January 2013 will certainly be remembered in France for the immense turmoil orchestrated by the departure of the French actor, Gérard Depardieu, to Russia. The “child prodigy” of French cinema has “betrayed” his homeland and all the French people familiar with his infinite talent. Since the beginning of the 1970s, Depardieu has collaborated with the greatest French directors and actors, and has personified some of the most emblematic French literary figures – from Cyrano de Bergerac to d’Artagnan, the musketeer. Depardieu is a genuine Gaul.
But then, what could have possibly urged France's national Obelix to find refuge in the “great democracy” of Russia, as he defines it? The entire polemic rant at the end of December 2012, centred around the actor’s potential tax exile to Belgium as a reaction against the French government’s planned 75 per cent tax on those with an annual income above 1 million euros (which was eventually rejected by France’s Constitutional Council on December 29th 2012).
Belgium might have ended up being Gérard Depardieu’s host country if it had not been for one word – pathetic – uttered by Jean-Marc Ayrault, the French prime minister, to express his opinion on the actor’s departure for Brussels. Gérard Depardieu immediately struck back, in an open letter addressed to the politician, by announcing that he was giving up his French passport, and that he considered himself a “free” citizen “of the world”. As a consequence, on January 3rd 2013, Vladimir Putin answered the actor’s application for Russian naturalisation favourably.
And so this is the tale of how Russia got a new citizen. This “story” has been widely commented on in the media, as much in Russia as in France. The views of the Russian media on this event differ along the lines of their political views. On the one hand, those in favour of Putin's regime seem only to remember the actor's declaration of love to the very generous country of Russia, which warmly welcomed Depardieu; unlike France, which has done nothing but be ungrateful to him, after all he has done for French cinema. On the other hand, most of the rest of the media hold a rather criticising stance. Not only are they ironically calling on Gérard Depardieu to test Russian democracy, but they also consider the matter a farce as well as a completely ludicrous story.
As for the French media, the naturalisation of the actor has generated a huge wave of criticism and, literally, clashes between those who declare themselves to be either “pro-Depardieu” or “anti-Depardieu”. The former are mostly composed of French actors, such as Catherine Deneuve, who support the great actor for having the courage to leave despite all the opposition, while the latter stress the selfishness and the lack of patriotism in times of crisis. All of a sudden, the Depardieu case has divided the whole country, and reading all the French articles devoted to the subject, one cannot but wonder if it is not being just a little overexposed by the media
According to some government officials, the Depardieu case is more of a “farce” occurring within the context of rather strained bilateral relationships between France and Russia. Both the Syrian crisis and Iran's nuclear programme keep on opposing Paris to Moscow, and the actor’s naturalisation is just perceived as an additional soreness between the two. However, the government’s official stance on the Depardieu case is mostly based on “no comment”, adding that Franco-Russian relationships cannot afford to be influenced by an event such as this.
On the other side, reactions amongst Depardieu’s colleagues from the milieu of French cinema have given even more material to the media. Indeed, on January 4th, the French former actress, Brigitte Bardot, stated that she was “fed up” with France as the government had not replied to a letter sent on behalf of her foundation for the protection of animals, asking the government to prevent the euthanasia of two female elephants. In reaction, Bardot similarly threatened to apply for Russian nationality, since she considers that Vladimir Putin “has done much more for the protection of animals than all successive French presidents”.
The opinion of the French people themselves is all the more interesting as it actually differs from the overexposure by the media. Trying to encompass the general feeling amongst French citizens, Elea Jacquet, a French student studying at the Centre for European Studies at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, stated that the Depardieu affair “was being given way too much importance in the French media”, that it was merely “non-information”, and that the French actor was actually “playing with” all this excessive media turmoil. Elea Jacquet concluded by saying :“In times of crisis, people who can afford to pay more taxes should feel satisfied.”
Finally, to answer the question in the title of this article, What Would Asterix Do?, we can merely add that French actor, Christian Clavier (who played the role of Asterix, alongside Depardieu's Obelix), has been settled in London since October 2012, thus paving the way for “Obelix” to do the same in Russia.
Lana Ravel is an intern at New Eastern Europe. She received her bachelor degree from a preparatory school at Dijon (France). She is currently studying her MA in European Studies within the Sciences Po Strasbourg-Centre for European Studies (Krakow) Double Degree.