Two generals were fired and two people were arrested after an air bombardment that left the president of Belarus fuming over how its borders could be so easily overrun -- by teddy bears.
Hundreds of the toys descended on Belarus last month, dropped by Swedes tooling over the capital, Minsk, in a small plane. The plush invaders were outfitted with parachutes and bore activist slogans such as “Free Speech Now.” The human pilots, working for a Swedish ad agency, wore teddy bear masks.
The small agency said it paid for and carried out the activist prank itself after hearing about the killing of a Belarus human rights activist, with the goal of “slipping in the words ‘Belarus’ and ‘free speech’ somewhere between the news about iPhone 38 and Miss Kardashian’s cat.”
Human rights groups have dubbed Belarus one of the most repressive countries in Europe, lamenting its long record of jailing activists and censoring and harassing journalists.
Dissent is so heavily policed that protesters have been arrested simply for clapping or ringing their cellphones in unison and have even resorted to posing toys in mock protests -- part of the inspiration for the risky Swedish stunt.
Belarus, which has prided itself publicly on its defense systems, at first denied the toys had been dropped. But as the news spread through photos and videos, President Alexander Lukashenko reacted with outrage, demanding at a government session last week, “How can you explain the provocation involving a single-engine aircraft that crossed the Belarusian border with impunity?”
Lukashenko announced this week that two generals, the air force commander and border committee chairman, were losing their posts “for improper discharge of official duties in ensuring the national security of the Republic of Belarus.”
“There should not be much fuss about it,” Lukashenko told the Belarusian Telegraph Agency on Thursday. “Quite the opposite, the punishment was too lenient. In the times of the Soviet Union, these people would be jailed.”
"If you absolutely must jail and abuse people –- why not invite us? After all, we were the ones who flew the plane, not some poor guy who happened to sell us chocolate .... Or maybe we should just fly by some day?" its founder, Per Cromwell, wrote in the letter published in Swedish media.
Teddy bears dressed as paratroopers have also popped up in Minsk alongside placards calling for the two detainees to be released, Radio Free Europe reported Thursday.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Video: Members of the Swedish ad agency Studio Total drop teddy bears over Belarus. Credit: Studio Total