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Kazakhstan Changes Tune, Credits 'Borat' For Tourism Turnaround


Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen at the German premiere of his film "Borat" in 2006

Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen at the German premiere of his film "Borat" in 2006

After years of bitterness, bans, and musical chaos, Kazakhstan has come to embrace its most unsavory "export."

Kazakh Foreign Minister Erzhan Qazykhanov on April 23 credited Sacha Baron Cohen's taboo-smashing 2006 film "Borat" for helping increase international tourism to his country.

Interfax and Tengrinews.kz quoted Qazykhanov as saying that visas for foreigners to visit Kazakhstan have increased tenfold since the Hollywood film was released six years ago.

Particularly given the tenuousness of any cause-effect argument, it's a remarkable turnaround by Astana. The film -- in which a fictitious goofball TV reporter hailing from Kazakhstan and visiting America offends in just about every way you can imagine -- was banned from Kazakh cinemas.

Local filmmakers even threatened a rebuttal to Cohen's sendup, which was officially titled "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan."

The film returned to international headlines last month when officials at a Kuwaiti shooting tournament played "Borat's" mock anthem instead of the Kazakh national anthem to honor a gold-medal athlete.

If you can't beat 'em, co-opt 'em.

But one wonders whether they'd ever be as forgiving if Cohen's latest character, "The Dictator," were from, say, Shamalgan.

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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