The Kazakhs Need to Lighten Up

Still stung by the banal film Borat — a paean to the ability of one man to make a great deal of money by insulting those kind enough to take him into their homes — the government of Kazakhstan is criminalizing any “mistreat[ing] or desecrat[ing] state symbols, which include the country’s flag as well as its anthem,” The Atlantic reports.

The new legislation was drafted after Kazakhstan made international headlines over a mix-up involving its national anthem at a March sporting event in Kuwait. Then, the hosts accidentally played a version of the spoof anthem that featured in the 2006 movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, which extols Kazakhstan’s potassium and prostitutes and memorably contains the line “Kazakhstan: greatest country in the world, all other countries are run by little girls.”

That blunder came just days after a goof-up in northern Kazakhstan, where the Ricky Martin song “Livin’ la Vida Loca” was accidentally played instead of the anthem at the opening of a skiing festival.

The incidents made headlines and got laughs abroad, but at home Astana — ever sensitive to its international image — was not smiling.

While reasonable people can agree that the use of a Ricky Martin song in any venue should be a crime, this is perhaps a bit much. No one seriously believes Sacha Baron Cohen about, well, anything, and no one takes Borat to be a serious reflection of life in the Central Asian state.

The real risk Astana faces to its reputation comes not from sub-standard comedic fare, but rather from this heavy-handed response. Or if you prefer: There is no better way to give parody teeth than to confirm it.

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