French film star Gerard Depardieu shows his new Russian
passport after arriving at the airport in the town of
Saransk in the Mordoviya Republic, southeast of Moscow last
weekend. Photo by Reuters.
It's as if Paul Newman and Jane Fonda had fled the United
States in protest at something or other - they were always
protesting - and sought Russian citizenship instead. Americans
would be surprised, but would they really care? It's a free
country, as they say.
Whereas the French are quite cross about the decision of
Oscar-winning actor Gerard Depardieu, who received Russian
citizenship at the hands of President Vladimir Putin
personally last Saturday. A taxi driver in Paris went on at
me about it for the whole ride yesterday (talking to taxi
drivers is how we journalists keep our fingers on the pulse
of the nation).
After 42 years of starring in French films, Depardieu had
acquired the status of ''national treasure'' in the eyes of
the public, but he clearly does not reciprocate their loyalty
and pride. And hard on the heels of Depardieu's defection
comes the news that actress Brigitte Bardot, France's leading
sex symbol for the generation who are now drawing their
pensions, is also threatening to give up her French
citizenship and go Russian.
Depardieu, who was described by director Marguerite Duras as
''a big, beautiful runaway truck of a man'', is much larger
than life- about the size of a baby whale, in fact. He is
over the top in every sense: 180 films and television
credits, 17 motorbike accidents, five or six bottles of wine
a day by his own reckoning.
He reckons he has paid €145 million ($NZ227 million) in taxes
since he started work at 14, and he doesn't want to pay any
more. France's Socialist government is bringing in a new 75%
tax rate for people earning more than 1 million a year, and
so Depardieu is leaving.
Initially, he was just moving to Belgium, to a village 800m
from the French border that already hosts a number of other
super-rich tax exiles, but then French Prime Minister
Jean-Marc Ayrault said that his decision was ''shabby and
unpatriotic''. At this point, the truck ran away again.
Belgium was no longer far enough.
When the outraged actor declared that he would ask for
Russian citizenship, Mr Putin (who knows how to play to the
gallery) announced that he could have it at once. By the
weekend it was a done deal.
''I adore your country, Russia, your people, your history,
your writers,'' the actor burbled.
'' ... Russia is a country of great democracy''.
It is also a country with a 13% flat tax rate, and Deputy
Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin crowed on Twitter: ''In the
West, they are not well acquainted with our tax system. When
they find out, we can expect a mass migration of rich
Europeans into Russia.''
He had barely finished tweeting when another French celebrity
said she was also thinking of moving to Russia.
It wasn't high taxes that obsessed Brigitte Bardot, however;
it was animal rights. She was protesting a court order in
Lyon on Friday ordering that two circus elephants that have
been suffering from tuberculosis since 2010 be put down.
''If those in power are cowardly and impudent enough to kill
the elephants,'' she raged, ''then I will ask for Russian
nationality to get out of this country, which has become
nothing more than an animal cemetery.''
It's always wise, when threatening to flounce out, to make
sure first that they really want you to stay, and in BB's
case that may not actually be the case. She is better known
to the present generation not as a sex symbol but as a crazy
old lady who believes Muslims are ''destroying our country''
and has been convicted five times for incitement to racial
hatred. Some people (including my cab driver) think the
Russians would be welcome to her.
But elephants aside, going Russian opens up a huge new
opportunity for avoiding burdensome taxation. All those
American millionaires who have been condemned by recent
events to live under the rule of that foreign-born Muslim
Communist, Barack Obama, and pay an appalling 39.6% tax on
the portion of their annual earnings that exceeds $400,000,
have an alternative at last.
They can do exactly what they have been telling anybody who
complains about the gulf between the rich and the poor in
America to do for decades: they can go to Russia. The only
problem is that they will actually have to live there for six
months of the year to qualify for the 13% Russian tax rate.
Well, actually, there is another problem. Some Russians may
not welcome them with open arms. Even the arrival of
Depardieu, who is world-famous in Russia as a result of
acting in several high-profile Franco-Russian co-productions
and appearing in television advertisements for credit cards
from the Sovietski Bank, is being greeted with mixed
Fellow celebrity Tina Kandelaki, the celebrated host of the
celebrity talk show Details for the past 11 years, has no
reservations about him at all: he can stay in her apartment.
''Let's not divide up Depardieu,'' she tweeted.
''Simply give him to me.''
But a less starry-eyed observer replied: ''Haven't we got
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