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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, November 13, 2006

Kazakhs gloriously cashing in

USA Today

Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat.

CBS via AP

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In the week since the release of "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit of Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," Roman Vassilenko has been fielding a dozen or so tourism-related calls a day at his office at the Kazakhstan Embassy in Washington, D.C.

Which is a dozen or so more than he usually gets.

The embassy spokesman continues to respond to questions from journalists in this way:

  • No, there is no annual "Running of the Jews" in Kazakhstan.

  • No, it is not possible to buy a Kazakh wife for 15 gallons of pesticide.

  • No, fermented horse urine is not a popular Kazakh drink.

    "The only fact of the movie is the geographical location," Vassilenko repeats for the umpteenth time.

    He's referring, of course, to the box-office hit "Borat." The movie stars British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen in the persona of Borat, a sexist, racist and all-around clueless broadcaster from Kazakhstan who bumbles his way through America, documentary crew in tow.

    But Kazakh officials, who have found little to laugh at in Cohen's depiction of one of their own, might be lightening up. After all, there's no such thing as bad publicity, and this latest flurry is bound to result in a few more Americans differentiating Kazakhstan from all those other Central Asia-stans.

    Vassilenko estimates only 15,000 or so Americans venture to Kazakhstan each year, and most of those are business travelers, plus some adoptive parents.

    Undeterred by the lean numbers, Sayat Tour, which describes itself as "a leading Kazakh tour operator," has launched Kazakhstan vs. Boratistan tours that, tongue in cheek, promise to help Americans "engage in cultural learnings of that unknown glorious nation for their own make benefit."

    Meanwhile, Kazakh cultural doings in this country are taking on a higher profile. A fashion show spotlighting Kazakh designers was held in Washington Thursday, and an exhibit of ancient Kazakh ornaments at the Mingei International Museum in San Diego will expand to other U.S. venues.