protest against lack of free speech in belarus

Heads roll after teddy bear invasion from Sweden

After a small Swedish plane dropped hundreds of teddy bears over Belarus in early July, the hardline country’s air defence chief and the head of the border guards have lost their jobs.

As a pro-democracy protest against what is sometimes called Europe’s last dictatorship, the 800 stuffed toys carried signs calling for more respect for human rights. The plane was chartered by a Swedish public relations company, and flew into Belarus on July 4 from neighboring Lithuania.

Besides sacking the two senior generals, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko also formally warned five other high-ranking officials, including the defence minister and head of the KGB. The authorities have also arrested two people, a real estate agent and a journalism student, in connection with the incident.

On its website, the Swedish PR firm Studio Total says the teddy bear invasion was a campaign for the opposition news website Charter97 and “aims to raise awareness on the situation in Belarus” concerning free speech.