Kazakhstan Embassy Responds to Borat

Borat and Vassilenko

hide captionBorat (left) and Kazakhstan embassy spokesman Roman Vassilenko differ on the facts about Kazakhstan. Can you tell the difference between Kazakh fact and fiction? Scroll down to take our quiz.

Twentieth Century Fox and Phyllis Fletcher/NPR

Ten Borat "Facts"

Kazakhstan embassy spokesman Roman Vassilenko disputes Borat's facts on Kazakhstan.

Borat says: Kazakhstan is the No. 1 exporter of potassium.

Vassilenko says: Kazakhstan's oil industry is responsible for the country's economic boom.

 

Borat says: Prostitution is one of the major industries in Kazakhstan.

Vassilenko says: Women in Kazakhstan are more likely to be doctors, lawyers, and teachers than prostitutes.

 

Borat says: The traditional Kazakh beverage is fermented horse urine.

Vassilenko says: The traditional Kazakh beverage is fermented horse milk.

 

Borat says: The Kazakhstani greeting is "jagshemash."

Vassilenko says: "Salamatsyz ba" is "good afternoon" in Kazakh.

 

Borat says: The Running of the Jews is a favorite pastime in Kazakhstan.

Vassilenko says: Horse racing and other games on horseback are popular at Kazakhstani festivals.

 

Borat says: The "2003 Tulyakev Reforms" are responsible for such freedoms as women being allowed to ride on the inside of a bus.

Vassilenko says: Kazakhstan's biggest governmental change in recent history was its independence in 1991. Women have had the right to vote in Kazakhstan since 1924.

 

Borat says: Kazakhstan's space program launches chimpanzees and toddlers into orbit.

Vassilenko says: Kazakhstan participates in the International Space Station program, and hosts the station's docking site in its steppes.

 

Borat says: Kazakhstan's embassy spokesman Roman Vassilenko is an "Uzbek imposter."

Vassilenko says: Vassilenko is a proud patriot of Kazakhstan. His country is home to many migrant workers from its northern neighbor Uzbekistan.

 

Borat says: Borat has no connection with comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, and would support Kazakhstan if it decided to sue him.

Vassilenko says: Another spokesman for Kazakhstan once said his government "reserved the right" to legal action against Cohen. No specific threat of a lawsuit was made or intended.

 

Borat says: Gays in Kazakhstan once had to wear blue hats, and are executed by hanging.

Vassilenko says: Homophobia is a social ill in America.

Kazakhstani pride is tender; the country is only 15 years old, which is why some Kazakhs don't know what to make of Borat, the fictional Kazakhstani reporter portrayed by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. Borat is raising eyebrows with antics that include songs like "Throw the Jew Down the Well," and his insinuations that homosexuals in Kazakhstan once had to wear blue hats.

Gauhar Abdygaliyeva, a native of Kazakhstan, is furious at the misrepresentation of her country. Abdygaliyeva is a student in Washington, D.C., and has been hearing false information spread about her country for years.

"That is not nice. And if someone finds it's funny, well, you know, good for them. I just hope you have fun. But as we live in this, you know, very diversified world, it is always important to remember that you do not pick on people," Abdygaliyeva says, "You do not pick on their traditions."

The Kazakhstani government agrees, running four-page ads in The New York Times and U.S. News and World Report and commercials on CNN and the local ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C.

Vassilenko says his office planned the public-relations blitz in conjunction with President Nazabayev's recent trip to the United States. He says the campaign has nothing to do with Borat's movie coming out in a few weeks, but he admits that the ads are a response to Borat.

Vassilenko says that ignoring Borat entirely would be wasting an opportunity to tell the true story of Kazakhstan.

"[Borat] claims that the Kazakhs are very anti-Semitic people and that running of the Jews is the famous pastime. That is, of course, ridiculous," Vassilenko says. "Kazakhstan has a very vibrant Jewish community."

Vassilenko also wants to set the record straight about what Kazakhs drink. Borat claims it is fermented horse urine, but it is actually a beverage called kumyss, made of fermented horse milk.

Vassilenko's most liberating moment was the day he saw the new flag fly over Kazakhstan's capital in 1992. It was the day he knew he was free from Communist Party youth camps — and free from being hauled off to surprise government meetings. He understands that Borat is joking, but he wants people to know the truth about Kazakhstan, as well.

Separate Kazakhstan Fact from Fiction

A Wolf

hide captionTrue or False? Kazakhstan has the world's largest population of wolves.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services

Can you tell the difference between real facts about Kazakhstan and Borat-supplied myths? We sifted through our Kazakh atlas and added facts about the country Borat calls home. Take the quiz and see if you know fact from Borat's fiction.

True or False?

1. Men do not normally shake a woman's hands in mixed company. Upon entering a room, Kazakh men use both hands to shake hands with every other man in the room.

2. The traditional meat of Kazakhstan is beshbarmak — boiled horseflesh sitting atop wide, flat noodles.

3. Horses have the right to vote but women do not.

4. Kazakh myth: Whistling a song inside a building will cause you to be poor for the rest of your life.

5. In 1989, agricultural output had fallen so low that the secretary of Kazakhstan proposed to fulfill meat quotas by slaughtering millions of migrating wild ducks.

6. When a Kazak serves a sheep’s head, the custom is to give the forehead to someone who has a hard task ahead of him.

7. The age of consent has been raised to eight.

8. The country contains the world's largest population of wolves.

9. Of the 4.2 million women of childbearing age, an estimated 15 percent have borne seven or more children.

10. The oldest man in Kazakhstan is 39 years old.

11. Kazaks conduct business in Russian because there are no words in Kazak for many economic terms.

12. The "Virgin Lands" program in the 1950s and '60s encouraged Soviet citizens to cultivate Northern Kazakhstani land.

13. The Kazak word for dog is pronounced 'eat.'

Answers:

1. True

2. True

3. False

4. True

5. True

6. True. You also give the ear to a small child who needs to be more attentive.

7. False

8. False. Although Kazakhstan itself made that boast in a four-page advertisement in The New York Times, according to the International Wolf Foundation, Canada has at least 30,000 more wolves than Kazakhstan.

9. True

10. False

11. True

12. True

13. True

Sources: U.S. State Department, Library of Congress, Kazakhstan embassy, International Wolf Foundation and other NPR reports

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