institutions are not simply the usual business practices of citizens, although this is also very important. Rather, they are a specific set of rules and regulations. It is precisely the strict observance of these rules and regulations that makes democracy effective. And therefore democracy is not only freedom but also self-restraint.

Thanks to unprecedented access to knowledge and communication, we are reaching a new level of democracy. I already had the chance to discuss this today. It is evident that not only indirect or representative democracy are in store for us, but also immediate or direct democracy, democracy where people will be able to instantly convey what they want and achieve concrete results.

Today public views on all major issues are garnered via open debate and informal voting. While obviously this process is not yet institutionalised, sooner or later it will be. It will guide popular will and, ultimately, it will be democracy. Direct and immediate, distinct from that of a thousand years ago, during the times of direct referenda, various popular assemblies and gatherings, but nevertheless not representative. The question is how to regulate this and how to exercise these powers.

And finally, the fifth standard of democracy is citizens' conviction that they live in a democratic state. It may be subjective, but it's nevertheless very important. After all, however we define a democracy, no matter how many times we say that we live in a democracy, including in Russia, of course the final judgment on democracy must be individual.

Liberty and justice are not just political slogans, they are also philosophical and social categories. Fundamentally, they are also human feelings. You can write these words in the constitution, in other laws, argue about them at academic conferences, but there is no democracy or there are problems with democracy if people feel limitations and injustice at a personal level. In this respect, no society or democracy is free of shortcomings and this is naturally true of Russia as well. Governments can indefinitely repeat to their citizens: ”You are free.“ But democracy begins only when citizens say to themselves: ”I am free“.

It is also clear that it is very difficult to say this, not as simple as it might seem. I have already called attention to a very troubling affliction that is widespread in our society, that of so-called paternalistic attitudes. This refers to the expectations that someone has to solve a problem for you: the government or somebody else, but not everyone on their own, and this very often hinders our development.

Surprisingly, even today in the twenty-first century many Russians still like to say that they are not free, belittled, that things ”do not depend on them“. This has different sources. Such a position can be convenient: if you cannot do anything, neither are you responsible for anything, not responsible to the country or even your family. This is a very comfortable position but it is also a dangerous one. Fortunately, a growing number of citizens in our country think differently, and rely not just on the government, but also on themselves. For that reason democracy has a future in Russia, just as it does throughout the world.

In this regard I want to cite the very accurate words of Karl Popper, who may be more important than ever for Russia today. He said that the problem of improving democratic institutions is always a challenge for individuals, not for institutions. Democratic institutions cannot improve themselves, their improvement depends on us.

That is my point of view regarding modern standards for democracy.

The question then arises as to whether Russia meets these standards. I can honestly say that it does only to a certain extent, not completely. But as I have already said, we are at the beginning of the path, and everyone in this room knows that very well.

Here in Yaroslavl we have listened to the opinions of various people, various leading political scientists and experts. It is important that discussion in such forums, where politicians, academics, businesspeople, journalists and public figures meet, help to bridge the gap between different approaches to social development and that of modern states.

Ultimately, our collective efforts must help us consolidate common standards in international law. Such consolidation is already occurring, but we need to improve this institution and rely on the binding and effective formulae of universal law to promote democracy, protect human dignity, human rights and freedoms.

Thank you.

September 10, 2010, Yaroslavl