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HUMAN RIGHTS

Swedish embassy in Belarus receives threat

Sweden's embassy in Minsk has received a threat against Swedish nationals in Belarus, following the recent expulsion of the Swedish ambassador and diplomats, the foreign ministry said Sunday.

“The Swedish embassy has received a threat aimed at Swedes in general in Belarus,” the embassy wrote on its webpage.

“Due to recent events, including the expulsion of Sweden’s ambassador from Belarus, there is reason for Swedes to be particularly vigilant and exercise caution when travelling to and staying in the country,” it said.

Contacted by AFP on Sunday, Swedish foreign ministry spokeswoman Catarina Axelsson confirmed the information but would not provide any details about the nature of the threat nor when it was issued.

The website’s post was dated August 10, one week after the expulsion of Swedish ambassador Stefan Eriksson, and two days after Minsk announced it was expelling all Swedish diplomats and closing its Stockholm mission.

Stockholm has in return refused to welcome a new ambassador to replace an envoy who left the post several weeks ago, and has withdrawn residency permits for two Belarus diplomats who were asked to leave the Scandinavian country.

The tit-for-tats came after the widely-reported “teddy bear stunt” organised by a Swedish advertising agency last month, when Swedish activists flew a plane over Belarus and dropped hundreds of teddy bears attached to little parachutes carrying signs calling for freedom of speech and human rights.

Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko dismissed the country’s top border control official and the top air force commander after the incident.

The KGB security police in Minsk has said it is investigating “the illegal crossing of the state border of Belarus by Sweden nationals in a small airplane” and has summoned three Swedes from the advertising agency to appear for questioning.

“Three of us have been asked to appear before the KGB,” Tomas Mazetti, the co-founder of the advertising agency, told AFP on Saturday.

The trio — Mazetti, Hannah Frey and Per Cromwell — have yet to decide whether they will travel to Minsk, he said.

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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.”