Authorities in Kazakhstan appear to have finally found a sense of humor.
Foreign Minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov says fictional Kazakhstani journalist Borat Sagdiyev’s slapstick tour of America in the 2006 film “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” had increased visa applications to the Central Asian nation ten-fold since its release.
“It was a great triumph for us and I am grateful to Borat for helping to attract tourists to Kazakhstan,” Kazykhanov told lawmakers in Astana on April 23.
For years, Astana had no patience for Sasha Baron Cohen’s spoof hack, but now they see he’s helped put Kazakhstan on the tourism map.
The film was banned from screens in Kazakhstan when it was released. In the subsequent years, Borat has repeatedly hit the headlines – usually to the irritation of Kazakh authorities – most recently at a sports competition in Kuwait last month when the parody version of Kazakhstan’s national anthem, which featured in the film, was played in error.
On the heels of a police operation to clean up Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, by cracking down on unwashed vehicles, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has outlined plans to deal with a growing crime wave in the city.
At an April 11 discussion on the future development of the city, the president bemoaned the fact that the crime rate in his dream capital is rising. He said crime in Astana is 1.7 times the national average, while detection rates are the lowest in the country.
The Leader of the Nation singled out a proliferation of bookmakers and gambling halls as a root cause of the growing problem. He urged police to focus on the problem of petty crime in Astana, instructing them not to overlook simple misdemeanors such as leaving chewing gum at street crossings. He suggested that the punishment for such an infraction should include fines and up to three days in jail. His hope is that cracking down hard on petty crime will lead to reductions in more serious crimes.
Traffic police in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, have launched a campaign sure to put fear in the hearts of the city's drivers. Were they targeting the unruly drag racing on Astana's dangerous streets, or the widespread drunk driving? Nope, the cops were concentrating on a more serious problem—unwashed vehicles.
Over the weekend of April 7-8, police handed out 1,067 tickets to drivers of dirty cars, inform.kz reports. The campaign was good for revenue, netting around $60,000—each ticket carrying a fixed penalty of 8,090 tenge ($55). With the spring thaw finally coming to Astana, targeting dirty vehicles is a certain source of revenue since it’s impossible to keep things clean at this time of year. The sweep also netted 41 intoxicated motorists, 45 cars parked illegally and 17 people driving without documents.
Traffic police in Kazakhstan’s gleaming new capital are fighting around the clock to keep order on the city's streets. Over one weekend in Astana earlier this year, 601 offenders were caught for violations including drunk driving, speeding, using a cell phone and driving into oncoming traffic.
But the gaishniki are not having much effect on safety. In 2010, officials registered 12,008 road accidents, which resulted in 2,797 deaths in Kazakhstan. (By comparison, Western Europe suffers roughly half the number of traffic-related deaths per capita).
It remains to be seen if washing the spring mud off car bumpers results in fewer traffic deaths.
Cambridge University has gotten a little too close for comfort to Kazakhstan's long-serving authoritarian leader Nursultan Nazarbayev.
The university’s Churchill College has suspended plans to award one Kazakh student a six-month postdoctoral scientific placement scholarship this year, after mistakenly promoting a “Nazarbayev Fellowship.”
Richard Partington, a senior tutor at Churchill College, said in a statement that the advertisements should have read “Nazarbayev University Fellowship” but had unfortunately been marketed using only the president's surname. The Kazakhstan branch of the financial services giant PricewaterhouseCoopers – which operates independently from the UK firm – would have paid for the fellowship to bring a Kazakh citizen from Nazarbayev's namesake university in Astana to Cambridge.
Officials at Churchill told The Times Higher Education (THE) supplement they decided to change the fellowship's name after the college became nervous about any association with Nazarbayev himself. Schools in the UK have become increasingly wary of getting into bed with dictators since the furor surrounding the London School of Economics' suspicious dealings with the late Libyan dictator’s son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and lecturers’ protest when London's Metropolitan University proposed links with a university in Uzbekistan.
The days of Kazakhstan's national sport kokpar being a wild free-for-all with a headless goat may be numbered since plans have surfaced to replace the bloody carcass at the center of the game with a plastic dummy.
The move comes at the instigation of Kazakhstan-based animal-rights group KARE-Zabota (Kazakhstan Animal Rescue and Education), acting on complaints from animal-lovers who object to the killing of goats for the sport, a local take on buzkashi.
KARE-Zabota says it received a letter from Kazakhstan's Agency for Sports and Physical Training Affairs agreeing to introduce dummy goats.
Already, the Agency has carried out tests on models from Pakistan and a locally produced imitation goat from Taras, but, lacking flexibility, these were deemed unfit for play. Hopes are now being pinned on an artificial carcass from Shymkent, with testing scheduled for later this year.
Kokpar is a macho sport where two teams of horsemen grapple over a decapitated goat, which they try to deposit in the opponent's goal. The fierce struggle is a test of strength for both riders and horses. It’s unclear how this affront to tradition will be received.
But all sports move on. Football (the game known as soccer in the US) was originally a tussle between villagers in 12th-century England over a pig's bladder before it developed into the relatively tame sport we know today. Could kokpar – which is rumored to have already given the world polo – evolve into a worldwide phenomenon by adopting fake, bloodless goats?
Under President Nursultan Nazarbayev's leadership, Astana is pumping millions of dollars into flagship educational projects bearing his name. The goal is to equip the Kazakhstani economy and political system with capable managers. But critics are concerned that the Nazarbayev approach may create a two-track school system that leaves the bulk of students with limited opportunities.
Conform to "the traditions of national independence ideology," Tashkent has reportedly told students, or get out.
Concerned about the lax behavior they see as rampant in Uzbekistan’s universities and colleges, authorities have introduced a new set of moral regulations that, among other things, restrict criticism of teachers and govern what students write about their school online, reports the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR).
Failure to adhere to the new 23-page moral code could lead to expulsion.
Unsurprisingly, students are unhappy with the “prison-style” rules targeting “gaudy dress” and calling on them to combat "foreign religious and extremist influences." On campus, “rock concerts alien to the national mentality” are also taboo.
The code may aim to stifle mockery, as well. Recently several YouTube videos have emerged, appearing to show the impudent children of Uzbekistan’s small but highly privileged elite harassing their instructors. In one video, boys dance and wave dollar bills at their bemused teacher. In a parody of the rampant corruption in the education system, the laughing students attempt to place the money in the teacher's pockets and on his desk.
In Astana-speak, the upcoming parliamentary election in Kazakhstan is meant to usher in a new era of multi-party democracy. Other parties will be allowed to join Nur Otan in the Majlis, or lower house of parliament. But looking around the streets of Almaty, the country’s commercial capital, you wouldn't know that any other parties were running at all.
Casual observers could be forgiven for thinking that it's another presidential vote that's approaching on January 15. President Nursultan Nazarbayev (who won a snap poll earlier this year with 95.5 percent of the vote) seems to be his Nur Otan party’s only face.
All over the city Nazarbayev beams down, right arm raised aloft. The posters carry the simple message “Alga, Kazakhstan!” (“Forward, Kazakhstan!”) and urge the voters to support Nur Otan.
The choice of "Alga" as a slogan is ironic, as it also happens to be the name of a political party that is forbidden from contesting these elections. The unregistered party was formed out of the ashes of Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan and has been fighting to get on the voting slip for years.
Alga! is rumored to be bankrolled by Mukhtar Ablyazov, a fugitive banker holed up in London. Ablyazov is none too popular in Kazakhstan at the moment: Presidential advisor Yermukhamet Yertysbayev pointed the finger at the exiled banker for being behind this week’s unrest in the oil-rich west.
Yes, in Kazakh politics, everything revolves around the man at the top.
Workers put the final touches on Almaty's new metro system just in time for Kazakhstan's 20th anniversary party.
Almaty commuters’ 23-year wait ended this week as their city’s metro finally slid open its doors, just in time for Kazakhstan’s 20th independence anniversary.
Construction began back in 1988, when Almaty was known as Alma-Ata and was capital of Soviet Kazakhstan. At that time the city’s population hit the one million mark, which gave it the right under Soviet regulations to its own underground network. Hard times after Kazakhstan’s independence in 1991 halted work. Now the country is awash with cash from its vast natural resources and construction began again in recent years.
The gleaming stations, lavishly adorned with marble, granite and ornate statuary, are worthy of comparison with Moscow's magnificent 1930s terminals. At the moment only one line with seven stops follows Almaty's Soviet-era center, but plans are underway for a second line.
When I rode the metro home on Friday there were long lines at the three windows to buy tokens and pre-paid cards. The yellow plastic jetons look to have come straight out of Soviet central planning.
Will the metro wean the good people of Almaty off their car addiction or just divert passengers from other forms of public transportation? Kazakhstan's commercial capital has undergone a rapid transformation since Soviet times and its new business districts are far from the reach of the metro, so we may have to wait, again, until a new line is completed to see any noticeable effect on the city's notorious traffic congestion.
The Leader of the Nation is in place for Kazakhstan’s 20th anniversary celebrations.
Kazakhstan's 20th independence anniversary is set to trigger celebrations across the country next month. Of course, organizers have not forgotten to stroke President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s burgeoning personality cult, for where would the country be today without Nazarbayev’s decades of leadership?
Last week Almaty officials unveiled another new monument to “The Leader of the Nation,” this time in the appropriately named First President's Park. The shrine features a statue of Nazarbayev sitting on a slab of granite. Behind him stretch two eagle wings decorated with famous landmarks in Almaty and Astana. The wings symbolize the country's two biggest cities as the driving force behind the independent state.
At the unveiling on November 11, Almaty Mayor Akhmetzhan Yesimov praised his boss: “Heads of state have recognized the President of Kazakhstan as the prominent politician on a global scale, who has made an enormous contribution to nuclear disarmament, establishment of the Asian security system, [and] development of integration,” Gazeta.kz dutifully quoted him as saying.
This latest tribute follows one erected in Astana in 2009, the Kazakh Eli complex, which also prominently features the president.
The rush to erect monuments to the Leader has also spread beyond Kazakhstan's borders—Turkish officials placed a statue of Nazarbayev in central Ankara in 2010 for his services to the Turkic-speaking world.