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Borat’s double-edged sword: Flourishing tourism versus cultural representation

They say that negative attention is better than no attention at all.

This tagline has been well linked to the comedic and controversial movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Borat), which enlightens the audience on the culture of Kazakhstan (among other things), for a long time.

But, in terms of tourism in 2012, the tables are beginning to turn – some negative attention is turning positive, in terms of plane tickets and passports.

Borat is the infamous movie/ mocumentary/ satire/ comedy wherein Sacha Baron Cohen plays the character of Borat (BORДT) Sagdiyev, a “sexist, homophobic and anti-semitic“ Kazakh journalist who travels through the United States, with the goal of meeting Pamela Anderson. Check out neweurasia’s views on all topics (positive and negative) Boart.

When Borat was released in 2006, the movie was not at all received well in the region, resulting in it being banned not only in Kazakhstan, but also in Russia. Borat’s character has been described as “…a misogynistic, wife-beating Kazakh journalist with a penchant for moustaches…”. The movie was known to be one that, degradingly, “praises Kazakhstan for its superior potassium exports and comparatively clean prostitutes.” While some found/still find the movie entertaining, others feel just the opposite, and nor the movie or the main character Boart have sat well with them. Thus, in 2006, Romanian villagers used to portray fictional peasants in the movie opened a legal case against the movie’s producers. And, in August 2011, a Polish engineer who was called “Borat” at work won a lawsuit for racial slander.

However, with the bad comes the good, and as mentioned before – the tables are turning in terms of the Kazakh government’s acceptance of the movie. Mr. Sagdiyev has recently been doing more good than bad for the economy of Kazakhstan – even Foreign Minister Erzhan Qazykhanov thinks so! He was quoted saying:

With the release of this film, the number of visas issued by Kazakhstan grew tenfold.”

I am grateful to ‘Borat’ for helping attract tourists to Kazakhstan.”

In hopes of keeping this bustling 2012 tourism spike growing, to keep the world interested in the culture and country of Kazakhstan, Kazakh Minister of Industry and New Technologies Aset Isekeshev said the country is planning to abolish visa requirements with 34 most developed countries. On April 24th, Trend News informed on – without mention of Borattourism figures:

“In 2011 the number of inbound tourists hit 5.6 million and the number of domestic tourists – over 5.3 million people. The volume of services rendered in tourism industry amounted to 74 billion tenge (over $500 million).”

Central Asian Newswire continues with tourism stats:

“The tourism sector accounts for 4 percent of the tiny country’s gross domestic product (GDP), and Nasirdinov believes that the sector can increase its share of the economy to 12 or 15 percent.”

About the spike in tourism, which has also been credited by the unrest in the Arab World, Chairman of the Association of Recreational Facilities of the Issyk-Kul Region Akzholtoy Nasirdinov, was quoted saying:

We expect a large influx of tourists from Russia, Kazakhstan, and other countries as well as unrest in the Arab world, Africa, the situation in Greece, forcing tourists to choose a safe holiday, and for that Kyrgyzstan is very well suited.”

But, 2012 isn’t the first time this movie has led to an increase in tourism. At the four-day annual World Travel Market tourism industry fair in London in November 2008, AFP News quoted Deputy Chairman in Kazakhstan’s Tourism and Sports Ministry Kenzhebay Satzhanov, saying:

It was free of charge advertising and lots of people want to come and see our country.”

The rise (in tourists was) maybe not so huge like we expected but in any case we saw interest.”

And in 2009, neweurasia’s Vicki wrote about a spike in tourism in Kazakhstan, caused by Borat:

“It would be interesting to compare Kazakh tourism numbers in 2007-2009 to those in 2006, the year before the movie came out. As it was, tourism increased by 13% in the second half of 2008 (Russia Today, ENG.) Unfortunately, hard tourism numbers for Kazakhstan are often hard to come by and if at all, are behind gated industry surveys. Of note is the estimate, “Online transactions for air travel are forecast to record double-digit annual growth to 2013.”

So, since tourism in 2012 is flourishing like never before, then the question we all want to know is – what famous places are tourists visiting in Kazakhstan? Has Borat encouraged you to visit Kazakhstan? If so, what locations are your taking your camera to, what restaurants are you eating at, what events are you attending and what are you learning about the true culture of Kazakhstan?

More people going to Kazakhstan means a better cultural understanding of the country and its people. However, though a boost in tourism shows how the movie Borat has had some positive effects, are the long withstanding negative effects Borat has had on Kazakh culture still too outstanding to be ignored?

It seems that all the negative attention hasn’t completely seized, after all.

Ironically, just one month before the headlines of Borat positively increasing tourism in the country hit the World Wide Web, a cultural mishap regarding Kazakh culture – involving Borat, of course – took place. In March 2012, Kazakhstan’s Maria Dmitrenko won first-place at the Grand Prix Chooting Championship in Kuwait. When she won, rather than playing the country’s anthem “My Kazakhstan”, a mock Kazakh anthem popularized by Borat was played. Rightfully so, the team requested a formal apology.

And about the recent Kuwait musical scandal, many questioned if playing the wrong anthem was done on purpose or on accident. But, it soon came to be known that:

“Kazakhstan’s Shooting Sports Federation said on March 26 that if it found out the Kazakh side was responsible for the mishap, it would “punish” those behind the mistake.”

This isn’t the first time the wrong anthem has be incorrectly played for Kazakh sportsmen and sportswomen. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) informs:

“Foreign Ministry spokesman Ilyas Omarov notes that at the world weightlifting championship in Paris last year, organizers were quick to apologize for playing a former Kazakh anthem by accident. The current affront, he says, is even more serious.”

These most recent cases involving Kazakhstan’s National Anthem are one example that alludes to ‘Yes’ – the long withstanding negative effects Borat has had on the culture of Kazakhstan are still too outstanding to be ignored and overshadowed by a positive spike in tourism.

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3 Comments »

  • Sergei says:

    Any idea how many of those visitors came from places like China, which may not have seen so much Borat?

    Not clear why this article includes tourism to Kyrgyzstan as tourism to Kazakhstan. Tourism in Kazakhstan requires a lot of trumped up advertisement–tourism in Kyrgyzstan can succeed on its own merits!

    Reply

  • [...] Recently, Kazakh Foreign Minister Erzhan Qazykhanov publically announced that Cohen’s controversial movie “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” (“Borat”, 2006) has had helped to significantly increase tourism in Kazakhstan, and after many years later, is thankful for the film. For more on the cultural damage Borat has done to Kazakhstan over the years and how a bolstered tourism industry can’t exactly shake that, check out neweruasia’s “Borat’s double-edged sword: Flourishing tourism versus cultural representation.” [...]

  • [...] Move over “Boart”! A new – epic, patriotic, heroic, non-offensive, cultural stimulating and historically perfected – film about Kazakhstan has been shot and put up on screen for the world to learn from and enjoy. [...]

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