On July 4, 2012 hundreds of teddy bears carried in a plane piloted by two Swedes, Tomas Mazetti and Hannah Frey, parachuted down on the Belarusian capital and its vicinity in a show of support for the country’s pro-democracy movement.
The campaign launched by Studio Total aimed at raising the world’s awareness on the situation in Belarus. ‘After all, we prosper in a world that writes 8000 articles about our “the-worlds-biggest iPod-dock. A world that, last month only, wrote 109 000 articles about Kim Kardashian and 79 on the Belarusian opposition. … So we bought a plane and put together a campaign that our professional instinct told us had at least a tiny chance of slipping in the words ‘Belarus’ and ‘free speech’ somewhere between the news about iPhone 38 and Miss Kardashians cat’ the organisers confessed.
At first the Belarusian Ministry of Defense rebuted the information on the teddy bear troop drop but started a detailed inspection of air defense near the Belarus-Lithuania border.
Per Cromwell, one of the founders of Swedish advertising agency Studio Total that claim responsibility for the action, uploaded a full video version of their plane’s flight over Belarus. Beginning with installing a camera on the plane and ending with its landing at a Lithuanian aerodrome, the video proved that native air defense alert units did overlook the Swedish plane in the Belarusian air space.
The Swedes’ action reached its primary aims and attracted public attention both in Belarus and abroad. It is hardly surprising that the Belarusian authorities were at loss: only a day earlier, on July 3, the country was celebrating its Independence Day with fanfare, president Lukashenka and his youngest son Kolya were inspecting a show-of-force military parade. The small Swedish plane that crossed the state border neutralized all the efforts and, what is more, made big brother Russia doubt its ally’s defensive capacity…
No wonder that the situation cried out for scapegoats.
On July 13, 2012 Anton Surapin, a twenty-year-old journalist, whose news web site first released pictures of teddy bears was arrested by the State Security Committee (KGB) and later charged with aiding the Swedes in illegal border crossing. The same accusation was brought against Siarhei Basharymau whose only crime was that he was to rent a flat to the Swedes.
After keeping three-week silence Aliaksandr Lukashenka admitted the teddy bear drop and later removed Ihar Rachkouski, chairman of the State Border Committee, and Dzmitry Pakhmelkin, chief of the Air and Air Defense Force, from their positions.
In August, 2012 Swedish Ambassador to Belarus Stefan Eriksson left the country by order of the Belarusian authorities. Moreover, one of the Belarusian state-owned TV channels alleged that Mr. Eriksson had been involved in attempts to organize a violent uprising in Belarus.
Present posture of affairs
Photographer Anton Surapin and real estate agent Siarhei Basharymau were released on August 17, 2012 on their own recognizance.
On June 28, 2013 Ihar Siarheyenka, first deputy head of the Committee for State Security (KGB), said that the investigation into the teddy bear incident had been completed. When answering the question about the case in which citizens Basharymau and Surapin were charged, the KGB representative answered: ‘Yes, it is closed.’ He refused to give any more comments, the Belarusian Association of Journalists reports.
After Ambassador Ericsson’s expulsion, the Estonian embassy in Minsk started issuing Swedish visas on its behalf. But on July 2, 2013 Sweden’s new charge d’affaires, Martin Oberg, arrived in Minsk and began his diplomatic work. He was granted accreditation and assumed his duties as the new head of the diplomatic mission.
But it is worthy of nothe that Russia which is to deploy an air base in the Belarusian town of Lida, has taken all the advantages of the situation. The Kremlin is about to make such a step ‘to enhance the defense capability of our Belarusian colleagues and brothers’, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu said at the meeting with Aliaksandr Lukashenka on April 23.