Belarus jails guard over Swedes’ teddy bear drop

A border guard on duty when a Swedish plane flew over Belarus last summer to drop hundreds of pro-democracy teddy bears has been jailed for failing to stop the stuffed-animal assault.

Belarus jails guard over Swedes' teddy bear drop

On Monday, the Belarus Supreme Court sentenced the guard to two years imprisonment in a maximum security facility for failing to report that a small aircraft had crossed into Belarusian airspace from neighbouring Lithuania on July 4th, 2012.

The plane, piloted by two employees of Swedish PR agency Studio Total, flew for more than an hour in restricted Belarusian airspace, managing to drop hundreds of teddy bears carrying pro-free speech slogans over the town of Ivyanets.

SEE ALSO: images of teddy bear drop from Studio Total:

“We made it to the southwestern part of Minsk and dropped about two-thirds of our teddy bears there, but started heading back early after we got a call on the radio in Russian,” Studio Total’s Tomas Mazetti, who piloted the plane, told The Local at the time.

“The rest we threw out sporadically along the way, including several over Ivyanets.”

While authorities in Belarus at first denied that the stunt took place, several Ivyanets residents told of seeing an airplane fly over the town and a number of the pro-democracy teddy bears were later recovered on the ground.

Videos of the incident shot from the plane’s cockpit as well as from the ground in Belarus were also later published on the internet.

The incident generated headlines around the world and sparked in a diplomatic spat, with Belarus expelling Sweden’s diplomats and recalling its own diplomats from Stockholm.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko fired two generals following the teddy bear drop, and a Belarusian journalist was detained for several weeks after publishing images of the stuffed animals on his blog.

Studio Total carried out the stunt to draw attention to Belarusian opposition groups such as Charter 97 and “Tell the Truth!” which are fighting for free speech in Belarus – a country ruled since 1994 by president Alexander Lukashenko, who is often referred to as “Europe’s last dictator”.

The name and rank of the jailed border guard was not released.

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“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.”