I confess that I have been following the saga of the great French actor Gerard Depardieu with considerable fascination. I won’t rehash the entire tale, as I have written about it at some length elsewhere, but it has reached a surprising culmination.
In brief, the outstanding (if controversial) actor, who has appeared in about 170 films, and was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his performance as Cyrano de Bergerac in the eponymous 1990 film, decided to leave his native country after the Socialist Party won the recent French elections. Specifically, the Socialist government carried through with its threat to hike the taxes on the rich from the current 41% to a staggering 75%. The Socialists also jacked up taxes on total wealth, on middle-class incomes, and on capital gains, and imposed an “exit tax” on any entrepreneurs — a group already not well represented in France — who are enterprising enough to flee the confiscatory taxes.
The Socialists obviously regret that they can’t build a wall and shoot citizens who dare to depart the New Socialist Paradise. When Depardieu announced he was leaving, he touched off a firestorm, with key Socialist government officials excoriating him, while other actors came to his defense. He sold his Paris mansion, returned his passport to the French government, and moved his possessions to a town in Belgium. But the question then was — what nationality would he adopt?
The most recent report is that he has decided to become — a Russian! Yes, just recently President Putin signed a citizenship grant giving the hefty star a new home.
Why would a French actor be drawn to Mother Russia?
Certainly, he has a huge following among Russian film-lovers. In 2011 he went to Russia as part of the filming of Rasputin (ever notice that the last part of the name Rasputin is Putin?), in which he played the lead. And he is a familiar face on Russian TV, famous for his commercials for Sovietsky Bank and various consumer products.
But I suspect that the fact that Russia has a flat income tax of a mere 13% may be part of the reason.
All this has led to some delightful tension between the French and Russian governments. The — what? defection? — of a French star to Russia has embarrassed France and allowed Putin to advertise the fact that Russia is a low-tax state. But the fact that Depardieu has been chummy with Putin has angered some Russians critical of Putin, and led the French Green Party to suggest that France grant honorary citizenship for the girls in the band Pussy Riot, who were thrown in the clink after criticizing Putin in a performance.
Now, as the neosocialist Obama jacks up taxes on the rich (on top of neosocialist Governor Jerry Brown’s increase in California), it may be that our own successful citizens may also start considering moving to Russia. My only warning is that they should be prepared to work hard to master the language. It is a notoriously complex tongue . . .