- The Washington Times - Monday, October 30, 2006

Kazakhstan, no joke

What’s so funny about a former Soviet republic inside Central Asia with a government regularly accused of abusing human rights and stifling political dissent?

Quite a bit, if you are a British comedian portraying a fictitious journalist from Kazakhstan with a movie set to debut Friday.

Sacha Baron Cohen has been developing the character of “Borat” since about 1995 and frequently outraging the government in Kazakhstan, which has responded to his lampoon with Soviet-styled denunciations that sometimes reinforced Mr. Cohen’s satire. The Kazakh government once threatened to sue him.

Mr. Cohen, responding as Borat, said he supported the decision.

Now the Kazakh Embassy has decided to take advantage of the premiere of his movie, “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.”

Embassy spokesman Roman Vassilenko said, “The upcoming movie … and the Borat character, of course, have nothing to do with the real Kazakhstan.

“The only actual fact about Kazakhstan in the movie is the country’s geographic location. At the same time, we hope the movie will spur increased interest in the real Kazakhstan among those who see it.”

He cited seven reasons that might interest foreigners:

• At more than 1 million square miles, Kazakhstan is the world’s ninth-largest country by territory and, bordered by Russia and China, is at “the heart” of the old Silk Road and a link between East and West.

• Under the “prudent leadership” of President Nursultan Nazarbayev since 1991, Kazakhstan “has turned into an economically strong and dynamically democratic nation.”

• A Muslim-majority nation, it has 130 ethnic groups and 40 religions.

• After independence from the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan dismantled the world’s fourth-largest arsenal of nuclear weapons and became a leader in nuclear nonproliferation.

• Kazakhstan, which has its own domestic terrorist threat, is a U.S. ally in the war on terrorism and the only Central Asian nation with troops in Iraq.

• It has an estimated 100 billion barrels of oil reserves and expects to be one of the world’s top producers within 10 years.

• Kazakhstan is home to more than 400 U.S. companies that have invested $15 billion in the economy.

Meanwhile, Borat has been on a publicity binge to promote his “mockumentary” that follows his adventures across America. With TV cameras in tow, he showed up outside the White House last month to invite “Premier George Walter Bush” to the screening of his movie but did not get past the gates. He performed the stunt the day before President Bush met with Mr. Nazarbayev.

On his Web site (www.boratmovie.com), Mr. Cohen strikes an ominous tone and warns, “Please, you come see my film. If it is not a success, I will be execute.”

Scottish exchange

The declarations of educational partnership between Georgetown University and Scotland’s St. Andrew’s University were followed by the traditional exchange of gifts — with a little levity.

At a luncheon in the historic Riggs Library last week, Georgetown President John J. DeGioia presented a pair of university cuff links to Brian Lang, St. Andrew’s principal and vice chancellor. Mr. Lang explained that he gave his gift to Mr. DeGioia earlier.

“Our gifts tend to be about golf and alcohol, and Jack is not a golfer,” he said of Mr. DeGioia, who responded, “It was golf that drove me to drink.”

The two university leaders signed a declaration to formalize an arrangement for the exchange of students and professors to continue a relationship that had been informal for years.

“This is an important milestone in the collaborative process,” said Mr. DeGioia. “Georgetown and St. Andrew’s have long traditions of addressing contemporary challenges.”

Mr. Lang noted that several St. Andrew’s graduates are serving in Iraq as advisers to the top U.S. military staff.

Georgetown University was founded in 1789, while St. Andrew’s, Scotland’s oldest university, was founded in 1413.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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