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Harriet Tubman And The Battle For America's Symbols




The debate over America’s symbols and monuments has sharpened with the growing mass movement for racial justice in the past decade. The lionization of slave-owners and genocidaires has been pointed out by many as in contradiction to the ideals of democracy and racial justice so often touted as national core values. In the midst of this debate, the decision by the US Treasury to place Harriet Tubman alongside Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill starting in 2030 has incited controversy. Howard University professor of political science Clarence Lusane joins The Chris Hedges Report to discuss the Harriet Tubman dollar bill, and the stakes of the debate over national symbols in righting the historical wrongs of slavery and white supremacy.

Dr. Clarence Lusane is a full Professor, former Chairman of Howard University’s Department of Political Science, and current Director of the International Affairs program. He is an author, activist, scholar, lecturer, and journalist. His most recent book is

Twenty Dollars and Change: Harriet Tubman and the Ongoing Fight for Racial Justice and Democracy.

Studio Production: David Hebden, Cameron Granadino
Post-Production: Adam Coley
Audio Post-Production: Tommy Harron


The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. A proofread version will be made available as soon as possible.


When the new $20 bill is issued in 2030, it is scheduled to have on one side a portrait of Harriet Tubman, the fiery abolitionist who made over a dozen clandestine trips south to free enslaved people, and later served as a scout for the Union Army during the Civil War. And on the back, it is supposed to have a statue of the slave holding seventh president Andrew Jackson, who is one of the principal organizers of the genocidal campaigns against Native Americans. It is a bit like Germany issuing a bill with Anne Frank on one side and Adolph Eichmann on the other. This schizophrenia reflects the bifurcation within the United States where the dwindling majority of whites often embrace the so-called white replacement theory seen in the effort to honor the nation’s diversity and own up to the sins of white supremacy, a campaign to erase them. The fight over symbols and monuments is grounded in this fear of dethronement.

For as Aaron L. Thompson writes, monuments aren’t history lessons, they’re pledges of allegiance. Owning up to our past, the goal of critical race theory shatters the myth, perpetuated by white supremacists that are racial hierarchy is not somehow engineered, but the natural outcome of a meritocracy where whites are endowed with superior intelligence, talent, and civilization while Blacks deserve to be at the bottom of society because of their innate characteristics. Owning up to the past eradicates the whitewashing in textbooks, monuments, memorials, and historical narratives, and forces white Americans to grapple with a history every bit as evil as that perpetuated by German fascists.

As Clarence Luanne, the author of Twenty Dollars and Change: Harriet Tubman and the Ongoing Fight for Racial Justice and Democracy argues, rolling out a Tubman $20 bill not only disrupts and diminishes the legacies of white supremacy that persist in official narratives, but that doing so is a necessary step toward diminishing and abolishing racist distortions of our political economy, health and medical institutions, and justice system. Joining me to discuss this battle over national symbols and monuments is Professor Clarence Lusane, the director of International Affairs Program and the interim chair of the political science department at Howard University. So let’s just begin quickly. She’s a remarkable figure, Harriet Tubman, just for people who don’t know, just a brief outline of who she was and why she was important.

Clarence Lusane:

First of all, thank you for having me, Chris. And this really is an important topic and Harriet Tubman is a great character to talk about the issue of symbolism and importance. So for basically anybody that’s been to an American school and had at least a fourth grade education, somewhere along the way you learned about Harriet Tubman. But mostly what you learned was that she helped people escape from slavery. She escaped herself and then she made a number of trips back down to free her family and friends and she gets frozen at that. What I try to do in this book is to widen the lens and look at her overall broader life, where not only did she fight to end slavery, but she also fought for women’s rights. She fought for voting rights. She spoke out against injuries and people who were infirm. She spoke out for people who were poor.

So Harriet Tubman, for me, represents really the epitome of someone who’s fighting for a broader democracy in the country. And then you compare that to, as you mentioned, Andrew Jackson, who not only was someone who was a participant in massacres against Native Americans, his administration led to the infamous and tragic Trail of Tears. He was also an enslave and a slave traitor. And then a lot of people also know him or project him as someone who founded the Democratic Party. But it was a Democratic party and it was a vision of democracy completely and opposite to that of Harriet Tubman. For Andrew Jackson, his understanding of democracy was white privileged men. And so you really have two contrasting individuals, but more generally, two contrasting visions of what the society should be about, who should be represented, where the society should be headed.


Let’s talk about monuments. So you have end of the 19th century, beginning of the 20th century, large numbers of Confederate monuments put up, courthouse lawns, you write, state house grounds, strategically erected to serve as reminders to Black folks that those institutions had no regard for them. Whites may pass a statue of Robert E. Lee and think of it as benign, but Blacks can’t and you write about this. So talk about the choice of those who are honored and the role of the monuments as part of the subjugation and ultimately the reign of terror that is carried out under Jim and Jane Crow against Black people.

Clarence Lusane:

So monuments, and statues, and buildings that are named after individuals, all of this symbolism is not benign. It represents a position, a position on history, a position on society. As you noted, many of the statues that came about that honored the Confederacy, didn’t come right after the Civil War when it was clear to everybody what the Civil War was about, that had been about defending slavery. It came as a part of the lost cause and a reconstructed history that made the Confederacy as something noble, as it was fighting against government overreach and that these were actually heroes. And so those monuments were not about the Civil War, they were about post reconstruction, politics of race.

And particularly because they were in the south, although there was some outside of the south, it was to reinforce and reiterate every single day the Jim Crow segregation that Black people and other people of color had to deal with. So the objection to these monuments didn’t come as a rebuttal against whites in general, but it came across and was there from the beginning by African Americans. And you’re talking about Black leaders from W.E.B Du Bois to Marcus Garvey, to other Black leaders who all spoke out because it was recognized, from the top to the bottom, that these really did represent an argument for the continuation of Jim Crow, and the continuing oppression of Black people, Native Americans, and Latinos in this country.


But it was also accompanied or part of a historical erasure, one which you write about in the book, the number of slave revolts. I think if I remember right, you said 250, I didn’t know it was that large, but also reconstruction, when you had that brief period when northern troops were occupying the south and Blacks were allowed to gain political office. So it wasn’t just about honoring, it was also about disappearing history. Can you address that?

Clarence Lusane:

Yes. I have lamented for years that we do not teach enough about reconstruction. So most broader history in the US tends to think of you had slavery, you had the Civil War, you had Jim Crow, and then you had the Civil rights movement. And it erases this really important moment between 1867 and 1877 when there was an effort on the part of the US Federal Government to take responsibility, not only for how people who had been enslave had been treated, but to offer remedies, which included a specific bank that was created to give African Americans opportunities to take out loans, for example, to start businesses, to buy properties. You had the Freedman’s Bureau, which promoted education and created schools. And these schools were actually multiracial. The first time many whites in the South actually were able to go to school was during reconstruction. And then you also had Black political participation where you had African Americans who had been enslaved in the 1850s who were in Congress, who were in state legislatures, who were in city councils in the 1870s.

So it was a remarkable period. And because of that period, after it was crushed in 1877 with the Hayes Tilden Compromise, where the two political parties reached a deal that Rutherford B. Hayes would be given the presidency, and basically, they would stop protecting freed Black people in the South. After that period, it was the strength of Black people having learned politics, learned how to survive that prepared people for the next a hundred years of Jim Crow. So it’s a really, really critical error. And again, there’s very little taught and, of course, that then gets reflected, there’s almost no public symbolism about reconstruction as opposed to, for example, the Confederacy.


So I want to read this passage from your book. I found it fascinating that these memorials, these monuments are not just about honoring a particular period of white supremacy and a perpetuation of white supremacy, as well as erasure of huge parts of history, but they also influence political behavior in the present. You write, “A 2021 study by researchers at the University of Virginia confirmed that there is a direct correlation between confederate monuments and white racial terror concluding that, and this is in quotes, the number of lynching victims in a county is a positive and significant predicate of the number of Confederate memorialization in that county.”

Clarence Lusane:

Yeah, so it’s absolutely true that these monuments, these statues are narratives and they not only tell a story, but they also offer a form of action. And so we see this time and time and time again, there was a case coming out of Georgia, I believe, or Tennessee, where there was a courtroom, and in this courtroom it was basically a pageant to the Confederacy. And there was a successful lawsuit from a Black defendant who argued that, the fact that you would have a jury room where the Confederacy would be celebrated was prejudicial. And that you can look at in a broader context that throughout the region, where you had these confederate monuments and statutes, you had the KKK, you had the white citizens councils.

We saw all of this really come to crest in 2017, in Virginia, with the Unite the Right rally, which I will remind people was about defending the Confederate statue, Robert E. Lee. And it was the most extreme, but not the only, and certainly not the unusual defense that we’ve seen, which has animated those who feel most, that they are being replaced, who have bought into this argument that African Americans, Latinos, Muslims, immigrants from the third world are coming to replace them. And the only way to defend that is through undemocratic and even violent means.


I want to talk about reparations, affirmative action, but before I do, I want to read a short passage from your book. “In numerous studies from Eric Williams, Classic Slavery and Capitalism to Edward Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery In The Making of American Capitalism. Historians and economists have documented how the US economy from the pre-Revolutionary War period until the last days of slavery was built on the backs of enslaved African people and their descendants. At the onset of the Civil War in 1861, white people enslaved, 3.9 million, 88% of the 4.3 million Black people in the United States. The abolition of slavery represented the victory of an industrial aristocracy over an agrarian one. The emancipatory politics of Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Nat Turner and others overlapped with the interests of wealthy northerners who founded the Republican party and created an inevitable clash that led to the Civil War.”

First, that’s a very important point that this was an economic battle between the North and the South with the cover of slavery. But I think it begins to address all of us who do argue for reparations, have long said that that enslaved African Americans built almost everything in this country, including the Capitol, and I believe the White House. And originally affirmative action, I want you to address this, because we’re now watching a Supreme Court on the cusp of essentially abolishing affirmative action, when it was set up by Lyndon Johnson, was set up as a way to essentially acknowledge the economic contribution of African Americans. And I think that famous Johnson, when you have your foot on a man’s neck for 300 years and then you finally take the boot off his neck, you can’t call that an equal starting point. Again, I’m butchering the quote.

And that affirmative action itself got distorted, but it wasn’t originally designed for diversity. It was designed because of the economic contribution of African Americans in the United States for which they were never compensated, especially, of course, immediately after the Civil War. And then you get convict leasing and everything else. But talk about that and talk a little bit about what’s happening right now, when we watch what little gains have been made, essentially, it looks like a about to be rolled back.

Clarence Lusane:

So thank you for that question. So the cause for reparation, without using that term, go all the way back to the beginning of the US. It was long acknowledged and understood by Black people that they were being exploited, that their labor was building the economy, and as you point out, of the entire country, it wasn’t just the South. The North benefited as well through factories, through insurance, through financing. So it was a national problem that never was addressed, but it was always a component of the African American freedom movement. Prior to the Civil War, after the Civil War, during the civil rights era, it was an issue that never went away. Martin Luther King, for example, again, did not use the term reparations, but he certainly talked about a debt that was owed as a result of not only slavery, but the post-slavery era in Jim Crow and the wealth that again was built up through the exploitation of Black people during the Jim Crow era.

For example, Black people were not eligible, in most instances, for social security, but they were paying into the system. So they were building wealth for white Americans, that they were being denied despite putting in the same kind of labor. So when Johnson proposes this, and when it’s championed, even by Richard Nixon, it’s understood at that moment as a beginning of repairing the damage that had been done. It gets corrupted though, starting in the Reagan era, and then it becomes a mean for contemporary conservatives who want to simply deny A, that racial discrimination and white supremacy even exists. And then certainly that there should be no responsibility on the part of the US Government, which flies in the face of not only historic US policy, but around the world where governments and others who have been held accountable for damage, they inflicted there had to be compensation. There had to be reparations. And so it’s still an issue that resonates in the Black community, but we are in a very different kind of understanding of what this history means.


And what’s happening now? We’re now on the cusp of taking a huge step backward.

Clarence Lusane:

Yes. So we’re about to see what little vestiges of affirmative action are left about to be crushed by the Supreme Court. And I think the Supreme Court, beyond affirmative action, they would be going after voting rights. They would be going after other gains that were made as a result of the civil rights and Black power movement and movements by Native Americans, Latinos, women, LGBTQ communities. All of these communities that intersect and overlap are all under attack. And we’re about to see, I think, a vigorous rollback coming out of some of the decisions that are facing the court in this present term.


What’ll be the consequences?

Clarence Lusane:

Oh, they’re going to be harsh. And the challenge will be whether or not the Democrats will be up to the task of fighting back and will they be bold, for example, in expanding the court. The court, as is constituted right now with the 6/3 majority and that six conservative majority being relatively young, these individuals will be on the court the next 10, 15, 20 years. So there’s just no possibility, unless there’s some ideological metamorphosis among these members, that they’re going to push the court back towards democratic rights, political rights, rights for all of these different communities.

So I think that that just requires a boldness on the part of Democrats, if they have the opportunity, to push back and try to bring some more balance to the court. But it will be harsh. We’ve already saw it in terms of the decision affecting women with the Dobbs decision. We can go back to the Citizens United, how that’s impacted the political mainstream in the country. Voting Rights Act has been attacked a couple of times, and now it’s just a matter of putting the last stab wound in, in this particular session of the court. There’s some possibilities of challenging and having alternatives at the state level, but it’s really what the court does that has to also be addressed.


You’re right. Racialized attacks on the welfare state have been a successful method for getting white people to reject policies that would directly benefit them, such as the subsidized healthcare system known as Obamacare. It is in this manner that white supremacy has been manipulated by corporate and political interests, which was why liberation movements must focus, not just on the abolition of racial injustice, but also on freedom from the multiple ways power marginalizes people, particularly women of color, and denies them their full human agency. Well, this is really the playbook of the new Republican party, I think Glen Ford used to call it the White Man’s Party under Trump, but it works. It’s always worked.

Clarence Lusane:

Yeah, it certainly has. And what the contemporary Republican party has made clear, is that vigilance is permanent, that there is no comfort level from making really remarkable gains over the last half century, going back from the sixties to the present for communities that were marginalized, and repressed, and denied, but that it never stopped. And we can see it in areas like healthcare, for example. So in the book I talk about Harriet Tubman who was injured when she was enslaved, when she was about 11 or 12 or so. She had a devastating blow to the head that for the rest of her life gave her seizures, headaches, she would often literally just sort of pass out in mid-sentence. So she had a very harsh injury that she had to live with, but that is what happened to people who were enslaved. There were no efforts at taking care of their health interests beyond what could be used to produce whatever work they were doing.

And that carried on all the way up until today. W.B. Du Bois, who mostly is noted for his speaking out around political rights and civil rights and such, also spoke out and wrote about healthcare for the Black community and did a couple of critical reports and studies that looked at everything from Black people in insurance, to Black medical schools, to how Black people were treated in white hospitals. So the issue has been there for a long, long, long time. It was there during the pandemic that happened in 1918, 1919, where there was disproportionate abandonment of the Black community to the pandemic of that moment. So it’s not really shocking when we get to 2020 and particularly with Trump as president, that there will be a very disproportionate approach. And in the fact, if left up to the Trump administration would’ve completely abandoned Black communities, brown communities, Native American communities who were initially the most devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic.


Let’s talk about critical race theory that’s under attack. Books are being purged from school curriculums. The charge of the right is that they paint America’s a racist society. Well, of course that happens to be true, but this assault is not just political, it is also a pushback against any attempt to rectify the mythology that is dominated the country through white supremacy.

Clarence Lusane:

Yep. I wrote somewhere that critical race theory explains the opposition to critical race theory. And by that I mean, critical race theory says that there is systemic and historic racial discrimination. And it isn’t just about individuals, but it’s about institutions and it’s about systems of power. And unless those are dismantled, then you will continue with the disproportionalities that we see in education, employment, housing, environmental and so forth. And that’s where the opposition really has understood that you have to attack critical race theory because you can’t allow that kind of framing of racial politics to seep into the society. And begin to look at it really isn’t just about individuals. And that’s important because we’ve seen an elevation of Black people, Latinos and others in these conservative and far right circles, which would seem to auger against a racial through line. But in fact, it’s irrelevant that you’ve got an Ali Alexander, for example, who’s leading the Stop the Steal movement because in fact, the Stop the Steal movement is about stopping Black votes.

And so it doesn’t matter who actually is heading that up, it’s operating in the interest of white supremacy. And so that’s really what critical race theory gets at. It initially began looking at the way in which law and the legal structures of these countries from the very beginning were embedded with white supremacists notions. Absolutely true. And it traces that from the beginning of the country starting with the US Constitution, all the way up until today, and then more generally, looking at other systems of racial power that exists. And so critical race theory is a threat to those who do not want to bring about the changes that are needed in this country. But critical race theory in and of itself is not taught in elementary schools or high schools. It’s not even taught at the undergraduate level for that matter.


Right. Well, that’s the other irony. None of them are teaching critical race theory. Anyway. Well, this is a playbook right out of colonialism where the people who pulled the strings. I worked in the Congo, so you put a mabutu in power, but essentially the Belgian colonists, the French colonists, continue to have control. We did the same thing in Latin America. That’s the role of these figures, figures like Clarence Thomas, so they do the bidding of the white overlords and the system itself remains intact.

Clarence Lusane:

That’s exactly right. And I’m glad you mentioned Clarence Thomas because it’s hard to find a more direct validation of that argument, that it really isn’t just about what someone particularly looks like. It is really to what degree they’re in a position of power and how do they use that power. And Clarence Thomas, since he first emerged as a public figure, has been absolutely central to this turn towards authoritarianism and far right power. And I would add Jenny Thomas to that list as well. And so we are fighting against that type of mythology that it’s not about race, that this is just about something else, but in fact, it absolutely is.


Well, there’s a kind of protean quality you learn going all the way back to slave patrols, to militarized police that use lethal force, and what Malcolm X call our internal colonies, the vast prison archipelago across the country. It shifts, it changes its facade, but it remains the same. And I think that’s what critical race theory begins to examine and address and why it’s important. That was Clarence Lusane, the author of Twenty Dollars in Change: Harriet Tubman and The Ongoing Fight for Racial Justice and Democracy. I want to thank the Real News Network and its production team, Cameron Granadino, Adam Coley, David Hebden, and Kayla Rivera. You can find me

Speaker 4:

And the Chris Hedges report gets some extra time now with a few minutes of bonus material with Chris and his guest.


You talk about in the book, and I want to talk about white replacement theory. And this is this demographic, what is it, by 2025 or something, whites will no longer be in the majority. How has that colored or changed the white supremacy of the past if it has?

Clarence Lusane:

So that’s a good question because white supremacy has always existed in this country, whether during the slave era, the Greek construction period, Jim Crow period never had an issue of not being the majority. There were states like South Carolina and Mississippi, for example, which at various point enslaved people were majority of a sort, but they were never in power ,and they were never a direct threat for taking power. But with the movements coming out of the sixties and seventies and the resurgence of response to that, you start to get this idea that particularly with immigrants of color, that you’re going to lose a majority, whites. And there are a number of studies that show when that particular trigger is hit, then you see a move to the right, you see a move towards authoritarianism. Now this reaches a peak with the election of Obama in 2008.

Now, Obama was as moderate a Democrat as you could get in many ways. He certainly wasn’t a Jesse Jackson or Reverend Al Sharpton, but the fact that he was a Black American underscored what had been an increasing argument on the far right that this replacement was happening. Then you couple that with the growth in the Latino population, which has actually grown and will grow larger probably than the African American population, it also becomes a tool to explain what the country is going through, in terms of many whites feeling displaced and feeling out of sorts. And what it does, of course, is that it evades a more critical analysis of how power has increasingly shifted upwards. And what we are witnessing is a growth in the corporate takeover politically, that means that everybody is going to suffer at some point. And so it shifts the focus from that to the historic scape group of people of color. And then the last element I would add in that is also September 11th, where then you also get this notion of this foreign religious threat that’s coming to the country.


I was in Montgomery a couple years ago walking through the city with Brian Stevenson, and he was pointing out all the Confederate memorials in Montgomery. Half of Montgomery of course is Black. And then Brian said something interesting. He said, “Most of these were put up in the last 10 years.” And I said to Brian, “Well, that was exactly what happened when I covered the war in Yugoslavia.” With the economic meltdown of Yugoslavia, people retreated into these ethnic nationalisms. And I’m wondering if the Dethronement, if we want to call it that, of the white working class, has essentially force them back and almost to this atavistic quality back into these old mythological narratives in search of a kind of identity.

Clarence Lusane:

So certainly people want explanations for what’s happening in their life. Why does it seem that I can’t get ahead? Why does it seem that my children may not have a better life than I had? So that is completely understandable, but then what explanations are available? And there are explanations that I think more accurately target what historically, unfolds and how economic and political power gets concentrated. But then there are explanations that feed on historic myths of racial threat and danger, and those become more accessible, and in the particular social media mainstream area moments that we live in, then those can be echoed in ways that they could not 20 years ago.

And so again, there’s a number of really critical studies that demonstrate that people are in these echo chambers and they create a world that has nothing to do with the real world, but people believe it. And then people act on those beliefs. And so we are seeing this and we are seeing it affect manifest itself in the ways in which people are voting. And we see it manifesting in the ways in which one of the main political parties has essentially, become the vehicle for that grievance and for this perceived victimhood.


I want to talk about violence against Black people. Isn’t the primary vehicle of violence against Black people coming from the state I.E police?

Clarence Lusane:

So I think it’s coming in a number of different ways. Certainly there’s police violence, and despite the protests and uprisings that happened in 2020 after Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and others were killed, as Washington Post report it, police killings are still going on and may actually have increased in terms of Black people. So that’s one form of violence. Then there’s non-state violence, and we’ve seen a number of instances where Black people have been killed, like Ahmad Arbery, for example, by vigilantes in effect. And then there’s the threat, and the growing threat of white supremacists, far right violence that will be done in the name of a political agenda. And I think this is important because this far right authoritarian movement has not been adequately addressed.

And to go to another historical parallel, in 1923 when the Nazi party in Bavaria, Munich surrounded the beer hall where the government was meeting and attempted to overthrow, it failed. Hitler was captured and sent to prison. Now, normally treason can be a capital offense, and certainly could be a lifelong sentence. He was out in nine months, wrote Mine Comp, and 10 years later came to power. If you do not crush these movements, if you do not eliminate them, they don’t voluntarily go away. And I think this is the lesson where we’re at today, is that this movement that we’ve seen grow to even threaten to kidnap governors, is not simply going to fall apart.

It will find other ways and particularly, if it’s not refuted by any stretch, by the party it believes it represents, it will be an ongoing problem. So we really do have a democracy versus authoritarianism moment that we’re in. And through that is a line about race and that the threat to the country, whether it’s the voting threat, or whether it’s the job threat, or whether it is the religious threat, it’s all about white, non-white people who are threatening white people.


But isn’t there an intersectionality, as there was in Weimar, Germany between these white hate groups, you saw for instance with Kyle Rittenhouse where the police let him walk away. We know that there are large numbers of white supremacists within police forces and within the military. And that’s what’s frightening that they’re interlocked.

Clarence Lusane:

Yeah, they certainly are. Another point I would raise on this though, which is really critical, is that there are white working people who absolutely are in a line with people of color, with immigrants, with poor people. And that’s important to underscore because even if you go back to the Nazi era, Hitler’s base was not primarily among German workers, it was among German middle class. If you look at the demography of those who attacked the capitol on January 6th, this was not poor, rural white people from Idaho. This were middle class whites who are in the position to feel like they are being most threatened, that they have achieved things that they’re not going to lose, and they’re willing to go to the far right on these kind of politics. So I think it’s in the interest, one of the Democratic party, but certainly the progressive movement to also highlight that there are many, many, many working class whites who are much more in a position to align with people of color than with the other side.


Well it was a rural urban divide, largely in Weimar, the Nazis had no support in Berlin. There was also an urban rural divide in the war in Yugoslavia with the ethnic nationalists largely being based in rural areas and cosmopolitan cities like Sarajevo, where there was inner marriage having much less of that. And I think there’s a rural urban divide in the United States. That was Clarence Lusane, the author of Twenty Dollars and Change: Harriet Tubman and the Ongoing Fight for Racial Justice and Democracy.

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Australian National Review – Putin’s Response To WSJ’s Ann Simmons When Asked If He Wants To Rule The World





Putin’s Response to WSJ’s Ann Simmons When Asked If He Wants to Rule the World

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Vladimir Putin’s annual news conference


The President’s news conference was broadcast live by Rossiya 1, Rossiya 24, Channel One and NTV, as well as Mayak, Vesti FM and Radio Rossii radio stations.

Television channel Public Television of Russia (OTR) and its site ( provided live sign language interpretation of the news conference.

The host broadcaster of the event is the National State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK).

* * *

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues, friends.

Let us begin our traditional end-of-year meeting that we call a news conference.

As always, I will spend just a few brief seconds to sum up the results of the outgoing year. A lot has been said already, but I have the latest data reflecting the most recent results, some just a couple of days old.

Before the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s annual news conference.

In the first nine months of 2018, GDP increased by 1.7 percent, while the Economic Development Ministry expects the annual increase to total 1.8 percent. Industrial output was growing at a faster pace, totalling 2.9 percent in the first ten months of 2018, with the annual results expected at 3 percent, up from a 2.1 percent growth in 2017. In addition, processing industries have been growing at a somewhat faster pace of 3.2 percent.

In the first three quarters fixed capital investment increased by 4.1 percent. Cargo shipments and retail trade are on the rise, having increased by 2.6 percent. Consumer demand growth has been apparent. This is a positive factor. After a lengthy interval, the population’s real income has shown some, albeit very moderate, growth. According to the latest statistics, real incomes will increase by 0.5 percent. I hope that this momentum will be maintained, since real pay levels are on the rise, having grown by 7.4 percent in the first nine months, which is expected to give us 6.9 or 7 percent by the end of the year.

Inflation remains at an acceptable level, although it has increased a little in the past week, by 0.5 percent, I think. Therefore, we will be able to reach the Central Bank’s reference rate of 4 percent and will have an inflation rate of 4.1 percent to 4.2 percent – somewhere just over 4 percent.

The unemployment rate is going down, which is good news. If last year it hit a historical low of 5.2 percent, this year it will be even lower – 4.8 percent.

The trade balance surplus is growing. In 2017, if you remember, it was around $115 billion. Over the three quarters of this year we already achieved $157 million. As of the end of the year, we expect it to reach $190 billion.

Our finances are growing stronger. Our gold and foreign currency reserves have grown by over 7 percent. In the early 2018, they amounted to $432 billion while now they stand at almost $464 billion.

For the first time since 2011, we will have a budget surplus. We are about to reach the federal budget surplus of 2.1 percent of the GDP. The National Welfare Fund has grown by around 22 percent.

The average annual insurance component of the retirement pension stood at 13,677 rubles in 2017. By the end of this year, it will be 14,163 rubles.

Life expectancy has also increased slightly compared to 2017, from 72.7 to 72.9 years.

These are the general results that I wanted to mention in the beginning. Let’s not waste our time and proceed to your questions and my attempts to answer them.

Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov: Let us begin by giving some priority to the Kremlin pool. Its members worked with us throughout the year, following the President both in Russia and abroad.

ITAR-TASS, the state news agency.

Veronika Romanenkova: Thank you.

The year 2018 arguably went by under the sign of new national projects that you launched with the May Executive Order. They are expected to cost an enormous amount of money. However, some experts, members of the State Council, as was mentioned in Yalta only recently, have questioned the feasibility of these national projects and whether they are needed. How well thought out are the performance assessment criteria for the national projects? For example, the Accounts Chamber Chairman said that there is no way to assess their effectiveness. What can you say to counter this?

Before the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s annual news conference.

Vladimir Putin: I will have to begin by saying a few words on whether these projects are needed, since you said that some question this.

I have said it on numerous occasions, and I will repeat it today. We need a breakthrough. We need to transition to a new technological paradigm. Without it, the country has no future. This is a matter of principle, and we have to be clear on this.

How can this be done? We need to focus the available resources, find and channel them to the essential development initiatives. How can these efforts be organised? By simply distributing money, and that’s it?

First, we had to find this money. It took us the entire year 2017 to articulate the objectives and find the resources. Both the Government and the Presidential Executive Office contributed to this effort. By the way, when some call for more changes within the Cabinet, we have to understand that it was the Government’s financial and economic block that developed the national development programme to 2024. For this reason, they are the ones who must take responsibility for the plans they made. There is no way around it.

So how should this effort be organised? By simply distributing money? After all, as much as 20.8 trillion rubles are expected to go into the national projects alone, and another 6.5 trillion will be invested in a separate infrastructure development plan. Of course, the allocation of these resources has to be set forth in documents of some kind on achieving breakthroughs. You can refer to these development plans any way you wish. We call them national projects. After all, it makes it clear that there are goals that have to be achieved. If there are no objectives, you will never achieve the final outcome, no matter how you manage these investments. It is for this reason that the 12 national projects were developed alongside an infrastructure development plan. Let me remind you of the main vectors.

Healthcare, education, research and human capital come first, since without them there is no way a breakthrough can be achieved. The second vector deals with manufacturing and the economy. Of course, everything is related to the economy, including the first part. But the second part is directly linked to the economy, since it deals with the digital economy, robotics, etc. I have already mentioned infrastructure.

Why did we have this meeting in Yalta, Crimea, to discuss with our colleagues from the Government and the regions how we will proceed in these efforts? Because there are questions on how to assess performance under these projects. We need effective controls, while making sure that all efforts by the federal centre to monitor what is happening in the regions are effective. It is true that there are challenges in this regard, but we are working on them. So what is the tricky part? The tricky part is that funding mostly comes from the federal centre, and this applies to all programmes, while most of the efforts are undertaken in the regions. The regions must be ready to work constructively. Instead of simply hiking up prices in response to an increase in the available funds, they must focus on achieving concrete results that will be clearly visible. This is the first point I wanted to make.

Second, we need to understand whether they will be able to succeed. This is a real question. Some argue that this would be impossible. But this is what we hear from those who must deliver. Instead of having these thoughts they need to work on delivering on these objectives, and if they feel that they are unable to do so, they have to clear the way for those who are positive about their ability to deliver and are ready to work. To tell you the truth, I have not seen anyone who did not want to do it or said that it was impossible. These messages come from outside observers.

Without ambitious goals we will never achieve anything. For this reason, I do hope that the federal centre and the regions will be able to work together in a consolidated and positive manner. Yes, some indicators have to be adjusted. Our colleagues from the regions have submitted their proposals to this effect, and I have high hopes that the Government will take them into consideration and adjust specific indicators so that we can move forward effectively…

Before the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s annual news conference.

Pavel Zarubin: Rossiya TV channel.

I would like to expand on a topic that has already been raised. Many economics experts, including Alexei Kudrin, assert that in reality, the Russian economy has been growing just by one percent on average over the past ten years, and if so, this is essentially marking time, or stagnation. You set the goal of making a breakthrough, a leap, but for this, even if we take the lowest estimate, the growth rate should be at least four to five times higher. The Government promises to achieve the goal, but that same Government acknowledges that in the next few years, GDP growth rates will not exceed even 2 percent. In this regard, here are my questions: what does the Government rely on in its forecasts, in the planning of its work? Is a breakthrough possible at all, in this context, or will the economy continue operating like this: we make some money on oil surplus, put it aside, then spend it when there is a need for it? In general, are you satisfied with the Medvedev team?

Dmitry Peskov: Friends, I would ask you please to respect each other – ask only one question each.

Vladimir Putin: Look, economic growth has been one percent per year for a certain period of time. But, first of all, it was while Mr Kudrin was Deputy Prime Minister, so you must not blame the mirror for showing a crooked face, as they say. This is the first point.

The second is, one should not just count mechanically. I have great respect for Mr Kudrin, he is my friend and a good professional, and as a rule, I listen to his recommendations. He is a reliable specialist, a good one. But look, from 2008 to 2018, the economy grew by about 7.4 percent. In simple maths – yes, it equals one percent, a little more. However, let us not forget how the economy developed. There were higher growth rates, alternating with recessions associated with the global crisis. In 2009, after the crisis in the global economy, not in ours – Russia was not the cause of the global financial crisis of 2008–2009, it came to us from the outside – the decline was about 7.8 percent. Then little by little, we were crawling out of it for many years.

Then, in 2014–2015, another meltdown occurred – a collapse in the oil prices, our main exports. That is why I am saying we should not simply count mechanically.

However, of course, the country’s GDP, the GDP growth rate is one of the main indicators. But we will not be able to achieve the GDP growth rates necessary for this breakthrough unless the structure of the economy is changed. This is what the national projects are aimed at, and why such enormous funds will be invested, which I have already said – to change the structure and build an innovation-based economy. The Government is counting on this, because if this happens, and we should all work towards this, then the growth rates will increase and there will be other opportunities for development.

By the way, you mentioned the projected 2 percent growth for the next two years. Yes, in the next years, 2019–2020, two percent each, but from 2021, the Government is already planning 3 percent, and then more. Therefore, I strongly hope that we will manage to do all this. Some fluctuations are probably possible, but, I repeat, the most important thing is that we need… Do you see what we need to do? We need to join another league of economies, and not only in terms of volumes. I think that taking the fifth place in terms of volume is quite possible. We used to rank fifth in terms of the economy, in purchasing power parity, and we will do it again, I think. However, we need to ascend to another league in terms of the quality of the economy. This is what our national projects are aimed at.

Pavel Zarubin: Are you satisfied with the Medvedev team?

Vladimir Putin: Overall, yes.

Question: Good afternoon.

Mr President, in my city of Volgograd we had a wonderful year. We celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad. You made it a federal holiday and we really appreciate it. You also paid us a visit.

Vladimir Putin’s annual news conference.

We successfully hosted the World Cup and our region indeed began to breathe and develop.

There is a lot that still needs to be done. I think the economy will be extensively discussed. But Volgograd residents have a big wish and a great favour to ask. In 1998, the Kacha Higher Military Aviation School of Pilots, which had a very long history, was shut down.

It was established at the Tsar’s decree in 1910 and we were truly proud of it and want to be proud of it further. We want the military traditions to live on. Please consider re-opening it.

Vladimir Putin: In which year was it shut down?

Remark: In 1998, unfortunately. It had the Order of the Red Banner and a long history.

Vladimir Putin: You see, it is already 2018. It happened 20 years ago and I do not quite know what is left of this legendary school.

You are right, it was indeed a legendary school. But the Russian Defence Ministry plans personnel training resources based on whether there is a demand for specific types of personnel in the Armed Forces.

Therefore, we need to look at what can be done not only to remember it but perhaps to preserve the remaining traditions. I will make sure to look into this and consult with the Defence Ministry.

Maria Balyuk: Mr President, good afternoon. My name is Maria Balyuk, I represent the Prime news agency.

Mr President, the budget in the current year and the next year will have a surplus. However, starting January 1, a number of decisions are coming into effect that may cause a significant increase in prices of a wide range of goods and services.

For example, the VAT will increase to 20 percent, which has already triggered a two-stage increase in the housing and utilities rates next year. There is also the new tax for self-employed persons in pilot regions. Please tell us how these measures agree with the state’s economic policy.

Vladimir Putin: Housing and utilities rates in two stages, and what else?

Maria Balyuk: And, for example, a tax on self-employed people in pilot regions.

Isn’t this amount of new measures too much of a burden on Russians and the economy?

Vladimir Putin: You said about the surplus.

Yes, this is indeed a good indicator of the Government’s economic block performance. As I said in my opening remarks, for the first time since 2011 we will have a budget surplus of 2.1 percent. And this is good.

Let us not forget that as an oil producing country and a country that derives much of its revenue from selling oil and gas, we also have what is called a non-oil-and-gas deficit. This is what the country earns from selling products and services other than oil and gas.

Let me remind you that this non-oil-and-gas deficit was 13 percent in 2009, which is a lot. In the early 2000s, it was at about 3 percent, but the global economic crisis forced us to use our oil revenues to meet our social commitments and finance the Armed Forces, so we had to tap into the oil revenues.

Vladimir Putin’s annual news conference before the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s annual news conference.

In this situation, the non-oil-and-gas deficit surged into the double digits almost reaching13 percent, I believe. This was a very serious challenge for the Russian economy. We have now reduced it to 6.6 percent, and next year it is expected to decline to 6 percent and remain at this level for the next few years.

This is a very important indicator of economic resilience for the Russian Federation. Therefore, the increase in the VAT rate, among other things, is due to the need to maintain the non-oil-and-gas deficit at a certain level.

Second, in many countries VAT is 20 percent or even higher. It used to be higher in Russia as well, but we reduced it at a certain point. Now we have returned to a 20-percent tax rate.

However, the effective VAT rate for the overall economy will be below 20 percent since almost all benefits remain in place: for pharmaceuticals, children’s goods, and so on, including for IT companies. Many benefits have been preserved. With this in mind, the effective rate will be actually lower.

Finally, I do hope that the rate hike will be only a one-off measure with a possible slight increase in prices and inflation in the beginning of the year, after which the inflation will go down.

The Central Bank also seeks to prevent inflation from picking up. Only recently, the interest rate was increased by 0.25 percentage points.

While there are definitely both benefits and disadvantages to this decision, all this is done in order to prevent inflation and prices from growing. For this reason, I believe that the overall decision was correct and balanced, creating additional budget revenue and the possibility to deliver on our development plans as part of the national projects.

As for increases in housing and utilities tariffs, over the past years they grew by about 4 percent per year. It is true that next year there will be two hikes: the first one will be at about 1.7 percent, and the second one I think will be about 2.4 percent, but in total this still makes up 4.1 percent.

Why will the increase be spread out in two stages? The reason is that with a higher VAT, prices of some goods and services are expected to increase, and we need to make sure that the utilities sector does not come under stress.

For this reason, in order to shield companies in this sector from these developments and ultimately in the interests of the people, we decided to proceed in two stages. That said, the overall increase should not exceed 4.1 percent.

In some regions, where the utilities infrastructure requires major upgrades and bigger hikes are required, this can be done as an exception, and subject to federal Government approval.

Yekaterina Gagarina: Good afternoon, Mr President. My name is Yekaterina Gagarina. I represent the Rossiya TV channel in Novosibirsk.

The importance of the Akademgorodok 2.0 [Academic Town] project that you supported during your visit to Novosibirsk is obvious not only to Siberian scientists. This project is unique for the entire country.

But behind the technological component of this project there are a number of tasks of a similarly large scale. They include building housing, roads, kindergartens and schools. My question is what if our scientific ambitions crash at daily living problems? Will the scientists have somewhere to live?

Vladimir Putin: I would not want them to crash.

I understand that it is a very important part of the entire process. Of course, we will be working on this with the regional officials. When I visited Novosibirsk, I also spoke about this with my colleagues.

The first objective of the federal government is to honour its obligations related to the facilities which trigger the development of Akademgorodok – which, by the way, is the opportunity to earn money on these high technologies. The social component will definitely be carried out after this.

But if any additional action is required to resolve the scientists’ social issues, of course, we will try to do it. By the way, the mortgage sector has been growing lately. We will support it as well. It is growing very fast for everybody. The growth of the mortgage sector stands at over 20 per cent.

Vladimir Putin’s annual news conference before the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s annual news conference.

Full transcript 


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