Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president of Kazakhstan since 1991 (pictured), is a man who has won a lot of awards.
France has given him the Légion d’honneur, Japan the Order of the Chrysanthemum, and he’s even nabbed something called the Grand Cross of the Order of Vytautas the Great, from Lithuania.
But now he can add an even greater honour to that list: the inaugural Republic or Death award for defending national anthems.
Last week, his parliament passed a bill stating that anyone who ‘disrespects’ the Kazakh anthem will get up to a year in prison.
I don’t see why anyone would want to disrespect Meniñ Qazaqstanım (My Kazakhstan). It’s a brilliantly menacing minute, sounding like the whole Kazakh population marching into battle.
But the move follows two embarrassing incidents. At a skiing contest in March, Ricky Martin’s Livin’ la Vida Loca was played instead of the anthem (not the easiest mistake to make even given ‘k’ and ‘l’ being next to each other in the alphabet).
A short time later, a medal-winning athlete had to listen to the fake Kazakh anthem from the film Borat (which features lines like, “Kazakhstan, prostitutes cleanest in the region, except of course for Turkmenistan’s”).
Nazabayez may have pushed for the punishment because he has a personal stake in the anthem (he co-wrote the lyrics).
But the more likely reason is that he and Kazakh politicians don’t want anything to upset the image of the successful country they’ve tried to build over the last twenty years.
Whether the potential punishment will have any impact will soon be seen. Unfortunately, the anthem’s next big test is going to be at the London Olympics, several thousand miles outside Nazarbayev’s jurisdiction.