Swedish Freedom Bears
Forget Swedish Fish, the Swedish Freedom Bears are fast becoming a much juicer story.
In the beginning of July the Swedish public relations firm Studio Total decided to drop teddy bears over Belarus carrying a message of freedom. The message read “We support the Belarusian struggle for free speech”. The founder of the company, Per Cromwell, later went on to describe President Lukashenko as a “clown” while mocking the president. After the teddy bear drop Lukashenko went nuts, firing two military officials for not being able to detect an airplane with a cargo load of teddy bears flying in over his airspace. His secret service also made sure to arrest a blogger/journalist who posted images of the teddy bears and a private citizen who rented out an apartment to Studio Total.
Besides the dispute between the public relations firm and Lukashenko’s oppressive regime tensions have also escalated to a national level between Sweden and Belarus. Lukashenko also accused the Swedish envoy to Belarus of co-operating with Studio Total and the opposition to his regime within Belarus. Shortly thereafter Belarus expelled the Swedish Ambassador in Minsk and yesterday the Swedish government stated that all of its diplomats had been expelled from Belarus.
Carl Bildt, the Swedish Foreign Minister, commented on Twitter saying that “Lukashenko is now throwing all Swedish diplomats out of Belarus. His fear of human rights reaching new heights.” Minister Bildt also told press that the newly assigned ambassador to Sweden from Belarus wouldn’t be welcome and that two other diplomats had been asked to leave.
Mr. Bildt occupies a spot as one my favorite Swedish politicians and his passion for human rights and peace has been a strong characteristic throughout his career. Ideologically, Mr. Bildt is a right-of-center (being Sweden that’s not saying much) politician and served as Prime Minister in the beginning of the 1990s. Famously, in Sweden at least, Mr. Bildt is known for being tremendously difficult to interview and most journalists dread talking to him because they risk being schooled on the topic.
Tomorrow, Friday, the EU ambassadors will convene and discuss what course of action that will be taken against Belarus. Possible options include a withdrawal of EU ambassadors or a strengthening of sanctions against the regime in Minsk.
P.S. Did I mention that the original teddy bear drop was made on July 4th?
Thomas is a university adjunct in political science and can be found on Twitter as @ThomasRatPol