Kazakhstan has reversed their stance on Sacha Baron Cohen and the Borat franchise. The country has adopted one of the fictional character’s catchphrases, “very nice!” as its official tourism slogan. Back in 2006, Cohen was hated by Kazakhstan for his depictions of the country as backwards and antisemitic. They threatened to sue and took out ads in newspapers to defend themselves. The country even banned the first Borat movie and Da Ali G Show. Now that Borat 2 is out, Cohen expected more of the same from Kazakhstan.
When Borat 2 was announced, Kairat Sadvakassov, the deputy chairman of Kazakhstan’s tourism board, thought, “oh, again?” However, the idea this time around was to just not acknowledge it at all. “The decision was made to let it die its natural death and not respond,” Sadvakassov said. However, American Dennis Keen, who did a college study program in Kazakhstan and now lives there, saw the opportunity to capitalize on the comedy sequel.
Dennis Keen proposed “Kazakhstan. Very nice!” to the board of tourism, along with some slick videos, which they immediately agreed to on the spot. Kairat Sadvakassov hadn’t seen Borat 2, but he didn’t care. “In Covid times, when tourism spending is on hold, it was good to see the country mentioned in the media,” he said. “Not in the nicest way, but it’s good to be out there. We would love to work with Cohen, or maybe even have him film here.”
As for the citizens of Kazakhstan, Kairat Sadvakassov is not worried. Yermek Utemissov, who collaborated with Dennis Keen on the tourism videos isn’t worried either. “It’s a newer generation,” he said. “They’ve got Twitter, they’ve got Instagram, they’ve got Reddit, they know English, they know memes. They get it. They’re inside the media world. We’re looking at the same comedians, the same Kimmel show. Kazakhstan is globalized.” Borat 2 does show some of the same depictions that Sacha Baron Cohen used in the first movie, but it is all exaggerated.
It was never Sacha Baron Cohen’s intention to hurt the country of Kazakhstan. “This is a comedy, and the Kazakhstan in the film has nothing to do with the real country,” he says. “I chose Kazakhstan because it was a place that almost nobody in the U.S. knew anything about, which allowed us to create a wild, comedic, fake world.” The comedian concludes, “The real Kazakhstan is a beautiful country with a modern, proud society – the opposite of Borat’s version.” So, will Cohen travel to Kazakhstan for some future Borat projects? That is unclear at the moment, but it is nice to know that the country would gladly welcome the comedian there now, which definitely was not the case in 2006. The New York Times was the first to reveal Kazakhstan’s new tourism slogan.