Belarus authorities took a dim view of a July 4 publicity stunt when 1,000 teddy bears with free speech slogans were air-dropped in the countryside near Minsk. A journalist who posted photos of the bears has been arrested and held for the past three days.
Anton Suryapin was taken into custody July 13 after posting several pictures of the teddy bears with the free-speech slogans on Belarus News Photos, a website he manages.
The stunt was the brain-child of the Swedish public relations firm Studio Total, as a way of showing solidarity with the pro-democracy movement in Belarus.
The Belarus Defense Ministry called the whole thing a hoax, and claim the airdrop never took place. And members of the pro-democracy movement in Belarus were equally unenthusiastic.
According to the Radio Free Europe website, a Swiss newspaper quoted an unidentified Belarus activist as saying “euro-stupids should leave the Belarusians alone and stop subsidizing the activity of all sorts of clowns from Sweden and Belarus.”
Initial skepticism about the event by several news outlets seems to have been answered with the release of a video of the event on YouTube as well as interviews with participants and witnesses.
According to the Swedish news website The Local, Studio Total has a reputation for carrying out outrageous public relations stunts, including at least one hoax. Last year, the firm fooled many journalists with their announcement of the establishment of the Austrian International School of Sex, which eventually turned out to be a way of drawing attention to that country’s low birth rate.
In the most recent event, a plane took off from an airfield in neighboring Lithuania and headed for the Belarus capital of Minsk. According to the pilot, Tomas Mazetti, the original plan was to drop the bears over the presidential palace and other government buildings, but they were warned off by air traffic controllers.
Concerned about their fuel supply and an oncoming storm, they dropped the bears over the nearby countryside instead.