The Patrimony

In politics, everything is relatives

Tag: France

Of synergies, negative and positive

by fpman

We have recently concluded our groundbreaking analysis of Amal Alamuddin and George Clooney’s wedding with the following assessment:

“Given that both are involved in some ambitious international, or rather global, humanitarian initiatives, our prognosis is that there is likely to be a fair amount of synergy in their efforts.”

We love to say “we were right.” It is a pleasant feeling for a poor analyst. So here it is. We were right.

Have you heard of the Elgin Marbles? It’s a collection of marble sculptures, em, “obtained,” with Ottoman approval, from the Parthenon in Athens’ Acropolis by a 19th century British gentleman who happened to be the Earl of Elgin. George Clooney is pretty convinced these days he has to weigh in on this issue, of all issues, and he already did, in fact, multiple times, as part of the promotion of his ‘Monuments Men‘ movie. Return what thou shalt return – is what he basically says. So the Greek government is happy to call on Mrs. Clooney’s, i.e. Amal Alamuddin’s, legal assistance now, and she is happy to respond to this call. Flying to Athens for a visit related to the issue, on October 13-16, “holding a series of meetings with government officials during their stay, including the Prime Minister, Mr Antonis Samaras, and the Minister of Culture, Mr Konstantinos Tasoulas,” as a recent statement by Doughty Street Chambers (where Amal is working) reveals.

A first time? No. As the same statement also points out: Mr Robertson (another lawyer at Doughty Street) and Mrs Clooney were first asked to provide legal advice to the Greek government on this matter in 2011.” Talkin’ about synergy… So do we think that the Elgin Marbles issue simply occurred to George Clooney one day, in a “by the way” manner…?

Now what’s the opposite of synergy? I have consulted this forum where some interesting suggestions are put forward, with the word “antergy” seemingly coming out on top. I consider that awkward. Etymologically it doesn’t make sense but it reminds me of ants and that is my problem. Ants are the best at making more of themselves than the sum of the parts. Leave ants alone! Hence I’ll be using the equally awkward term “negative synergy.”

Here is an example of dubious, or potentially negative, synergy. For all the humanitarian initiatives Amal and George are involved in, Amal’s uncle is apparently no other than Ziad Takieddine, a very international guy (What do we call him? A dealer? A go-between? A facilitator? Mr. Fix-It?) who was involved even in the far-reaching “Karachi case,” a textbook case of what can be wrong about adding up a bit of arms trade, corruption, and terrorism. Here’s the “deal” as it may have happened: France sold some submarines to Pakistan. To be able to sell them and make a profit, it had to pay commissions or kickbacks to Pakistani officials, for them to be willing buyers. In turn, the Pakistani officials paid kickbacks to French politicians, for them to be willing sellers (and payers of the commissions). This turned into a source of campaign financing for some people in France. Some of the money apparently went into financing Édouard Balladur’s 1995 presidential elections campaign which Balladur then lost. He was defeated by Jacques Chirac who then cancelled the deal with Pakistan on the commissions. And then in May 2002 eleven French engineers were blown up in the Pakistani port town of Karachi. Which may or may not be related to the commissions that went unpaid.

ZiadTakieddineZiad Takieddine (source: AFP/Getty)

Beyond being a part of the money flow, as an intermediary, to Balladur, Ziad Takieddine alleges that he was also part of the money flow to President Nicolas Sarkozy (who used to be a close associate of Balladur’s back in the latter’s days as Prime Minister), and that in part the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi financed Sarkozy’s own campaign struggle, from which he came out victorious, in 2007. A sum total of over 50 million Euros may have been put up by the Libyans for this purpose, and it is said to have been funnelled to the beneficiaries through Panama and Switzerland in the kind of sophisticated arrangement that seems to be Standard Operating Procedure in some circles.

Ziad Takieddine is currently banned from leaving France, by court order, related to the Karachi affair, and so, unless he’s granted special permission to leave the country, he cannot make it to the October 25 reception organized by Amal’s parents in London on the occasion of her recent wedding. Ziad is demanding the chance to do so.

Alright, that’s it for today, folks! May all this talk of synergy give you some energy.

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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.

Valérie’s revanche: Le coup de grâce?

by fpman

It’s all over the papers.

An article in the Daily Mail calls it – really the best expression there is for it – “public figures washing their dirty linen in public.” Imagine that literally is what they are doing, and it won’t be far from what is actually happening.

Valérie Trierweiler, former lover and subsequently partner of current French President François Hollande has written a book, ironically with the title of Merci pour ce moment, printed and prepared for publication in grand secrecy in Germany, revealing to the public all sorts of details about the private life she had with the currently highly unpopular head of state.

TrierweilerMagazine cover heralding the coming of the book

Valérie Trierweiler, often referred to in French public discourse as the “Rottweiler,” or, related to some of her Twitter-based combat of the past, “Tweetweiler,” pulls no punches in presenting an account of all the psychological blows she suffered while First Lady of the Élysée Palace.

The former journalist who hails from a humble family, having been the fifth of six children, in a family where the father, a clerk, lost a leg during World War II, goes after François Hollande with considerable determination – in what some in defence of the President refer to as “paparazzi politics.”

Twice, she says now, François Hollande swore to her, during the course of 2013, that rumors about his relationship with French actress Julie Gayet were false. When word of the affair reappeared, this time among the major news headlines, in January this year, it made her reach for a handful of sleeping pills. In her retelling, Hollande tried to stop her but did not quite manage. She was hospitalized. Hollande immediately dumped her once she was discharged, presumably fearing damage to his popularity from the incident, but kept texting her for a while telling her he needed her. A weird ending to a relationship that in Valérie Trierweiler’s account saw the two gradually alienate from each other after Hollande had taken his office in 2012. At one point, the current Minister of Agriculture, a close advisor and friend of President Hollande, Stéphane Le Foll even told her, in no uncertain fashion:

“If you want an evening with Francois, you have to go through me.”

The book may be clearly in breach of, say, the standards of ethnographic research, in revealing as much as it does, without the consent of those involved. And this raises the extremely complex issue of whether public figures may be entitled to some privacy, too.

But opponents will use this to further Hollande’s character assassination, no matter what. As a member of Hollande’s opposition already declared:

“Clearly, in this case, beyond his private life this is about the temperament of a man whose cynicism and whose indifference are worrying.”

With his current popularity standing making him the most unpopular French President ever, if such perceptions are reinforced, it won’t help him. It’s small consolation to him that it can’t harm him all that much now, either.