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Kazakhstan much more than just a place Borat came from

Dec 18th, 2008 | By | Category: Featured Article, News

IT’S the ninth biggest country in the world, yet most people know nothing about Kazakhstan except one thing – Borat came from there.

Kazakhstani national Amir (pictured) says there is much more to it.

Before Borat, almost no-one knew Kazakhstan existed and the movie has provided a good conversation starter.

“At least it creates a bridge for communication,” he says. “It’s a good talking point. If the person is not stupid then they know (Kazakhstan) is not like what is depicted in Borat.”

Hailing from the city of Almaty – a city of around 1.6 million people and the largest in Kazakhstan – Amir moved to New Zealand in July of 2005 to seek a decent education and to take advantage of the favourable exchange rate and relaxed immigration.

He is now in his final semester at Victoria University studying a double major of money and finance, and economics.

He says recent headlines saying western countries are falling behind Kazakhstan in education do not surprise him.

“A lot of people in New Zealand prefer to avoid classes like physics, calculus and geometry, but we had to do it” he says.

“People back home probably know more about maths and stuff than kids in New Zealand know. It’s a bit funny really – journalists are surprised we are ahead of them?”

He believes newspapers which resort to using Borat as the hook for a story about Kazakhstan are taking the easy road.

“It’s very short-sighted – it might be the ignorance of the journalist – if they knew what I know they wouldn’t use it.

“They want to attract more readers so just mentioning that one word does that.”

He also believes there are some major problems with the government in Kazakhstan.

“The whole political system is corrupt to its backbone, really. All the resources are controlled by a small group of people, the police, the army, the medical facilities, the educators.

“You can just buy yourself a degree. If you want to pass a paper, you give your lecturer a bribe for a good grade. If you get caught drink-driving, you pay the police enough and they let you go.”

He believes the only ways to improve the situation in his country are to educate the younger generation and to learn to improve management of resources.

“The only thing you can do really is hope for the next generation to grow up and improve the situation.

“My parents always say the country has no future, and I pretty much agree with them. There has to be a radical change in order to improve the situation.

“At some point in the future, humanity will learn to rid itself of the oil addiction – most of our GDP comes from taking that stuff out of the ground and selling it.

“Unless we learn how to produce, increase our human capital, diversify our economy, theres no future really. We will have no income. 

“We have great potential with the land we have, but it’s not used properly.”

He says Kazakhstan is relatively un-explored by the western world, and visitors can expect a vast and varied country.

“Where I come from, it’s very green. There are a lot of mountains. It’s very beautiful. There are a lot of places to visit and it’s very different throughout the country, so that would be the key attraction.”

There is also a Russian-leased space launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which is used frequently by the Russian space programme and space tourism operations.

Going back to Kazakhstan is still on the cards for Amir, but in the meantime he is looking for a job within a New Zealand government department.

“I’d love to get a job working for the Ministry of Economic Development or the Treasury, or any sort of government job. That is the area which interests me the most, it’s my life.

“I’d like to go back to Kazakhstan at some point, to make a change of some kind. I’d like to be a politician as part of a democratic government – to achieve better.”

Below: Map of Kazakhstan and Central Asia.

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is a multi-media journalist and Whitireia graduate specialising in video, audio, web 2.0, technology, photography, editing and Photoshop. After graduating from Whitireia, and a brief stint in teaching for the school, he moved on to working for Stuff.co.nz.
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