Thursday, August 09, 2012

Belarus Bears in the News

This week in the Teddy Bear News... Swedish activists parachuted hundreds of bears into Belarus. 

MINSK (Reuters) - Authorities in Belarus arrested and fined two journalists for posing for photographs holding teddy bears after hundreds were dropped by air on the country in a pro-democracy stunt, the Belarussian Association of Journalists said on Thursday.

Alexander Lukashenko, the authoritarian president, also suggested on Thursday that the Swedish embassy in Minsk had been involved in planning the July 4 escapade, in an outburst likely to widen a diplomatic rift with Sweden over the incident.

"Those who came and prepared the violation of the state border worked together with the (Swedish) embassy. We have proof of this," Lukashenko was quoted as saying by the Belarus state news agency Belta.

The journalists' arrest and Lukashenko's accusation underlined the depth of his anger and embarrassment over the stunt and his determination to punish those he views as being responsible for it.

The two journalists, Irina Kozlik, who works for Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, and Yulia Doroshkevich, a press photographer, were each fined 3 million Belarussian roubles (about $400) at separate court hearings in Minsk and released.

An official for the ex-Soviet republic's journalist association said that Kozlik, 27, and Doroshkevich, 31, were detained on Wednesday evening in the capital Minsk.

The two women were accused of "carrying out an unsanctioned protest," Andrei Bastunets, deputy head of the association, told Reuters.

The July 4 stunt, in which a light aircraft chartered by a Swedish PR firm Studio Total dropped 800 toy bears carrying pro-democracy messages over Belarussian territory, prompted Lukashenko to sack his air defense and border guards chiefs and expel Sweden's ambassador.

The teddy bear "blitz" was the latest pro-democracy stunt aimed at mocking Lukashenko's iron grip on a country he has ruled since 1994, three years after the Soviet Union's break-up.

Once described as Europe's last dictator by the U.S. administration of George W. Bush, Lukashenko has been ostracized by the European Union and United States over a harsh crackdown on opponents who challenged his re-election in December 2010.

Last summer, opposition groups staged waves of "silent" protests in Minsk in which people engaged in synchronized public clapping and coordinated their mobile phones to ring out in unison to show their disapproval of Lukashenko's style of rule.
With both Belarus and Sweden now pulling all their diplomats out of each other's country, the diplomatic rift has worsened Belarus's already poor relations with the West.

In comments issued by Belta news agency on Thursday, Lukashenko said Belarus still awaited an answer from Sweden and neighboring Lithuania about their role in the airdrop. The plane entered Belarussian air space from Lithuania.

"If these answers do not come according to international norms, we will find an adequate response ourselves ...," he said.

"Lithuania shouldn't sit like mice under the broom either. They have got to say why they allocated their territory for violating a state border," he added.

In a statement on Thursday, the U.S. State Department said the expulsion of the Swedish diplomats only served "to deepen Belarus' self-isolation ... We again call on Belarus to immediately release and rehabilitate all political prisoners, and to put an end to the repression of civil society and the democratic opposition."

It took more than three weeks for Belarus to formally confirm the teddy bear airdrop. It was all the more embarrassing for Lukashenko and his defense chiefs since the incident occurred a day after Independence Day, which also commemorates Minsk's World War Two defense against Nazi Germany.

Lukashenko sacked two generals, including the head of the air defenses, and told the incoming border guards chief to use weapons if necessary to shoot down any future foreign intruders into Belarussian air space.

Belarus's KGB state security agency has since charged two Belarussians, Anton Suryapin and Sergei Basharimov, with complicity in the "illegal intrusion" by the Swedish plane.

Suryapin, who is aged about 20, had earlier been identified as a blogger who was arrested after the first photographs of the toy bears were published on the Internet. In the past week, some Belarussian journalists have shown solidarity with Suryapin by posing for photos on the Internet holding miniature toy bears.

(Writing By Richard Balmforth; Editing by Rosalind Russell)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

2012 INMM

It's July and that typically means Schlepp, Karl, and several hundred of his colleagues gather in one of the hottest places imaginable for the annual Institute of Nuclear Material Management Conference.  This year it was in Orlando, giving him a shot of humidity and moist heat. 
Here Schlepp enjoys the sunny pool area while Karl attends sessions inside.  Later when the afternoon thunderstorms moved in, it was wise to find a comfortable place elsewhere on the grounds.
Next year's INMM will be back in Palm Desert, CA and Schlepp is already making plans to go. 

Friday, June 08, 2012

Stuffed Critter Gets Rescued

It's always gratifying to learn that others have a soft heart when it comes to rescuing stuffed critters.  Yesterday an MBTA worker stopped an on-coming train when a little girl's "Nummy" fell onto the tracks.

Kinda reminds me of a rainy afternoon when I pulled Louie up from the inside median of I-40.  Below from my archives, Louie and Schlepp watch the storm track of Hurricane Katrina as it bears down on his home town of New Orleans.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Halfway 'round the World

This Colombo, Sri Lanka workshop really tops it for travel--48 hrs door to door with a 15-hour layover in Bangkok.  At least the transit hotel near the BKK airport was lovely.  We arrived after midnight and I was happy to collapse into a comfortable bed, even though there was a peculiar window looking into the bathroom.

After the 28 hours of flying, we slept hard and late.  Had the breakfast buffet and then headed off to explore the place.  Orchids were everywhere. 

There was a lovely swimming pool area and on the other side of the hotel, a garden with water features.  Very soothing.

We went to the airport around 4:00 in the afternoon and had an absolutely dreadful flight in coach, complete with screaming kids, uncomfortable seats, and Kent Biringer got a glass of apple juice spilled on him.  But at long last, after four hours of flying and another hour in a taxi, we got to our hotel.  The view from our room on the 25th floor was vast.

More to come...

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Colombo, Sri Lanka

Yes, it's been a little while since I've been traveling.  However, this month takes Karl and me half way around the world to Sri Lanka, off the very tip of India.  It's a ridiculously long set of flights to get here from Albuquerque, but with a little luck, we got business class upgrades. 

After an overnight in Bangkok, we arrived in Colombo and set up for our workshop.  That's been going on very happily now for the past 4 days and seems to be a big success for Kent and Geoff.  Our foreign visitors have been very cordial and our local hosts have been terrific. 

Although we've been in the hotel almost all the time, Kent, Karl and I managed to get out briefly and go shopping for some of Sri Lanka's famous sapphires.  Caro will be surprised.  I'll post photos when I get home and can download them from the little Canon digital camera. 

Tonight is our farewell dinner and then we've got to be up and moving by the time the taxi comes at 4:00 A.M.  Friday will be just a short hop to Bangkok where we'll have an afternoon and an evening before an early departure to Tokyo, Los Angeles, and home. 

Stay tuned for photos in a couple days.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


After a recent spat of difficulties between Russian and Belarus political protesters, organizers have turned to a novel solution--nanoprotests.  The NY Times reports that stuffed animals and LEGO toys have taken to the streets on behalf of their human partners. 

The result has been some unprecedented encounters between police and furry critters, civic authorities and stuffed toys.  An interesting photo blog from Altai, Siberia is  In some cases permits have been denied because the bears are of foreign origin. 

We will continue to watch the situation and keep you appraised.