For most Yale students, any knowledge about the nation of Kazakhstan starts and ends with the movie “Borat.”
But in a speech to the Yale community at Luce Hall, the Kazakh ambassador to the U.S. and Canada, Kanat B. Saudabayev, presented the country in a very progressive light to the “future leaders of America.” The ambassador delivered his speech to a diverse crowd of about 60, including local city residents and graduate and undergraduate students.
Kazakhstan has experienced political and economic success unmatched by other ex-Soviet bloc countries, he said through an interpreter, but it nonetheless depends on its younger generations to take full advantage of a liberated press and a free market.
“The foundation for Kazakhstan’s independence which we have now laid, was laid by my generation, by people who have struggled daily to shed their old [Soviet] habits to change their ways and to adopt a new life,” Saudabayev said.
After playing a video highlighting the accomplishments of the Kazakh government during its short 15-year lifespan, Saudabayev noted that the film differed dramatically from “Borat,” the more famous American-made movie portraying his country. “Borat” was a runaway success when it came out last fall.
“I hope this DVD will give you some idea what the real Kazakhstan is about and not the perceptions provided by the movie starring Sacha Baron Cohen,” he said.
Although Cohen’s film provided a significant amount of bad publicity concerning Kazakhstan, Saudabayev said, it has also encouraged many people to learn more about the country, which is the world’s ninth largest with regard to area.
He summarized the history of Kazakhstan, describing its political and economic successes since it gained independence from the USSR in 1991. The nation is marked by “one of the most dynamic economies in the world,” he said, as well as “[its role as] a reliable partner of the international community.”
Saudabayev discussed what he called “two separate holocausts” that decimated the ethnic Kazakh population, the first due to civil war and the second to Soviet forced agricultural collectivization. Furthermore, for 40 years Kazakhstan was home to the world’s second largest nuclear test site after Nevada, he said. Five hundred tests were performed, he said, and over 1.5 million people were affected by some form of radiation sickness during that period.
Audience members said they found the speech to be informative and useful, especially considering that Kazakhstan does not get much publicity.
Desire Chaudet GRD ’07, who is from Paris and has visited Kazakhstan, said he believes Yalies should be informed about the country.
“Although it’s progressed, there’s still a lot to do,” he said. “It is important for people here to learn about Kazakhstan.”
Saudabayev also spoke about Dutch disease, a phenomenon in which a nation’s economy collapses because it is based on one export — in this case, oil. Maria Blackwood ’10 said she was impressed by the actions the country has taken to combat this problem.
“The Kazakh government, unlike many other governments, has undertaken actions to prevent the adverse effects of Dutch disease,” she said. “Because it is very conscious of this issue, stands a good chance of successfully avoiding its negative economic ramifications.”
Gabor Debreczeni ’10 said he was impressed by the ambassador’s presentation, especially the way he specifically addressed American perceptions of the country.
“I was surprised by how well he defended Kazakhstan with regard to Borat, and how economically developed the country is,” he said.
Kazakhstan sent 3,000 students to study abroad last year through the country’s National Fund scholarship, Saudabayev said.