Having made the country a global laughing stock in his role as a fictional TV reporter, he is an unlikely choice of cultural ambassador.
But 14 years after he first lampooned Kazakhstan in his infamous mockumentary, the spoof character Borat has been enlisted by Kazakh tourism chiefs to give the country’s profile a boost.
With a sequel to the original film just released, authorities in the central Asian republic have decided to embrace the ensuing publicity for good or bad.
Far from banning the movie outright, as they did with the original, this time they are adopting Borat’s catchphrase of “very nice” as a tourist slogan.
“Very nice! It’s a place you may have heard of, that’s nicer than you ever imagined,” urges a slickly-produced video released on the Kazakh tourism board’s Instagram account on Monday.
It opens with a middle-aged visitor taking pictures of a spectacular landscape of snow-capped mountains and smiling into the camera: “Very nice!” Another tourist is seen exclaiming “Very nice!” after trying a cup of kumys, the traditional fermented drink made of horse milk.
In the original film, “Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” Borat told viewers that Kazakhstan’s favourite national drink was horse urine.
The relaxed official reaction is in stark contrast to Kazakhstan’s response to the original film, when the government’s spectacular failure to get the joke simply gave it extra hype.
Back then, officials were both baffled and appalled by Borat’s portrayal, which depicted Kazakhstan as a nation of backward, anti-Semitic peasants.
The Kazakh foreign ministry threatened to sue the film’s creator, the British comedian Sasha Baron Cohen, while government officials also placed adverts in US newspapers debunking the claims.
But as years have passed, attitudes in Kazakhstan have slowly changed. Younger, internet-savvy Kazakhs can see the funny side of Borat, while in 2012, Yerzhan Kazykhanov, the foreign minister, lauded the film for giving a boost to the country’s travel industry.
He said that the number of visa applications for Kazakhstan has grown tenfold. The idea of an ad campaign timed with the release of the new Borat film came from Dennis Keen, an American who first visited the country as an exchange student and now lives in the city of Almaty.
Together with a friend, Yermek Utemissov, Mr Keen pitched an ad campaign to the Kazakh tourist board featuring web-friendly 12-second interview spots in which people observed “very nice” features about Kazakhstan.
“How can you describe a place this surprising in just two words?” the campaign statement says. “As a wise man once said, ‘Very nice!’”
Kairat Sadvakasov, deputy head of Kazakhstan’s tourism board, told the news website Tengrinews.kz on Tuesday that authorities did not want to overreact this time to the Borat sequel.
That, he said, “would have only played into the hands of Cohen’s team.” He added: “That’s why we supported Dennis and launched an international campaign when he offered us this idea of turning the inevitable event to our country’s advantage.”
The sequel film, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” is as merciless as its predecessor.
It starts with Borat being jailed in Kazakhstan over the bad publicity resulting from the original film, and lamenting that many of the country’s anti-Semitic traditions have been banned as a result.
Several activists rallied outside the U.S. Consulate in Almaty with national flags last week to protest the film’s release, and more than 110,000 people have signed an online petition, urging the Kazakh culture ministry to ban the sequel’s release.