An army of teddy bears descended on Belarus this weekend, but President Alexander Lukashenko really wanted to pretend it never happened. Unfortunately in this day of rapid-fire tweets, it’s rather hard to keep a teddy bear airdrop under wraps for long. Lukashenko, then, was forced to admit that the thousands of teddy bears that fell on his country were not just part of a bad dream.
A Swedish plane parachuted the bears over the town of Ivyanets, near the capital of Minsk, on July 4. The bears wore signs that read, “Belarus freedom” and “We support the Belarus struggle for free speech.” Belarus is considered to be the “last dictatorship in Europe” according to some, and the country has stagnated under Lukashenko’s authoritarian rule. After the bear drop, Belarusian defense forces earlier denied that the plane had flown over the country and called the story a provocation, Russia’s Ria Novosti news agency reports.
But now, Lukashenko has admitted the bears and the plane bearing the bears was real and he is less than thrilled that his air defenses failed to stop the plane. “How can you explain that a light aircraft, which not only crossed the border, but also with impunity, invaded the territory of the Republic of Belarus? It is first and foremost a matter of the safety of our citizens,” Lukashenko said, according to news agency Interfax as reported in USA Today. In response to the stunt, Lukashenko fired two senior officials over their failure to intercept the plane. A statement released Tuesday confirmed the leaders of Belarus’ air force and border guard service had both been canned.
Perhaps Lukashenko should look to blame Studio Total, though: the Swedish ad agency has admitted to being behind the teddy bear invasion. According to the company’s website, the airdrop was inspired by one of the partners’ godfathers who was imprisoned and tortured in Greece during a junta 40 years ago. They performed the stunt pro bono on behalf of the pro-democracy group Charter 97. In a statement on their site, the agency made it clear that they alone funded and flew the plane. They added that violating the airspace “of a dictatorship” was dangerous. “We DO NOT support breaking of international law,” the company said. “But when it really comes down to it, the only law you should follow is your heart.”