The Patrimony

In politics, everything is relatives

Tag: advocacy

Gérard Depardieu is a businessman, not a politician

by AiteVer

Ello. It’s AiteVer again. Did you miss me? Did you notice I was gone? Well, I guess you were in good company anyway, thanks to fpman, my colleague over here and a cousin apparently, too 🙂

Anyhow, while I was busy upgrading my status in academia [sic!], the globe was shaken [very sic!] by the news that Gérard Depardieu can drink or drinks up to 14 bottles of wine a day. In my opinion, it is quite a shame that this is the one snippet that swept the news world as it was taken out of some truly remarkable context: from an interview that’s filled with astonishing statements such as

‘Putin is a simple guy, a former KGB agent who was long imprisoned in Vienna’

or

‘Do you think that if I was egocentric I could approach Jean-Paul II, Mitterrand, Castro, Putin, and all those kinds of people? I don’t care about having an ego. ‘

I guess these days it isn’t really news when a celebrity takes up a second job advertising other people’s stuff or starts his or her own business. It can be especially true for those who are over their prime time in showbiz. As for Depardieu, he has done all of these. Before his abandonment of his status as French cultural god and becoming a ‘tax refugee’, he was known to own a vineyard and other businesses in France, and he gave his name to basically anything, whether it was ketchup, Azeri cuisine or an Armenian air company, naturally regardless of politics. Well, regardless of politics at least as long as the politics of certain policies didn’t affect him personally…

The change came into his life with the introduction of a temporary 75% income tax in 2012 by the French government that was levied on people earning more than a million euros. He first moved to Belgium and was subsequently granted Russian citizenship by a presidential decree on January 1, 2013. What’s changed since? Little – and maybe some, I would argue.

He’s admittedly into ‘living a life of excess’ just as much today as pre-tax-scandal, and he still lives the dual life of a high-profile actor and successful businessman. Nonetheless, he now also plays in a movie whose plot is rather reminiscent of the DSK scandal, in a patriotic Kazakh film, and lately in a Russian movie set partly in Chechnya, too. Added to this, his Russian businesses include a chain of restaurants present in major Russian cities, as well as a line of organic vodka. Also, he has appeared in a Kazakh commercial advertising Eurasian Bank’s special VIP card that is ‘elaborated with a pure gold pattern and 0.02 carat genuine diamond’ and in a video with Gulnara Karimova (of whom we already wrote on this blog) – to further illustrate the diversity of his impressive portfolio. Altogether, we can assume that whatever he is doing, he must be really successful in it, considering the expenses it must take to sponsor his daily 14 bottles of quality alcohol, ‘whenever he’s bored.’

DepardieuIn vino veritas (source)

The notable part from a political point of view is that his post-career career has brought him onto a slippery slope. As a symbol of the West from a certain perspective, whatever he says resonates loudly. Even though Depardieu’s love for Russia perhaps did not start with acquiring citizenship, it definitely has given him room to voice his ideas on international politics. He started his new career as a proud Russian by calling the country a ‘great democracy’ and then went on to praise Russian President Vladimir Putin on multiple occasions. And as the dominant political narrative of events in Ukraine has increasingly focused on a conflict with the West in Russia, the role of the well-known French national symbol has grown in parallel.

Of course, there is some importance of his Russianness in the Europe he left behind, too. Firstly, his departure left a mark on France, as he was one of the most famous exports of the country. Secondly, his stance towards Putin is quite controversial, as signaled by the large amount of questions he receives from western media.

Still, his presence in Russia is possibly much more important for the host country itself, which, given his presence in the Russian press, has clearly been recognized by Russian decision-makers too. For example, according to Russian media, on a trip to Serbia he recently praised the people there for not supporting the EU sanctions against Russia, while in an interview about his new movie Viktor, he hastily explained Ukrainian history by saying the western half used to be Polish and the eastern half Russian, even though he quickly added that he isn’t too competent in politics to talk about it…

Depardieu is now, for all its worth, a (proud) Russian citizen. He pays lower taxes, he’s involved in local business and he’s a friend of Putin. On the other hand, he still is an international superstar and that continues to work in his favor financially. When he was asked why he’s still in business, he replied:

‘I have to make a living, and besides, I do other things too. Cinema is not the only thing I do, luckily. I hang out with artists, I travel, I’m into cuisine, and wine, I go and visit dictators…or so they say!’

If I have to take a guess he probably meant to be kidding with the last part but he definitely hit the spot. Of course we will never know if he says his pro-Kremlin remarks out of political conviction (to which he is entitled) or because of his current business interests (to which he is also entitled) but there is one thing for certain. Whatever he says can reach the masses easily. And the issue isn’t really whatever we think about his competence to talk politics but that when he and others praise Putin for his actions in Ukraine, they make loud judgments over issues by which they are not the least affected… Or, more exactly, if they are affected it is not in the way the people in Ukraine are affected. Depardieu is a Russian citizen, and being there has commercially benefitted him greatly. As long as he remains the friend of the Boss, this isn’t expected to change significantly.

The burden of legacy: Aung San Suu Kyi’s presidential hopes

by AiteVer

Aung San Suu Kyi’s story may be a prime example of why we created this blog. A person with global outreach and immense political capital – a beneficiary as well as a sufferer of her family connections. ‘The Lady,’ as she’s known by many, once again seems headed towards political deadlock in her struggle with the regime ruling Myanmar/Burma, in part because of her family ties. We’re tuning into this at a moment when not much seems to be going forward – to provide the context now so we can refer back to it when keeping you posted on developments later on.

AungSanSuuKyiAn iconic image of Aung San Suu Kyi from her Wikipedia file

The Nobel laureate leader of the National League for Democracy (the main opposition party in Myanmar) was born in Rangoon (today: Yangon) in 1945 and was only two years old when her father was assassinated by his rivals. Bogyoke (meaning General) Aung San was the founder of the modern Burmese army as well as the main negotiator of the country’s independence in 1947. After years of attempts to erase his memory by the present rulers of the country, he is today again celebrated as a national hero.

Suu Kyi inherited this legacy but had no ambitions to enter Burmese politics. She followed her mother to Nepal and India when she was appointed ambassador to the two countries in 1960, and afterwards went on to study in the UK, and then live in the US and work for the UN for a while. She returned home eventually to be at her mother’s bed after she had suffered a stroke. It was at this point when she joined the pro-democracy movement that originated in what seemed transitional times but culminated in the failed “8888 uprising” – so named after its starting date of August 8, 1988.

Still in that August, standing under a giant picture of her father, she told a massive gathering that ‘I could not, as my father’s daughter, remain indifferent to all that was going on’. Events, however, led to the military once again taking the reins, in September, cracking down on opposition protests.

Suu Kyi may have lost an important battle at that point, but her image as a global defender of human rights had only just begun to take off, in great part thanks to her husband, Michael Aris, a scholar of Tibet, author of many studies, among them this one.

ArisFamilyMichael Aris, Aung San Suu Kyi, and son Alexander in 1973 (source: Aris family collection)

Their marriage was a symbol of voluntary sacrifice, as Suu Kyi remained under solitary house arrest right up till her ultimate release in 2010. In the meantime, Aris and their two children were rejected visas by Burmese authorities on most occasions and they could only meet with Suu Kyi a couple of times. The relationship carried the air of tragedy about it. It ended in 1999, when Aris died in the UK of prostate cancer, on his 53rd birthday. He patiently promoted his wife’s cause around the world and collected the awards she received, on her behalf – including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. His death must have been a shattering loss to Suu Kyi.

Myanmar has, since, taken steps towards a more democratic form of government. After she had been released in 2010, Suu Kyi was even elected to the parliament in 2012. But the current constitution still bars her from running in next year’s presidential elections – related to her family ties…

The Constitution – proposed, and subsequently accepted in a referendum, under military rule in 2008 – says that the president cannot be directly related to a foreigner.  As Suu Kyi’s late husband was a British national, and so are her two sons, too, it is hard to see this provision as anything but targeted at her in the present context.

Earlier this year, there were signs of hope that this may change, and a parliamentary committee began to review the constitution. At the same time a petition to amend it was signed reportedly by over 5 million people. However, as of today it seems that the clause in question is going to stay. And this leaves the strongest opposition candidate with less than a fair chance to contest the elections.

Characteristically, she relates to this with a stoic’s optimism (if there is such a thing). Speaking to a group of artists a couple of days ago she promised:

“As I often say, 2015 will not decide which way our country will go forward—it is 2014 that will decide it. If we can progress the right way in 2014, we can get what we want in 2015.”

Unfortunately, she will be 70 by the time of the election next year. Even if the ultimate constitutional hurdle is removed, she will have a long life of struggle to look back to before she can realise her ambition.

Mr. and Mrs. Blair

by AiteVer

Throughout the last few years British news sites have been increasingly involved in covering the intertwined deals of former prime minister, Tony Blair. Tony Blair Associates (TBA) and his seven other companies make the flow of both money and advice difficult to follow, which has alarmed many in Britain and worldwide.

One of the juiciest stories gone viral in the past is that of Mr. Blair’s close connections to Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev. Astana’s questionable human rights record and continuing rampant corruption may throw doubt on the effectiveness of his advice on ‘good governance’ that TBA was initially hired for in 2011.

Blair_NazarbayevBlair and Nazarbayev at Downing Street 10 (photo: Eddie Mulholland)

Three years, a bloody riot in Zhanaozen, multiple handwritten letters, several blooming investments, a reaffirming book, and a comprehensive promotion campaign later the importance of Mr. Blair in clearing up Kazakhstan’s image seems unquestionable.

Having defused allegations that he ‘profits personally’ from the matter, it was interesting to see when his wife Cherie Blair, also an avid defender of human rights, recently accepted to review Kazakhstan’s bilateral treaties through her company, Omnia Strategy. According to the article, Mrs. Blair has declined to comment on whether Omnia won the job on a tender or it was directly offered to them.

Tony_and_Cherie_BlairTony and Cherie Blair (source)

The similarities between the ventures of the Blairs do not end at having a similar pool of clients. The organizational structure of their ventures and the use of limited liability partnerships (LLP) make it easier for the two to stay under the radar.

As the Blair name continues to pop up all around the world, there is little question whether the pair is planning to enjoy their well-deserved retirement.