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SWEDISH TEDDY BEAR DROP

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Belarusian journalist released on bail

Belarus on Friday freed on bail two men accused of helping Swedish rights activists who illegally flew into Belarusian territory to release teddy bears carrying protest messages.

Belarusian journalist released on bail

The two men, journalist Anton Suryapin and estate agent Sergei Basharimov, each risk up to seven years in jail after being listed as suspects in aiding and abetting the flight.

They have been freed on bail after signing undertakings not to leave the country, which is under a raft of sanctions imposed by the European Union over the plight of its political prisoners.

In the stunt last month, the three activists from a Swedish PR agency illegally flew a plane into Belarusian airspace and dropped hundreds of teddy bears attached to little parachutes carrying signs calling for freedom of speech and human rights.

Basharimov rented out an apartment to the Swedes, while Suryapin published photographs of the teddy bears on his website.

“I don’t consider myself guilty or involved in this case. The fact that I managed to publish these unique shots I consider is my success as a journalist,” Suryapin told AFP at his home in the town of Slutsk south of Minsk.

“I did not know those Swedes. The fact that we were held in a KGB prison only in order to make the Swedes come is absurd, I think,” he said.

Suryapin, 20, was detained on July 13 after the security services searched his home and confiscated his computer. He was later placed under arrest as a suspect.

Belarus’s security service, still known as the KGB, has summoned the three activists. They declined, inviting Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko to visit them in Sweden instead.

The stunt led Lukashenko to fire his top border control official and air force commander and sparked a diplomatic row between Minsk and Stockholm.

On August 3rd, Minsk expelled the Swedish ambassador to Belarus alleging that he was trying to “destroy” ties, a move Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt conceded could be linked to the teddy bear incident.

Sweden retaliated, refusing to accept the proposed replacement of an outgoing ambassador and withdrawing residency permits for two Belarusian diplomats, who were asked to leave the Scandinavian country.

On August 8th, Minsk announced it was expelling all Swedish diplomats, giving Sweden until August 30th to remove them and close its Stockholm mission.

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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.”