It’s official -- the famous Gerard Depardieu, a longtime French icon, is now a bona fide Russian.
The actor -- whom English-speakers may recognize from his Golden-Globe winning role in the American romantic comedy "Green Card," or his cameo in the current Oscar-winner "Life of Pi" -- became a registered Russian resident on Wednesday. You can find him at 1 Democracy Street in Saransk, the capital of Mordovia, one of the republics making up the Russian Federation. It’s a charming town traversed by trolleybuses and two rivers, where centuries-old architecture and boxy, crumbling Soviet-era structures sit side by side.
Depardieu used to live in Paris, but France was beginning to wear on his nerves. In December, he sent an open letter to French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault to proclaim his indignation over the 75 percent tax rate France’s Socialist Party -- elected to power in May -- promised to impose on anyone who earns a million euros annually.
That’s part of France’s attempt to finagle its way out of an increasingly dire economic situation. Unemployment has reached a 15-year high of about 10.5 percent. The country probably won’t meet its own measly GDP growth predictions for 2013, which had been pegged at 0.8 percent. Officials now admit that an expansion of 0.3 percent -- or less -- is more likely.
No surprise Depardieu wanted out. He was granted Russian citizenship on Jan. 3; an executive order straight from President Vladimir Putin helped expedite his application.
Russia has fiscal problems of its own, but can boast a low unemployment rate of 6 percent, high oil prices helping to keep the economy afloat, and -- best of all, for billionaires -- a flat tax rate of 13 percent.
Depardieu is going to love it.
Video courtesy of Alun Hill: Depardieu greets Putin with a bear hug.
“I have always been strongly attracted by the Russian temperament, because I myself also feel very, very much Russian," the actor told Rossiya 24, a Russian television news channel. “I adore Vladimir Putin, your president.”
Adoration for Putin is hard to come by among most Europeans -- many Westerners accuse the Russian president of tyrannical tendencies, suppressing opposition and condoning human rights abuses. Under his reign, Russian security officials have cracked down vehemently on public dissent -- especially after protesters showed unprecedented, widespread boldness in recent months speaking out against Putin’s election to a third term as president.
Opposition activists have been detained under questionable pretenses. An all-female punk band called Pussy Riot, which openly criticizes Putin, made international headlines last year when three members were detained for a disruptive performance in a Moscow cathedral. Two have been sentenced to serve two years in a notoriously brutal penal colony.
Depardieu, unlike the average European intellectual, is now siding with the Kremlin on these issues, defending the arrest of Pussy Riot members and badmouthing the country’s opposition movement, which has grown quieter in recent months.
“The Russian opposition has no program; it has nothing," he said during a January interview on Russian state television. "Unfortunately, the masses are stupid. Only the individual is beautiful."
Video courtesy of LR3277: Depardieu meets Kadyrov and dances with Chechens in Grozny.
When it comes to beautiful individuals, Depardieu really knows how to pick them. He’s warmed quickly not only to Putin, but to Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed president of Chechnya, a federal subject of Russia that fought two bloody, failed wars for independence beginning in the 1990s.
Kadyrov -- a jovial man who loves lavish parties and looks more like a fraternity pledge than a president -- has been accused of condoning severe human rights abuses himself, against those who still agitate for Chechen independence.
This week in the capital Grozny, a city that was reduced to rubble only 20 years ago during the war but rebuilt on Russian rubles, Depardieu embraced Kadyrov, watched musical performances, and danced as the cameras rolled.
And that’s not all. Earlier this year, Gepardieu buddied up with Uzbekistan’s Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of autocrat Islam Karimov. She is a contoversial figure among Uzbeks -- to many, she is the closest embodiment of an evil princess they have ever seen. Karimova is a beautiful pop music artist and fashion designer who has been accused of condoning sex trafficking and stands an excellent chance of inheriting her father’s dictatorial post.
As a singer, Karimova goes by the stage name Googoosha. She and Depardieu collaborated on a song called “Silent Sky,” and a music video was released last month.
Depardieu interjects mid-song to deliver some French spoken word amid synthesized strings. “Forgive me for everything I could not tell you,” he says in gravelly bass tones. “Forgive me because I couldn't keep you.”
Maybe it’s Paris he’s referring to -- but probably not. Judging by the smile on his face, Depardieu seems pretty happy with his new life among thuggish leaders, sinister princesses and repressive presidents.
Video courtesy of RealGoogoosha: Karimova and Depardieu perform "Silent Sky."