Europe’s Last Dictator: Alexander Lukashenko and the Bad News Bears of Belarus
If hundreds and hundreds of teddy bears can’t bring down Europe’s last dictatorship, what can?
It was July 4 this year when a horde of plush toys fell from the sky and onto the streets in the Belarussian capital city of Minsk. Each fuzzy bear had a small parachute, and they all carried placards with phrases in support of free speech and human rights.
The stuffed animals had plenty to be mad about. In the former Soviet state of Belarus, elections are rigged. The executive branch, with President Alexander Lukashenko at the helm, wields near-complete control over the country. Protests are banned, and the media is stifled. Opposition activists languish alongside convicted criminals in brutally administrated prisons. Human rights violations are rampant, and they are often carried out by the central government’s security agency, which is still referred to as the KGB.
In mounting their collective protest, the teddy bears didn’t act alone. They were outfitted by a team of three Swedish activists, two of whom risked death to fly a tiny airplane into Belarussian airspace and toss the toys overboard. The Swedes were over Belarus for little more than an hour before flying back to their home country, miraculously unmolested.
Lukashenko, often referred to as Europe’s last dictator, at first denied the incident had ever occurred. It was an embarrassment for the heavily policed country, which happens to be highly protective of its airspace.
But as video surfaced of the incident, the administration had to own up to the security breach. The president angrily sacked both the head of the air force and the head of the border services.
Addressing the incoming head of border services, Lukashenko did not mince words.
“Unlawful violations of state borders must not be allowed,” he said, according to Reuters. “They must be stopped by all force and means, including weapons, regardless of anything. The border guards must prove their loyalty to the fatherland.”