Sunday, December 26, 2010

Dmitry Medvedev: We must listen to the people’s voice

President Dmitry Medvedev summed up this year’s results in a live television broadcast.

As in the previous years, he talked with the heads of Russia’s three major TV networks: Channel One, Rossiya and NTV. They reviewed major events of the outgoing year and wished the audience a happy New Year. The theme that ran through the entire conversation was that top government officials must listen to the people’s voice and work on correcting their mistakes.

Medvedev promised to rectify one of such mistakes immediately. Recently, the government submitted a bill to the State Duma on a new procedure for calculating maternity benefits. The proposal provoked an angry response from many women, who staged a picket in front of the Healthcare Ministry, bringing along small children and carrying moving slogans.

The president responded to this protest by instructing his subordinates to draft amendments to the bill that women would deem acceptable. He also emphasized that the document produced by the Healthcare Ministry does not help resolve the demographic problem.Medvedev urged all officials to respond to signals from the public and returned to this subject many times. He recalled the Khimki forest case, when highway construction project executives ignored public protests and he was forced to take a drastic step and put the project on hold. Had they listened to the public, many problems could have been avoided.

The president described the problem with the planned construction of the Okhta Center in St. Petersburg in much the same terms but stressed that in this case the decision to change the new center’s location was made by the municipal authorities. It is true, though, that he had to raise his voice – and “the president’s voice is loud,” as he put it himself – to compel the local authorities to respect the people’s wishes.

Medvedev brushed aside the concern voiced by NTV Director Vladimir Kulistikov that “the public will never stop pestering the officials.” He said that “deep totalitarian trends” are still very strong in Russia and it is too soon to worry about the riot of public opinion. It is necessary to listen carefully to public opinion and always take it into account.

Governors should do the same. Medvedev insisted that they should always be concerned about their ratings and popularity, if only because unpopular governors will not be reappointed. He did not forget to mention the once popular Yury Luzhkov, former mayor of Moscow, and explained the reasons for his dismissal. The president said in no uncertain terms that corruption in Moscow had reached an unprecedented scale while the former mayor was only interested in his personal PR and political intrigues.

Medvedev contrasted Luzhkov with the new mayor, Sergei Sobyanin. “I hope that the new mayor will work in a different way. He is a man of action, a hard-working person who does not suffer from a superiority complex. He is not after improving his personal image and is not interested in political competition. Everyone must work hard. Let him do his job,” he said.

In this way Medvedev made absolutely clear the reasons behind Luzhkov’s notorious dismissal. However, he unequivocally refused to voice his opinion on the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former head of YUKOS: “Neither the president nor any other government official has the right to express an opinion on this case or any other case before the verdict is issued, be it guilty or not guilty.”

Finally, Medvedev turned to his favorite subject – modernization – which he discussed in his article “Go, Russia!” and which he always touches on in his public speeches. He admitted that although this year’s modernization results were quite good, not enough has been achieved in this area.

However, no fundamental changes can take place in a single year. The president said that “modernization has penetrated the political agenda” and is no longer just a subject of discussions. The creation of reliable feedback channels between the authorities and the public is one of the signs that the process has got underway.

The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.