Since the infamous comic character Borat burst onto the world stage seven years ago, Central Asian states have had trouble shedding their images as tinpot dictatorships run by vainglorious, venal leaders.
Kazakhstan, the fictional home of Borat, has since spent millions on PR buffing its image. So news that a TV series lampooning the Central Asian states à la Borat – with some uncomfortable parallels to the truth – is about to air in the UK will come as an unwelcome shock.
As The Independent reports, the show Ambassadors, airing on the BBC2 channel from late October, is set in the fictional country Tazbekistan, a hybrid of the real-life Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan.
“The fictional Tazbekistan is run by the dictatorial President Kairat who presides over a regime with a dubious human rights record,” reports the newspaper, a description that will sound familiar (albeit perhaps not amusing) to the inhabitants of the Central Asian states.
The authoritarian leaders of real-life Tajikistan (Emomali Rahmon), Uzbekistan (Islam Karimov), and Kazakhstan (Nursultan Nazarbayev) may not take kindly to this depiction – and they may be surprised to learn that the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has assisted in the program’s making.
The series's writers spent time at the British Embassy in Astana and were given access to other diplomats to learn about the realities of the diplomatic lifestyle.
“We had an amazing week in Kazakhstan with the ambassador there,” co-writer James Wood told The Independent.
The British Foreign Office (FCO) confirmed to EurasiaNet.org that it gave the program makers access in order to inject plausibility into the script, but played down its own input.
“When the makers of this program came to the FCO and asked for our advice, we gave them some access to a range of diplomats so they could see the work of the FCO,” a spokesperson said. “We did not have any editorial control over a program which was made outside government. The BBC is completely independent. We did not comment on scripts or storylines and nor would we have wanted to.”
London’s diplomatic relationships with allies Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan have assumed heightened importance as NATO troops withdraw from Afghanistan. The UK government regularly hails the cooperation of the three states, which sit astride the Northern Distribution Network ferrying supplies out of Afghanistan.
“This series has no bearing on our relationship with any country,” the FCO spokesperson said. “It is a work of fiction.”
Adding fuel to the fire, the UK's former ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray has accused the program makers of plagiarizing from his book Murder in Samarkand, which they deny. Murray left the FCO in 2005 after accusing the British government of condoning torture to secure intelligence (which the FCO denied), amid scandal over his private life.