Teddy Bear Leadership: Belarus Peace Protest

“Itʻs raining teddy bears!”

879 stuffed emissaries of peace fell from the sky over Belarus on July 4, 2012, dropped from a single-engine plane, bearing the message”We support the Belarusan struggle for free speech.”

If a teddy protests in the woods, does it make a sound!?

Studio Total, a Swedish advertising agency, wanted to offer their support for the Belarus democracy movement, Charter 97. Check out Studio Totalʻs blog/magazine to get more of their message, and some of their dialogue with Belarus dictator Aleksander Lukashenko.

The aftermath of the seemingly whimsical protest includes the arrest of two nationals, one who published photos of the bears on the Internet, and another who rented an apartment to the Swedes. Both may face up to 7 years in prison. Belarus kicked out all Swedish diplomats, closed the Swedish embassy, and dismissed key defense ministers in Belarus. Strangely, the Belarus government refused to acknowledge the flight and teddy bear drop until July 26, even though it was all over the Internet.

Want to see the airdrop, and a good number of views of Minsk? Check out the YouTube video of the flight. So complicated, yet so simple!

You may well ask, whatʻs the fuss about?

According to the Post: “Once again, the smallest gesture has become a lesson in the insecurity of the powerful. The Swedes wrote on their Web site: “A dictator can be hated, despised or feared. The only thing he cannot survive is being laughed at.”

Certainly, the situation in Belarus is getting a lot of attention, and looking very silly, in a scary, repressive way. Industry spokesmag Adweek quoted instigator Per Cromwellʻs open letter to Lukashenko, written after the arrests:

“Reports in Russian media—which you dare not censor—have caused many people to laugh at you. On the internet, you are described as a clown. But we are not naive. You are something much more frightening—an armed clown. Though in the long run, not even a heavily armed clown can stop people from laughing. And when people laugh at you, not even your friends will want to stick around. … Our advice to you is this: pull yourself together, before it is too late. Use some of the financial resources you’re spending on the KGB and military parades to help the nation out of its financial crisis…. You are the leader of a fantastic people. They deserve change.”

This event, and the ridiculous yet very serious kerfuffle it caused, is a great example of trickster leadership — the harmless teddy bear shapeshifting into a dangerous idea — democracy, with the result that our mocking giggles have the force of political blows.

The target: a foolish, powerful man who imagines himself to be a great leader, yet is described as erratic, uninhibited and a predator. (Reporters Without Borders notes, for example, that he spoke his mind in March this year to the German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle: “Better to be a dictator than gay.”

It might seem that such a man is his own worst parody. But with the power he wields, and the arrogance with which he governs, laughter may be the best way to undermine his pseudo-leadership.

Score one for the tricksters!

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