President Nazarbayev's Trip to the US and the New "Borat" Film
Having just moved back to the U.S., I have found that more Americans are aware of Kazakhstan than four years ago when I last lived in the United States. The increased knowledge of Kazakhstan, however, is not due to the country’s economic successes or its role as a U.S. ally in the “war on terror.” Instead, most Americans who have heard of Kazakhstan have heard of it through a satire of a Kazakh journalist named Borat. Most people reading this are probably at least nominally aware of Borat, but if they are not, they can learn more on his official “homesite”. Borat’s popularity as a satirist has been increased with the attention paid to him by the Kazakhstani government, which has protested that the character does not reflect the reality of Kazakhstan, its citizens, or its journalists. The Kazakhstani government was particularly upset about Borat’s behavior when he hosted the MTV European music awards earlier this year. It was this event that led to the closing of Borat’s former “homesite” that had been hosted on a Kazakhstani “kz” domain. For those who follow Kazakhstani politics, the government’s reaction is understandable since the Kazakhstani government and its president of fifteen years, Nursultan Nazarbayev, have always sought to improve the country’s public image abroad. Borat certainly does not promote an image of Kazakhstan that is in sync with that which the government and its leader would like to promote abroad. As the old adage goes, however, “there is no such thing as bad publicity.” If that is true, Borat is bringing much more publicity to Kazakhstan than the hired guns of Patton Boggs have accomplished.
As a recent piece in New York magazine points out, there may even be a split in the Kazakhstani elite over Borat and his role (both positively and negatively) on the image and name recognition of Kazakhstan in the United States. The short article also suggests, however, that the real test of the tenuous relationship between Borat and the Kazakhstan government will emerge in the upcoming weeks as the public relations blitz being planned by the Kazakhstan government to publicize the country in the U.S. in the run-up to President Nazarbayev’s long awaited trip to Washington clashes with the advertising blitz ongoing to promote Borat’s new film, ”Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan".
In an attempt to help fuel this potential public relations “battle royale,” I wrote a letter today to Borat through his ”my space” page asking him for an exclusive interview that, if granted, would be published as a podcast right here as part of the Roberts Report. I will let readers know if he responds.