Borat and the
Branding of Kazakhstan

When “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” hit the world’s cinema screens in 2006, it unleashed a tsunami of international acclaim and, at initially at least, a palpable sense of injury in Kazakhstan and throughout Central Asia and the Middle East.

Although huge success the box office, and nominated for multiple awards including by The Guardian, the unfortunate downside of Borat, as far as Kazakhstan and its citizens were concerned, was that the film had no connection whatsoever to their country.  It wasn’t filmed in Kazakhstan, but in the US and the Romanian village of Glod.  The languages spoken by Borat included Czech, Polish and Hebrew, but not Kazakh.  The azbuka script was not Kazakh, but cod-Russian.  It did not even contain a single Kazakh actor, only Americans being egregiously insulted by Borat.  

Yet the truth is that Borat the movie amounted to a $262 million global branding campaign for the Republic of Kazakhstan that, when harnessed, grew to have a dramatic and hugely positive effect on Kazakhstan’s worldwide recognition factor.  From having been one of five former Soviet stans, the fledgling state’s efforts to consolidate democratic standards and civil society began to be recognised, along with its growing status as a regional leader.  The movie even dominated the airwaves when the Kazakh president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, went to Washington on a state visit in 2006.  On a subsequent visit to the London later that year, the president was emboldened to ask at a press conference in Downing Street if there was a question “from our dear friend Borat”.  Kazakhstan’s government illustrated how by riding the wave and displaying a sense of humour, negatives may be converted into positives for the benefit of its people.

Article by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, The Spectator, 25th November 2006

Article by Erlan Idrissov, The Guardian, 4th October 2006