French unfairly cast Depardieu as villain

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French unfairly cast Depardieu as villain

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Gerard Depardieu deserves the title of “national actor” more than anyone. Since the 64-year-old Frenchman debuted at age 23, he has starred in more than 110 movies and became a household name in his native land. He won the Cesar Award for Best Actor twice and is a Chevalier of the Legion d’honneur for his contributions in arts and culture. He has produced films and owns a winery.

Depardieu recently made headlines for obtaining Russian citizenship to protest France’s 75 percent top rate tax. Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin personally handed over a passport to the French actor, and as the scene aired on television, France flew into a frenzy. Many criticized Depardieu on social networks. On Twitter, critics thanked Putin for “taking out our trash.” The beloved national actor has become a public pariah.

Starting this year, the French government will impose a 75 percent tax on annual incomes of 1 million euros ($1.33 million) or more for two years. Depardieu initially requested Belgian citizenship, but because the Belgian government was reluctant to help him avoid taxation, he turned to Russia. Putin, a friend of Depardieu’s, signed a special executive order to approve the application, and the French national actor is now a citizen of Russia.

Depardieu is not the only French national to move to another country or obtain foreign citizenship to avoid the tax on the super-rich. Bernard Arnault, chairman of LVMH and France’s richest man, has applied for Belgian citizenship, and actor Alain Delon and singer Johnny Hallyday are residing in Switzerland.

Criticism is focused on Depardieu not only because of his special status in France, but because of his open-armed embrace of his new home.

Showing off his new Russian passport, Depardieu said to the Russian media, “I adore your country, Russia, your people, your history, your writers. I adore your culture and your way of thinking.” He praised Russia’s “great democracy.” The French people must have felt insulted as he betrayed his country and democracy and lavished flattery on the authoritarian system under Putin.

However, it is unfair to put all the blame on Depardieu. Now that borders have become virtually meaningless in the era of global competition, it may be natural for individuals and businesses to move according to what they perceive to be their best interests. Essentially, the reasoning behind Depardieu’s moving to Russia to take advantage of the 13 percent income tax rate is the same as many French companies’ decision to relocate manufacturing plants to China, where the cost of labor is substantially lower than it is in Europe.

Before blaming the national actor, France would do well to first fix its domestic economy, and then take a long, hard look at that absurdly high 75 percent tax rate on the super rich.

The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Bae Myung-bok


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