Remember when Ramzan Kadyrov turned 30 and gave himself the Chechen presidency
as a present?
It's been a struggle ever since to top that one, although the Chechen leader has tried his best, alternately opening racetracks
, treating himself to million-ruble Arabian stallions -- and now inviting Colombian-born pop star Shakira and a host of other Western celebrities to share in the festivities as he turns 35 on October 5.
A spokesman for the Chechen government announced that Shakira -- famous for songs like "Hips Don't Lie"
-- had all but confirmed her participation in the gala event, which would feature her and British violinist Vanessa Mae performing at the unveiling of Grozny-City, a seven-building complex featuring a business center, a helicopter landing pad, and underground parking for up to 3,000 vehicles.
Shakira, however, has denied that she will attend the event. In a Twitter message
on September 29, she wrote she was "not scheduled to play a gig for the Chechen President."
No word yet on Vanessa Mae, who would reportedly be paid $500,000 to appear. Nor have there been any RSVPs from Kevin Costner, Hilary Swank, and Eva Mendes, who were also apparently among the invitees.
Starlets De Rigueur For Post-Soviet Birthday Planners
Regardless of who shows up, Kadyrov's birthday plans once again remind us -- lest there was any doubt -- that moneyed post-Soviet influentials are not just like us.
Like cake and champagne, Hollywood starlets and singers are now a de rigueur item for birthday planners in Russia and beyond.
Jennifer Lopez this summer reportedly received $1 million
to perform at a wedding party for the son of Uzbek oligarch Azam Aslamov.
Amy Winehouse allegedly earned twice that
to perform for Darya Zhukova, the girlfriend of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.
And Christina Aguilera is believed to have made a staggering $3.6 million after playing exactly three songs at the wedding in France of Russian billionaire Andrei Melnichenko.
Not Everyone Takes The Money And Runs
Several celebrities, however, have pulled out of such engagements amid rising protests over the behavior of the host.
The British singer-songwriter Sting recently withdrew from a performance in Kazakhstan in a gesture of solidarity with striking oil workers there (despite having accepted $1.6 million to perform for Uzbek presidential daughter Gulnara Karimova in 2009).
And Nelly Furtado, Mariah Carey, and Beyonce have all sought to make amends for the millions they earned performing for then-Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi or members of his family.
Perhaps that's what Shakira -- who several years ago was paid $1 million to perform at the 40th birthday party of Russian billionaire Suleiman Kerimov -- had in mind in declining an invite from Kadyrov, who is accused of continuing human rights atrocities in his North Caucasus republic.
The Chechen leader has succeeded in tempting some celebrities to his shores -- most notably football legends
Diego Maradona and Luis Figo, who reportedly earned close to 1 million euros apiece for participating in a high-profile friendly match in Grozny earlier this year.
But Shakira, who has earned accolades from the United Nations for her charity work with impoverished children, may have done a quick Google search and realized that an association with a violent autocrat might best be avoided. Her Facebook page lists her next engagement as an October 14th performance in Puerto Rico.
Or maybe she was just following Kadyrov's own orders. Russian news agencies have reported that the Chechen leader has specifically banned
any public celebrations of his birthday -- which coincide with massive City Day celebrations in the capital Grozny -- and has pledged to fire anyone who even attempts to give him a gift.
-- Daisy Sindelar