On the evening of November 23, the annual "Night of Players" awards were presented, and were chiefly notable for a controversial decision to award the Actress of the Year laurels to Russian actress Chulpan Khamatova.
Khamatova, who is extremely well-known in her homeland, came to Latvia in the spring after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and joined the troupe of the New Riga Theater. There, together with the director Alvis Hermanis, a solo-performance "Post Scriptum" was created for her as a commentary "on Russia's (and not only) consciousness, conscience and subconsciousness in the context of recent events".
Khamatova has publicly voiced her opposition to Russia's waging war against Ukraine since the Febrary 24 invasion. However, her relationship with the Putin regime has not always been so distant. As reported by Deutsche Welle, she appeared in campaign ads for Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2012 and even voiced her readiness to do so again if it meant her charity work for sick children would benefit. On the question of Russia's illegal seizure of Crimea she was quoted as saying: "I do not understand who is right or who is wrong there."
The award by the Latvian jury to Khamatova caused a immediate backlash on social networks, though the fact that the actress gave her acceptance speech in Latvian and expressed her happiness at living and working in Latvia was also noted. Her speech concentrated on her own professional career.
"I am very grateful to Latvia that I can live and work here in my profession. It's very important to me that here in Latvia I can be on the stage and work to the fullest extent. Thank you very much for that," she said, but did not make any mention of Russia or Ukraine.
According to a comment from the representative of the jury, Līga Ulberta, the jury believed it could separate the performance of the actress from any political context – while also describing the play in which Khamatova appeared as an "anti-war play".
New Rīga Theater director Alvis Hermanis, who is himself no stranger to controversy, also piled into the debate saying those criticising Khamatova didn't know her biography and hadn't seen the play in which she appeared. He also referenced Arthur Miller's play 'The Crucible', about the Salem witch trials (and, by extension the McCarthy hearings), implying that Khamatova was the victim of a witch hunt.