How to Write About Kazakhstan
I am taking up a gauntlet here in response to a great post on Registan.net about How to Write About Afghanistan.
First, mention Borat. If the article is about some problem or something that seems funny then refer to Kazakhstan as “Boratland”, “the home of Borat”, or “Boratistan”. Otherwise, if the article is about say Presidential elections or an oil deal or just listing some economic indicators, just mention Borat and the fact that everyone knows Kazakhstan only because of Sascha Baron Cohen’s character. For extra points mention that the Kazakh government was opposed to Borat originally but that in fact the movie has increased interest in the country.
Always refer to the president as “strongman”, “tyrannical” or “authoritarian.” Invoke colorful cliches like “ruling over”, “keeping an iron fist over”, and “controlling” to describe Nazarbayev.
On the other hand, if you have ever been paid by an oil company or any branch of the government or work for a
lobbying firm independent think tank, be sure to explain how there are no problems in Kazakhstan and anything that seems bad here is actually much worse in other Central Asian nations and therefore not a problem here at all. For example if you are reporting on alleged human rights abuses, mention that Karimov once ordered people boiled alive in oil, so everything in Kazakhstan is super duper a ok.
Mention that the country prides itself on being an ethnically and religiously tolerant country and then look for any signs of ethnic or religious unrest you can find. Even if it’s just some Russian on the street who says he doesn’t want to learn the Kazakh language. Or a grandfather who says he only speaks Kazakh. Imply that the government has failed to create any kind of harmony and do not go into any of the nuances or inherent difficulties in creating a peaceful multicultural society. Make sure to mention but then completely ignore exotic ethnic groups like Uighurs, Kalmyks and Djungars and their interests. Feel free to make up any number you want in terms of how many ethnic groups live here–don’t site any reports or source. 117 seems to be a popular number. Go with that.
If you are a normal Western journalist, be sure to mention that powerful clans do exist here, but not as much as in other Central Asian countries, but still they do exist here, but it’s not so bad, but it could it be bad here maybe, but right now everything is fine, but you never really know. Instead mention teams. Or that certain people are connected to other people. Report any rumors about political connections or government intrigue you hear as if they were 100% valid and true. When in doubt, just mention again that the President tightly controls everything.
Remember Astana is “futuristic” and Almaty is “more metropolitan”. Both are cities of striking contrasts between the haves and the have nots, or the rich and the poor, or the new generation and the post-Soviet generation.
Feel free to use Kazakh and Kazakhstan interchangably. There is only one culture here. If you are referring to anyone who is not Kazakh or Russian, make sure to mention that many people of their ethnicity were brought here forcibly by Stalin and now most have left. Make sure to give the impression that people are running away from Kazakhstan as fast as possible. Feel free to refer to anything from Kazakh, Russian or Soviet culture as “Kazakh”. But also feel free in the same article to mention the foreignness of Soviet culture as it was imposed on Kazakhs.
When you mention Russia in the context of Kazakhstan remember that they are evil and only want to recreate the Soviet Union. Everything Russia does is bad for the US and the West and for Kazakhstan. Especially when it’s Putin.
I’m sure I left a lot out. I just tried to hit my personal pet peeves. Of course the issue is that there’s a lot of oversimplification of the machinations of this region and everyone wants to seem to be “in the know”. So a lot of cliches get tossed around and a lot of rumors are repeated. Feel free to add more ideas in the comments or take up issue with what I wrote here.