November 1, 2006
Kazakh Anger Has Yet to Ebb Over Borat
ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Borat beware: Accept an invitation by a top Kazakh official to find out what the country is really like and you could be in for a nasty surprise.
"I'd kill this impostor on the spot," said Eltai Muptekeyev, who makes his living in Almaty by posing for photos with a blindfolded falcon clinging to a thick leather glove on his hand.As British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen's movie about his bigoted, English-mangling creation Borat Sagdiyev hits screens in Europe and the United States, the horror and outrage among Kazakhs of all stripes over the way their nation is being misrepresented has not gone away.
Borat has told the world that Kazakhs are addicted to horse urine, enjoy shooting dogs, view rape and incest as respectable hobbies, and are fond of pursuits like "running of the Jew" festivals.
In "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," the fictional Kazakh journalist travels to the United States to make a documentary and bring his findings back to his homeland. Along the way he falls in love with Pamela Anderson.
Even the nation's most liberal political voice had bellicose words for Borat.
"If it happened in a country where rules are more strict than ours, there would have been a government decree to destroy Borat," said Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, leader of the opposition National Social-Democratic Party.
"Even if we set aside his (offensive) personality, he should certainly bear responsibility for his offensive words."
But some Kazakhs were starting to see the humor.
Aigul Abysheva, a third-year linguistics student at Almaty State University, said she at first was "disgusted" by Borat's jokes, especially by his "chain of importance" - where dogs and horses are higher than women.
"But then I realized he was making fun of ignorant people, no matter where they come from," she said. "The real target of Borat's movie is a couch potato who believes that Kazakhs drink horse urine."
Kazakhstan's deputy foreign minister, Rakhat Aliyev, recently extended an invitation to Borat to find out the truth about Kazakhstan.
"He can discover a lot of things. Women drive cars, wine is made of grapes and Jews are free to go to synagogues."
He also said his compatriots were overreacting.
"We must have a sense of humor and respect other people's freedom of creativity," Aliyev said in a recent interview with Kazakhstan Today.
But many Kazakhs still bristle at the way they are being portrayed. Svetlana Chuikina, an anchorwoman on Kazakh television, said Borat didn't even look the part.
"He might look like a Turk, but definitely not like a Kazakh," she said.
An ethnic Russian, she considers Kazakhstan her homeland - just like the people of some 100 ethnic groups living in the ex-Soviet republic the size of Western Europe. Ethnic Kazakhs amount to just a half of the population of 16 million.
Covered with steppe and deserts and blessed with immense oil reserves, Kazakhstan is one of the fastest growing economies in the former Communist bloc. The streets of Almaty are jammed with expensive SUVs, restaurants are packed, and boutiques offer fine Italian shoes.
Having been part of two giant empires - that of the Mongols and the Soviet Union - Kazakhs are equally proud of their nomadic heritage and European education.
"Our way of thinking is mostly European," said Tuyakbai, the opposition leader. "For 70 years we lived in a totalitarian state, and successfully transformed our society in just 15 years of independence."
His tone changed when the conversation turned to Borat.
"If I see him, I'll hit him in the face," he said.