One of Forbes' most powerful women

Valentina Matvienko has had a long career in Russian government. Five years ago she was elected Governor of St. Petersburg and has radically transformed the city into one of the most dynamically developing regions of Russia.
Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Forbes has rated you one of the world's most influential women in 2008. How do you feel about that?
Valentina Matvienko: Of course, I'm very pleased that such an authoritative publication has rated my work so highly. But this is no excuse to rest on my laurels. It means that I'll have to work even harder, put even more effort into St. Petersburg's development so as to improve the city's quality of life. For all that I respect Forbes, the most important evaluation of my work is the one given by St. Petersburgers. Five years ago, when I became head of one of the most glorious cities in the world, I realized the enormity of the problems my team had inherited. We haven't done everything yet. Still, no one can deny that the city has become not only cleaner, lighter and more beautiful, but qualitatively different. Once a problem city with a provincial fate, it has become one of the world's most dynamically developing centers. It pleases me to think that I had something to do with this. But let's be fair, in Forbes' high rating of my work, there is the enormous contribution of St. Petersburg itself.

Women politicians remain a rarity in Russia, and especially in St. Petersburg. The last truly influential woman politician was Catherine the Great. What is required of women politicians today? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Why, in your opinion, are there still so few in Russia?
VM: Women politicians in Russia today are, unfortunately, in short supply. But this is less a function of male chauvinism than of public opinion. Russians are still not used to seeing women in top political posts. Although I'm convinced that's the wrong approach. After all, it's easier for women to understand the problems of people who need help and government support. A woman always sees the world through a mother's eyes! Women, as a rule, are warm, sympathetic, diplomatic. If there were more feminine wisdom in our political life and society as a whole, everyone would benefit.
At the same time, women seem not to aspire to political office. Russian society may not be ready yet. But the situation is gradually changing. The main thing is not to force it, not to introduce artificial quotas for women in government and in parliament, not to pit gender values against our common values.
Incidentally, I think women are more active in Petersburg than on average in Russia. In the city government there are four women - almost a third! The Legislative Assembly is still lagging behind, but in the next elections I'm sure women will prevail.

RG: How hard is it to remain a woman while engaged in politics? Do you have much time left over for family and outside interests?
VM: Political life does not require any sacrifices from women. Almost all successful women look very well, they all have families - children, husbands. If anything the reverse is true, political work disciplines a person. I have always worked a lot. I was able to do this because of the support of my family; they have always been very understanding. And I have always left my work at the office.

RG: St. Petersburg is a city with a unique fate, even compared to Russia itself.
How did you draw up your strategy for the city's development? What were the starting points and what results do you expect in the near and long term?

VM: Of course, a city cannot develop without a strategic, general line. Especially a city of 5 million like St. Petersburg.
In 2005 we signed a new General Plan of St. Petersburg for the next 20 years (until 2025) into law. This plan is the city's main planning document. It was meticulously prepared by branch and scientific departments in conjunction with the executive and legislative organs and submitted for broad public discussion. Now the City-Planning and Architecture Committee is finishing discussions of the Land-Use and Building Rules, which will establish once and for all the rules for building residential, industrial, social, transport, and infrastructure projects in every district of the city.
Other strategic, fundamental documents for the city's development include the Conception and Program for the Socio-Economic Development of St. Petersburg, the Law on the State Order for St. Petersburg and, most importantly, the budget. In the last five years, the city's budget has quintupled. This year the city's expenditures will total a record 364.3 billion rubles. We now have the means to implement the sorts of social programs and development projects we could only dream about before.
Our budget's record indicators reflect a dynamically developing and increasingly innovative economy, an economy that is on the right track. These tendencies have been reinforced by St. Petersburg's three-year budget for 2008-2011. According to our estimates, revenue for 2009 should increase by 30% over 2008 - to 403 billion rubles; expenditures should increase by 16% - to 423 billion rubles. By 2011 our revenue should reach 533 billion rubles.
During the last "Five Year Plan" we brought about a genuine revolution in energy. A city that was literally starved for energy is now reliably supplied. Light and gas mean not only coziness and comfort in the apartments of St. Petersburgers, but new residential blocks and industrial plants. We have blueprints for our power supply, water supply, drainage system, and gas supply so that the city can continue to grow and feel sure of its future. We have signed cooperation agreements with Russia's largest energy companies - Gazprom and United Energy Systems.
We predict a further increase in investments - despite potential difficulties due to the world economic crisis. Our program for socio-economic development and the three-year budget mean that residents' well-being and quality of life will continue to improve - these are our main priorities. Today not one St. Petersburger, not one government-paid worker makes less than minimum wage. Today the city's average monthly wage is over 20,000 rubles - one of the highest in Russia.
As for wages in the future, then according to our program for the city's socio-economic development, the average monthly wage should increase to 29,000 rubles (over $1,000) by 2011(22,000 rubles in 2009, 25,000 rubles in 2010). Life expectancy should increase to 71 years.
We have instituted additional payments for pensioners, invalids and veterans. Survivors of the Leningrad Blockade receive two pensions while WWII home-front workers receive supplementary stipends from the city budget. The city's birth rate went up by 7% in 2007, while the mortality rate declined by 5%: these are real indicators that reflect an improved standard of living and demographic situation. For several years now, St. Petersburg has had the lowest level of infant mortality. I am convinced that social welfare and quality of life will continue to improve in future. This includes improvements in living conditions - our No. 1 objective.
We intend to rid St. Petersburg of the insulting nickname "communal-apartment capital". According to our three-year forecasts, as a result of our special housing programs the number of communal apartments should decrease by roughly half (to 40%), while the number of unsafe and dilapidated buildings should be significantly reduced. Three million sq. meters of new living space will become available each year. Every year thereafter we plan to build no less than 1 million sq. meters of state-subsidized housing. (This year nearly 600,000 sq. meters of subsidized living space was made available.) Nearly all of the city's courtyards will be cleaned up and re-equipped.

RG: Forbes cited your ability to attract investment to the St. Petersburg region as one of the reasons for its high rating of your work. How did you do this? What, in your view, is most attractive about St. Petersburg for investors? What is being done not only to get their attention, but keep it?
VM: The investment process is a two-way street. Investors come to those regions where they feel comfortable and put money into projects whose profits are guaranteed. From the time of its founding, St. Petersburg has possessed a number of geopolitical advantages. It is a port city, Russia's maritime capital. It is the country's largest industrial and transport hub, a center of science and education. St. Petersburg has a powerful intellectual capacity and highly qualified specialists. At the same time, as a city of 5 million and the capital of the Russian North-West, it is an enormous market of goods.
Since 2004 capital investments in the St. Petersburg economy have more than tripled - to 296 billion rubles in 2007. (The forecast for 2008 is 357.3 billion rubles). Foreign investments for 2007 exceeded $6.3 billion, up nearly 20% from 2006 and nearly 7 times the total for 2003. (The forecast for 2008 is $7.5 billion.) These investments have gone mainly into the real sector of the economy - into the construction of new factories, into the modernization of existing production plants with up-to-date, innovative technologies.
Clearly, these record sums are the result not just of the city's geopolitical advantages, but primarily of the conditions we have created for investors: equal access to land on the basis of competitions, auctions and tenders; constant improvement of the tax legislation and deductions for investors; simplification of all the bureaucratic procedures involved in obtaining project approval. We personally supervise the projects we consider most important for St. Petersburg, helping strategic investors at every stage.
Foreign rating agencies consider the investment climate in St. Petersburg to be one of the best in Russia and in the world, and today we have the attention of world investment companies. Top car manufacturers, for instance: Toyota, Nissan, General Motors, Suzuki, Hundai. Last year Toyota opened its first assembly line in the industrial zone of Shushara; this year General Motors is slated to open a plant. For the first time a fast-growing automobile cluster has been created in St. Petersburg. Within less than two years the total volume of assembly production is expected to exceed 200,000 cars annually.
Our new automobile industry has acted as a powerful stimulus on the city's economy as a whole. Factories for the production of spare parts are already under construction. The city government is helping to fund the training of skilled automobile workers.
To attract investment, St. Petersburg has been turned into a free economic zone focused on technology. This zone already has 12 resident companies. We have created a venture-capital fund and opened the first business-incubator for innovative technologies.

RG: St. Petersburg is traditionally considered the cultural capital of Russia. How has the city managed to preserve this reputation in the face of serious competition from Moscow and other Russian cities?
VM: We have inherited an enormous number of cultural institutions. St. Petersburg today has 182 museums, 52 theaters, 18 concert halls, 190 public libraries; the city organizes more than 200 festivals every year and some 900 exhibitions. But it would be wrong to emphasize our cultural institutions alone. Our city has always been home to world-famous names. And if such world-famous museums as the Hermitage, the Russian Museum, Peterhof, and many others remain as they have always been, then our theaters, for instance, require constant improvement and confirmation of their high status. In this sphere we are competitive not only in Russia, but abroad. The Mariinsky Theater, for instance, goes on tour more than any other theater in the world. Its performances are always an event, both at home and abroad. The same can be said of the Philharmonic Orchestra headed by Yuri Temirkanov. For many years now the Maly Drama Theater under Lev Dodin has been considered the best drama theater in Russia. Several years ago the Aleksandrinsky Theater was taken over by Valery Fokin, who restored it to national glory. Performances by the Boris Eifman Ballet Theater are enormously popular the world over. And Eifman created his theater literally from scratch. We also have some outstanding filmmakers - German, Sokurov, Bortko, Meskhiev. And just recently Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visited our Worldwide Russian Studios. They too are world-class.
Then there are the performances by international stars. Where else does the great concert pianist Kshishtov Penderetsky perform so often? It's hard to say. He has even admitted that he loves St. Petersburg more than Warsaw. If distinguished guest artists come to Moscow, they usually come to St. Petersburg too. But if they come to us, they don't necessarily go on to Moscow. For instance, the superb pianist Grigory Sokolov rarely appears in Moscow, but he often plays in his native St. Petersburg. In a city with such an enormous number of cultural institutions it can be difficult to single out what is most interesting, to name all the great names. We St. Petersburgers live in such a rich cultural atmosphere - one that doesn't exist in many cities of the world - we sometimes don't notice. Still, support for culture is one of the city government's priorities. In the last few years we have more than tripled budget allocations for culture. I think that our reputation as the "cultural capital" is safe.

RG: Economists say that Russia is in the midst of a fairly serious economic crisis. How will this crisis affect the development of St. Petersburg and, more broadly, that of Russia's North-West?
VM: The crisis will have no affect on our ability to fulfill our socio-economic obligations - all programs for vulnerable segments of the population and government-paid workers will be implemented, all payments will be made. The city budget is very resilient; we don't have a national debt, so there is no threat to our main social programs.
However, we must be realistic: the consequences of the financial crisis may affect the work of our enterprises. We may well have to scale back on commercial construction, and perhaps postpone new investment projects. At the same time, the city will not allow housing construction to slow since a shortage of new housing could drive real estate prices up.
The financial crisis which came from America and has swept the whole world, including Russia, has primarily affected our banking sector. This is why we are now offering the banking system serious support. Like the Finance Ministry, we have injected money into city banks temporarily: 42 billion rubles into 24 accounts.
As for prices, we expect that they will continue to rise. We will go on supporting vulnerable segments of the population. In recent years we have signed agreements with the business community to freeze prizes on certain essential items.
The financial crisis also has a positive side. Leading world analysts have attributed the crisis to an overheated economy and the presence on the market of many artificially inflated companies - now gone. In this sense, the crisis is cleaning the economy's house. It is forcing us all to be more economical and use our power and fuel resources more wisely.

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