The Case of the Teddy Bear Drop: Two People Imprisoned, Two Countries Facing a Diplomatic Crisis

Reporting from Belarus: Nick Shchetko

Teddy Bear Drop in Belarus

Teddy Bear Drop in Belarus

It was a really weird case from the very beginning.

So what`s the connection between teddy bears, border violations, Swedes, a diplomacy crisis and aeronautics? You`ll soon know. But let me say again, that it was a really strange case from the very start.

Let`s rewind to one month back, to July 3rd. It was Independence Day for Belarus,  and the annual military parade was in motion – a day when tanks were filing down the streets of the capital, Minsk, and warplanes were flying over the city. There were speeches to the sound of “Our army is ready to counter any threat, blah-blah-blah”.

And then, out of the blue, the next morning a Swedish media published a “sensational” article http://www.thelocal.se/41816/20120704/ on a “teddy-bear drop”. This story from “The Local”, Sweden’s English language newspaper, pictured a small plane, which they said, had illegally crossed Belarusian border this morning and dropped more than a hundred teddy bears over our territory in support of free speech in Belarus.

Let us stop here for a moment. I believe there is no need to comment on the issues of freedom of speech and press in our country. Just Google it and you`ll get the picture. But why teddy bears? It`s also a bit tricky to peacefully protest in Belarus – you may well end up in prison for one reason or another (like “swearing”). So opposition activists started a sort of guerilla war, putting toys with relevant slogans on the central streets of Minsk – but they were continuously confiscated by police continuously. http://www.gazetaby.com/index.php?sn_nid=43119

Now returning to the plot. In the beginning, the story sounded TOO CRAZY to be true – and there was not a single piece of evidence to substantiate the story. The Ministry of Defense denied the violation of our border, and the Committee on Border Affairs did just the same, but then details started to emerge: the action was carried out by two guys from the Swedish PR-company Studio Total http://www.studiototal.se/teddybears/ . Photos of   teddy bears on Belarusian soil soon appeared on the web – journalism student Anton Suryapin published those in his blog http://www.bnp.by/shvedy-dejstvitelno-sbrosili-na-belarus-plyushevyx-medvedej-na-parashyutax . And organizers published a video http://www.youtube.com/user/PerCromwell  – more and more over time, with Belarusian landmarks clearly visible… So just in a few days it became obvious to just about everyone that IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED.

Belarusian authorities  “commented” in their usual style by detaining the blogger who posted pictures of the teddy bears (July, 13) and also a guy who rented a flat to the other Swedes who participated in the event by filming the story from the ground…

The president admitted that the plane actually crossed our border and said that “it was tracked from the very beginning, but no action was taken”. That of course is why top executives at the anti-air defense unit and Committee on Border Affairs were dismissed, and a number of other top military and internal security folks were reprimanded…

But anyway, the organizers made it  back home safely while two Belarusians, most likely innocent, were detained for “helping aliens to break through the Belarusian border”. The Belarusian KGB security agency said that was is expecting Swedes to come to Belarus to participate in the “investigative actions”, following the news of which Belarusians might be released from custody. A lot of bloggers considered that action as “taking hostages” in order to lure the border-breakers back to Belarus. The Swedish PR firm rejected the offer to return to Belarus, and suggested that Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko come to Sweden for talks.

And even more, the case started an international scandal after August 1st, when the Swedish ambassador to Belarus didn`t receive an extension of work permit from the Belarusian government. In return, Swedes expelled two top Belarusian diplomats from the local embassy. Minsk then decided to recall all its Embassy officials from Sweden and effectively ordered Swedish diplomats to leave the country…

Since then, the official Belarusian state TV-channel called Mr. Bildt, the head of Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “an internet troll” http://lenta.ru/news/2012/08/09/troll/

On Wednesday August 9, President Lukashenko stated that “We`ll adequately answer on those “plush matters”, but “Let those [pilots] thank God that our wise Belarusian defense forces spared those flyers”. The President added that the plane was noticed right above the border. He accused Lithuania of providing Swedes access to an airport to pass over the border, and said that Swedish diplomats were working with the trespassers. Still, the president hasn’t commented at all on the Belarusian citizens that remain in prison for accusations a lot of observers call far-fetched.

Oh, and the story is far from over: you may follow it (in Russian, though) here: http://news.tut.by/tag/1526-plyushevyy-desant.html

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