Aleksandr Buzgalin: Putin shows he is a right-wing neo-liberal politician as he promotes Russia as a paradise for the rich.
Aleksandr Buzgalin is a Professor of Political Economy at Moscow State University. He is also editor of the independent democratic left magazine Alternatives, and is a coordinator of the Russian social movement Alternatives, author of more then 20 books and hundreds of articles, translated into English, German and many other languages.
Paul Jay, Senior Editor, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore.
French actor Gérard Depardieu, in order to avoid a proposed new tax on the very wealthy—apparently about 75 percent—has decided to give up his French citizenship and, on offer from President Putin, has now become a Russian citizen. He's already been given his Russian passport in a meeting with President Putin.
Now joining us to talk about all of this is Professor Aleksandr Buzgalin. He's a professor of political economics at Moscow State University. He's also editor of the independent democratic magazine Alternatives. Thanks for joining us again, Aleksandr.
Aleksandr Buzgalin, Prof. Political Ecnomics, Moscow State University: Thank you, and I'm glad to be on your program.
Jay: So what do you make of all of this? Why did President Putin step in? And most of the attention so far has been on Depardieu and his—apparently they're proposing a 75 percent tax. And this is, to put it in some context, the tax on the very wealthy in the United States after World War II was 90 percent, so it's not like this is so crazy outrageous. But Depardieu's gone. But what's in this for Putin?
Buzgalin: This is really very symbolic, because in my country, in Russia, we had a lot of debates about Putin's policy. And even among left, it was such opinion that Putin is supporter of ordinary people. But this step, when Putin decided to support Depardieu, who left his country, who left France because he didn't want to and he doesn't want to pay normal taxes—I think—normal taxes for the rich, this is very symbolic, because Putin saw that really he's a right-wing politician, that flat income tax in Russia is not an accident. This is the strategy of our authorities, of our officials. And this is really dangerous from one side and important from another side, because all this show around Depardieu is only attempt to show that Russia is good place for foreigners. But it's not true.
Jay: Well, it shows that it's a good place for rich foreigners. What is the tax rate in Russia for the very wealthy?
Buzgalin: So everybody now in Russia pays—everybody pays 13 percent, one-three for everybody. If you are an extremely rich oligarch and you have billions of dollars, you will pay 13. If you are a poor doctor or teacher or worker, you pay the same, 13 percent. And by the way, if you speculate on the stock market, if you speculate on the foreign currency market, you will not pay, even, 13 taxes, because this is a reinvestment of their income. So really rich in my country can pay 6, 5, maybe 7 percent. And this is opposite to all European countries, and opposite even to the United States.
And really in the crisis we must find solution and we must find who will pay for the crisis. Our opinion was and is that those who created crisis must pay for this crisis. I think story with Depardieu is also very symbolic, because we can again examine so-called arguments of the right-wing economists and politicians, and they are very primitive. But I want to repeat my debates. First argument, that left, everybody among the left wants to take money from the people who are working hard and give money to those who do nothing and who are just parasites.
But what is reality? In reality, Depardieu now is mainly not an actor. He's a rentier. And he is nobody for the real economic development. He is simply taking money from his past star status. And that's it. Nothing else. Normal actor, if he is talented, he's real creator, main motivation for him will be creativity himself, opportunity to give his talent to the people, the reception by the people, the applause of the people, but not money themself.
So who will pay this big income tax in France, in the Scandinavian countries? Who must pay, I think, this tax in Russia (but they are not paying this tax, unfortunately, in my country) first of all, all financial speculators, second, all people who are quasi stars for creating simulacrums of so-called mass collage.
Depardieu is good actor, maybe not very good actor—it's not my problem. The problem is that mainly these quasi stars in professional sport and mass culture, they're just simulacra of real creativity. And what is important, even talent manager, top manager, if he is, first of all, creator of new organization, of new production, of new innovations, of innovations themselves, he is working as creator, and for creator, it's enough to have maybe ten times more wage or income than ordinary worker.
Only one example, Finnish transnational corporation Nokia. It's not the paradise of the socialism at all. This is transnational capitalist corporation. But in Finland, the top manager of Nokia has only ten times more than ordinary worker in Finland. And this is normal. And Depardieu can have ten times more than ordinary actor or ordinary citizen, ordinary teacher, or social worker in France. This is normal for good life. Nobody take everything from Depardieu. This is only problem of income for another million of Europe per year. So this is money which he will spend for nothing, for symbolic, prestige consumption.
Jay: Right. Aleksandr, what's in this for Putin? Why draw such attention to the fact that the rich in Russia pays such low tax rates? Why does he want this in terms of Russian public opinion?
Buzgalin: So, first of all, in Russia we have another image. In Russia, everybody in mass media is trying to show that Depardieu came because Russia is paradise of democracy, Russia is paradise of economic development, Russia is paradise for investments, and so on and so far. This is propagandistic show which is very far from the truth. Really, Russia is becoming like a huge offshore zone, like a small island where you can not pay taxes. Now it will be in Russia. It's really terrible. And I am not proud at all that my country—not my country, but the president of my country is trying to realize such policy.
Jay: So this is a big PR campaign is Russia as a tax haven.
Buzgalin: Yes, for foreigners as tax haven, for Russians, that such fantastic people like Depardieu—it's not my opinion, again; this is mass media opinion—is coming to Russia. And that means that West loves Russia. And really it's not true. I'm not speaking about normal relations between ordinary people in the United States, in Europe, in China. We can have friendship, we can have common campaign for defense, our civil rights, our social rights, for protection of a college education and so on, and we can love each other. But the problem is that Russia, for real business, is bad country with corruption, without long-term investments, without state programs which can guarantee investments, because country's in the chaos in many aspects, with a lot of problems in infrastructure, with fixed capital, and so on and so far. That's why it's just PR. This is just their lie, if I can say so.
Jay: Aleksandr, now, when Depardieu made this announcement, he talked about how democratic Russia was and how it allowed free debate and all of this. How did Russians respond to those comments?
Buzgalin: So, first of all, of course we have some elements of democracy. And it's not fascist regime and it's not a totalitarian regime. But from another side, this is so-called manipulative democracy, and we have concentration of power in the hands of presidential administration and ruling party in the parliament, in Duma. Real opposition is under the control, under the pressure. To organize normal meeting is nearly impossible. To organize normal strike is nearly impossible. You will be, in next day, arrested, or you will lose your job, simply. This is country where all central TV channels are under the control of president or its administration or another officials. And in this situation it's really very difficult to say truth.
It's possible to do it in internet, in small opposition newspapers, it's possible to fight in the streets, but this is real fight, and a lot of my friends were arrested, beaten. And it's permanently nervous atmosphere, and nobody knows when KGB or police will come and say that you are hooligan or something like that because you wanted to meet your friends or to tell together that it's not really social-oriented development in Russia, in my country. We are trying to do this. And I love my country. I never will go to France, even in France if I will have, I don't know, ten times more wage here. And I think I can have, as professor, more wage in the West. But I love my country and I will work here.
Jay: I guess for Depardieu, saving 60 percent on his taxes, it's not a big price to pay to do some democratic rhetoric about Russia.
Buzgalin: But really he made very bad joke, if it is joke, or maybe very negative decision, because he lost his name in the eyes of, I think, all normal socially oriented, democratic, simply intelligent people. And I am very sorry for Depardieu, because he's really good actor, and to do this, it's like a bad game to save another million or two million of euro for lie and to tell open lie because you will have for this some million of euro. This is not a beautiful decision at all.
And, by the way, one more very important detail which I want to stress: very often we say that all poor people has envy, and that's why we want to redistribute everything. It's not true. The real envy [incompr.] the rich people who wants to have not one palace, but two palaces, not, I don't know, boat 100 meters, but boat 130 meters, or something like that. They have this feeling of envy which moves them not to pay taxes, which moves them to consume more and more and more.
And for the left, idea of using—of taxes, money from taxes, is opposite. We are thinking about development, development of education, development of ecological programs, development of science, development of social support for ordinary people to become more skilled, more educated, more developed, to support culture. So we are fighting for development, and they're fighting for the consumption of rentier. This is the case.
Jay: Thanks very much for joining us, Aleksandr.
Buzgalin: Thank you very much, Paul.
Jay: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.