The Oscar winner joined Seal, violinist Vanessa Mae and Jean-Claude Van Damme at the leader’s 35th birthday bash in Grozny on 5 October (11) – but she insists she was only there as a representative of a Turkish real estate company and thought she was a part of a peace tribute.
She explains, “I was invited by a Turkish real estate company to go and help be a proponent of peace by celebrating the rebuilding of a war-torn city in Chechnya… I thought, ‘Absolutely, yes… I love to travel, I love to meet people…’ Then, once there on the side of the stage, someone said, ‘It’s the President’s birthday; could you wish him a happy birthday?’
“I’d never heard of him before and in fact when they said his name I couldn’t even say it so I said, ‘I’ll just say, Mr. President’. So I went out and said, ‘Happy Birthday Mr. President after I said my whole speech about it’s great to be a proponent of peace and you guys are doing incredible things. Then, when I got back (to America), only then was I made aware of who he was… Now I can say his name. His name is Kadyrov and he’s a bad guy.”
Swank has already handed over the money she received to attend the party and she has linked with the human rights activists who tried to warn the actress about going to Chechnya and saluting a leader allegedly responsible for the brutality and torture of his own people.
Speaking to U.S. chat show host Jay Leno on Friday (02Dec11), she adds, “Human rights organisations had reached out to warn me before I went but I did not get those warnings, they weren’t shared with me… I had never known and I thank the human rights organisations for reaching out… The silver lining is I’m actually working with the Human Rights Watch now.”
And she insists there’s no excuse for what she did – admitting she should have done her research.
Swanks adds, “Shame on me. I should know where I’m going and I should do better research and I definitely can guarantee I won’t go anywhere ever again without doing full research… I actually didn’t know that Chechnya was separate from Russia… I had no idea. “