Flight of the teddy bears lands Belarussian generals in hot water
Belarus’s president sacks two generals after Swedish plane drops hundreds of teddy bears bearing human rights slogans
It’s probably the first time in history that teddy bears have defeated generals. Belarus’s authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, has sacked the country’s air defence chief and the head of the border guards service after a Swedish light plane intruded on the country’s airspace and dropped hundreds of teddy bears decked out with parachutes and slogans supporting human rights.
Officials in the former Soviet state denied the 4 July incident until Lukashenko called a government meeting last week to scold authorities for allowing a “provocation”.
“Why didn’t the top brass stop that flight, whom did they feel pity for?” he exclaimed.
On Tuesday, the Belarussian ruler fired the two generals and reprimanded several other top security officials, his office said.
Belarussian authorities also have arrested a journalism student who placed pictures of the parachuting teddy bears on his personal website, and an estate agent who offered an apartment to the plane’s Swedish crew. The two men were accused of assisting border violators and face up to seven years in prison if convicted.
Thomas Mazetti and Hannah Frey, the two Swedes behind the stunt, said they wanted to show support for Belarussian human rights activists and to embarrass the country’s military, a pillar of Lukashenko’s power.
“Hopefully, we’ve made people more aware in the world and that there will be more people supporting Belarussian people,” Frey said.
The pair said they had been inspired by similar protests staged by Belarussian activists who have arranged soft toys in such a way that they appeared to be protesting against the regime.
“Our campaign was a campaign in support of that. An airlift in support of the teddy bears, from teddy bears around the world,” Mazetti said.
Lukashenko has ruled Belarus, a nation of 10 million, since 1994. He has stifled dissent and independent media, earning the nickname of “Europe’s last dictator”.
He also has boasted about the capabilities of a joint air defence system that Belarus has formed with Russia, saying it provides a reliable shield against purported threats from Nato.
Pictured: Belarus’s president, Alexander Lukashenko. Photograph: Yekaterina Shtukina/AP