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“What did you think about the Borat film?” Saken asked, a bit aggressively, on day one of my trip to Kazakhstan. I was there with a group of journalists to look at oilfields and meet energy executives from the state oil company. “Very impolite,” I answered, and mumbled some other platitudes about stereotypes and Western ignorance. I’d wanted to say “offensive and over-the-top” but my Russian was rusty and I was jet-lagged. I was determined to like Kazakhstan. Dictatorships aren’t my favourite destination — especially ones where journalists have a habit of dying unnatural deaths — but they have their…

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