Kazakhstan's War of Words Against Borat


Sept. 28, 2006 — -- It was certainly one of the most unusual press conferences recently held in the nation's capital. "Borat" of Kazakhstan stood before a lectern outside the Kazakh Embassy in Washington and claimed that recent press reports describing Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev as upset with his portrayal of his homeland as bigoted and backward, were false.

"All claims that our glorious leaders is displeased with my film, 'Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,' is lyings," Borat said to tittering reporters. "In fact, main purpose of President Naserbayev's visit to Washington is promote this movie film."

Nazarbayev will be hosting a screening of the film, Borat said, with invited guests to include President "George Walter Bush," Secretary Rumsfeld, Bill Gates, "O.J. Simpsons" and "Mel Gibsons."

Borat, of course, is not really from Kazakhstan. He's not really "Borat." He's Sacha Baron Cohen, a British, Jewish, Cambridge-educated comedian who plays the fictional Kazakh reporter on HBO's "Da Ali G Show" and in his upcoming film.

But Cohen's portrayal of the eastern European country has so upset the Kazakhstan government that it has recently run television ads refuting Borat's point of view. "Conclave calls for religious tolerance among all faiths throughout the world," read one headline in a four-page New York Times insert, Wednesday.

Today, Borat offered his response, saying, "I would like to make a comment on the recent advertisements on television and in media about my nation of Kazakhstan saying that women are treated equally, and that all religions are tolerated," he said, adding, "These are disgusting fabrications."

The timing of Borat's D.C. stunt wasn't exactly a coincidence. Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev kicked off a tour of the U.S. today, and Borat's film is being released in November.

In "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," which has been described by critics as hilariously offensive, the fictitious Kazakh journalist leaves behind his beloved homeland and sister -- "the Number 4 prostitute in all Kazakhstan" -- and heads off to America.

As he drives cross country in hopes of meeting Pamela Anderson, he spoofs himself and the U.S. with equal deftness. At a midwestern rodeo, Borat proclaims his support for the war on terror and tells the cheering crowd, "May your warlord George Bush kill the terrorist men, women and children, and drink their blood!"

A gun store merchant is only too quick with a response when Borat asks, "What gun would you get to shoot a Jew?"

The film is just the latest shot in an escalating battle between the comedian and Kazakhstan.

After Borat's appearance at the MTV Europe awards last year, a spokesman for the Kazakh Foreign Ministry said the comedian may be "serving someone's political order designed to present Kazakhstan and its people in a derogatory way."

At the time, Kazakh government spokesman Roman Vassilenko told ABC News, "Mr. Cohen could not have been more wrong when he chose Kazakhstan as a home country for his mythical, misogynist and anti-Semitic reporter," he said. "I am offended and the people of Kazakhstan are offended by the choice."

Today, Cohen struck back, as his unflinching Borat character, by proclaiming, "There is a man named Roman Vassilenko who is claiming to be press secretary of Kazakhstan. Please do not listen him. He is Uzbek imposter.

"If there is one more item of Uzbek propaganda claiming that we do not drink fermented horse urine, give death penalty for baking bagels, or export over 300 tons of pubis every year, then we will be left with no alternative but to commence bombardments of their cities with our catapults."

The Kazakh government insists that Borat misrepresents their republic, including the issue of drinking fermented horse urine.

"You know what we drink?" Vassilenko said. "We drink fermented horse milk." Vassilenko explained that this is an ancient drink Kazakh drink. "The Kazakhstanis were traditionally nomads, and the horse was a source of everything for a person, including food, like milk. So, and this is a very good drink for the summer and perhaps, this is where his inspiration for this concoction comes from."

The Kazakh government has also banned Borat's Web site -- which once was www.borat.kz -- from their country's domain. The government has even threatened to sue Cohen, which Borat said was just fine with him.

"I have no connection with Mr. Cohen and fully support my government's decision to sue this Jew," Borat said in a video statement put on the Web, which got worldwide press attention. "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."

Borat's press conference ended when the Kazakh embassy called police, who told him to leave the area. With reporters in tow, Borat made his way down 16th Street, en route to the White House.

After giving Borat guidance as to how to get to the White House, this reporter asked Borat how he felt about the Kazakhstan foreign minister's plan to try and ban his film from that country.

"I have made clear that this is not true government who is speaking, and this is imposter from Uzbekistan."

Borat kissed this reporter on the cheek and said, "You have pretty face. And sexy legs."

When Borat arrived at the White House, he told the guard he was there "to give Premiere Bush an invitation" to a screening of his film on Friday night.

"Do you have an appointment with him?" the guard asked.

"Not so much," said Borat.

"Without an appointment, you're not going to be able to come in," said the guard.

After the guard explained that he couldn't deliver to the president the invitation, either -- "it's policy," he said -- Borat asked if the guard could tell the president that after the film there will be a "10 o'clock cocktail party to discuss cooperation between the two countries at Hooters, which is 825 7th Street."

"OK," agreed the guard.

"I like you very much," said Borat, who then turned and walked into an awaiting van. He didn't break character once.

But while Borat wasn't admitted to the White House, on Friday, President Naserbayev will be, for a working lunch with President Bush. There's no word on whether fermented horse milk -- or fermented anything else -- will be served.

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