by Joshua Foust on 5/1/2012 · 13 comments

Fareed Zakaria wants to blame (or whatever) Borat for a recent increase in tourist visa applications to Kazakhstan:

When the movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan premiered in 2006, Kazakhstan’s government banned the film and threatened to sue its star. Six years later, Kazakhstan’s foreign minister is thanking Borat, crediting the film with a large tourism boost. He called it a ‘great victory’ as the number of applications for tourist visas to Kazakhstan has grown tenfold.

Well, that’s all he posts. The story first showed up last week in the AP, Hollywood rags, and Eurasianet, where Foreign Minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov is quoted thanking Borat Sagdiev for increasing the number of visa applications.

Of course, there’s no real reason to think the increase has anything to do with Borat. In addition to the movie, the government of Kazakhstan has undertaken an aggressive marketing campaign in this country — buying multiple full-section advertisements in papers like the Washington Post, and even sponsoring the 2012 Congress Handbook (pictured to the right). Maybe, just maybe, Kazakhstan’s own zealous efforts to sell “The Kazakhstan Way” have had an effect as well.

As for Zakaria, he recommends future tourists should watch a video uploaded to YouTube by Prime Minister Karim Massimov called “The Stirrups of Time,” which is apparently not about natural childbirth but rather horses and whatever else happened in Mongol, or Nomad, or whatever. It is very cleverly narrated by Tony Blair, which means — thanks to his lucrative advising contract — that he’ll totally tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the country.

Zakaria ends his segment by rattling off some Wikipedia stats about press freedom, corruption, and democracy. Cute, right? He could not, it seems, bring himself to note the wholesale murder of 17 protesters in Zhanaozen in December, though one would think travelers to the country would kind of want to know about that.

But who really cares? Borat will forever be the perfect hook for talking about Kazakhstan, no matter the context. You don’t have to get all your facts lined up or even say anything interesting or real about the country — you just have to reference Borat and feel really clever for it.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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HumanRightsAdvocate May 1, 2012 at 7:08 pm

Interesting article even the Kazakhstan’s economy can do well without any boost in tourism. This energy-rich country hasn’t got too much scratch from the current global economic downturn as its 7% GDP growth (2011) indicated. The United States probably needs much more boost in tourism than what Kazakhstan has ever needed.

US government has just formally launched today (May 1, 2012) the first-ever massive marketing campaign aimed at boosting tourism. Earlier this year, US president Barak Obama called for a national strategy to make the US the world’s “top travel and tourism destination” to generate jobs and revitalize the economy. An estimate of more than 1 million US jobs could be created.
The goal of a 40% boost was specifically set for the Chinese tourists – the main target of this national strategy. VOA, the US government mouthpiece, reported last week (April 23, 2012) that the number of US tourist visas issued to Chinese tourists has risen dramatically, 453,000 visas have been issued in the current fiscal year’s first half (October – March) compared with 310,000 during the first six months of fiscal 2011, that is a 46% increase. Ron Erdmann, deputy director of the U.S. Commerce Department’s Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, told VOA that the Chinese tourists are giving a real boost to the U.S. economy. “The Chinese who come here spend a great deal of money. That too has been setting records over the last several years. In 2011, they spent $5.7 billion.” Now the US is targeting the the tourists from South America, especially from Brazil – another BRICS country.

“Land of Dreams – Discover this land like never before” as said in the ads of the US tourism marketing campaign, the “Land of Dreams” probably is definitely Kazakhstan.

BTW, in case you have never been in Kazakhstan, the five-star tourist hotels in Almaty (close to Kyrgyzstan) are as expansive as those in New York, London or Paris. The tourist hotels in Aktobe (close to Russian border) aren’t cheap either. Make sure you can afford it if you really want to visit there for the sight-seeing purpose, LOL!

Albert R. May 1, 2012 at 11:31 pm

Wow, by that description America sounds like such a shit hole compared to Kazakhstan. I think I’ll move their become a journalist, vote in a free election and buy a house in Zhanaozen.

HumanRightsAdvocate May 2, 2012 at 8:33 pm

But why being a journalist?! Keep in mind, no matter in the democratic or non-democratic political system; there is simply no “press freedom” in this world. Journalists are just bunch of jerks that either work for, directly or indirectly, national intelligence (such as CIA), or closely aligned themselves with the national interests behind them. There is no exception if you want to survive in this kind of business.

If you are really want to get into the journalism, you should know the American “Almond-Lippmann Consensus”.

Gabriel Almond is a well-known political scientist and scholar. He was the head of the US “Office of War Information” during the WW2 and, after that, he taught at Yale, Princeton and Stanford. Walter Lippmann is a journalist and political commentator. He was adviser to several US presidents and received the “Presidential Medal of Freedom” from President Lyndon Johnson in 1964. The building of Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University was named after him. Both Almond and Lippmann have great influence and contribution on the making of the US government policies.

One of the key elements of the “Almond-Lippmann Consensus” is:

Public opinion is irrelevant to the policy-making process because most people can “neither understand nor influence the very events upon which their lives and happiness are known to depend.” No matter democratic or non-democratic, in order to keep public on course and mobilize public support to excute government policy, public need the illusions. Journalism or the mass media are the “propaganda machines” to provide such necessary illusions. This process is also called “manufacturing consent”. It is not the case, as the naïve might think, that this is inconsistent with “democrcay”, rather this is the essence of “democracy” and it is necessary for any democratic political system.

Do the internet search with keyword “Necessary illusion” or “Manufactruing consent” if you want to know more.

HumanRightsAdvocate May 2, 2012 at 9:03 pm

BTW, the connection of American CIA and journalists are well known since earlier 1970’s. Many journalists bitterly oppose the CIA recruitment because it put their life in danger while reporting from foreign land. “Committee to Protect Journalists” (CPJ) was founded in 1981 just for this purpose.

In spring of 1996 the US Council on Foreign Relations task force has released a report on the U.S. intelligence-gathering practices and its abuses in journalism. John Deutch, director of Central Intelligence then, appeared before Congress and insisted that there was no need to change U.S. policy since the CIA already had the authority to use US (and, of course, foreign) reporters as spies. He insisted he still has the authority to approve such recruitment if he judged it necessary.

This is your “press freedom”, LOL!

To know more, do the internet search with the keyword “Subverting Journalism: Reporters and the CIA” or visit the CPJ website at

Bystander May 10, 2012 at 12:00 am

US tourism marketing campaign should saying:


Nabliotael' May 1, 2012 at 11:20 pm


Guy Fawkes May 2, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Kazakhstan is the greatest country in the world
All other countries are run by little girls
Kazakhstan is number-one exporter of potassium
Other Central Asian countries have inferior potassium
Kazakhstan is the greatest country in the world
All other countries is the home of the gays…

Michael Hancock-Parmer May 2, 2012 at 8:24 pm

The narrator is, I think, the same fellow that does Caspio-Net stories. It’s an amazing accent he’s acquired, but every now and then words crop up (albeit, paradigm, innovative) that belie some kind of non-native fluency. I wonder who that guy is.

Nabliotael' May 2, 2012 at 9:48 pm

Tried posting this yesterday–

KZ seems to be focussing a lot of effort on creating positive press. Check out RFERL’s recent story on gold craftsmanship done “in kazakhstan” (the piece itself seems very emphatic that it is all kazakh) and also anything by any foreigners working at the new university in the capital. The country seeks affirmation so badly!

HumanRightsAdvocate May 3, 2012 at 12:01 am

RFE-RL?! You must be joking!
Probably RFE-RL needs much more “self-affirmation” before Hillary Clinton to cut all their budget out and close its door.

There was a report in February this year that VOA to get $17 million cut, and RFE-RL get $0.7 million cut. And, at about the same tme, Hillary Clinton gave “Al Jazeera” high praise, and that is before the WikiLeaks exposed the connection between CIA and “Al Jazeera”. We still don’t know exactly how many reporters at “Al Jazeera” are working for American CIA yet.

RFE-RL?! How embarrassing!

Nabliotael' May 3, 2012 at 1:08 am

the RFERL article seemed to be written by KZ I mean

Marc Ropa May 3, 2012 at 7:22 am

It’s an incredible situation. Thankfully has been of some benefit for the KZ people. It could have been the opposite way if consider the characteristics of the movie.

But there’s a point that makes me think about this issue, is this people going to KZ based in the mental picture they have after seeing the movie? And when they come back to their homes, are they satisfied or they feel deceived by the reality found in that country?

Steven May 8, 2012 at 8:27 am

I happened to write a blog post about this today as well, checking if Borat indeed had an influence on people’s travel plans. You can read it here:

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