Mockumentary-cum-comedy Borat (2006) recently celebrated its tenth anniversary — after some years of (understandable) scorn, what does the film mean to Kazakhstan now?
With its full title Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, the film sees Sacha Baron Cohen play hapless Kazakh reporter Borat, who embarks on a journey across the USA. Very few details presented about Kazakhstan in the movie were true, with the film’s portrayal of the country exceptionally exaggerated and less than flattering.
It is alleged that in 2005 the Kazakh foreign ministry considered the idea that Borat formed part of a foreign plot to desecrate the country’s character, with the movie’s website banned on the .kz domain the next year. In the leadup to and time immediately following Borat‘s release, the Kazakh government employed two PR firms and took out ads on CNN, and in the New York Times, US News and World Report, in an attempt to show the true Kazakhstan.
The movie has clearly haunted Kazakhstan — let us never forget the cringeworthy moment when in 2012 a Kazakh athlete at a competition in Kuwait had to stand victorious not for her national anthem, but Borat’s O Kazakhstan.
But Kazakhstan’s official position towards the film seems to have softened a little.
“It was a comedy — not a documentary,” said Aisha Mukasheva, a spokesperson for the Embassy of Kazakhstan in the United States, in an interview with Vice. “We are a proud nation [...] In our 25 years of independence, we have a lot to be proud of: nuclear disarmament, our economic development, and our growing role on the world stage.” She suggested that Kazakhs may be frustrated by Borat simply in the same way that the British may be bored of being equated to Mr Bean.
Ms Mukasheva asserts that Kazakhstan’s mental association with the film for foreigners is getting less and less — she claims that now Kazakhstan is better known to tourists for its scenery, hiking and skiing.
National pride may even have increased as a result of the film, she affirms.
“If we learned anything from the release of Mr Baron Cohen’s film,” says Mukasheva. “It is that we should be sharing the pride in what it really means to be a Kazakh far more widely.”