Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Visit Begins and the PR War Continues (Borat may already be knocked out though)

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From The Economist, Sept. 16-22, 2006

The most publicized of Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s visits to the U.S. has begun. As the Borat controversy fades into the background of the visit (with Kazakhstani officials employing better spin on that particular issue) and the initial Kazakhstan “democracy” advertisements having already aired during ABC’s “Good Morning America” (I wish somebody would upload that to youtube!), a well-planned and orchestrated visit is unfolding which is meant to put Kazakhstan on the map in the U.S. A recent article by Joshua Kucera in Eurasianet lists a schedule of events that appear aimed at raising the profile of Kazakhstan during the visit. After a trip to the Bush family home in Kennebunkport, ME to meet with George the elder, Nazarbayev travels to Washington where he will have various meetings with officials and businessmen before unveiling a statue to Kazakhstan’s independence at the Kazakh Embassy (the theme of which could be symbolically important) and attending a dinner co-hosted by CNN founder Ted Turner, where Kazakhstan’s achievements in nuclear non-proliferation are sure to be featured.

The next day at the White House, however, will be a more interesting event as Nazarbayev runs into an entanglement that could prove much more challenging than the publicity of the Borat film. With congressional elections approaching and the Bush administration on the ropes, especially with regards to Iraq, the Nazarbayev visit is suddenly coming under intense scrutiny. Mainstream U.S. media seems ready to cover this visit as a story about the Bush administration’s hypocrisy concerning its selective implementation of the “freedom agenda” promoting democracy around the world. Already, there are rumors that the Nazarbayev meeting may be a featured aspect of the Sunday morning news talk shows this week (make sure, for example, to watch “John McLaughlin's ONE ON ONE” on PBS), and other mainstream media outlets are discovering that the Nazarbayev visit may serve as a good symbolic story of a certain “double-standard” in the policies of the Bush administration. The question is whether this situation will change the tone of the meetings as President Bush tries to deflect criticism of selectively choosing to welcome one authoritarian leader while criticizing others. Given what is at stake in U.S.-Kazakhstan relations, this probably will not happen. Instead, one would hope that it leads to frank discussion about strengthening bi-lateral relations while accenting Kazakhstan’s need for real political reforms that can guarantee a smooth and democratic transfer of power in the country once President Nazarbayev is ready to step down. Given that Eurasianet has already reported that the U.S. will not support Kazakhstan’s bid for the chairmanship of the OSCE, a discussion about human rights and political freedoms probably cannot be avoided. Regardless, the PR firms working for Kazakhstan right now better be burning the midnight oil to control the upcoming spin. One thing is for sure – this visit will put Kazakhstan on the map in the U.S. (for at least a week). The question is what vision of Kazakhstan will it leave behind in the minds of America’s short-attention populous.


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