Freedom Lecture: Hamid Ismailov

Central Asia’s changing climate and freedom of expression

programme editor
Kees Foekema
Kees Foekema
In collaboration with

Central Asians are feeling the effects of their leaders’ close ties to Russia and China. Today, the region is facing steep rise of authoritarianism that is further catalysed by the effects of climate change, floods and severe droughts. Both the natural and media landscape are changing beyond recognition. In De Balie we’ll talk about the current crackdown of civil society and the alarming environmental degradation in Central Asia. 

For years, Ubzeki writer and journalist Hamid Ismailov has been working in exile. His books vividly depict Central Asia’s landscapes: its windswept steppes, nuclear test sites and characters full of contradiction. In his lecture he’ll talk about his opposition in exile, and the destruction of both nature and culture as part of the same imperial playbook. Together with Ismailov, artist Marjolijn Boterenbrood and investigative journalist (OCCRP) Eldiyar Arykbaev we’ll talk about the stories that we urgently need to share.

About the speakers

Hamid Ismailov is a writer and journalist from Uzbekistan. Due to his ‘unacceptable democratic tendencies,’ he had to leave his country and watched from afar as his books were banned and his name erased from public mention.

As a writer, Ismailov blends fact and fiction in works that critics have compared to Bulgakov’s satire, Rushdie’s magical realism and Márquez’ storytelling of rural life. He served as the BBC World Service’s inaugural Writer in Residence and currently directs RFE/RL’s Central Asian services. We join in conversation with Ismailov to talk about his dissent-in-exile, the current crackdown of journalistic and artistic freedom and the environmental degradation in Central Asia. 

Eldiyar Arykbaev is a journalist and story teller. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of KLOOP, a media organisation in Kyrgyzstan. Nowadays he works as an investigative journalist for OCCRP to cover corruption in Central Asia. 

Marjolijn Boterenbrood is a Dutch visual artist. Her work is site specific and arises from the phenomena of the landscape, in cartographic ways she shows different layers. In De Balie she’ll present her latest project: Connecting Geographies #5. The installation consists of reworked maps from an old Soviet atlas, in which 31 artists from Central Asia give back meaning to areas that were structurally devalued. The project is a collaboration with artists Munara Abdukharova, Bermet Borobaeva, Malika Umarova, Zulya Esentaeva and Nurperi Orubaeva and is on display at PAKT Foundation in Amsterdam.

About the Freedom Lecture

Freedom is something that we in The Netherlands typically take for granted. Four times a year, De Balie invites someone who knows from personal experience what it means not to be free. We share their stories, spread their message and learn from their struggle.

In the series, De Balie has welcomed freedom fighters like Iranian filmmaker Niloofar Azimian, Egyptian writer and activist Nawal el Saadawi, Ugandan LGBT activist Frank Mugisha, Hungarian journalist Veronika Munk and French philosopher Didier Eribon.


Portretfoto van Hamid Ismailov
Hamid IsmailovWriter and journalist
Marjolijn Boterenbrood met haar project Connecting Geographies #5
Marjolijn BoterenbroodArtist, Connecting Geographies
Portretfoto van Eldiyar Arykbaev
Eldiyar ArykbaevInvestigative journalist OCCRP, former Editor-in-Chief KLOOP