Updated at 15:34,14-12-2017

"Teddy Bear" airplane that taunted Lukashenka goes on eBay

By Andy Heil, RFE/RL

The Swedish PR man behind a daring stunt to embarrass Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka over his miserable rights record is at it again.

Tomas Mazetti is taking bids on eBay for the single-engine French Jodel aircraft that he and a colleague flew unannounced into Belarusian airspace one year ago to drop hundreds of teddy bears with free-speech messages attached.

Bidding is open until September 24 and the ad says that "profit goes to the struggle for democracy in Belarus."

"It's being sold as it stands," the eBay offer sheet says. "The only modification is a small hatch in the rear window from where the teddy troopers was [sic] dropped."

Mazetti announced the move in an e-mailed statement to RFE/RL and other media.

In it, he thumbs his nose at Lukashenka and the regime's tight grip on society:

Dear Luke,
Why not buy our plane yourself? You could lend it to your military. Let them train your billion dollar air defence in discovering small wooden planes! I'm sure they would find such a pass-time MUCH more honourable than (like now) being used by an ageing dictator to torture kids demanding freedom of speech.

The 2012 overflight, which took place with border and other security forces apparently still numb from Republic Day celebrations on July 3 and was dubbed "Teddybear Airdrop Minsk 2012," infuriated Minsk and drew international attention to rights abuses and the silenced political opposition in Belarus.

Officials initially denied any infringement of Belarusian airspace had taken place. But video and eyewitness accounts confirmed the airplane, which took off from Lithuania, had indeed gotten at least 80 kilometers into Belarusian territory and dropped some of its payload. Eventually, Lukashenka dismissed the country's air-defense chief and the head of its border-guard service, and a border guard on watch at the time was ordered to spend two years in a maximum-security jail.

Echoing the words of Sam Knight, who once wrote in "Harper's Magazine" that "Twenty years after the rest of the machine broke down, the wheels of the USSR still turn in Belarus," Mazetti after his illegal flight expressed frustration that things in Belarus had "been the same [for] almost 20 years."

He added that his Studio Total PR firm was cooperating with free-speech activists in Belarus.

Now, Mazetti says in his e-mail that "Last year some people offered to buy the plane...."

The minimum asking price for the "Teddy Bear" airplane on eBay, known as the reserve price, was undisclosed. So there's no way to tell if Mazetti's serious about a sale.

But given his penchants for gammoning reporters and irritating despots, it wouldn't be surprising to see Mazetti just hang onto his Jodel and fly farther east.