John Oliver is back in the studio, with a live audience – during last night’s episode of Last Week Tonight, the comedian made a series of gibes about the controversial president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, and encouraged members of his audience to support the Belarus Bear Force, by buying a teddy. Where did the Belarus Bear Force originate, and what has it got to do with protests against Alexander Lukashenko?
What are the origins of Belarus Bear Force?
Protesters have repeatedly taken to the streets in Belarus – “Europe’s last dictatorship” – demanding the resignation of “veteran” president Alexander Lukashenko. He entered his sixth term in office in August last year, claiming 80 per cent of the vote. Protests immediately ensued.
Several activists have received decade-long sentences for their role in the protests.
Meanwhile, the use of bears in protest against the Belarusian government dates back to at least 2012. Teddy bears have since appeared in numerous protests, from Black Lives Matter in Los Angeles to “catapults full of cuddly softness” in protests against the jailing of an activist in Canada in 2006.
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The so-called “Teddybear Airdrop Minsk 2012” was an aerial event that took place over Belarus on 4 July that year. Swedish advertising agency Studio Total parachuted several hundred teddy bears with notes bearing pro-democracy, pro-freedom of speech messages.
For 23 days, the Belarusian government denied that the event had taken place.
John Oliver encourages audiences to support Belarus Bear Force
During its first studio broadcast in over a year, Last Week Tonight host John Oliver introduced “our own special teddy bear in [Lukashenko’s] honour”.
The teddybear’s t-shirt has a picture of two potatoes and a carrot.
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Via a partnership with Washington DC-headquartered non-profit GlobalGiving, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver is selling its Lukashenko-inspired teddy bears for $19.99. The website is BelarusBearForce.com.
100% of the profits from sales will go to “organisations fighting for freedom of the press and human rights for the people of Belarus”.
Can you get a teddy if you’re based outside the US?
Per the Belarus Bear Force terms and conditions, only residents of the United States may purchase the teddy bears.
They will only ship items to addresses within the US. All other locations fall under “Foreign Territories” – including Canada.
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In the Last Week Tonight segment, John Oliver urged audiences to buy Belarus Bear Force teddies not just for the people of Belarus, “but for my sake too”.
“We bought 10,000 of these things, and if we don’t get rid of all of them, I’m in real s**t.”