Defence heads roll in Belarus after bear drop

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Defence heads roll in Belarus after bear drop

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Could it be the first time ever that a country has been terrified by teddy bears? Possibly not, but what is clear is the drop of some 800 or so fluffy air intruders from a plane over Belarus last month has led to the fall of two of the country’s top defence chiefs. They got the axe this week after a fuming President Alexander Lukashenko scolded authorities for failing to act after two Swedish activists entered the country’s airspace.

The advertising employees behind the bear drop said the aim was to embarrass Belarus’ military, seen by many as the core of Lukashenko’s power.

‘‘A dictator can be feared and he can be hated, but when people start to laugh at him, his days are numbered,’‘ one of the Swedes Tomas Mazetti said.

Despite initial denials, authorities in Minsk were forced to react when news of the pro-democracy stunt appeared on the internet.

On Tuesday Lukashenko described the security breach as a ‘‘provocation’‘ and threatened to use whatever means necessary to prevent further violations of the ex-Soviet state’s territory.

In Belarus, a journalism student who posted photos of the bear drop on his own website has already felt the President’s wrath. Accused of assisting border violations he is reportedly being held in the notorious Amerikanka prison and could face seven years in jail if found guilty.

It is hardly the first time opposition has been crushed inside Belarus. In 2010, presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov was sentenced to five years detention for helping to orchestrate protests following Lukashenko’s re-election. He was released after pressure from Brussels. Vladmir Nikliaev, another presidential rival also felt the leadership’s iron fist having been severely beaten following the election result.

The latest political stunt is also unlikely to be the last time someone will take a pot shot at Lukashenko, described by the US administration of George W Bush as the “last dictator of Europe”. Only recently, journalists held a small protest outside the jail in support of the bear blogger who is being held.