FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Depardieu, Putin and the Tax Man

What will a man do to avoid tax?  Become Russian for one, or the cultural ambassador for Montenegro, the prelude to obtaining another means of escaping the homeland’s rapacious tax regime. France’s Gérard Depardieu, having failed to teleport himself via a spaceship timed to arrive at the world’s end, decided to do something distinctly terrestrial – adopt a new citizenship.

The bogeyman here is François Hollande, the French president who won the general election on a platform stacked with promises of increased taxation for the super rich, notably his 75 percent on those earning more than a million Euros.  The grand and conspicuously aggrandised Depardieu took issue with it. How dare his talent be treated this way?  The creators are always attacked by mindless managers and paper pushers.

Come to think of it, Depardieu has taken issue with much of what the French state has done to him, or at least according to his own account.  The decline of his health was occasioned by a hospital infection he got after one of several operations he received after the motorbike crash of 1995.  His son, Guillaume, died in 2008 at the age of 37 after years of agony and a leg amputation (Guardian, Jan 12).

The response to Depardieu has ranged and raged but some advice has been dished his way, including the odd piece of admiration.  For one, a near hagiographic piece came forth from Rich Lowry in the National Review (Jan 1).  Depardieu’s remarks to the prime minister on his departure – that he was “leaving because you believe that success, creation, talent – difference, in fact – must be punished” – were roundly approved.  “He is right.  May he – dare we say it? – prosper in his new home.”  Depardieu, read through the American Right’s astigmatic eyes, had a genuine, sincere wish – “to keep some meaningful portion of his income.”

There is, however, little reason to be enraged with Depardieu’s ethical gymnastics. If anything, there is much to commend in his almost barmy bravura.  No, he is not expressing a socially responsible position, but can actors ever claim to be responsible in anything other than their vocation?  To elect them (yes, the hand of Ronald Reagan is still warm with its legacy) can prove disastrous.  To demand that they become pure figures of virtue is a foolish expectation.

People do and will avoid tax, from the rich and powerful, to the not so rich and somewhat powerless.  In this, there is nothing new.  What is significant here is that a figure like Depardieu is, at the end of the day, an illusionist who deserves less misplaced rage.  He doesn’t pull any strings or control puppets.  He, in truth, is the marionette, the mouthpiece, the court jester.  Pay him, and he will perform.

In this, we have an old problem suggested by Plato in explaining why he would exclude actors from his ideal Republic.  You simply can’t trust, or take too seriously, a person who is never himself.  The profession of mimesis and imitation suggests that the actor is always, by definition, someone else.  Depardieu off the screen has certainly shown himself to be foolish, the promoter of causes not all together clear. In Grozny last October, he shouted with some merriment “Glory to Kadyrov” on his visit to the Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, one of the region’s blood soaked and less savoury characters.  Well, it was the warlord’s birthday after all.

Depardieu has profited by the despotic whim of Putin’s government, and both have deigned to use each other.  While it is true that the queue for Russian citizenship is short (more Russians are happy to become U.S. citizens), Depardieu rocked to the front with the good grace of the Kremlin, receiving the nod of approval on January 3.  Putin, himself something of a thespian, no doubt sees the Depardieu stunt in broader public relations terms.  The Frenchman is not merely an exotic species, but a possible public relations platform.  Russia has a flat tax rate of 13 percent, a potential hook for the wealthy.  Nor will those fortunate ones have to necessarily live in Russia to become Russian tax payers.

As with so much with Putin and the Depardieu exercise, the reality behind the image is distinctly darker.  When one leaves the stage, the facts stack up in a different order.  The Russian hook’s catch of the wealthy is bound to be small.  Capital is actually leaving Russia, rather than coming in, finding refuge in investments in Miami, New York and London.  The Russian Central Bank has revealed that $80 billion flowed out of the country in 2011, over twice the rate than 2010 (CNBC, Jan 3).  The “flat” tax rate conceals the fact that wealthy Russians are asked to pay higher rates of protection money – in the political sense.

The figures who do have such power to make or break tax systems are the ones who should trouble us.  They are the silent pillagers of the greater good.  Rupert Murdoch’s embrace of the Stars and Stripes was a case in point. He left the bosom of Oz to take up the capitalist robes of Uncle Sam in 1985, thereby enabling him to comply with US laws prohibiting foreign ownership of television stations.  Never has a mogul been more transparent about his amoral proclivities.  Patriotism is always dispensable, but that need not matter – he does not “avoid” tax but “minimises” his burdens.  Every tax system is complicit with its supreme abusers.

As for Depardieu, he may be getting ahead of himself. The French Constitutional Council has already declared Hollande’s temporary 75 percent tax on earnings over 1 million Euros as “confiscatory”.  Even in France, where the socialist can not only find sanctuary but feast, there are limits to the zeal of any tax regime.

Depardieu is no hero, but nor is he a singular villain.  He is merely an actor. To vest political and cultural potential in a figure who dabbles in matters off the stage and the screen is to invest in an illusion.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
December 06, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Eat an Impeachment
Matthew Hoh
Authorizations for Madness; The Effects and Consequences of Congress’ Endless Permissions for War
Jefferson Morley
Why the Douma Chemical Attack Wasn’t a ‘Managed Massacre’
Andrew Levine
Whatever Happened to the Obama Coalition?
Paul Street
The Dismal Dollar Dems and the Subversion of Democracy
Dave Lindorff
Conviction and Removal Aren’t the Issue; It’s Impeachment of Trump That is Essential
Ron Jacobs
Law Seminar in the Hearing Room: Impeachment Day Six
Linda Pentz Gunter
Why Do We Punish the Peacemakers?
Louis Proyect
Michael Bloomberg and Me
Robert Hunziker
Permafrost Hits a Grim Threshold
Joseph Natoli
What We Must Do
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Global Poison Spring
Robert Fantina
Is Kashmir India’s Palestine?
Charles McKelvey
A Theory of Truth From the South
Walden Bello
How the Battle of Seattle Made the Truth About Globalization True
Evan Jones
BNP Before a French Court
Torsten Bewernitz – Gabriel Kuhn
Syndicalism for the Twenty-First Century: From Unionism to Class-Struggle Militancy
Matthew Stevenson
Across the Balkans: From Banja Luka to Sarajevo
Thomas Knapp
NATO is a Brain Dead, Obsolete, Rabid Dog. Euthanize It.
Forrest Hylton
Bolivia’s Coup Government: a Far-Right Horror Show
M. G. Piety
A Lesson From the Danes on Immigration
Ellen Isaacs
The Audacity of Hypocrisy
Manuel García, Jr.
From Caesar’s Last Breath to Ours
Binoy Kampmark
Going to the ICJ: Myanmar, Genocide and Aung San Suu Kyi’s Gamble
Jill Richardson
Marijuana and the Myth of the “Gateway Drug”
Muzamil Bhat
Srinagar’s Shikaras: Still Waters Run Deep Losses
Gaither Stewart
War and Betrayal: Change and Transformation
Farzana Versey
What Religion is Your Nationalism?
Clark T. Scott
The Focus on Trump Reveals the Democrat Model
Monika Zgustova
Chernobyl, Lies and Messianism in Russia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Do Bernie’s Supporters Know What “Not Me, Us” Means? Does Bernie?
Peter Harley
Aldo Leopold, Revisited
Winslow Myers
A Presidential Speech the World Needs to Hear
Christopher Brauchli
The Chosen One
Jim Britell
Misconceptions About Lobbying Representatives and Agencies
Ted Rall
Trump Gets Away with Stuff Because He Does
Mel Gurtov
Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and the Insecurity of China’s Leadership
Nicky Reid
Dennis Kucinich, Tulsi Gabbard and the Slow Death of the Democratic Delusion
Tom H. Hastings
Cross-Generational Power to Change
John Kendall Hawkins
1619: The Mighty Whitey Arrives
Julian Rose
Why I Don’t Have a Mobile Phone
Elliot Sperber
Class War is Chemical War
December 05, 2019
Colin Todhunter
Don’t Look, Don’t See: Time for Honest Media Reporting on Impacts of Pesticides
Nick Pemberton
Gen Z and Free Speech
Bob Lord
The U-Turn That Made America Staggeringly Unequal
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail