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Lukashenko vs. Swedish Teddy Bears

August 8, 2012

The early 2012 dust-up between Belarus and the EU, which saw all the EU member states remove their ambassadors from Belarus in February, ended rather quietly. President Lukashenko eased back the repression a little bit, and the EU ambassadors slowly filtered back in without fanfare in late April. Basically, it was an ordinary three-month period in the EU-Belarus relationship.

Things are heating up once again in the aftermath of a breach of Belarusian airspace that saw hundreds of protest-sign-bearing teddy bears—complete with their own tiny parachutes—dropped from a small plane. According to the New York Times, the operation was carried out on July 4 by Tomas Mazetti and Per Cromwell. Mazetti and Cromwell appear to be experienced provocateurs, having already organized a kronor burn in Sweden—they run an advertising agency out of Malmo.

After efforts to cover up the bear drop failed (a man named Anton Surapin faces years in prison for putting pictures of the dropped bears on his blog), an enraged Lukashenko responded to Cromwell and Mazetti’s stunt by firing the heads of the Belarusian border guard and air force—actions mirroring those taken by the Soviet Union after a German 18 year-old named Mathias Rust landed a Cessna on Red Square in 1987. Lukashenko then demanded that Swedish diplomats in Belarus leave the country, an action that is expected to cause a repeat of the events of this February.

(Stuffed animal protests first came to the fore in Russia after the disputed parliamentary elections of December 2011 as a way to circumvent a ban on public (human) group protests. The amusing yet fundamentally sad stunt quickly spread to Belarus, where a stuffed animal protest staged in February led to the imprisonment of two alleged organizers for ten days each. Lukashenko’s more aggressive response in this case is almost certainly due to the implications of the failure of the national air defense system, which is shared with Russia.)

Even without the teddy bear scandal, the past few months have not been kind to Lukashenko’s public image. There have been repeated calls from prominent international bodies (chiefly the European Parliament) for the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) to not allow Belarus to host the 2014 World Ice Hockey Championships as scheduled. While it seems the IIHF is unlikely to hold the tournament elsewhere, the threat of a boycott by certain participating countries remains. Lukashenko, a passionate sports fan, is also one of the few world leaders banned from traveling to London for the Olympics, putting him in the same category as Bashar al-Assad and Robert Mugabe. Politically-motivated persecution is Belarus is undeniable, but in this regard Belarus is no different than China. Other than that, Lukashenko is pretty much just a petulant whiner with a habit of shooting his mouth off—not to defend him, but at least he’s not a mass killer. Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov, a dictator whose repulsive record of deadly violence, torture, and other human rights violations can actually make Lukashenko look good (e.g. the 2005 Andijan massacre), was not barred from the Olympics and made an official visit to Brussels as recently as 2011. Europe’s seemingly disproportionate scorn for Lukashenko is mostly due to embarrassment stemming from the fact that the EU can’t do anything about the dictator in their own backyard.

At this point, it’s impossible to take the EU seriously in this matter. When Lukashenko does something stupid—and that’s guaranteed to happen at least once every four months—the EU hits Belarus with a few sanctions, and then backs down a few weeks later after Lukashenko makes a token gesture. I guess sometimes all you can do is sigh and shake your head.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 22, 2013 3:44 am

    Hey! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and tell you I
    genuinely enjoy reading your posts. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that go over the same topics?
    Thank you so much!

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