Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks at the 7th World Congress of Compatriots Living Abroad, Moscow, October 15, 2021
At the instruction of President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, allow me to read out a message of greetings to the participants and guests of the 7th World Congress of Compatriots Living Abroad:
“From all my heart, I welcome you to the World Congress of Compatriots in Moscow. This forum brings together delegates from more than 100 countries. Ahead of it, the Russian Constitution was amended to add a provision on protecting the rights and interests of our compatriots and preserving Russian cultural identity. These legal provisions create conditions for further improving the state policy regarding those who, by the will of fate, found themselves abroad and away from their homeland.
“Supporting compatriots living abroad and facilitating major projects in education, culture and social security invariably remains a priority for the entire nation. We intend to step up our efforts in this sphere, including within the corresponding Government commission.
“The topic of the Congress is ‘Russia and Our Compatriots in a Changing World.’ It offers an opportunity to discuss a wide range of topical matters. I hope that during your discussions you will put forward ideas and initiatives for finding the most effective ways to fulfill the creative potential of the millions-strong Russian world.
“I would like to sincerely thank you for your proactive efforts to promote the Russian world, language and culture, and preserve Russian traditions and the rich cultural heritage. Moving forward, we will uphold our commitment to provide you all possible assistance and support.
“I wish you every success and all the best!
Allow me to say a few words as Chairman of the Government Commission on Compatriots Living Abroad.
I am sincerely glad that we are meeting in person, despite the challenging epidemiological situation. This clearly demonstrates our commitment to dialogue with Russians abroad in all their ethnic and religious diversity, with those who, by the will of fate, found themselves abroad but preserve and maintain spiritual, cultural and language ties with our country, those who contribute to strengthening and developing these ties not in word, but in deed.
Since the last congress, by working together we have done a great deal to strengthen the Russian world at its foundation: to protect the legitimate rights and interests of our compatriots, promote the Russian language and showcase achievements in culture and education, as well as project an objective image of Russia abroad.
Keeping the memory of and preserving the truth about the Great Patriotic War and countering the attempts to falsify history has always been an important area of our joint work. The fallen war heroes volunteer search units are working to establish evidence of the Soviet people’s heroism during the war against the Nazi invaders and are making an invaluable practical contribution to this cause in our country. We believe that expanding the search movement’s contacts and geography will benefit it greatly.
Russia is home to a variety of religions. Our experience of coexistence of multiple ethnicities, cultures and religions is truly unparalleled. In a collaborative effort with our compatriots abroad, we continue to strengthen our contacts with the Russian Orthodox Church parishes and representatives of other traditional religions outside Russia.
The corresponding amendments to the Constitution, which are mentioned in the recently published President Putin’s address, are called upon to impart a new dimension and content to interaction with our compatriots abroad. From now on, the fact that Russia provides support to its compatriots abroad in exercising their rights, protecting their interests and preserving Russian cultural identity is enshrined in the Constitution. I am convinced that this will further strengthen the ties between Russia and our diasporas and communities in all corners of the Earth.
The main theme of this congress suggests a discussion of the international situation in its entirety, including positive and negative trends alike. We witness the US-led Western countries trying to undermine the foundations of the UN-centric architecture of the world order formed in the wake of World War II and to replace the universally recognised international legal norms with their own self-serving “rules-based order.” Our Western colleagues are openly unhappy to see Russia’s stable development and its positions in the international arena becoming stronger. They are trying to put pressure on us using multiple illegitimate tools ranging from unilateral sanctions and information provocations to interference in our domestic affairs.
The unscrupulous methods include the attempts to discriminate against our compatriots in terms of language or ethnic culture. For example, under the passive eye of the Western “liberal democracies,” as well as the EU bureaucrats, the Russian language continues to be ousted from the public sphere in the Baltic States, Ukraine, and Georgia. The attempts to rewrite the chapters of our common history continue unabated. The diaspora activists come under severe pressure, including with the use of administrative levers, censorship, or selective enforcement, and occasionally openly Russophobic moves.
However, our detractors’ efforts to drive a wedge between our compatriots, or to erode their identity and pit them against the historical Russia are futile. Despite all the difficulties, our communities are providing a dignified defence of their right to maintain ties with their Motherland, to be part of it, and to participate in cultural and economic projects. I would like to express my special gratitude to everyone who participated in making the election to the State Duma of the eighth convocation possible.
In September, the Government Commission on Compatriots Living Abroad adopted a comprehensive action plan for implementing Russia’s state policy in this area for 2021-2023. We are looking forward to its successful implementation. The Commission has specific proposals for improving our interaction, which will be discussed at working groups’ meetings during the Congress.
The goal of further consolidating the Russian diasporas remains relevant. Only by rallying together can our compatriots effectively defend their legitimate interests and rights in the countries where they live. We assign the central role in this work to the coordination councils of Russian compatriots’ organisations.
Our current agenda is to further improve the efficiency of the World Coordinating Council (WCC) of Russian Compatriots Living Abroad, to enhance the activity of its thematic working groups and their expert councils.
The Russian language provides a solid foundation for the further consolidation of Russian communities. The cornerstone of our common history and culture, the Russian language also provides a unifying framework for the entire Russian world, including its youth wing. Efforts to preserve the positions of the Russian language internationally are especially relevant in the current context.
The decision to hold the Year of Folk Art and Cultural Heritage in 2022, made at the last year’s meeting of the CIS Heads of State Council, should also facilitate and support this effort. In 2023, the CIS will be holding the Year of the Russian language as a language of interethnic communication. This opens up a broad field of activity for organisations of compatriots.
It is also difficult to overestimate the relevance of the topic proposed for the second plenary session of this Congress, entitled “The Historical Truth and Preservation of Identity.” I would like to thank all of you for vigorously opposing historical revisionism. This year, Russian compatriots organised a number of events, including the international forum in Minsk, “June 22, 1941: Victory Will Be Ours.” Other projects, such as The Immortal Regiment, St George’s Ribbon, The Candle of Memory and The Dictation of Victory, have been expanding in scale and geography due to your direct involvement. Such efforts undoubtedly forge a connection between ages and generations, and are very important for educating young people as good citizens.
The mutual enrichment of contemporary Russian culture and the Russian world’s achievements is called upon to help create a favourable public climate for Russian-speaking communities abroad and to spread authentic information about Russia.
The multi-ethnic and multi-religious nature of our diasporas remains their distinguishing feature. It is essential to continue expanding their unity in diversity and to deepen dialogue between ethnic groups.
Stronger cooperation with Russian compatriots’ international organisations is also in demand. These organisations include the World Congress of Tatars, which brings together representatives of the multi-million-strong Tatar community in Russia and abroad.
Legal protection for compatriots remains our unconditional priority. We are invigorating the activities of the Foundation for Supporting and Protecting the Rights of Compatriots Living Abroad, also using the capabilities of multilateral organisations and various international legal instruments.
I would like to note that work with the young generation of compatriots is becoming more intensive. We will also provide support to the operation of compatriots’ business associations and specialised women’s organisations.
The media outlets run by Russian compatriots are making a considerable contribution to strengthening the identity of the Russian world and expanding the Russian-speaking media space. We will continue to support all efforts to defend the rights of Russian-speaking journalists who are being harassed, persecuted and discriminated against. We will continue to demand that the UN, the OSCE and the Council of Europe respond accordingly.
In the past 20 years, we have jointly accomplished an important task: we have made the multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-faceted Russian world a reality. We highly value your commitment to helping your historical Motherland, strengthening its international prestige and promoting its prosperity. Members of the Government Commission on Compatriots Living Abroad are always ready to cooperate and to review your initiatives and undertakings.
In conclusion, I would like to once again thank all of you for your fruitful work and to wish you health, well-being and successful work at our Congress.
Thank you very much.
I would like to say a few words in conclusion. I would like to ask you to more actively use the materials of the Congress that help to secure the position of the Russian language, Russian culture and the Russian world in line with President of Russia Vladimir Putin’s instructions.
During the talks with our CIS neighbours, I was working on issues related to the promotion of the Russian language and the creation of Russian schools. Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matvienko has spearheaded five Russian schools in Tajikistan with a complete curriculum according to our methodology. Similar programmes are in the pipeline for Uzbekistan. Recently, the new Armenian leadership has demonstrated interest in having a similar programme designed for Armenia. We are interested in making this a model project for all our allies and strategic partners.
The branch system of Russian universities in CIS countries is also well-established and is showing signs of expansion and development.
Slavic universities, such as Russian-Tajikistani or Russian-Armenian universities, have been mentioned. There is a whole range of other plans, which we want to implement as quickly as possible. But at times we encounter certain hindrances, which we will try to eliminate. Removing administrative barriers from this work is the watchword right now according to President Vladimir Putin’s instructions.
Let me note that we have a lot of areas of work in support of the Russian language, such as the Russian Language Abroad or Russian School Abroad programmes. The Pushkin State Russian Language Institute, which has its own projects in foreign countries, was mentioned. There is the Russky Mir (Russian World) Foundation that works above all to provide remote access to the Russian language and education for foreign universities. In conclusion, I cannot help mentioning Rossotrudnichestvo, the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation, which was created specifically to carry on the Soviet school traditions of promoting our multiethnic culture and language.
We have analysed all the efforts our state and academic community have been making to promote the Russian language. The analysis has shown that we seldom have enough information to see the full picture. Now, with active support from the leadership and the Russian Government, as well as the Presidential Executive Office, we have carried out a lot of work and developed a new state programme Supporting and Promoting the Russian Language Abroad. All the areas of focus I have listed will be harmonised under this programme, and additional money will be allocated for it beginning next cycle. I believe this is an important bureaucratic – in the positive sense of the word – achievement.
The last point I want to make. This is particularly important after the elections to the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation: all of the parties that were elected to our parliament paid priority attention to the support of our compatriots abroad. It is no accident I’m sitting here today between two Leonids (Leonid Kalashnikov and Leonid Slutsky). They are representatives of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. You can see how committed they are to this issue.
As you know, United Russia is the biggest party in the State Duma. I had the honour of being one of the top five candidates on the federal list on the instruction of President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin. I am glad if this helped promote the interests of our foreign policy, among other things. I mentioned this not to evoke your response but because following the elections United Russia established a commission on international affairs and support of our compatriots abroad at the initiative of President Putin. This shows once again that the President will continue paying unflagging attention to this issue.
Deputy Chair of the United Russia General Council Andrey Klimov is forming this commission. You know him well. I was asked to head it. I already head one government commission, and now I’ll head a party one. Combination of government and party positions was not frequent in our history but left a deep trace in it.
We are working on the organisation of this commission. I would like to make its openness to representatives of all parliamentary parties a key feature to ensure its normal, understandable and transparent functioning, as I’ve already told my United Russia colleagues. This is not just because we do not want to duplicate the work of the Committee on International Affairs and the Committee on CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration and Ties with Compatriots. We would like to find the right niche for this commission with a view to harmonising the activities of all parties and the State Duma as a whole.
Your speech has brought to my mind an idea that I’ve been thinking about for a long time. We always appreciate compassion and aid to people in trouble – no matter who this aid comes from. Now we heard some examples of Israeli citizens, including those born in the USSR, helping people affected by natural disasters or industrial accidents in the Russian Federation.
A vast number of people, Russian citizens who live here never turn a blind eye to such situations. They are always ready to not only share the grief of other people but also help them overcome it.
You said the Israelis owe a debt to Russia. I wouldn’t put it that way. When a memorial to the Victory in the Great Patriotic War was unveiled in Netanya, Israel, a huge number of war veterans attended the ceremony. God bless them! Their chests were covered with medals. Maybe, they stopped hiding their state decorations owing to your initiatives as well.
In January 2020, I accompanied President Vladimir Putin to Jerusalem, to attend the opening of a monument in honour of the survivors of the siege of Leningrad. This was a very moving ceremony. All of its participants, including Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu and President of France Emmanuel Macron, spoke about the Red Army’s role in liberating Auschwitz (because the ceremony took place on January 27, the day when the death camp was liberated, which has been observed as the Holocaust Remembrance Day since then). The then US Vice President, Michael Pence, was the only exception. Describing the horrors faced by Jews in Auschwitz, he said that on January 27 soldiers flung open the doors of the death camp. When an American says this, it is clear that everyone will imagine that these soldiers had a stars and stripes emblem on their sleeves.
You mentioned that it is wrong for the Israelis to remember only the Holocaust. I agree with this. Something similar, an equally horrible genocide, was envisaged for other ethnicities living in the USSR, largely for the Slavs.
Quite recently, on instructions from President Vladimir Putin, the Russian Government announced a decision on lump sum payments to the survivors of the Leningrad siege. Soon we will observe the anniversary of building the Road of Life, and then of the liberation of Leningrad.
I would like to tell you that for many years we tried to resolve one issue through diplomatic channels. Our efforts did not succeed, so there is no secrecy about this. I would like the people of Israel to know this although I told about it to my colleagues, Israeli ministers (not just one but practically all of them that I worked with). I am referring to the payments by the German government to the survivors of the siege of Leningrad, but only those of Jewish origin. For over a decade, we tried to understand what they meant. We asked them, what about all the others who also survived there in horrible conditions? We were told that by law they bore responsibility to the Jews no matter where they live because of the Holocaust. So other survivors of the siege were supposedly not victims of the Holocaust. They kept trying to explain this logic to us for many years.
By way of compensation, they suggested repairing a hospital in St Petersburg. We are grateful to them for this. They did this and established a centre for the meetings of veterans from both sides. But this does not allow us to forget a glaring injustice in one city and in one situation that is unique. What the Germans did in Leningrad was a crime. There was no difference between Russians, Jews, Tatars, Georgians, Armenians or anyone else who was there.
Maybe your public organisation can use its influence and let the Israeli government explain to the Germans that Jews do not feel too comfortable due to the logic that the German state continues to pursue?
Thank you. I wish good luck to everyone. See you again.