DEPT. OF FOREIGN RELATIONS
THE BORAT DOCTRINE
Issue of 2004-09-20
Roman Vassilenko, the press secretary for the Embassy of Kazakhstan, wants to clear up a few misconceptions about his country. Women are not kept in cages. The national sport is not shooting a dog and then having a party. You cannot earn a living being a Gypsy catcher. Wine is not made from fermented horse urine. It is not customary for a man to grab another man?s khrum. ?Khrum? is not the word for testicles.
These falsehoods, and many others, have been spread by Borat, a character on ?Da Ali G Show,? which recently finished its second season on HBO. Like Ali G, Borat is played by Sacha Baron Cohen, a British comedian who specializes in prank interviews. As Borat, Cohen has told a dating service that he is looking for a girl with ?plow experience,? persuaded a meeting of Oklahoma City officials to observe a ten-minute silence in memory of the (fictitious) Tishnik Massacre, and, most notably, led a country-and-Western bar in a sing-along of ?In My Country There Is Problem,? whose chorus goes: ?Throw the Jew down the well / So my country can be free / You must grab him by his horns / Then we have a big party.?
It was partly Borat?s casual but relentless anti-Semitism that led Vassilenko to object publicly, in a letter to The Hill, a Washington weekly. (In real life, Cohen is an observant Jew, but the Anti-Defamation League also condemned him, arguing that ?the irony may have been lost on some of the audience.?) ?He says things that make people think that Kazakhstan really is a backward country,? Vassilenko said last week from his office in Washington. In Borat?s Kazakhstan, Jews attack people with their claws, and ?Dirty Jew? is a popular film. But the real Kazakhstan has long embraced its thriving Jewish community, according to the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, and earlier this month the country dedicated the largest synagogue in Central Asia. ?The President of the country came down, as well as the chief rabbi of Israel,? Vassilenko said. ?There were all kinds of rabbis from around the world, and a New Yorker. He was not a rabbi, but you might be interested to know the name. The name is Ronald Lauder.?
Vassilenko is also chagrined at Borat?s portrayal of women in Kazakh society, epitomized by his claim that ?in Kazakhstan we say, ?God, man, horse, dog, then woman, then rat.? ? Vassilenko said, ?I don?t think our women like that, not to mention the men. We have women ministers, women judges, businesspeople.? Nor should Borat have been appalled, as he was in one episode, to learn that American women can vote. American and Kazakh women both got the vote, Vassilenko pointed out, on August 26, 1920.
It turns out that almost nothing about Borat?s Kazakhstan withstands scrutiny. Borat doesn?t look like an ethnic Kazakh. His Kazakh words ?resemble some gibberish Polish,? Vassilenko said. And, while Borat has claimed that ?in Kazakhstan the favorite hobbies are disco dancing, archery, rape, and table tennis,? Vassilenko concedes only the first and the last. Archery is ?not prominent,? he said, and statistics show that the Kazakh sexual-assault rate is far lower than the United States?. (That may be because the crime is more likely to go unreported.)
So what is the national sport of Kazakhstan? ?The most known ones are wrestling and all kinds of sports that try people in how they master horses,? Vassilenko said. ?Kazakhs were traditional nomads, so there are various sports like horse races. Another horseback sport is called something like Catch a?what is name??Catch a Bride. And that is that a group of young guys race to get a bride, and she races away from them and they have to catch her while she fends them off with a whip.? This sport does not result in actual matrimony?just a kiss.
According to Borat, a Kazakh man gets a wife by buying a woman from her father for fifteen gallons of insecticide. Vassilenko disputes this, too: ?The men propose marriage with engagement rings.? There is an old tradition??maybe a hundred years ago,? Vassilenko said?of men kidnapping their brides, but he claims that the practice is virtually obsolete. Also, he said, ?If you want to do it for fun, you can do that,? but the woman has to be in on it.
Travel guides mention a Kazakh sport called kokpar, a precursor of polo. When Vassilenko was asked about it, he hesitated, then explained, ?That?s the one where a goat, a dead goat??a headless dead goat??is, um, being held as a sort of a prize. And then one rider has it, and he has to run away with it from others who seek to catch it and snatch it from him.? And then they have a party.
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? Daniel Radosh
Это ыбло написно в NEW YORKER ЧИТАЙТЕ