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Teddy Bear Paratroopers Invade Belarus

Updated on March 11, 2013
UnnamedHarald profile image

I try to make history readable and interesting, warts and all. We must look to the past to understand the present and confront the future.

Teddy Bear
Teddy Bear | Source

Protesting President Lukashenko's Regime

On July 4, 2012, hundreds of elite teddy bear paratroopers parachuted in broad daylight upon a defenseless and stunned Belarus citizenry. At last report, the casualty list includes two Belarus generals, the Swedish ambassador to Belarus, the entire Swedish embassy staff in Belarus and the Belarus embassy staff in Sweden and two Belarussian citizens who may be sentenced to seven years imprisonment for allegedly giving aid to the “invasion”.

Two members of Studio Total, a Swedish advertising agency, took off in their small plane from a Lithuanian airfield on Wednesday July 4, 2012 and headed for Minsk, Belarus' capital city. Hannah Frey and Tomas Mazetti, wearing little bear masks, were attempting to protest the repressive regime of Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko. Aboard their crowded craft were over 800 plush teddy bears with parachutes bearing slogans like “We support the Belarus struggle for free speech” and “Belarus Freedom”.

Belarus military helicopter.
Belarus military helicopter. | Source

The Teddy Bear Invasion

Despite the quixotic nature of the protest, Hannah and Tomas were not certain they would be able to penetrate Belarus airspace. They were well aware that, in 1995, a Belarussian military helicopter shot down two Americans in a balloon who had drifted off course in a balloon race, killing both of them. Still, they felt strongly enough about showing solidarity with ordinary people living in what has been described as “the last true remaining dictatorship in the heart of Europe” to take the risk.

To their surprise, the whole thing went off without a hitch-- discounting the aftermath of their flight. The two flew around Belarussian territory for more than 90 minutes. When they approached Minsk, they started pushing the little bears out the window, leaving a trail of parachutes behind them-- more than 800, each bearing their human rights messages. Hannah and Tomas even videoed the event, a small portion of which can be viewed at the end of this article.

1987: A Cessna Invades Soviet Airspace

In 1987, 18-year-old German national Mathias Rust flew a Cessna from Finland into Russia and landed next to Red Square in the heart of Moscow. His stunt reduced the prestige of the Soviet military and may have contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union. On the other hand, Soviet fighters were not given permission to shoot him out of the sky.

Belarus, Soviet Style

Belarus gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and has been ruled since 1994 by Alexander Lukashenko. Its 10 million citizens would scarcely be able to tell the difference between Soviet rule and Lukashenko's rule. The streets are clean, the highways well-maintained. There's less choice but quality is available. Prices are higher. Medical care is free. The state owns all the land. Ninety percent of industry is still owned by the state. There is still a Belarus KGB carefully watching over everyone. Dissent is not encouraged.

A
Lithuania:
Lithuania

get directions

B
Belarus:
Belarus

get directions

The Ugly Aftermath

At first, the government denied their airspace was penetrated. Then the Swedes released their video and images of bears floating from the sky appeared on the Internet. Later, it admitted that the plane had illegally entered the country. Two generals, one the head of border security and the other chief of the air force, lost their jobs. Two Belarussian citizens were picked up and held by the KGB, charged with conspiring with the Swedes. Anton Suryapin, a student journalist, who published photos of the descending bears on his website and a real estate agent who offered shelter to the Swedes before they made their flight both face up to seven years imprisonment.

In addition, the Swedish embassy has been shut down in Belarus as has the Belarus embassy in Sweden (though officially these closings are not tied directly to the bear invasion). The KGB has demanded Hannah, Tomas and a third member of Studio Total, Per Cromwell, to appear in Belarus to answer questions about the stunt. In response, Per Cromwell, in an open letter to Lukashenko, taunted him and called him a dangerous armed clown.

Even the Estonians and Lithuanians are mixing it up with Lithuania blaming Estonia for the lapse which allowed the small craft to take off from Lithuanian territory. As part of a joint NATO operation charged with watching Lithuanian airspace, the Estonian shift was supposedly on watch.

Must...Not...Laugh

There's plenty of comedic gold in all this. I would imagine the second-most difficult job in Belarus, behind being a protester, that is, would be stand-up comic. All that material and no place to use it. The teddy bear invasion has managed to focus world attention on the excesses of the Belarussian leadership like nothing else. If this persuades Lukashenko to loosen up even a little bit, ordinary Belarussians may yet feel the benefit.

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    • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

      David Hunt 

      5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Hi, xstatic. There is so little about Belarus that gets in the news, I thought I'd write about the teddy bears after reading Pavlo's great hub on his trip to Belarus. I also think it's important to acknowledge the plusses, regardless of the system. It may be dark there, but they also have successes.

    • xstatic profile image

      Jim Higgins 

      5 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

      This is great ! I sort of heard about this when it happened, but did not go back and read the details. Thanks for the info. Some people might say thet it was not the business of "foreigners" to interefere in this Belarus situation, but I say more power to them, as I do to people from beyond our borders to point out shortcomings in the US.

    • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

      David Hunt 

      5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      SotD and Zera, that's a great question. One only shudders thinking of the fate of a teddy bear collector, if showing images of them gets you seven years. I assume anyone smuggling one home to their little girl will have to look over their shoulder for quite a while.

    • SotD and Zera profile image

      SotD and Zera 

      5 years ago

      This is certainly a creative way to protest. I hope no one got in trouble for taking the bears home, though.

      -Zera

    • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

      David Hunt 

      5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Hi aethelthryth. So glad you liked the intro-- despite the actual seriousness of possibly getting shot down, I wanted to lighten it up a bit.

    • aethelthryth profile image

      aethelthryth 

      5 years ago from American Southwest

      I would love to comment, but all the good comments have been made by people with better background for it than I have. So I will just say I loved how you started this article.

    • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

      David Hunt 

      5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Hi Pavlo. I'm glad to hear from you-- especially since I remember your hub about your trip to Belarus. Your newspaper items are a perfect postscript. Thanks for commenting.

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

      Pavlo Badovskyi 

      5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      You have no idea how popular this topic here was! Jokes about them are in numerous newspapers:

      -Witnesses said that parashutes of 2 bears were not opened. Both sent to Lukashenko for re-stitching

      -Fingerprints will be taken from all bears;

      -some people in Belarus tore them apart looking for hard currency inside;

      - Belarus is cool. Our bears not only walk, they also fly;

      -Ministry of defence informed that the bears did not fly, they came by foot;

      -TV in Belarus informed people that bears from Sweden came to blossoming Belarus to look for an asylum;

      -I've seen your plane!!! Next time take me from Belarus forever,

      please

    • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

      David Hunt 

      5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Thanks, Nate. Sometimes creative protests can be very effective. If nothing else, many more eyes are watching events in Belarus, but I wouldn't want to be involved with a second attempt at flying over Belarus in the near future.

    • NateB11 profile image

      Nathan Bernardo 

      5 years ago from California, United States of America

      Educational and enjoyable read. I'm always entertained by creative protest.

    • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

      David Hunt 

      5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Hi, old albion. Absolutely right. I think we haven't heard the last of this. Also, I remember the hub by Pavlo about his trip to Belarus and wanted to make sure I didn't portray the country in black and white terms. Thanks for commenting.

    • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

      David Hunt 

      5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Larry, you are so right. As a matter of fact I meant to cite Rust's little adventure-- I believe he landed on the main boulevard by the Kremlin-- as a perfect example of a "harmless" stunt with huge international consequences. Thanks very much for bringing that up.

    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 

      5 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      Hi UH. A brilliant hub. This brings a serious situation to the fore. They risked their lives to do this. Yet they brought a sense of fun to their actions. Why don't these things make the news? You found UH so well done to you.

      Graham.

    • Larry Fields profile image

      Larry Fields 

      5 years ago from Northern California

      If my memory is correct, a private German pilot, Matthias Rust, pulled a similar stunt, landing the small aircraft in some famous place in the old Soviet Union. Their military was quite embarrassed, for not detecting it and not shooting it down. Then Rust cooled his heals in jail for a couple of years. Tweaking the bear's nose is not all fun and games.

    • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

      David Hunt 

      5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      gmarquardt and Larry, thanks for reading and commenting. There's definitely a problem with free speech in Belarus, but I got thinking...how funny would the US government think a Cessna loaded with parachuting bears approaching Washinton DC would be. Assuming it wasn't shot down, at least there would be plenty of jokes on late night TV.

    • Larry Fields profile image

      Larry Fields 

      5 years ago from Northern California

      The first requirement for being a Communist dictator is to get a humorectomy. Voted up and more.

    • gmarquardt profile image

      gmarquardt 

      5 years ago from Hill Country, Texas

      Awesome! Let's hope it works.

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