Kazakhstan Spent $5 Billion on a Death Star and It Doesn’t Even Shoot Lasers | Foreign Policy
The Expo was being held on the outskirts of Astana, near one of the city’s many construction sites, in a purpose-built park. Dubbed a “future city” but looking more like a vast conference center, the organizers claimed the site was self-powered, fueled by a mix of wind and water. Each pavilion takes up anywhere from one room to several floors in a giant ring of new buildings built to encircle a great sphere of black glass at the center, the Kazakhstan pavilion. Viewed from the west, the dome loomed over neighboring apartment buildings. “There’s two big ways to piss off the Kazakhs,” a delegate commented, “Mention Borat, or call the dome the Death Star.”
For years, the Kazakh organizers had been quietly ramping down the tallies of expected attendees at the three-month event; 5 million, 3 million, now 2 million. On opening day, the official figure was 10,000 visitors, and even that was a generous rounding-up. The next day, the crowds were even barer. In the Chinese pavilion, a CGI video showed a fly-through of busy Expo grounds; outside the street was empty save for a janitor having a smoke. Come dinner time, the empty plastic tables and giant windows of the second floor of the food court gave it the air of a provincial airport at 2 am.
But maybe the biggest problem with attracting visitors was that the majority of the Expo was boring. The exhibition’s theme — “Future Energy” — meant an endless sequence of corporate videos about the sun (good) and wind (also good). The bigger the petro-state, the more time the pavilion spent talking about how committed they were to alternative energy. “Please come to the Shell pavilion,” one of the Kazakh staff implored me, “It is a very brilliant company.” Many of the videos ended with young women in diaphanous clothing turning to smile at the viewer; the Israelis one-upped this by having a live dancer — in diaphanous clothing — as a treat after you’d sat through their video.