French actor Gerard Depardieu, who was granted Russian citizenship, puts on a Mordovian national shirt on stage in the Theatre of Opera and Ballet in Saransk.Julia Chestnova/RIA Novosti
It didn’t take long for the famous French actor Gerard Depardieu - who was given Russian citizenship by President Vladimir Putin - to wax lyrical about his adopted country. In fact, upon returning to France after spending just a few days in Russia, he was already welling up with nostalgia.
“I really want to go back to Mordovia (a Russian republic 650 km from Moscow), want to sit by the pond with a fishing rod, to fish, to walk through the birch groves — I love this tree, it has the poetry of Russia.”
Indeed, there were a few incentives for Depardieu to live in Russia - one of them was avoiding France’s hefty income tax. But he was also bizarrely offered a ministerial post, Communist party membership, a strange award, and a brand new apartment. Who can blame him?
President Vladimir Putin, right, and French actor Gerard Depardieu, who has been handed his new Russian passport, meet in Sochi. Source: Michael Klimentyev/RIA Novosti
Looking for a place to settle, Depardieu opted for Mordovia for no apparent reason except for its “ponds” and “birch groves.” Much to the actor’s own surprise, the head of the republic offered him a job on the spot: Minister of Culture of the region.
The actor, much to his credit, turned the bizarre offer down, only to find himself being nominated for an equally strange award, which had previously been presented to John Lennon and Albert Einstein. It’s called the “Honorary Udmurt” award and Depardieu’s nomination caused fury in the Russian region of Udmurtia - with the native people claiming it undermined the title.
The mass media’s accounts of whether the award ceremony actually took place vary, but most likely the scandal spared Depardieu the burden - and the actor never entered the lofty ranks of the honorary Udmurts.
Soon after the actor received the right to vote in Russia, the country’s Communist party issued an invitation for him to join its ranks. “Yes, today I’ve sent Depardieu an official letter with a proposal to join the Communist party... I think he has great respect for his father, who was a member of the party, and shares his attitude,” the first secretary of the KPRF’s Moscow Committee was quoted as saying.
Head of Mordovia Vladimir Volkov (left) and actor Gerard Depardieu (center) during his tour of the republic, 2014. Source: Julia Chestnova/RIA Novosti
In February 2013, Ramzan Kadyrov, President of Chechnya and one of the most popular Instagram users in Russia, published a post where he was shaking hands with Depardieu. “I just handed the documents for the five-room apartment and the certificate of the honorary citizen of the Chechen Republic to Gerard Depardieu,” the post said.
This time, the actor accepted the offer, but this event didn’t go unnoticed in the country. A resident of Novosibirsk filed an official complaint to the Prosecutor General’s Office, claiming the “gift” violated Russia’s Housing Code - the law devised to help federal and regional authorities enforce citizens’ right to housing.
“The procedure for the allocation of apartments is clearly outlined in the Housing Code of the Russian Federation. I carefully looked at it and did not find a mention of ‘unemployed French actor.’ Besides, with all due respect, he does not qualify as poor,” the disgruntled man reportedly wrote in a blog post.
In the meantime, Kadyrov legitimized this somewhat extravagant gift by referring to the traditions of Chechen hospitality. “We are a nation with deep roots, famous for our hospitality. I feel awkward when some of us put their mercantile interests above everything else,” he wrote, explaining that he gave away 18 other apartments to Chechens at the same time.
Actor Gerard Depardieu (R) poses for a picture with Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov during a meeting at the presidential residence as he visits the capital of the Chechen Republic, Grozny, in Febuary 2013. Source: Reuters
The man’s complaint did not yield any results, and soon Depardieu received yet another generous offer, this time from the Murmansk region. “Our waiting list [for state-sponsored apartment distribution] is long enough; and I am ready to allocate my own furnished apartment to him [Depardieu],” a deputy of the Murmansk city council was quoted as saying.
It’s quite possible we don’t know about other generous offers the French actor received, but it’s sure worth keeping an eye on Depardieu’s future shenanigans in Russia. He rarely shies away from the limelight.
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