Passport

Offer to Open Martial Arts Studio in Belgrade Earns Steven Seagal Serbian Citizenship

After offering to open a martial arts studio in Serbia, American action hero Steven Seagal was granted citizenship there.

SOCHI, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 11:  Actor Steven Seagal  attends qualifying ahead of the Russian Formula One Grand Prix at Sochi Autodrom on October 11, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 11: Actor Steven Seagal attends qualifying ahead of the Russian Formula One Grand Prix at Sochi Autodrom on October 11, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

American action hero Steven Seagal has made two recent trips to Serbia, where he publicly praised Prime Minister Aleksander Vucic and said he feels like a Serb at heart.

The 63-year-old martial arts master also suggested he could open an Aikido studio in Belgrade.

His reward for that offer? Serbian citizenship, which he was granted Monday, according to state media.

The offer came just over a month after the Serbian government asked Seagal if he would train Serbian police in Aikido, a Japanese martial art the actor and musician mastered as a teenager.

Seagal is reportedly the first foreigner to run an Aikido dojo, or training studio, in Japan, and made his acting debut in the 1988 film Above the Law.  More recently, he starred in Steven Seagal: Lawman, a documentary-style show that followed him as a deputy reserve sheriff in Louisiana and Arizona.

A close friend of Vladimir Putin’s, Seagal has stuck by the Kremlin’s side even as Moscow has pushed itself further away from the West. In 2014, after Moscow annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in a move that has not been recognized by most of the world, Seagal told state-run Russian media he thought it was “reasonable.” His friendship with Putin is based largely on their shared interest in martial arts, and Seagal said in the same interview that he thinks of the Russian president as a “brother” and that he is “one of the great living world leaders.”  Last year, he was awarded a star in Moscow’s Alley of Glory, an honor bestowed upon celebrities in the Russian capital.

Serbia, which is eyeing membership in the EU, is otherwise politically aligned with Moscow.  And in December, Seagal said he would do “everything possible to promote Serbia” in the global arena.

After one of Seagal’s recent trips, Belgrade Mayor Sinisa Mali said he wanted to ensure the martial arts master would visit more often. “When you have such a famous star coming to Serbia, who loves our country and our people, our desire is to have him back again,” Mali said.

Having citizenship will probably be helpful in that regard.

Photo Credit: Clive Mason/Getty Images

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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