"Together we form a common spiritual space"

Ahead of the new academic year that starts on 1st September, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev addresses scholars and schoolchildren.

Dmitry Medvedev: "Good morning to you all, dear friends!

My sincerest congratulations on this Day of Knowledge and the start of the new school year!

We adults can’t help feeling a bit envious of all of you who are taking your places in the classroom today. The school years are without question the most interesting, rich and memorable time in life, and also the most important, because today, more than anything else, education is the main foundation for a successful career and a rewarding and decent life in every sense.

The world is changing non-stop, becoming ever more complex, and science and technology are developing at a very rapid pace. This requires us to be constantly learning, constantly developing our abilities and perfecting our professional skills.

You are our hope for the future. We believe that you, our children, have all the ability, talent and intelligence it takes to achieve your dreams. Your boldness and inventiveness, your creative talents and ability to come up with new ideas, and your desire to make the world a better place are the guarantee that you will build a worthy future for yourselves and for us all.

Modern people are educated people, people who take an interest in and respect the views and convictions of others. But if we really want to achieve success, as well as developing these personal qualities, we also need to ensure peace and order in Russia, our common home.

There are more than 140 million of us, and we all are very different. Our country is home to more than 180 ethnic groups, each of which has its own unique culture. More than 230 different languages are spoken in our country. But all of us together form one multi-ethnic people.

Among us are Orthodox, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, and followers of other religions too. Together, we form a vivid and harmonious whole, a common spiritual space.

I am a Russian by ethnicity, but all my life, as far back as I can remember, I have always been surrounded by people of many, many different ethnic backgrounds. We all made friends with each other, studied together, worked together, simply lived together as neighbours, and we continue to work together, continue our friendship today. There are millions of examples of these kinds of interethnic relations all around the country. Each of us has such examples in our lives. We share a common history and we have a common future. This understanding and mutual help between people of different cultures has been the foundation of our country’s development over the centuries. We need to keep learning all the time to accept each other as we are, regardless of ethnicity, religion, convictions and customs. We need to learn to respect each other and nurture and preserve the interethnic harmony in our country.

It is a sad fact that conflicts often arise in the modern world. There are some who try to set one people against another in order to pursue their own selfish goals. But we will not let them achieve their aims. We are stronger than them because our friendship and good-neighbourly spirit are stronger than evil and hatred.

Friends, no matter where you are in the country, in Moscow or Samara, in the Caucasus or in Kamchatka, you have people of all different ethnic groups around you in your schools, your streets, your local districts. It is not for nothing that our country’s Constitution opens with the words: “We, the multinational people of the Russian Federation, united by a common fate on our land…”

Take a look at the map. Our country is the biggest country in the world in area. It occupies one third of Eurasia, the biggest continent, and covers one sixth of the world’s land surface. It has three different climatic zones, eleven time zones and ten different nature zones, from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean, from the Arctic to the mountains of the Caucasus and Altai. We have every kind of nature the world can offer – seas warm and cold, mountains, taiga, steppe and tundra, lakes and rivers.

This is our historic reality. Russia took shape as a multiethnic country over the course of centuries. Our country’s great history and cultural wealth are the fruits of the immense efforts and labours of its different peoples. Over the centuries they have built Russia together, not just Russians but also Greeks, Tatars, Ossetians, Lithuanians, Mordvins, Kabardinians, Yakuts, Chechens, Georgians, Armenians, Jews, Germans, and people of many more different ethnic groups. Look at each people, big or small, and you will find the names of those who have left their mark on our country’s statehood and culture.

Russia has traversed the severest trials with honour and has saved the world from enslavement on more than one occasion. It has come to the aid of peoples whose very existence was under threat.
When the hour came to defend our homeland from enemy hands, people of all different ethnic groups rose up, ready to sacrifice their lives for our country’s freedom. In 1812, the Georgian Prince Bagration and the German Barclay de Tolly fought heroically against Napoleon at the battle of Borodino.

And of course, a special place in our memories will forever go to the Great Patriotic War. Next year, we will celebrate the sixty-fifth anniversary of victory in this war.

The Soviet people’s unrivalled feat in this war united people of all different nationalities and faiths. We paid for the freedom of our own homeland and all of Europe with millions of our citizens’ lives.
Unfortunately, similar examples exist today too. I cannot help but recall the tragic events of August last year in South Ossetia, when the Georgian leadership took the irresponsible decision of attacking the South Ossetian people. Russians and Ossetians, Ukrainians and Belarusians, Chechens, Armenians, Kalmyks, Bashkirs, Tatars and others all came to the aid of our brothers. People of many different ethnic backgrounds were decorated for their courage and heroism in this conflict. I will name just a few of them: the Kabardinian Akhmed Balkarov, Ossetian Atsamaz Kelokhsayev, Kazakh Azat Nurtyshev, Tatar Amir Imangulov, and Russian Sergei Mylnikov.

Today, as has always been the case in our history, the guarantee of Russia’s prosperity lies in the unity and togetherness of the peoples who share this land. This is our wealth and our advantage, and it is our duty to look after it. We will look after it together with you.

Our culture’s greatness is the sum of the achievements of many outstanding scientists, engineers, artists, composers, theologians, poets and writers – sons and daughters of all our country’s different ethnic groups.

It is enough to name that genius of the Russian language, the descendent of ‘Peter the Great’s Negro’, Alexander Pushkin.

I want to say a few words separately about the Russian language. As well as being the Russian Federation’s official language it has become for all of us the symbol of mutual understanding, trust and equal rights. It is the link that binds the cultures of our different peoples to global culture. Respect and love our Russian language.

Learn to understand each other better. Look after each other, and look after the vast, unique and amazing world that is our Russia. I wish happiness to you and your parents and teachers."