Friday, April 5, 2013

Why French Tax Exile Gerard Depardieu is My Hero

I’m not a fan of class warfare, so when I heard recently that Gerard Depardieu had lost his rag at the prospect of being taxed 75% on his earnings, I sympathized. It’s a ridiculously high rate that will only affect those people who can most easily avoid it anyway. In short, it’s unfair and stupid. Even so, when I discovered that Depardieu was thinking of renouncing his citizenship and becoming Belgian I wondered if that wasn’t a bit drastic. Yes, he’d save money, but… Belgium?

Obviously I wasn’t the only one thinking this as last week Vladimir Putin offered Depardieu Russian citizenship. The actor promptly accepted and I watched the celebrations on TV. There was Depardieu having dinner with Putin, Depardieu partying in Mordovia- he was having a great time: GLORY TO THE 13% TAX RATE, VODKA AND PRETTY GIRLS!

But these are not the only benefits Depardieu will enjoy as a Russian citizen. For a start, the Tretyakov Gallery will cost him much less than before. I haven’t been for a few years, but the last time I visited foreigners paid about five times as much as Russians. The museums and theaters in Petersburg were even worse. Now Depardieu can enjoy all those masterpieces at a preferential rate. And here’s something else: he’ll be able to drop in on his good buddy Ramzan Kadyrov more frequently.

On the other hand, some things will be more difficult. For a start, if he really has renounced his French citizenship and only has a Russian passport then he’ll need a visa to visit most of Europe, and traveling to the USA will be a real pain. On top of that, there all those long winters to consider. But the truth is that as a very rich man, Depardieu will find Russia is good to him. Moscow is spectacular when you’re wealthy.

Meanwhile he seems to be setting a precedent for French screen idols disgruntled at their government. Enter stage right Brigitte Bardot: one time living embodiment of sex and now Supreme Crazy Cat Lady of the Universe. Apparently she has threatened to leave France for Russia if a couple of diseased elephants at a zoo are not spared execution.

Alright Brigitte, so you love animals: I sympathize. But Russia is not exactly animal rights heaven, and I’m not just talking about the national predilection for fur. I used to visit the circus in Moscow at least four times a year and saw things that are probably illegal in most EU countries. I vividly remember morose elephants standing on balls, sad bears scooting about on fire trucks, terrified tigers teetering on two legs and a bunch of camels running in a circle to escape an angry Azeri with a whip.

And let’s not forget all those starving street mutts, periodically rounded up and executed by firing squad.

But in principle, I encourage this new trend. For too long Russia has been a place from which people flee, and not a haven for those seeking refuge. Russia would make an especially good home for all those actors who have declined in their homelands but remain popular in the East. For instance, Chuck Norris- I know he’s an ironic icon in America, but he was a bona fide god in Moscow in the 1990s. And what about Dolph Lundgren, or that French guy with the curly ginger hair in all the 1970s comedies? Pierre something. Yes, him. 

Perhaps Mr. Putin should offer them all citizenship, but only on the condition that they all agree to live in one big building like in the USSR. They could call it the House of Foreign Tax Exiles and Faded Thespians. Depardieu could bump into Bardot on the stairs, and Jean-Claude Van Damme could hold the lift door open for them. They could star in a weird reality show- let’s call it “Gerard’s House.” It would probably be the greatest TV program of all time.

And it would be even better if they added a few foreign pop and rock stars that only have fans in Russia these days- like Sam Fox, or Mireille Mathieu, or Thomas Anders, or that guy from Smokie, or the Belgian rock band Europe. In that case, the building would need to be close to the Kremlin Palace, the primary concert venue in Moscow for Western megastars past their sell by date.

But if Mr. Putin really is going to make a habit of handing out free passports to foreign aesthetes then I wouldn’t mind one. I’ve had a book published in Russia, do I qualify?  I hope so. Here in Texas my taxes are about to go up, and not because I make over 450K a year- I certainly don’t. No, I’ll be hit by the increase in the payroll tax that nobody in the US media bothered reporting on until it was passed. This will actually affect far more people than the income tax hike they made so much noise about. 

So how about it, Mr. Putin? I can’t promise I’ll live in Russia, but I will visit as often as I can.