France is all a’flutter over the news that the beloved actor Gérard Depardieu was seeking (and apparently has now obtained) a second passport.
“Je suis un citoyen du monde,” he has declared and that is the reason he is giving for accepting a Russian passport. He vigorously denies that his actions are linked to tax matters in France though few people believe him since he has been highly critical of the French government’s tax policies and not too long ago he left the Hexagon for Belgium which provoked a perfect storm of criticism and angst. Look here for a superb editorial about the language that French politicians have been using to describe him (tax evader, ingrate, deserter – terms that many of us here hear quite often). The conclusion of the author of the piece? These politicians are unconscious defenders of slavery, says Bertrand Lemennicier, who act ” s’ils étaient propriétaires de nos corps et de nos vies.” (as if they owned our bodies and our lives.)
And Depardieu was having none of it. His open letter to the President and Prime Minister is something to read and I invite you to do so. He certainly came out swinging and was not in the slightest bit apologetic – apoplectic is more like it. A few choice bits that I enjoyed greatly:
“Je n’ai pas à justifier les raisons de mon choix, qui sont nombreuses et intimes.” (I do not have justify the reasons for my choices which are many and private.)
“Je n’ai jamais tué personne, je ne pense pas avoir démérité, j’ai payé 145 millions d’euros d’impôts en quarante-cinq ans, je fais travailler 80 personnes dans des entreprises qui ont été créées pour eux et qui sont gérées par eux.” (I never killed anyone, I don’t think I was ever a bad guy, I paid 145 million Euros in taxes over 45 years, I provide work for 80 people in companies that were created for and are managed by them.)
And he ends his missive by asking the French President and his Prime Minister, “Who in the hell are you to judge me?”
Good question and I applaud him for having the courage and the audacity to ask it. As Depardieu so rightly points out those who leave their countries of origin – who choose to live, marry, raise families and work on distant shores- should never have to justify their choices to anyone. We have that right – the right to leave the place where we accidentally found ourselves at one point in time and to go wherever we are welcome. This is true of all of us whatever category of migrant we happen to be in – whether we are film stars or farmhands. And the only proper response in my view to attempts by states and their homeland citizens to prevent people from leaving their territories (policies against emigration) or punishing them for it (exit taxes and citizenship-based taxation) or trying to shame them into staying is outrage.