Although he would hardly be called a “movie buff,” Rabbi Yeshayah Cohen, head shliach and Chief Rabbi of Kazakhstan has been asked his opinion many times on the provocative new film, “Burat,” which features Jewish actor Sasha Baron Cohen. The American film portrays Kazakhstan and its people in a very negative light.
“I have read and heard a lot of criticism of the way in which the movie shows the Kazakh people as being primitive and anti-Semitic,” says Rabbi Cohen. “While I have not seen the film, I can only assume that the offense that it has caused to millions of people speaks for itself.”
Rabbi Cohen, who is very optimistic by nature, added that there are those who see the positive side of the furor surrounding the movie. “The film has created an unprecedented interest in Kazakhstan throughout the world. For three weeks, ‘Kazakhstan’ was the second most popular entry on Google, and the official website of Chabad of Kazakhstan received tens of thousands of hits. There are also those who claim that ‘Burat’ has drawn the great potential of Kazakhstan to the attention of financial investors,” he said.
Nonetheless, Rabbi Cohen believes that the picture of Kazakhstan painted by the movie is very far from the reality. “Although I haven’t seen the movie, through my thirteen-year acquaintance with all strata of Kazakh society I have seen that this nation is far from primitive or anti-Semitic. … Not only is Kazakhstan not anti-Semitic, but it is a of friendship and tolerance. More than 100 different ethnic groups live together side by side here. It provided shelter to Jews during World War II, and many Jewish refugees chose to remain here decades after the war was over. I can responsibly state that there has never been any anti-Semitism in Kazakhstan.”
Around forty thousand Jews live in Kazahkstan today. Many of them are the descendants of Jewish refugees from Ukraine, Poland, and Russia who fled there during World War II, as well as Jews from Iran, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan who were exiled there during more recent times. “This country is kind to all of its citizens, including the Jews. Kazakhstan was the first state of the former Soviet Union to become a democracy, and it is currently undergoing major developments, making it an attractive option for investors worldwide. These include many Israelis who have come here in recent years and are doing very well in business,” says Rabbi Cohen.
When Rabbi Cohen was asked if he thought that “Burat” would have any anti-Semitic repercussions, he replied, “The Kazakh nation will not be drawn into controversy, and I am sure that President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his government will not allow any extreme elements to use this opportunity to turn criticism of a comedian into an excuse for race hatred.”