The Man from Kazakhstan

Everything that Borat Sagdiyev does is designed to confuse and offend.

A fictional creation of comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, better known as Ali G, Borat presents himself as a Kazakh TV reporter attempting to make sense of American mainstays such as baseball, rodeos, and honky-tonks. Once he’s earned his subjects’ trust, he inevitably shocks them by doing something inappropriate, such as singing “Throw the Jew Down the Well” at an Arizona bar, or telling a Virginia rodeo crowd, “May George W. Bush drink the blood of every man, woman, and child in Iraq.” Above all else, Cohen is a master of the modern hoax, and Borat — because he pretends to be so guileless and culturally clueless — is his most-perfect vehicle.

So it looked like a classic Borat hoax when the international media recently jumped on an erroneous story that Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev would be discussing his government’s concerns about Borat with President George W. Bush when Nazarbayev visits the White House on Friday. The story originated in England’s Daily Mail, which quoted Roman Vassilenko, press secretary at Kazakhstan’s embassy to the United States and Canada, as saying that Borat would be one of several topics at the meeting. In 2005, the Kazakh government publicly threatened legal action against Cohen, which caused Borat to respond that he had no connection to Cohen and fully supported “my government’s decision to sue this Jew.”

It turns out that the recent Daily Mail account was simply a Borat-worthy misunderstanding. Vassilenko, in an email interview with the Current, says: “I think it was a case of the media misinterpreting what I said. I said I don’t think they will be discussing the subject.”

With no effort at all, Cohen has simultaneously managed to create a diplomatic embarrassment and stir up promotion for his soon-to-be-released feature film, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, due out in November. Once again, the Kazakh government has proven itself to be Wile E. Coyote to Cohen’s Road Runner.


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