The EXPO-2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan’s latest glitzy and expensive attempt to showcase its development to the world, is not proving a public relations success.
One episode that became avoidably embarrassing began with Foreign Policy magazine publishing a sniffy piece, mockingly titled “Kazakhstan Spent $5 Billion on a Death Star and It Doesn’t Even Shoot Lasers,” calling not just Kazakhstan’s hosting, but also the entire concept, of the EXPO into question. The author of the piece dwelled in particular on the apparent paucity of visitors and the excess expense involved in organizing the fair.
Instead of exercising discretion, disgruntled officials in Astana have gone on the offensive.
Speaking to the media, Sergei Kuyanov, director of public relations at Astana EXPO-2017, on June 19 declared that the writer of the piece, James Palmer, was in no position to criticize as he had not even attended the EXPO. Indeed, continued Kuyanov, there is reliable evidence that Palmer had not even visited Kazakhstan at all.
Palmer quickly responded by tweeting images of his passport with stamps confirming entry and departure from Kazakhstan, as well as the ticket stub from when he went to the EXPO. He then stuck in the knife.
“Welcome to all my new Kazakhistani [sic] followers! You are a charming people with a beautiful country and, alas, some dumb authorities,” he wrote on Twitter.
To add to the PR catastrophe, many internet users in Kazakhstan reported after this exchange that they were unable to open the Foreign Policy website. Astana routinely blocks websites it deems to contain extremist or illegal content and on occasion uses similar methods to bar access to news resources including articles critical of the government.
Mishandling of this incident will now likely only draw more attention to one of the issues raised by Palmer — namely, the public grumbling caused by the event, which opened its doors on June 9.
Many are complaining, for example, that the…