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Kazakhstan Embassy Responds to Borat

Borat (left) and Kazakhstan embassy spokesman Roman Vassilenko differ on the facts about Kazakhstan. Can you tell the difference between Kazakh fact and fiction? <strong>Scroll down to take our quiz.</strong>
Borat (left) and Kazakhstan embassy spokesman Roman Vassilenko differ on the facts about Kazakhstan. Can you tell the difference between Kazakh fact and fiction? Scroll down to take our quiz.

Kazakhstani pride is tender; the country is only 15 years old, which is why some Kazakhs don't know what to make of Borat, the fictional Kazakhstani reporter portrayed by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. Borat is raising eyebrows with antics that include songs like "Throw the Jew Down the Well," and his insinuations that homosexuals in Kazakhstan once had to wear blue hats.

Gauhar Abdygaliyeva, a native of Kazakhstan, is furious at the misrepresentation of her country. Abdygaliyeva is a student in Washington, D.C., and has been hearing false information spread about her country for years.

"That is not nice. And if someone finds it's funny, well, you know, good for them. I just hope you have fun. But as we live in this, you know, very diversified world, it is always important to remember that you do not pick on people," Abdygaliyeva says, "You do not pick on their traditions."

The Kazakhstani government agrees, running four-page ads in The New York Times and U.S. News and World Report and commercials on CNN and the local ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C.

Vassilenko says his office planned the public-relations blitz in conjunction with President Nazabayev's recent trip to the United States. He says the campaign has nothing to do with Borat's movie coming out in a few weeks, but he admits that the ads are a response to Borat.

Vassilenko says that ignoring Borat entirely would be wasting an opportunity to tell the true story of Kazakhstan.

"[Borat] claims that the Kazakhs are very anti-Semitic people and that running of the Jews is the famous pastime. That is, of course, ridiculous," Vassilenko says. "Kazakhstan has a very vibrant Jewish community."

Vassilenko also wants to set the record straight about what Kazakhs drink. Borat claims it is fermented horse urine, but it is actually a beverage called kumyss, made of fermented horse milk.

Vassilenko's 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 free from being hauled off to surprise government meetings. He understands that Borat is joking, but he wants people to know the truth about Kazakhstan, as well.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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