'Borat' Offends, Entertains While Mirroring Society

Sacha Baron Cohn as 'Borat' holds a sign saying 'Malibu.' i

Despite the sign, our Kazakh friend's true destination is Hollywood. Is America ready? 20th Century Fox hide caption

itoggle caption 20th Century Fox
Sacha Baron Cohn as 'Borat' holds a sign saying 'Malibu.'

Despite the sign, our Kazakh friend's true destination is Hollywood. Is America ready?

20th Century Fox

Borat features British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen as a fictional television journalist from Kazakhstan on a tour of the United States. The satire is biting and discomforting. But it's also funny and well-suited for our times.

Kazakhstan Embassy Responds to Borat

Borat and Vassilenko

Borat (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 hide caption

itoggle caption 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.

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