Archive for August, 2007

A Man For All Seasons (Forever And Ever)

RobĀ Greene “Kazakhstan is the greatest country in the world;

All other countries are run by little girls.”

(Kazakh national anthem, as sung by Borat Sagdiyev)

How right he was, Borat, and how brave, to utter these words right in the heart of the American South where the prevailing view is that the United States is the only country on Earth with balls. In a rodeo hall festooned with Stars and Stripes, the Kazakh TV presenter dared imply that, far from being the macho bunch of gun-toting brawlers most Americans believe it to be, the US government consists of soft ninnies who promote freedom of speech, religion and thought, the removal of trade barriers and things like women’s rights when they should be in Baghdad, trading punches with Al Qaeda. Borat had it spot on, of course. Seeing Bush Jr. in a flak jacket and army boots is not a million miles away from seeing Marlene Dietrich in top hat and tails. It’s cross-dressing and not every girl can get away with that. Marlene could, she had great legs.

It’s unfair, of course, to single out George W. Bush as a wimp who hides under the stairs while outside the bullets fly. Most Western leaders would do the same, posing bunch of girl’s blouses totally wrapped in round-the-clock security that they are. I can’t ever see Holland’s prime minister, the immensely respectable Jan Peter Balkenende, kick in the door of a snipers’ nest in Afghanistan, stick his head inside and shout: “Right, you scum! Drop your guns and come out with your hands up!” France’s new boy Nicolas Sarkozy may think nothing of setting the riot police on a crowd of disaffected immigrants in a Paris suburb, but would he risk the crease in his trousers and getting his hair tousled in a gunfight with Iraqi insurgents? Hardly. Maybe Vladimir Putin, with his karate black belt, might fancy a bit of fisticuffs, but he too is surrounded by bodyguards whose job it is to see that he doesn’t get hurt. And I haven’t even begun to talk about North Korea’s hereditary darling leader Kim Jong-il, who you just know is far more likely to say: “where are my red silk slippers with the diamond-encrusted buckles?” than “pass me the ammo and be quick about it.” Even, yes: even my old mate Fidel Castro disappointed me when I heard that he had had surgery under general anaesthetic, instead of drinking a bottle of rum and biting on a stick. But there you go: the world demands to be deceived.

Is there, then, a country that is ruled by a strong character, a man whose personal courage and contempt for bulletproof vests and armoured limos are only exceeded by his deep love for his people? Yes there is. Kazakhstan. The Kazakhs will never allow themselves to be ruled by a little girl, not least because -as Borat reliably informs us- little girls there have other jobs to do and trophies to win. So instead they have Nursultan Nazarbayev. Nursultan -whose democratic credentials are hotly disputed but will, on close examination, prove virtually flawless- has been his country’s president since, well….forever, really. In 1990, before the Soviet Union fell apart, he was made president of the Kazakh SSSR. In 1991, when there was no more Soviet Union, his people elected him first president of independent Kazakhstan and they’ve been doing it ever since. To call his rule authoritarian would be going a bit far, but probably not far enough. Quite a few people who, over the years, have dared to oppose him have either ended up in jail or dead. And yet, let it not be said that Nazarbayev has cynically turned his country into a one party state. Political pluriformity is high on his agenda: in the 2005 presidential election he faced no fewer than four challengers and it wasn’t his fault that, between them, they got barely 600,000 votes, while Nazarbayev himself sailed home with well over 6 million. That’s how real democracy works, folks: no messing around with a few chads in Florida to steal an election, but a thumping big victory that leaves no doubt as to who the people want.

The strange thing is that, while the Kazakh people obviously adore him (in this week’s parliamentary elections, Nazarbayev’s Otan Party won 88 percent of the vote and all of the seats in the assembly), there are, in his own family, several people who want him out of power. One of these is his daughter Dariga (number four operatic mezzo-soprano in all of Kazakhstan) who has been tipped by some as the one most likely to succeed him when the next presidential election rolls around in 2012. You know, and I know, that she might as well forget it. No girl, big or little, will ever lord it over the proud Kazakhs. But there’s also Nazarbayev’s son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev, who’s been nurturing his own ambitions for the highest office of state while serving as Kazakh Ambassador to Austria. Not surprisingly, he was sacked as soon as Nazarbayev got wind of this un-son-in-law-like behaviour and an international warrant for Aliyev’s arrest is currently causing considerable mirth among police forces the world over.

So determined is Nazarbayev that his love affair with the Kazakh people must be consummated in perpetuity, to mutual benefit and satisfaction, that he has signed a decree, allowing him to run for office in all future presidential elections. While he’s still alive, naturally. But who knows if this near-divinity will ever die? Others who may consider themselves better qualified to lead Kazakhstan into a glorious future can, of course, stand against him. But whether they’re wise to do so is another matter. If they don’t turn up dead in a disused potassium mine they will feel the full and terrible wrath of the Kazakh nation. Running the Jew may have been declared politically incorrect and removed from the annual festival diary, but Running the Perfidious Opposition Leader Who Would Oust The Beloved Nazarbayev could prove just as popular. Failing that, Oxana Sagdiyeva -Borat’s temperamental spouse- could snap off their cocks. But I just remembered: she got mistaken for a bear and shot. Tragic, really. High Five!

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