The biggest topic of national debate in France right now is Gérard Depardieu. He’s ignited a firestorm so loud it’s echoing around the world creating an unprecedented disaster for the country.
After leaving his homeland to avoid paying a 75% tax rate on his income, Gérard Depardieu was labelled by the French Prime Minister as “pathetic” and “un-patriotic”. He then moved to Belgium, where he bought a property close to the French border.
In the weeks following his very public decision to relocate abroad and after paying a reported €145 million in French taxes throughout his life, he fired back at the French government saying:
“I am leaving because you believe that success, creation, talent, anything different must be sanctioned,”
He also said in his letter addressed to French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault:
“I’ve no place to complain or to boast, but I refuse to be described as pathetic.”
This response, which comes from a man who was awarded the ‘Légion d’honneur’, France’s highest honor from former President Mitterand adds additional poignancy to the question: What has become of France?
After this public letter, in a twist of events, Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed him with open arms. By Presidential decree, Putin granted Depardieu a Russian citizenship. Following this announcement, the French star is set to meet with him personally today to ‘pick up his new passport’ in a knock-out blow to the French government’s previous comments about him. It’s exceptional for another world leader to call him out and invite him to receive this. It also opened up yet further intrigue. Why did Gérard Depardieu leave France? What does it mean?
Now holding his new pass of freedom in hand and with a distant nation he can now call home, what will people think of France as Russian pride shines strong? Depardieu is after all considered one of France’s greatest actors. He’s been an onscreen legend and part of French movie culture for decades. Starring in over 150 movies, he is a household name, but he’s more than that, he’s a symbol of what France is all about. From the people he has portrayed to the movies he’s starred in, all these stories are depictions of French values, beliefs, their struggles and triumphs. His humour and his honesty has been such a strong part of modern French history, and to see it all gone, as if it had had no meaning, is an unbelievable tragedy.
Depardieu has indeed ignited a debate that has rattled France to its core. If someone like him is seen as a coward who shames the nation after all he’s done, what kind of hope do people have for their future if they choose France to be their home? This debate will surely go on. People will weigh on how they feel about Depardieu, his decision to hand in his French passport, and his acceptance of Russian citizenship.
In my view, if successful people like Depardieu are to be treated in such a manner after giving so much to their country then something is desperately wrong. To be called “pathetic” by the current government in a public forum is a disaster for France and for all it stands for. This, especially at a time when France so badly needs effective leadership to restore its values and inspire creation and success. After all, France is famed for its culture, rich history and its love of cinema and cinematic artistry. French culture and the arts are fundamental to national pride, which is beginning to fade.
Thank you Gérard. Your words and your actions are the greatest gift for change, and I hope that one day France will welcome you home as a hero.