Cuddling the Opposition: A Campaign for Free Speech in Belarus Relies on Teddy Bears and Parachutes

An advertising agency supports free speech in repressive Belarus with a dramatic stunt.

The small former-Soviet republic Belarus is considered to be Europe's last surviving dictatorship. Protestors and the political opposition are jailed. Journalists are harassed. But that doesn't mean stories from that small, landlocked nation—or the dissidents trying to bring democracy and free speech there—get much airtime in the West. Last week the Swedish advertising agency Studio Total attempted to do something about the relative silence surrounding Belarus by staging a high profile, and highly dangerous stunt designed to draw attention to the issue from the outside.

The group flew a plane into Belarusian airpsace and unloaded more than a thousand parachute-strapped teddy bears over the village of Ivyanets and Minsk, the capitol. The toys glided to the ground with signs that read "We support the Belarusian struggle for free speech." Afterward, the plane crossed the border for safety in Lithuania.

While the Belarusian government writes off the stunt a hoax—as dictatorships are want to do—accomplished with video editing and Photoshop, eyewitnesses on the ground vouch for the authenticity of the event, and the Lithuanian government confirms the presence of an unidentified aircraft in its neighbors airspace.

According to Studio Total's website, the idea came about over drinks, when happy hour chatter turned to the lack of discussion about or public support for Belarus's opposition. The creatives at Studio Total felt compelled to make a statement. As they wrote on their website: "We prosper in [...] a world that, last month only, wrote 109,000 articles about Kim Kardashian and 79 on the [B]elarusian opposition."

Studio Total paid for the project entirely, and claims to have taken on the legal and physical risks of piloting the plane themselves. The work was "pro bono" on behalf of charter 97, a media site for the opposition.

"A dictator can be hated, despised, or feared," Studio Total writes on its website. "The only thing he cannot survive is being laughed at." Check out the video of the airdrop below to laugh along with them.


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