20 years under Putin: a timeline

The decision by French actor Gerard Depardieu to take up Russian citizenship and his public praise of Vladimir Putin continue to be a hot topic for the international media. According to IMR Senior Policy Advisor Vladimir Kara-Murza, this story is reminiscent of the “useful bourgeois idiots” – the Western celebrities who supported the Communist regime in the USSR.

 

 

In one of his best movies, La Chèvre, Gerard Depardieu played the part of an experienced private detective who is forced to work with a stereotypical idiot (played by Pierre Richard), who fancies himself as the team’s senior partner. In real life, however, it is Depardieu who has played the idiot – a “useful bourgeois idiot” (an expression attributed to Vladimir Lenin and to Comintern Secretary Karl Radek), which referred to Western celebrities who supported the Soviet regime even during its darkest and most gruesome periods.

Indeed, it seemed that the more gruesome the times, the more “idiots” the Kremlin could count on; one need only recall the prominent German writer Lion Feuchtwanger, who defended the 1930s show trials, or Walter Duranty, The New York Times' Moscow correspondent, who denied the Soviet famine of 1933.

Personal tributes to Stalin, meanwhile, could make up a separate volume. “I have never met a man more candid, fair and honest, and it is to these qualities and to nothing occult and sinister, that he owes his tremendous undisputed ascendancy.” (Herbert George Wells) “Stalin is a very nice man, and truly a leader of the working class. Stalin is a giant, and Western statesmen are pygmies.” (George Bernard Shaw) “In a box to the right – smiling and applauding the audience – as well as the artists on the stage – stood the great Stalin. I remember the tears began to quietly flow, and I too smiled and waved…. I can never forget that warm feeling of kindliness and also a feeling of sureness. Here was one who was wise and good – the world and especially the socialist world was fortunate indeed to have his daily guidance.” (Paul Robeson)

“I really love your President Vladimir Putin, and the feeling is mutual,” Depardieu stated in a letter sent to Russia’s Channel One television.

Following in the same tradition, Depardieu publicly expressed his warm feelings for the current Kremlin leader. “I really love your President Vladimir Putin, and the feeling is mutual,” the actor stated in a letter sent to Russia’s Channel One television. “Russia is a country of great democracy, it is not a country where the prime minister could call a citizen of his country ‘pathetic.’”

Depardieu, it appears, was not informed that Putin – while prime minister – publicly called the citizens of his country ‘Bandar-logs’ (monkey people). In any case, it is not the words that matter most here.

 

Gerard Depardieu is by no means the first Western cultural figure to fall under the Kremlin's spell. On the left (with Joseph Stalin) is Lion Feuchtwanger; on the right (with Vladimir Lenin) is H.G. Wells.

 

There is nothing unusual about taking up foreign citizenship to lower one’s tax burden – there are many such precedents. Indeed, in a different political era, the decision by a French celebrity to take up Russian citizenship would be a legitimate cause for pride. But a flamboyant acceptance of the Russian passport in 2013 – directly from the hands of the regime’s leader – implies an agreement with everything that goes on in the “country of great democracy,” including with the repression of political opposition, election fraud, politically controlled judiciary and media censorship. Of particular note is that Depardieu’s move came on the heels of the cruel law prohibiting American adoptions of Russian orphans – and it allowed the Kremlin’s PR machine to counterbalance the negative publicity.

Is this all really worth a 13-percent income tax (or 30 percent for nonresident citizens)?

A flamboyant acceptance of the Russian passport in 2013 – directly from the hands of the regime’s leader – implies an agreement with everything that goes on in the “country of great democracy.”

The internal propaganda effect for the Kremlin is unlikely to last long – indeed, there was not much of an effect to begin with. The Russian blogosphere has responded mostly with sarcasm, including with mock predictions that Depardieu will run in the next Duma elections under the banner of Putin’s United Russia party. (Nothing, however, could surpass the actual proposal by the Republic of Mordovia that Depardieu become its minister of culture.)

Most importantly, neither Depardieu nor more serious “fellow travellers” – like Gerhard Schröder or Silvio Berlusconi – will be able to help their “friend” when, as reputable analysts are predicting, public unrest will begin to spread across Russia, causing a split in the ruling elites. When this happens, Vladimir Putin will be left face-to-face with his country’s citizens (the real ones, that is) – only 23 percent of whom, according to the polls, want him to remain as president beyond the current term.

Russia under Putin

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