Studio Total, the Swedish PR agency whose art-for-hotel-room idea we wrote about recently, has caused something of a political crisis in Belarus after it pulled off a renegade pro-democracy stunt by flying into Minsk and sending teddy bears holding free-speech signs floating down in parachutes.
The mission—for which Studio Total flew its own plane, illegally, into Belarus airspace—was born out of personal outrage on the part of agency executives. They had learned about human-rights abuses and limits on free speech in the former Soviet republic, and decided they could use their attention-getting PR tactics to draw attention to the problems there. The teddy bears were dropped on July 4. Soon after, a Minsk real-estate agent was arrested for allegedly renting an apartment to Studio Total workers. Then, on July 13, journalist Anton Suryapin was arrested by the KGB after he published photos of the teddy-bear drop online. Suryapin remains in custody on suspicion of helping foreigners enter Belarus illegally and could face three to five years in prison. (Reporters Without Borders has called for his immediate release.)
Emboldened, and/or perhaps unnerved, by the repercussions of the stunt, Studio Total founder Per Cromwell has published an open letter to Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko, absolving the Belarusians of any blame and needling Lukashenko about his alleged abuses.
"If you absolutely must jail and abuse people, why not invite us?" Cromwell writes. "After all, we were the ones who flew the plane, not some poor guy who happened to sell us chocolate. We promise you to come and answer all your questions and tell you everything about the operation. How we flew, how we cheated your air-defence systems and so on. All you need to do is to promise not to torture some innocent passer-by, in your frustration."
Cromwell adds: "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. More importantly. Be less politically active. Perhaps you could play a little more hockey? They tell us you are quite good at that! And wouldn't it feel good to win without cheating, for a change? You are the leader of a fantastic people. They deserve change."
Studio Total tells Adweek: "This whole campaign cost a little over 100,000 euros. It was financed solely by Studio Total, and we are quite prepared to prove this by showing our books and accounts, in case the KGB is interested. (We'd like to warn you though, the bar receipts might be a bit of a mess…) Finally, we would like to thank once more those Belarussians who fight for freedom of speech. Every one of your victories is a victory for the whole world. Your courage and your sense of humour is an inspiration."
"We DO NOT support breaking of international law," the agency says on its website of breaching Belarus's airspace. "But when it really comes down to it, the only law you should follow is your heart." Read more about the teddy-bear drop at StudioTotal.se.