As fans of Borat know, the upcoming release of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Fox comedy has come along with plenty of free publicity, courtesy of the offended government of Kazakhstan itself. (The New York Times outlines some of the hubbub in an article today). With Kazahstan’s real president scheduled to meet Bush on Friday, however, fact and fiction are intermingling in ways that should deservedly make the oil-rich former Soviet Republic nervous about its reputation.
The country may not be glaringly anti-Semitic or sanction under-age sex, as Borat likes to tout, but Kazakhstan is one of the most corrupt nations in the world. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index of 2005, Kazahkstan ranked 107th, tied with Belarus, Honduras, and Nicaragua, among others. Reigning president Nursultan A. Nazarbayev is as close to a democratic dictator as you can get; the country has seen the murders of two opposition leaders in the last year. (Officials declared the death of one prominent activist, found dead with two gun shot wounds to the chest and one to the head, as a suicide.)
Critics of the Bush meeting, according to the Times, say it illustrates the Bush administration’s “willingness to sacrifice democracy . . . when it conflicts with other foreign policy goals,” such as oil, gas supplies and the war on terror.
Whether or not Sacha Baron Cohen picked Kazakhstan because of its poor human rights record, the choice seems to have stirred up some genuine political debate — further proof that Borat is far more subversive than he first appears. I can’t remember the last mainstream movie — maybe “V for Vendetta“? — that so thoroughly eviscerated Bush America. And the best thing about it is that most viewers, I suspect, will just simply laugh along with the wild ride.