President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, friends! Ladies and gentlemen!
I am very happy to welcome you to St Petersburg. Symbolically, this city has traditionally hosted the international cultural forum because our northern capital is a unique example of the mutual enrichment of Russian and other world cultures.
St Petersburg was created by outstanding architects from several diverse countries. It is a concentration of brilliant achievements by great writers, musicians, scientists, actors and thinkers in the broadest sense of this word. Their creative works have become an inalienable part of the cultural heritage of our world.
St Petersburg is also one of the visible incarnations of the worldwide responsiveness of the Russian people, the Russian soul that was described, among others, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It also reflects their ability to comprehend, accept and develop all the best things rather than underscore the differences, to find commonality, rise to the height of mutual spiritual enrichment and go forward together. These principles have been close to Russia and our people throughout our history. A country-civilisation, Russia has carefully kept the languages and traditions of all peoples living in it and is a unique unity of a multitude of distinctive cultures.
The experience of the millennium-old history of our country convincingly shows that cultural diversity is the greatest blessing while the interaction of cultures is one of the conditions for stable and peaceful development. After all, some of the main reasons for today’s international tensions are rooted in the claims of some forces to exclusivity, including cultural exclusivity, their disregard for the customs and spiritual values of others, a striving to subject everyone and everything to unification under their own pattern that they consider the best and most universal. This distasteful globalisation and, let me add, cultural expansionism, have led to cultural suppression and deprivation and have multiplied the potential for conflict.
We are convinced that the future belongs to free, multilinear, and diverse cultures, the broadest possible dialogue of humanitarian communities in the multipolar world that is forming today. As I understand it, the current Forum of United Cultures is intended to be a part of this dialogue. We believe that creatively-minded and enlightened individuals want to build a fair, sustainable, and secure world. We believe that this is backed by a sincere desire to improve the situation around the world in all the meanings of this word in the Russian language: the world as accord, the world as society, and the world as all humanity and the entire planet.
I am aware that you have drafted a busy programme, and understanding history through culture has become a key topic of discussion. Notably, and this is stating the obvious, archives and documentary evidence of events in the form of original sources seem to be accessible by everyone today. Well, first, not by everyone, and second, they are mostly used by specialists and professionals. Most people, however, learn about the past from books, films, theatre, paintings, and music. The truth about history and the most complex chapters of the past can undoubtedly be learned from masterpieces of world culture, including Russian, European, American, Chinese, Indian, Arab, and many other great works.
However, for those who engage in the falsification of history – unfortunately, there have always been enough of them at historical points of inflection – genuine art, so to speak, is a thorn in the side. It is in the way of these people’s efforts to distort the past in favour of their fleeting ideological or, as we often see, gender constructs, and it makes it hard for them to sow discord among people. That is why liars fabricate falsehoods in cinema, journalism, and literature.
Everything that does not fit in the mould of their historical forgeries is simply crossed out. Entire layers of history and art from Western Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America are passed under silence, as if nothing had happened, and there have recently been attempts to cancel our culture altogether. I say “attempts” because, by definition, we understand that this is impossible, but nevertheless, they are trying to cancel a culture that is based on genuine freedom and graciousness, love for humanity and spirituality. In and of itself, a policy of canceling Russia is anti-cultural, neocolonial, and racist.
But the truth is that the authors of these ideas had issues with this infamous cancellation, just like with the so-called anti-Russia sanctions, right from the very beginning. One of many examples is the enormous interest in the International Tchaikovsky Competition. The online audience exceeded 50 million people. In the modern world, canceling such things is simply not possible. It is strange that the people who are trying to do so do not understand this. By the way, of these 50 million people, more than half are residents of Europe who do not want anyone to decide for them what music to listen to, what to watch, and what to read.
Despite all the bans and sanctions, art still has no borders. It has always been that way, and it will undoubtedly be that way especially so in our time of rapid technological progress, which creates both vast opportunities and new risks. We must calculate the consequences of these fundamental tectonic processes, achievements in genetics, quantum mechanics, AI technology, and other innovation-driven areas.
As I understand it, this issue has also become a subject here at the forum, and it is certainly logical: only culture can ensure the safety and reasonability of innovation. Culture is the most natural ethical regulator of technological progress. The forum organisers suggest considering this as the basis of social development and humanism. As a carrier of national identity, traditions and the faith of our fathers, it serves as a guarantee of preserving our spiritual roots. This is extremely important both for the individual and for the country as a whole; it protects us from everything superfluous and momentary, gives us stability in the face of challenges, and serves as a moral reference point that allows us to remain human in the most difficult conditions.
The whole world was shocked by the news that the legendary ancient Arch of Triumph in Palmyra, Syria, was destroyed by terrorists, and for us the very word “Palmyra” is also a symbol. I would like to draw your attention – the Russian part of the audience knows this, and I will tell our friends and guests from abroad – the fact is that the city we are in, St Petersburg, is also called the Palmyra of the North from time to time. During the siege of the city, the Nazi barbarians and their satellites tried to destroy it in the same way.
In 2016, after the liberation of Palmyra in Syria, our experts from the Institute for the History of Material Culture took urgent measures to save the monument: they examined the ruins of the arch, fixed every fragment, created a unique project for the restoration of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, and soon, together with their Syrian colleagues, will begin recreating it.
Russia and our people have a deeply recognised responsibility for the preservation of world heritage and traditional values. It is in our national character to be sensitive to the pain of others and to strive for justice, as well as to care for the preservation of our common heritage – I am referring now to the Russian language. It has been and remains a language of inter-ethnic communication for hundreds of millions of people around the world. This is confirmed by the initiative of the President of Kazakhstan, Mr Tokayev, to establish an International Organisation for the Russian Language. The proposal was certainly supported by Russia and our colleagues, the leaders of the CIS countries, but there is no doubt that the number of members in this organisation will grow.
Next year Russia will chair two international organisations at once: BRICS and the CIS. A large cultural programme has been planned. We are also looking forward to increasing cultural and humanitarian cooperation with the states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, ASEAN, and the leading regional associations in Africa and Latin America.
We are paying great attention to culture at the state level. We are spending considerable funds on its development and are certainly not planning to reduce this funding. On the contrary, we will be seeking additional reserves, supporting creative figures and organisations, programmes for the protection of monuments and development of historical cities, and launching unique projects based on digital solutions. One is the already operating Pushkin Card. This cultural and educational programme for youth allows every Russian citizen between 14 and 22 to visit museums, theatres, concerts and other cultural institutions at state expense. Such commonly available educational programmes are not only opening art to young people, but also serving to assert the principles of equality and social justice.
Domestic businesses are also playing a creative role in cultural development. They are preserving the cultural heritage of the peoples of Russia, opening new creative spaces, some at former industrial zones, and replenishing the collections of our museums and libraries with priceless artefacts. They are doing all this from the heart. This mission deserves the deepest gratitude.
The participation of business people in the development of culture is a supra-national, unifying process and hence businesses, Russia’s development institutions and the EAEU, BRICS and SCO economies will come up with even more initiatives. There is no doubt of this, and I hope the theme of so-called business culture and philanthropy will become a traditional item on the forum’s agenda.
I would like to emphasise that Russia is determined to engage in the closest joint work with all those who share our values of peace, friendship and mutual respect, and who are ready to take part in creating a modern multipolar world along the lines of civilisational and cultural diversity.
The successful development of humanity depends on the preservation of the identities of people, on the existence of equal rights and opportunities for all states. The Forum of United Cultures, its discussions and ideas are designed to facilitate the achievement of these goals. Attracting more authoritative and young creative figures, pedagogues, scientists, entrepreneurs and benefactors, it is capable of becoming a permanent venue for important decision-making in the humanitarian area. No doubt, Russia is willing to ensure these efforts.
Thank you very much for being here, for being with us. Thank you for your attention.