Crunch time for Kazakhstan in ‘Borat’ spat

Say you’re a beacon of nuclear disarmament, a ray of public education, a breadbasket of exportable grain and a veritable gush of oil. The brand image you’re hawking is “corridor of reform.” But along comes a TV sketch and a major motion picture that peg you as rabidly anti-Semitic, fiercely backward and unspeakably kinky. What’s a country to do? If you’re Kazakhstan, and the movie is Borat, you do what anyone with a GDP of $124 billion would do: you call in a brand marketer. As Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev visits the White House today, he might heed the words of East West Communications president Thomas Cromwell (whose Kazakh account far predates the Sasha Cohen flap). “It’s probably a mistake to respond with a heavy hand to any humor,” Cromwell tells AdFreak. “It would be a bad strategy. … It’s a question of how to respond in a way that shows that you’re bigger than the barb and that you can absorb the barbs of humor without being hurt.” The nation-brander laments, “Borat is coming in a vacuum at a time when Americans don’t know the country’s real identity and there’s nothing to operate in counter to that cynical view.” But wait! Doesn’t this very vacuum make Borat a boon, of sorts, for the Central Asian petro-state? Didn’t The Donald teach us there’s no such thing as bad publicity? “Whether or not Khazakhstan could benefit from the publicity is another matter,” Cromwell says. Roman Vassilenko, spokesman for the Embassy of Kazakhstan, adds his own two tenges: “It’s an opportunity, but I don’t know how welcome it is.” Vassilenko adds, “What the movie represents is not so much Kazakhstan as Boratistan, and we think that people will understand that Kazakhstan has nothing to do with all those shenanigans.”