Kazakhstan invites Borat to see country for himself

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The Independent Online

Few people can have done more to publicise a hitherto obscure country whose delights had remained hidden from an incurious outside world. But unfortunately for Kazakhstan, the man who chose to put it on the map was Sacha Baron Cohen, and the British comedian's Jew-baiting, women-hating character Borat has become a serious thorn in the side for the authorities of the central Asian republic.

After trying various methods of deterrence including threatening legal action and banning his website, the country's deputy foreign minister has invited Baron Cohen to see the country first hand. Rakhat Aliyev, the powerful son-in-law of the oil-rich country's president, told the Kazakhstan news agency: "He can discover a lot of things. Women drive cars, wine is made of grapes, and Jews are free to go to synagogue."

To underline the policy of rapprochement, Mr Aliyev added: "We must have a sense of humour and respect other people's freedom of creativity. It's useless to offend an artist and threaten to sue him. It will only further damage the country's reputation and make Borat even more popular." There was no comment from Baron Cohen who is in Los Angeles.

The former Ali G star first earned the opprobrium of the Kazakh nation when he presented last year's MTV Europe Music Awards in character as the fictional state TV journalist. Borat's repertoire includes describing the pecking order in his homeland as a chain that starts with God and continues down through "man, horse, dog, woman, then rat". Among the traditional folk songs, he tells audiences, is a ditty entitled "Throw the Jew Down the Well", which is best enjoyed after a few glasses of the local wine - made from horse urine.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman, Yerzhan Ashykbayev, hit back immediately after the MTV appearance, describing Baron Cohen's act as "utterly unacceptable, being a concoction of bad taste and ill manners which is completely incompatible with the ethics and civilised behaviour of Kazakhstan's people".

The government hired two public relations firms to counter the bad publicity and ran a four-page advertisement in The New York Times. The comedian lampooned the fracas on his website, returning to character and singing the praises of the country. "Women can now travel on inside of bus, homosexuals no longer have to wear blue hats, and age of consent has been raised to eight years old.

"Please, captain of industry; I invite you to come to Kazakhstan where we have incredible natural resources, hardworking labour, and some of the cleanest prostitutes in whole of central Asia. Goodbye!" he said.

But it is not just the Kazakhs that the Cambridge graduate has offended. Americans were infuriated when - as Ali G - he pretended to mistake 9/11 for the convenience store 7-11. He was practically lynched while filming a documentary at a rodeo in Arizona by mocking US policy in Iraq. He also managed to upset Jewish groups with his jokes.

Baron Cohen's latest film, Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan is being premiered at the London Film Festival. The plot revolves around "Kazkhstan's sixth most famous man" being dispatched to the US, where he becomes obsessed with tracking down the Baywatch star Pamela Anderson.

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