Kazakhstan: National Anthem Goof-Ups Lead to Tough New Penalties
Following some embarrassing incidents involving its national anthem, Kazakhstan has passed new legislation imposing stiff punishments for treating its state symbols with disrespect.Under a bill passed by the upper house of parliament on June 14, anyone who mistreats or desecrates state symbols, which include the country’s flag as well as its anthem, faces up to a year in jail or a stiff fine, the Novosti-Kazakhstan news agency reports. The new legislation was drafted after Kazakhstan made international headlines over a mix-up involving its national anthem at a March sporting event in Kuwait. Then, the hosts accidentally played a version of the spoof anthem that featured in the 2006 movie “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” which extols Kazakhstan’s potassium and prostitutes and memorably contains the line “Kazakhstan – greatest country in the world, all other countries are run by little girls.”That blunder came just days after a goof-up in northern Kazakhstan, where the Ricky Martin song "Livin' la Vida Loca" was accidentally played instead of the anthem at the opening of a skiing festival.The incidents made headlines and got laughs abroad, but at home Astana – ever sensitive to its international image – was not smiling. This new legislation is its response, and the penalties are tough: up to a year in jail and a maximum fine of 3.2 million tenge ($21,000). Bakytzhan Sagyntayev, the minister for economic development and trade, has said that the legislation came in response to the anthem mix-ups and to an incident where people were found to be using the national flag to transport garbage.In order to avoid any embarrassing incidents at the London Olympics this July, sporting officials have been ordered to make sure the right version of the national anthem is played and sportsmen taking part have been told to learn the words of the song, which was adapted from a Kazakh popular folk ditty (allegedly with the personal assistance of President Nursultan Nazarbayev) and extols the virtues of the open skies and the steppe. The new law does not impose penalties for sportsmen who mess up, however.
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter.