French actor Gerard Depardieu’s quest for Russian citizenship to escape a wealth tax in his homeland has been great fun to follow.
More fun, in fact, than “The Closet,” Depardieu’s funniest film in French. It’s about a man working for a condom company who has to pretend he’s gay to keep his job.
It hasn’t been just the absurd spectacle of Depardieu cozying up to Vladimir Putin for Russian citizenship that’s been hilarious. It’s also been some of the great lines the news stories have generated. Lines every bit as memorable as in an Oscar-winning movie.
Lines such as:
— French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault calling Depardieu “pathetic” for declaring last year that he was moving to Belgium because France was raising its highest wealth-tax rate to 90 percent.
— Depardieu calling Russia “a great democracy” while he was lobbying for Russian citizenship.
— Putin saying that he understood Depardieu’s feeling that the French had insulted the actor because “as we say, artists are easily offended.”
— And my favorite lines, from the Russian director Stanislav Govorukhin. He’s a Putin confidante. In fact, he ran Putin’s presidential election campaign in 2011. But he obviously disagrees with the president on some matters.
When a Russian news organization asked Govorukhin about Depardieu’s bid for Russian citizenship, the director sniffed: “He’s just another drunkard. I don’t like this sycophancy toward foreigners.”
As I was chuckling over these funny lines – and many more – from the Depardieu citizenship circus, I was thinking: “Why should Russia have all the fun? Why shouldn’t we try to get Depardieu to settle in Kazakhstan? He’s more fun than a Moliere farce.”
So I’ve come up with a detailed marketing pitch to try to persuade Depardieu to renounce the Russian citizenship that Putin just gave him, and move to Kazakhstan’s capital of Astana.
— To start with, Gerry Baby, Kazakhstan has a flat tax rate of 10 percent, a third less than Russia’s 13 percent. Think of the extra truffles you’ll be able to savor with the savings.
— Your – shall we say – rotund figure indicates that you love French food. To ensure that you don’t waste away in Kazakhstan, I’ll ask the general manager of the Rixos, Stefano Capaccetti, to put you on a first-name basis with the hotel’s French pastry chef.
And I’ll personally take you to Regine’s French restaurant in Astana.
I must warn you, though, that there’s a good chance you’ll acquire a taste for Kazakh food after you’ve been here awhile. Beshbarmak is the piece de resistance.
— I’ve read you’re a great wine lover, so I’ve asked my friend Scott Overmyer to provide you with all you can quaff while you’re here.
Scott, a Nazarbayev University Computational Sciences professor, has introduced two cold, hardy wine grapes that he grew in North Dakota to the steppes around Astana. One of them – the red – even has a French name: Marquette.
The Marquette and the white variety, Brianna, may not be 1948 Bordeauxs, Gerry, my man, but Scott has promised you a volume discount.
— To ensure you have scintillating conversation while you eat and drink in Kazakhstan, I’m going to ask a classy guy to join you at the Rixos or Regine’s.
He is none other than Deputy Prime Minister Kairat Kelimbetov, whose superlatives include fluency in French.
I remember interviewing Mr. Kelimbetov two years ago when he was head of the sovereign wealth fund Samruk Kazyna.
Before he met with me and other English-speaking journalists, he gave an interview to French journalists — in their mother tongue.
“Mr. K – Dude! – good on yuh,” I remember thinking. “Impressive, man!”
— Everyone who’s read about your quest for Russian citizenship, Gerry, knows your financial situation is much on your mind these days. So I’ve asked my friend Michael Eggleton to consider offering you free financial services for the rest of your life.
Michael is the chairman of Eurasian Bank, one of the healthiest financial institutions in Kazakhstan – so you won’t have to worry about your fortune being frittered away.
— You’ll remember Michael because he gave you an advertising contract with the bank a couple of years back. I still see billboards featuring you and Kazakh actor Nurjuman Ikhtimbayev.
My own contribution to making you feel at home in Kazakhstan will be loaning you my 5 percent discount card at the Mon Ami cosmetics chain.
This is no mere trifle, Gerry. They’ve got the real stuff there – Chanel, you name it.
— You’ve already got a film-director buddy in Kazakhstan – Sergei Azimov, who directed you in “Lost Love,” the movie about one of three friends in a village falling in love late in life.
While the Russians have cast you in the role of nasties such as Rasputin, Sergei has had you play lovable characters, like an aging ethnic-German villager. Always better to be loved, right?
Sergei would never say, as Russian director Stanislav Govorukhin did, that you were “just another drunkard.”
In fact, no Kazakhs would say that. They would describe you very respectfully as a “connoisseur of drink.”
In the same vein, no Kazakhs would describe this country’s longstanding warmth toward you – as Govorukhin did –as “sycophancy toward foreigners.” Kazakhs view it as genuine hospitality, not kissing your Golden Globe.
Now let me administer the coup de grace in my argument about why you should renounce your new Russian citizenship for Kazakhstan citizenship, Gerry Baby.
And that is: If Russia is such a fantastic place, then why have five – count ‘em, five – Russian tennis players given up their Russian citizenship for Kazakhstan citizenship in recent years?
I’m talking about Evgeny Korolev, Andrey Golubev, Mikhail Kukushkin, Yaroslava Shvedova and Galina Voskoboeva.
It’s pretty telling that Korolev said in an interview in February of 2012 that Kazakhstan is “building new cities, investing lots of money, but most of all taking care of the players. They call you, make sure everything is OK. They give you everything — everything that Russia doesn’t want to do any more.”
Don’t have an answer for that, do you, Gerry, my friend? Those Russian defectors – they must know something, right?
So face up to the inevitable, mon ami. Buy your plane ticket to Astana right now. I’ll ask my buddy Peter Foster, the chairman of Air Astana, to give you a discount.
(Writer Hal Foster appears here under a partnership with Tengrinews)
Hal Foster is a longtime journalist and journalism professor who has worked in the United States, Japan, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. His news career has included writing and editing at the Los Angeles Times and nine years as a journalist in Japan. He is an associate professor of Communication at the new Nazarbayev University in Astana, Kazakhstan. Catch one of his other blogs at en.tengrinews.kz.