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SWEDISH TEDDY BEAR DROP

HUMAN RIGHTS

Belarus asks Lithuania to probe teddy bear claims

Lithuania on Friday was mulling a request by Belarus to probe claims by Swedish human rights activists that they flew across the border to make a drop of freedom teddy bears, angering Minsk.

Belarus asks Lithuania to probe teddy bear claims

Prosecutors in the Baltic state said they were asked for legal assistance “to investigate a possible breach of the state border when a Swedish-piloted light aircraft crossed the Lithuanian-Belarus border.”

“Currently data is being collected, and the request for legal assistance will be considered,” Ruta Dirsiene, the state prosecutors’ spokesman told AFP.

The move came after Swedish activists illegally flew a plane into Belarus last month dropping hundreds of teddy bears attached to little parachutes carrying signs calling for freedom of speech and human rights.

Belarus — ruled by authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko — has since expelled all Swedish diplomats and threatened consequences for Lithuania after the incident orchestrated by a Swedish advertising firm.

“Lithuania should not be sitting like mice under a broom. They must answer to us why they provided their territory for national border violation,” Lukashenko was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency on Thursday.

“If there is anyone who won’t find it funny, it is Lithuania,” Lukashenko warned.

Lithuanian officials have refused to comment.

“If teddy bears are a threat to the Belarusian administration, Lukashenko’s regime must be cracking at the seams,” Nerijus Maliukevicius, a political scientist at Vilnius University told AFP Friday.

He also drew a parallel between the teddy bear incident and the prosecution of the anti-Putin girl punk rock band Pussy Riot in Russia.

“Vladimir Putin and Lukashenko have come up against a tremendous evil to fight — Pussy Riot and teddy bears.

“This should be viewed in an indulgent or humorous manner, however. Their behaviour is characteristic of authoritarian leaders. It may seem funny to us, but it is a tragedy for those who face it,” Maliukevicius added.

Like Belarus, Lithuania won independence from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991.

But the two countries have followed very different paths since then.

Lithuania is firmly anchored in the West, having joined the European Union and NATO in 2004.

Later on Friday, ambassadors from the 27 EU states will meet to respond to the expulsion by Belarus of Swedish diplomats.

Brussels has already imposed a raft of sanctions against Belarus over its jailing of citizens for political reasons.

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BELARUS

“Go all the way – doubt kills everything”

SI alum Katsiaryna Syrayezhkina tells SI News about a recent event she organized in Minsk about sustainable living, and advises current students and alumni on how to make a difference.

On September 16th, the seminar “Sustainable lifestyle: small actions, big difference” took place in Minsk, Belarus, in cooperation with the Association of European Business and ODB-Brussels (Belgium).

SI alum Katsiaryna Syrayezhkina was behind the initiative, where key topics included sustainable lifestyle, ecological foot prints, eco-friendly initiatives, sustainable consumption, and energy efficient housing

“I was inspired by the Smart Living Exchange organized by the Swedish Institute and its partner organizations,” Katsiaryna tells SI News.

“As an SI alumna, I decided to replicate this experience in my country and organize a seminar covering sustainable transport, consumption and housing practices in Sweden and Belarus.”

During the seminar, experts and participants discussed the barriers, triggers, and motivators of moving towards healthier choices and a better quality of life while minimizing the use of natural resources and toxic materials.

The Swedish and Belarusian experts spoke about “circular” economy and the economy of “sharing”, links between “couch-surfing”, cycling infrastructure and sustainable development, EU sustainable practices, and partnerships between businesses and NGOs.

The event participants thus were given the opportunity to compare both the Belarusian and European experience of such matters.

Katsiaryna says the event was a success, but that one of the main challenges was simply getting other alumni involved and interested.

“It's always difficult to get local SI alumni interested,” she says, “so I always try to think about some extra benefits for attendees.”

Benefits this time included an excursion to BelVTI recycling plant  on the same day, and participants also had the opportunity to taste a vegetarian buffet organized by the VegaMara project team.

Another key challenge was getting Swedish experts to come speak at the event.

“Belarus doesn’t seem to be at the top of the list of countries to visit,” she remarks.

But in the end the work paid off, and Katsiaryna noted that there are many similarities between the two countries – and that they should work together more.

“I think we have much in common with Swedes: mentality, history .. even weather!” she says.

Having studied in many countries – including France, Poland, Belgium, and Sweden – Katsiaryna says that it’s hard to know what exactly has made her the person she is today, but that her time abroad has definitely affected her in many ways.

“The most important thing is that I learned to take the opportunity to fail,” she confides. “We take things way too seriously in post-Soviet countries, while the most important thing in life is to enjoy yourself in everything you do.”

For those who are currently studying with the SI programme in Sweden, Katsiaryna recommends being open and totally embracing the experience.

“I would advise current students to immerse themselves in a new culture, rather than trying to recreate a little 'home' and hide inside from everybody,” she says.

 As for the other SI alumni – if you have something to share, just do it.

“Don’t have second thoughts, just give it a try and go all the way,” she says. “Otherwise you start hesitating and as we all know, doubt kills everything.”