Almost a month ago, on July 4, hundreds of teddy bears parachuted into Belarus, the eastern European state frequently referred to as the last dictatorship in Europe.
Studio Total, a Swedish PR firm, had hired a light aircraft to drop the bears, which contained pro-democracy slogans. The operation was called “Teddybear Airdrop Minsk 2012” and the pilot who had illegally entered Belorussian airspace told RFE/RL that the move was designed to show Belorussians there was life outside their border, where President Alexander Lukashenko has ruled since 1994 and even clapping is banned.
“I hope that in some way that we can show them there is a whole world out there that actually cares about this,” Tomas Mazetti said.
Of course, Belarus being a strictly controlled dictatorship, the act was denied. Locals said they never saw any bears, and doubts were cast on Studio Total’s version of events (their history didn’t help them — they had created a hoax about a “sex university” last year).
Studio Total did provide a video of the drop, which the Belorussian government claimed was faked.
Unfortunately there was a problem for the Belorussian government: the people of Belarus.
A 20-year-old student named Anton Surapin was able to find photos of the bears (allegedly sent by a local resident), which were swiftly posted around to the internet. Surapin was arrested for the photographs of the bears (which officially still didn’t exist) on July 13. Others were reportedly detained for their parts in the non-event.
It took Belarus’s feared strongman dictator to finally confirm the incident had actually happened. “How can you explain that a light aircraft, which not only crossed the border, but also with impunity, invaded the territory of the Republic of Belarus? It is first and foremost a matter of the safety of our citizens,” Alexander Lukashenko said at an armed forces meeting last week.
Once Lukashenko admitted the event had occurred, heads had to roll. The country’s air defence chief and the head of the border guards service were fired yesterday, according to the AP.
For the last dictator in Europe, it’s a hugely embarrassing affair. Lukashenko had recently been bragging about the strength of his air defence system, a joint venture with Russia designed to counter NATO. It looks like tither a sympathetic government worker allowed the plane in, or that system doesn’t work. There are some reports that the Russians may want to take away control of the air defence system after the failure.
In an open letter to Lukashenko, the head of Studio Total Per Cromwell criticised Belarus for the arrest of Surapin, before ridiculing Lukashenko for his brags about the air defence system:
Recently, you announced that you, personally, guaranteed the effectiveness of the Belarus defence. You have spent 20 billions of euros on an air defence system that could not detect a homebuilt aeroplane with a cargo of teddy bears. As Pavel Kozlovsky, former Belarus minister of defence, expressed: You lead a regime that puts all its energy into pretending that the patient is healthy, but none into curing her.
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