Hollywood actress Hilary Swank said yesterday she "regrets" attending a party held in honour of Chechnya's leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, but stopped short of agreeing to part with the fee she earned for her appearance. Ms Swank and others have come under fire for attending Mr Kadyrov's birthday celebrations in Grozny last week.
"I deeply regret attending this event," said Ms Swank. "If I had a full understanding of what this event was apparently intended to be, I would never have gone."
She was far less circumspect at the celebration itself, where, after a tour of the city, she announced that she could "see that everyone was so happy" in Chechnya, before offering a sultry "Happy birthday, Mr President" to Mr Kadyrov.
Ms Swank was joined on stage by actor Jean Claude van Damme, who said, "I love you, Mr Kadyrov", and there were performances from the violinist Vanessa Mae and the British singer Seal. All of them are believed to have received substantial fees.
Video footage of Ms Swank gushing over Chechnya's ruthless leader has surfaced on the internet, and cynics will suggest the main reason for the "regret" that Ms Swank is now feeling is that the negative publicity is threatening to damage her reputation as one of Hollywood's more intelligent and discerning stars. Her publicist had been well aware of who Mr Kadyrov is: he was contacted by a human rights group five days before the event, to ask if his client was attending, and to detail the nature of Mr Kadyrov's rule. He replied, denying Ms Swank would attend.
"All the way up to the concert, rights groups were warning these celebrities and their publicists about what kind of regime this is," said Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch yesterday. "We told them about the torture, the abuses and the extrajudicial executions perpetrated by Mr Kadyrov's security forces." There is a whole litany of similar allegations against Mr Kadyrov, who denies them all.
Ms Lokshina said she welcomed Ms Swank's statement and was aiting to see whether the actress would either return the money she earned to Chechen authorities or donate it to a good cause. She said that she hoped the scandal will act as a warning to other stars.
But the British singer Seal tried to take the moral high ground with those on Twitter who alerted him to the unsavoury regime. "By going there, I played MUSIC for the Chechenyan [sic] people," wrote the singer on Twitter, apparently unaware that the only people at the concert were Mr Kadyrov's inner circle and high-ranking officials and dignitaries. "I'm a MUSICIAN and would appreciate if you leave me out of your politics." He accused another critic of being a "hypocrite", writing: "You sit there under your umbrella of democracy and never once stop to think how it keeps you dry."
It was not immediately clear how this justified the singer banking a cheque for his performance for Mr Kadyrov.