Russians mock Kremlin decision on Depardieu passport

Updated 04 January 2013
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Russians mock Kremlin decision on Depardieu passport

MOSCOW: Russians reacted Friday with amusement, disbelief and a heavy dose of irony to the news that the Kremlin has granted citizenship to French actor Gerard Depardieu to solve his tax woes.
In a letter broadcast on Russian television on Thursday, the former Oscar nominee declared his love for President Vladimir Putin and called Russia a “great democracy.”
“He is impressed by our democracy — he has completely lost his marbles,” wrote one Facebook user, Vladimir Sokolov.
Far-left politician Eduard Limonov suggested Depardieu could reprise his famous film role of French revolutionary Georges Danton and risk detention by riot police at a regular unsanctioned rally against Putin.
“Gerard, come to Triumfalnaya Square on January 31 with your new Russian passport in your pocket,” Limonov wrote on his blog.
“Our French friend: here’s an invitation to a real historical role.”
Depardieu seemed unlikely to take up this offer after Putin praised their “very friendly, personal relationship” at a recent news conference.
Many jokingly speculated about how the film star might adapt to life as a pensioner if he moved to Russia after threatening to renounce his French citizenship over a proposed 75-percent tax rate on the super rich.
If Depardieu, 64, opted to live in Russia more than half the tax year, he would pay just 13 percent tax to the government whose budget is highly dependent on state-owned energy resources.
“We’re going to meet him pushing a trolley in the shop, in the queue for blood tests at the polyclinic or at the social security office,” wrote journalist and blogger Anton Orekh on the website of popular Moscow Echo radio station.
As a Russian, he now qualifies for a respectful patronymic and can be addressed not as Monsieur Depardieu, but Gerard Renevich, because his father’s first name was Rene, Orekh added.
“I’m ready to let him register as a resident in my apartment, he can stay as long as he likes,” wrote television host Tina Kandelaki on Twitter.
Depardieu, like other Russian citizens, would have to register his place of residence with local authorities.
Yet some also questioned the morality of Russia fast-tracking Depardieu’s citizenship request.
His public opposition to paying high taxes in France showed he “loves money more than motherland,” wrote Orekh.
“Let’s give our passports to everyone who has lots of money and doesn’t want to pay taxes at home!” he said, contrasting Depardieu’s experience with that of ordinary applicants who spend years going through complex red tape.
Poet Lev Rubinshtein warned Depardieu on Facebook that if he chose to pay taxes in Russia, they would go to “gorillas with batons who joyfully beat up young men and women and old ladies.”
Russia has used Depardieu’s request to preen itself over what it sees as an endorsement of its economic policies.
“Depardieu’s case shows that financial and economic stability are often the most important factor in choosing a country not only for investors but for artists, too,” former economic development minister and now head of Russia’s largest savings bank, German Gref, told the Interfax news agency.
Meanwhile Depardieu’s threat to give up his passport over soaring tax demands has prompted much soul-searching in France.
Right-wing daily Le Figaro described the affair as a “bad farce” but stressed in a front-page editorial that “this 75 percent tax is an economic, political and diplomatic fiasco that we should not be smiling about.”
The canny PR stunt comes as Russia faces widespread international criticism over a recent decision to ban adoptions of Russian children by US citizens, and looks like an attempt to deflect public attention.
“Giving Depardieu citizenship is a strong PR move inside the country but it is the anti-orphan law that influences Russia’s image worldwide. This can’t offset that,” wrote Alexei Venediktov, chief editor of Moscow Echo, on his blog.
Putin last week signed a law banning US adoptions despite emotional appeals after Washington passed legislation targeting the Russian officials who were allegedly involved in the prison death of a lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky.


Rickshaw pullers fade from India’s streets

Updated 27 April 2018
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Rickshaw pullers fade from India’s streets

KOLKATA: Mohammad Maqbool Ansari puffs and sweats as he pulls his rickshaw through Kolkata’s teeming streets, a veteran of a gruelling trade long outlawed in most parts of the world and slowly fading from India too.
Kolkata is one of the last places on earth where pulled rickshaws still feature in daily life, but Ansari is among a dying breed still eking a living from this back-breaking labor.
The 62-year-old has been pulling rickshaws for nearly four decades, hauling cargo and passengers by hand in drenching monsoon rains and stifling heat that envelops India’s heaving eastern metropolis.
Their numbers are declining as pulled rickshaws are relegated to history, usurped by tuk tuks, Kolkata’s signature yellow taxis and modern conveniences like Uber.
Ansari cannot imagine life for Kolkata’s thousands of rickshaw-wallahs if the job ceased to exist.
“If we don’t do it, how will we survive? We can’t read or write. We can’t do any other work. Once you start, that’s it. This is our life,” he tells AFP.
Sweating profusely on a searing hot day, his singlet soaked and face dripping, Ansari skilfully weaves his rickshaw through crowded markets and bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Wearing simple shoes and a chequered sarong, the only real giveaway of his age is his long beard, snow white and frizzy, and a face weathered from a lifetime plying this disappearing trade.
Twenty minutes later, he stops, wiping his face on a rag. The passenger offers him a glass of water — a rare blessing — and hands a note over.
“When it’s hot, for a trip that costs 50 rupees ($0.75) I’ll ask for an extra 10 rupees. Some will give, some don’t,” he said.
“But I’m happy with being a rickshaw puller. I’m able to feed myself and my family.”