Just when it looked like the Kazakhstan government had finessed the PR battle with Borat and had gained the upper hand, Mr. Sagdiyev is hitting back inside the beltway. The Kazakhstan Government’s PR firms have been working overtime. They have placed picturesque television advertising spots about Kazakhstan tourism on CNN (“Kazakhstan: Have you ever Wandered?”) and advertising spots of lesser production quality on ABC extolling the countries economic and democratic accomplishments. They have placed a four page insert in the New York Times entitled “Kazakhstan in the 21st Century: Looking Ahead.” Their allies in the U.S. academy have provided nicely timed op-ed pieces for the Washington Times (Ariel Cohen) and for the Washington Post (Fredrick Starr) . Yesterday, it was starting to look as if the Kazakhstan’s PR effort was working in its effort to put the country on the map in the minds of Americans (at least in DC) and doing so with a positive spin. Then, today after President Nazarbayev’s unveiling of DC’s Golden Man, the First and Only President of Kazkahstan’s nemesis showed up in front of the Kazakhstan Embassy in Washington – Borat Sagdiev. Giving an impromptu press conference before the Embassy, Borat suggested that President Nazarbayev was indeed happy about his film and that notions to the contrary were being spread by an Uzbek infiltrator in the Kazakhstan Embassy, spokesperson Roman Vassilenko (yes, that is an unlikely Uzbek name).
Borat also disputed the authenticity of the advertising spots on U.S. television that had appeared in the name of Kazakhstan, stating that they were yet another disinformation ploy. While it was all very funny, it occurred to me that perhaps Borat could also be on the payroll of the firms working for the Kazakhstan government. The Borat angle, afterall, was the only aspect of Nazarbayev’s visit to the U.S. to make it on Katie Couric’s “melbatoast” CBS news, quite masterfully putting the “democracy issue” on the back burner. Maybe we have underestimated Patton Boggs. Maybe both sides of the battle are just laughing together all the way to the bank.
Sean R. Roberts lives in Washington, DC. He is an Associate Professor of International Development at George Washington University (GWU) and the Director of GWU's International Development Studies Program. In addition, Dr. Roberts works as a consultant on democracy and governance development projects around the world as well as on issues related to Central Asia. He has lived in Central Asia on and off since 1989. He has a Masters degree in Visual Anthropology and a Doctorate in Social Anthropology both from the University of Southern California. In addition to conducting extensive research in the Uyghur community of Central Asia, Dr. Roberts also worked for approximately six years at the United States Agency for International Development in Central Asia.