Only 91 Percent? Castro Does Better.


The government of Kazakhstan is not amused by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat character, a bumbling, bigoted, ostensibly Kazakh reporter who stars in the upcoming movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. When the Kazakh government threatened legal action over Borat's hosting of the MTV Europe Music Awards last fall, Cohen as Borat replied that he "fully supported my government's decision to sue this Jew" and rose to the defense of his country: "Since the 2003 Tulyakov reforms, Kazakhstan is as civilized as any other country in the world. Women can now travel inside of bus. Homosexuals no longer have to wear blue hats. And age of consent has been raised to 8 years old."

Such generic jokes could fit just about any country with a reputation for backwardness, of course. Cohen—whose Borat seems to hail from some benighted Eastern European country (Albania?), as opposed to Central Asia—probably picked Kazakhstan mainly because it was unfamiliar to his audience and had a funny-sounding name. But a New York Times story about this week's visit to Washington by Kazakh President Nursultan A. Nazarbayev reveals the potential for mocking the country in a better-informed manner:

Independent surveys of voters leaving the polls showed [Nazarbayev] winning re-election handily last December, with a vote as high as 82 percent, compared with the official result of 91 percent….Mr. Nazarbayev's opponents said the government's need to pad what would have been a clear victory anyway highlighted a growing trend toward authoritarianism…

One [opposition leader], Zamanbek N. Nurkadilov, was found shot three times, once in the head, last November. His death was subsequently declared a suicide.

My appreciation of Cohen's Da Ali G Show is here.