The PEN International Congress in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, last week was the first to be held in Central Asia. It was also the first at which the organisation resolved to oppose ‘anti-LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex) legislation which restricts the right to freedom of expression’, having never before campaigned on sexuality or gender identity.
Lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan was a popular holiday destination during the Soviet era. After independence the tourist industry struggled, but in recent years the visitors have started returning, from elsewhere in Kyrgyzstan, Russia or Kazakhstan. But they don’t go to Balykchy (‘the fisherman’), a town of 42,000 people at the western end of the lake. Once a major transport hub (it’s the railhead of the line from Bishkek), Balykchy today is a quiet, dusty place. Lenin’s portrait looks over the rooftops; his statue stands, arm outstretched, in front of the town hall.