The name 'Kazakhstan' is best known to many in western Europe and North America through the activities of journalist Borat Sagdiyev. But Mr Sagdiyev is a fictional character, portrayed by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. In his 'Guides to Britain' and 'Guides to USA', shown on Cohen's Da AH G Show, and in the hit movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, the character displays wildly offensive views, including anti-Semitism and reactionary attitudes towards women's rights, in a bid to get his unsuspecting interviewees to expose their prejudices on camera. He engages too in unacceptable public behaviour, whether inviting a prostitute to meet him at a dinner party to which he has been invited, disrupting a convention of mortgage brokers with a naked brawl with his producer, or endeavouring to abduct actress Pamela Anderson in his 'marriage sack', all in order to get a reaction from those around him. The fact that 'Kazakhstan' was chosen as the home country of this comic creation probably largely just reflects the consideration that few people in Britain or the USA knew very much about the country, thus allowing Sacha Baron Cohen to ascribe to his comic creation any views and traits that he wanted.
But Kazakhstan is a real country, not a fictional one, and there was understandable concern in the country that it was being portrayed as a land of reactionary views which had nothing to do with the history and attitudes of the real Kazakhstan. The country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs took exception to Borat's portrayal of their country at the MTV Europe Music Awards in Lisbon in November 2005, and the internet domain name www. borat.kz was suspended. The movie does not seem to have been formally banned in Kazakhstan, but it wasn't distributed.
But when President Nazarbaev visited London in November 2006, he took a notably conciliatory line towards the character in his comments to the British press, and the Kazakhstan authorities have recognised that negative publicity can have positive results. Kazakhstan's Minister for Tourism and Sport acknowledged that the Borat movie had boosted foreign tourism to Kazakhstan.
The Kazakhstanis are now getting their revenge, as director Erkin Rakishev has produced his own sequel, My Brother Borat, which will be released internationally in 2011. The sequel sees an American journalist travelling around the country with Borat's mentally ill brother Bilo (kept in a cage in the original film), having discovered him in a psychiatric ward with Osama Bin Laden and George Bush.