Escaping from Hollande to Russia, now that’s a turnup for les livres

Gérard Depardieu’s life has more twists than the plots of most films in which he has starred. The latest one comes from a terse announcement on the official Kremlin website:

‘In accordance with Point A, Article 89, of the Russian Federation Constitution, the application for citizenship in the Russian Federation by Gérard Xavier Depardieu, born in France, 1948, is hereby approved.’ What’s one to make of this?

Depardieu, as we know, has renounced his French citizenship as a reaction to François Hollande’s acting on his self-proclaimed hatred of rich people. Possessing this emotion nowadays seems to be the sole relevant qualification for leadership in any Western country, as President Obama could confirm.

Modern politicians may be intellectually challenged, but they all possess enough animal cunning to know how to encourage for their own benefit the practice of most cardinal sins, envy especially. So dislike for rich people has become widespread even in the country that has ‘pursuit of happiness’ (that is, of money) emblazoned in its founding document.

Rich is of course a relative concept, and how an egalitarian leader defines it determines how the target group will react. Obama, for example, wanted to punish anyone making more than $200,000 a year (about £123,000), which is to say 6.7 million Americans modestly successful in any field, business, professional or academic. Some horse trading with the Republicans raised that threshold to $400,000, still penalising about nine percent of the population.

Penalising too is a relative concept: America’s ‘superrich’ will still have a lower marginal tax rate than any Brit making over £35,000 a year – but hey, we aren’t talking absolutes here. In any case, considering the number of victims involved, they have to grin and bear it. They can neither hide nor run.

Hollande set his sights higher, both in the threshold and the rate. He targeted anyone making over €1,000,000 a year, which is to say about 1,500 Frenchmen. This isn’t to say that those who make less than a million get away scot-free, not in a country with the world’s highest per capita social spending.

France’s Constitutional Council has blocked the 75-percent tax rate, but its objections were purely technical. As Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici promised, the glitches will be ironed out, and the bill resubmitted in a year, to be post-dated for 2013. So Depardieu is right in saying that nothing has changed.

Still, the numbers of those to be affected are relatively small, and, though the intended extortion victims can’t hide, they can indeed run. This is what Depardieu has done.

Last year he paid about 85 percent of his income in various taxes – this before François got his confiscatory act together. Not all of Depardieu’s income came from acting; he is also a successful owner of multiple businesses, all related to food and wine.

Though he has wound down his business interests in recent years, he still employs about 80 people, who all worship him. In a country, where the word patron (boss) is pejorative, Depardieu is seen as an exception.

Not only does he pay over the odds, but he helps his employees in all sorts of ways. For example, he shuts his restaurants on weekends to make sure his people spend more time with their families. When a family breaks up, he sends the divorcee-to-be to his own lawyer, free of charge. When someone is ill, he is treated gratis by Depardieu’s own doctor.

In short, a nicer bloke you wouldn’t wish to meet, which makes it so much stranger for an outsider to observe the vitriol heaped on Depardieu after he decided to leave France with what’s left of his money.

It has to be said that this action somewhat lacks in novelty appeal. Hundreds of thousands of successful Frenchmen have left the country in recent years, many of them settling in Britain, which proves how desperate they are. French tennis stars, for example, have been populating Monaco for years. So why single out Depardieu?

Well, you see, Depardieu is perceived to be rightwing, and he even campaigned for Sarkozy in the last election. As far as Le Monde is concerned, this is one sin that can never be absolved. Right is always wrong.

In parallel with attacking Depardieu’s personality, the press still insists he’s the best actor in the world. Actually, one could name enough thespians with a wider expressive range than Depardieu’s to contest this claim. At most, he’s the best actor in France, but of course for the French this is tantamount to the same thing.

Anyway, here’s a talented, kind, generous man who, in common with all worthy individuals, likes his wine, food and women. Alas he’s also an actor, which probably means he’s not excessively bright. (Having grown up in an actor’s family, I feel entitled to make such sweeping generalisations.)

Hence his extended flirtation with Russia, where he has opened a branch of his wine business. He’s also the spokesman for Sovietsky Bank, and his famous face adorns its home page. And it’s not just business – it’s personal. Col. Putin tends to describe Depardieu as a friend, which may well become a polonium chalice.

Putin’s affections tend to be fickle, and Depardieu would be well-advised to give the colonel’s Russia a wide berth. If he doesn’t, before long he’ll be told that his business is in need of a few silent partners claiming a lion’s share of the proceeds. And if he proves obstreperous, the response could be more muscular than the French PM calling Depardieu ‘pathetic’.

Stick to Belgium, Gérard. It may be dull, but it’s safe. The food isn’t bad, and the beer is the best in the world. Importing vast amounts of French wine will be easier, and you won’t even have to pay protection money. Nor will you have to do a Socrates and drink a cup of hemlock. Or rather Polonium-200, its advanced modern equivalent. A no-brainer, this.


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