The Hitlers and Stalins have long left Europe. Authoritarian dictators have been replaced by the ballot box in all but one country — Belarus. Known as “Europe’s last dictator,” President Alexander Lukashenko has run Belarus since 1994. Through fraudulent elections, arrests and the creation of an impotent parliament, Lukashenko has made Belarus his personal fiefdom. Lukashenko has a love for the old Europe where human rights and democracy did not get in the way. Once a part of the Soviet Union, Belarus still operates its own branch of the KGB. He is even molding his seven-year-old son to take over the country in 2037.
It is not a surprise that Belarus has drawn the attention of human rights organizations throughout Europe. On July 4, a group from Sweden dropped teddy bears from a small airplane near the capitol of Minsk. The plane penetrated Belarussian air space without incident and dropped the bears, which floated to earth in parachutes while holding pro-human rights messages.
For several weeks, Belarus denied that the incident happened. Finally, Lukashenko admitted that teddy bears had invaded his country. He fired the generals in charge of border security and air defense. A journalist who posted pictures of the teddy bears and an apartment manager who gave quarters to the Swedish pilots were also arrested.
Lukashenko also ordered Sweden’s ambassador to depart the country. In response, Sweden blasted Belarus’ actions by declaring the ambassador’s removal “a serious breach of the norms for relations between states.”
Belarus said that it had not expelled the diplomat but simply had chosen not to renew his accreditation after seven years of service.
The Swedes do have a point. The dismissal of a diplomat over teddy bears is a “breach” from usual diplomatic relations. This is probably the first time that a stuffed animal has ever created friction between two nations.
Sweden retaliated by barring the incoming Belarusian ambassador from taking his post. In addition, the Swedes kicked two other diplomats from Belarus out of the country. Now the European Union is considering action itself.
Belarus is a close ally to Russia. Both countries work closely on security matters like air defense. It is believed that Lukashenko’s actions may be a reaction to Russian concerns that Belarusian airspace was so easily violated.
Lukashenko is not likely to take further action. However, with Belarus a target by human rights groups and the European Union, which wants to bring it into line with other European nations, it is likely that there will be more efforts to promote freedom in Belarus. For the prickly Lukashenko, that will undoubtedly be troubling.