Getting a document out of the Russian bureaucracy -- especially during the holiday period of drunken revelry that chief health inspector Gennady Onishchenko recently called "10 days of horror" -- is never a pleasant or easy task.
Unless your name is Gerard Depardieu.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the Federal Migration Service (FMS) to issue Depardieu a passport on January 3. Less than two days later, a smiling Putin was handing the document over to Depardieu during a meeting in Sochi.
Photographs of the event show Depardieu holding up a newly minted Russian internal passport issued by the FMS in Moscow. It is unclear whether Putin also handed him the standard certificate of citizenship and a Russian passport for foreign travel.
Gazeta.ru has documented the list of rules and procedures
that the FMS had to ignore in order to perform this Herculean feat.
Normally one must apply at a consulate in one's home country. One must submit two copies of the application, a notarized translation of one's passport (which cannot be set to expire within the next six months), a notarized translation of one's birth certificate, notarized copies of one's marriage and divorce documents, diplomas, photographs, financial records, a notarized confirmation that one has passed a Russian-language examination, and so on.
QUIZ: How Well Do You Know Gerard Depardieu?
The online paper asked Depardieu's lawyer when the actor managed to submit all these documents, but the lawyer declined to comment. A spokesman for the FMS said only that the "Foreign Ministry helped him."
It later even emerged that the FMS issued the passport using a photograph of Depardieu that was taken off the Internet.
"This was an exceptional case, under an order from the president," an FMS spokesperson told the paper. "Do you have something against it?"
'Is This How They Respect Our Country?'
It turns out that a lot of Russians do have something against it. Hundreds of ethnic Russians from former Soviet republics have taken to social media in recent days to slam Putin's move as a slap in the face.
Nina Bryzgalova, originally from Kazakhstan but now living in Novosibirsk, wrote on the Odnoklassniki social site: "My family and I passed through seven circles of hell to become citizens of this country. And how many bribes did we have to give? And meanwhile this fat cat with his millions -- voila! He's a Russian. Is this how they respect our country?"
One ethnic Russian from Tajikistan who asked to be identified only as "Volodya" wrote: "Why is that we Russians don't think about our own average people but instead hurry to curry favor with famous foreigners who already have everything they need? My family and I have still not been able to get Russian citizenship and soon we are going to stop trying. I guess we'll try applying to Europe."
Such comments were echoed by Duma Deputy and Putin ally Stanislav Govorukhin (who conceivably could be worried that Depardieu could take his spot as head of the Russian Cinematographers Union), who was quoted as saying of Depardieu: "He's just another drunkard. I don't like this sycophancy toward foreigners."
Russia's Federal Migration Service established a program to repatriate ethnic Russians in 2006, on President Putin's order. That program was supposed to attract at least 100,000 Russians to the country, but media reports indicate that only a few hundred families have actually made it.
Many Russian regions reportedly even established daunting education and professional requirements to prevent migrants from taking scarce jobs away from locals.