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SWEDISH TEDDY BEAR DROP

HUMAN RIGHTS

Teddy-drop team invites Lukashenko to Sweden

The founders of the Swedish PR firm which dropped pro-free speech teddy bears over Belarus have written another open letter to President Alexander Lukashenko, declining his offer of a meeting in Minsk, and instead inviting him to their house in Skåne, southern Sweden.

Teddy-drop team invites Lukashenko to Sweden

The letter comes in response to a missive, which members of the PR firm received on Saturday, asking them to appear before the KGB in Minsk.

“You are to appear before the Department of Investigation of the KGB for participating in investigative actions (interrogation) within 10 days. You have to inform KGB on the time of your arrival,” the letters from Belarus said.

They were also cautioned that if they decline, they risk being penalized “by a fine or by correctional work for up to two years, or imprisonment for up to six months”, according to the letter.

“The way it stood, we would have been going to a Minsk prison as suspects with no neutral ground. But we thought – if he’s so interested, he can come here,” Studio Total founder Per Cromwell told The Local on Tuesday.

Studio Total, the PR company that organized and carried out the stunt in July, demanded in their response that the political prisoners of the KGB be released, adding that as “flattering as it is for a small advertising agency to get this kind of attention from a real live dictator… there are some details we need to discuss”.

FOR THE FULL LETTER TO LUKASHENKO CLICK HERE.

It continues by picking fault with the President’s summons notice, taking issue with the condition that the team was asked to come to Minsk within ten days or face two years correctional work.

It also criticizes the deportation of the Swedish ambassador in what they refer to as “sudden spat of bad temper” by Lukashenko.

The letter finishes with the offer of an all-expenses paid trip for the president to Skåne, southern Sweden, where the team will explain “everything you want to know on how to cheat your expensive air defence systems”.

The offer comes with one condition:

“Our only demand is that you behave as politely as you can (no threats of torture and the likes) and that you release all the political prisoners in Belarus.”

However, company founder Cromwell is unsure if the team will even receive a response from the Belarusian president.

“We realize there is a very small probability that he will come, but our intentions are clear – we want the prisoners released. We have spoken to media from all over the world, and one thing we have succeeded in is drawing attention to the situation in Belarus,” he told The Local.

“If our work keeps getting attention, then the pressure remains high. We’ve seen that he has become even more irrational, trying to punish Lithuania because their airfield was involved, for example.”

“If we can keep him occupied because he is mad chasing after flying teddy bears, then there is simply more opportunity in general for the people of Belarus. Anything that makes Lukashenko lose face is welcome.”

As for the next move, Cromwell explains that the team is taking a step back from the current “turbulence” and is looking forward to hearing a response from Minsk.

“We’re not sure if we’ll hear from him after his ten-day summon runs out, or whether he will respond directly to our letter, but either way, we’re looking forward to it,” he told The Local.

“We’ve made our move – now we’re waiting to see theirs.”

Oliver Gee

Follow Oliver on Twitter here

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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.”