This post was edited by ttt222 at 2012-8-7 21:21|
The plane crossed stealthily into Belarussian airspace and headed for the capital, Minsk. At the appointed moment, the cargo doors opened, and an invasion force of tiny plush freedom fighters parachuted to the ground.
Belarus was under attack — by teddy bears.
Three members of a Swedish advertising firm planned and carried out the operation last month, adorning more than 800 plush bears with signs promoting democracy and denigrating Belarus’s authoritarian government.
Comedic touches aside, the security breach has become a major embarrassment for President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, who has channeled his country’s meager resources into maintaining a calcified police state.
Though the government at first tried to cover up the incident, which occurred on July 4, the many photographs and videos of the bear drop uploaded to the Internet made it impossible to ignore. On Tuesday, Mr. Lukashenko fired two generals: the head of the border service and the head of the air force.
“How do you explain the provocation with the airplane that not only crossed our borders, but entered the territory of Belarus unpunished?” Mr. Lukashenko fumed last week in a meeting with security officials, according to the government’s Web site. “Was this the stupidity of specific actors or systemic mistakes in the defense of the airspace?”
The Swedish organizers of the bear drop, two cousins and an associate, are at pains to explain how they avoided detection by Belarus’s air defenses.
“We expected that the plane would be forced down,” said Per Cromwell, who monitored the operation from the ground. “My job was to drive the getaway car, to pick up the pilots when they landed and get to an embassy,” he said by telephone from Sweden.
As it turned out, the small single-engine propeller plane, which took off from an airport in neighboring Lithuania, spent about an hour and 20 minutes in Belarus airspace and flew back unmolested after dropping its cargo. Mr. Cromwell said the plane was piloted by his cousin, Tomas Mazetti, and their associate, Hannah Frey, who wore fuzzy bear masks during the flight. Mr. Mazetti had received his pilot’s license only several weeks before the operation, Mr. Cromwell said.
At one point, he said, air traffic controllers in Minsk tried to communicate with the two pilots in Russian, but neither could understand what they were saying.
Things could have gone much worse. In 1995, two Americans in a hot-air balloon accidentally drifted into Belarussian airspace. On orders from Mr. Lukashenko’s security officials, a helicopter gunship intercepted the balloon and fired a missile that killed the men.
The bear drop was the latest and most complex in a series of political protest actions by the cousins, who founded and run a small advertising firm called Studio Total based in Malmo in southern Sweden. Last month, they collaborated with a Swedish feminist party to burn about $13,000 worth of Swedish kronor in public to protest unequal wages for women. And last year, just for fun, they organized what they called the Pillow Fight World Cup at a community center in Brooklyn.
“Every year we try to use the money we earn to do something that we think is important,” Mr. Cromwell said. “We thought it was a brilliant idea to criticize and attack a dictator with teddy bears.”
Mr. Lukashenko, who has never been accused of possessing an excessive sense of humor, has hit back hard. In addition to firing the two generals, he also delivered an official warning to the minister of defense and his deputy.
Two people have been arrested. One, Sergei Basharimov, a real estate agent, rented an apartment to Mr. Cromwell for his brief stay in Minsk. The other was Anton Suryapin, a young blogger and journalism student, who seems only to have posted witnesses’ photographs of the incident on his blog.
Both are being held in Minsk, said Tatyana Revyako, who works for the human rights group Vyasna, based in Minsk. She said the authorities had released no details about the charges against the two men.
Mr. Cromwell said neither of the men had anything to do with the operation.
Teddy bears are not the only toys to have taken shots at Mr. Lukashenko’s authoritarian rule. In February, stuffed dogs, bears and a raggedy rabbit gathered in central Minsk for a plush-toy protest against Mr. Lukashenko.
The human organizer of that action, Pavel Vinogradov, was arrested and sentenced to 10 days in prison.
Source: The New York Times