Kazakhstan Embassy Responds to Borat Kazakhstan's wounded pride over a comedian's portrayal of the country as a land of backward, racist yokels may be behind a recent flurry of late-night TV ads promoting the country.
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Kazakhstan Embassy Responds to Borat

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Kazakhstan Embassy Responds to Borat

Kazakhstan Embassy Responds to Borat

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From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Tune in to late night television and along with ads for hair tonics and vegetable choppers, you may run across this.

(Soundbite of commercial)

Unidentified Announcer: In the 15 years of its independence, Kazakhstan under the outstanding leadership of President Nursultan Nazabayev has become an economically strong and democratic country.

SIEGEL: The narration accompanies a montage of nature scenes, of Kazakh women smiling and waving in traditional dress and to go with the commercials, huge ads in the New York Times. What's behind all this?

NPR's Phyllis Fletcher has the story.

PHYLLIS FLETCHER: Kazakhstani pride is tender. The country is only 15 years old. So what are its fifteen million people supposed to make of this?

Mr. SACHA BARON COHEN (Comedian): Kazakhstan is as civilized as any other country in the world. Women can now travel on inside of bus. Homosexuals no longer have to wear blue hats and age of consent has been raised to eight years old.

FLETCHER: That's Borat, a fictional Kazakhstani reporter portrayed by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. Borat's antics include a song called Throw the Jew Down the Well and claims that Kazakhstan is known for its prostitutes. And that makes Kazakhs like Gauhar Abdygaliyeva furious. She's a student in Washington, D.C. She's been hearing this stuff for years. She trembles slightly as she describes how she feels.

Ms. GAUHAR ABDYGALIYEVA: That is not nice and if someone finds it funny, well, you know, good for them. I just hope you have fun but it is always important to remember that you do not pick on people. You do not pick on their tradition.

FLETCHER: Her government agrees, thus the four page ads in New York Times and U.S. News and World Report and commercials on CNN and the local ABC affiliate here in Washington. Wouldn't it be better if Kazakhstan just ignore Borat?

Mr. ROMAN VASSILENKO (Khazakhstani Embassy Spokesman): Ignoring this would be just wasting the opportunity.

FLETCHER: The opportunity for what?

Mr. VASSILENKO: To tell the story of Kazakhstan.

FLETCHER: That's Roman Vassilenko. He's the spokesman at the Kazakhstan Embassy in D.C. Vassilenko says his office planned the PR blitz in conjunction with President Nazabayev's recent trip to the U.S. He says the campaign has nothing to do with Borat's movie coming out in a few weeks, but Vassilenko admits the ads are a response to Borat.

Mr. VASSILENKO: He claims that the Kazakhs are very anti-Semitic people and that running of the Jews is the famous pastime. That is of course ridiculous. Kazakhstan has a very vibrant Jewish community.

FLETCHER: Vassilenko also wants to set the record straight about what Kazakhs drink.

Mr. VASSILENKO: It is called kumyss. It is a beverage of fermented horse milk. Of course, Borat's claim about fermented horse urine is outlandish and incorrect.

FLETCHER: Vassilenko has heard people say the PR campaign is a clunky Soviet style response to free speech. But he says his people are passionate about symbols other might take for granted. His 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 being hauled off to surprise government meetings. He says he gets that Borat is a joke and if he ever got a chance to talk to Borat's alter ego, Sacha Baron Cohen -

Mr. VASSILENKO: I would say jaghemash, which he says is hello in Kazakhstan, but it's obviously not.

FLETCHER: Phyllis Fletcher, NPR News, Washington.

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