On the Baloon Incident

The following is NOT an official statement.

I would like to personally apologize in front of my american friends for the tragic incident of shooting down hot air baloon on the belarusian territory by our air forces that resulted in deaths of two americans.
We can only hope that these are the last victims of the cold war.

I've called home to my parents. Everyone back there is disgusted by the incident. Everyone is feeling bad when watching a scene of loading two bodies on the plane to USA.

Here is what my mom told me about the incident. It is not the most reliable info but it is the best I've got. In march 1995 some swiss organization asked the permission of crossing belarusian territory by the participants of international competition in hot air balooning. The permission was granted only in june with the requirement to arrange an official request about air space entrance by international standards. It has never happened. Instead several hot air baloons crossed the fortified western boder of ex-USSR, now Belarus. Apparently our military was never told by that governmental clerk about the competition. I must say here that hot air balooning, deltaplans and gliders are strictly forbidden in Belarus since soviet times. It is because we were on the border of the USSR and people could have escaped from it in this way. Nevertheless I know several cases when pilots of small planes had crossed border and asked political asylum in Finland. Anyway I haven't seen a single hot air baloon in my life in Belarus. Imagine an astonishment of the commander of military aerodrome in Pruzhany when he saw several baloons crossing the sky above him. The helicopters somehow managed to put down all of them except one. This was not marked in any way only two letters like "2H" or something were on it. There was no way to attribute it to any country. It was obvious though that they came from abroad since they are forbidden in Belarus since soviet times. Our state and people are pretty conservative so many of them had not adjusted their psychics to living in a small state like Belarus with it's small goals and problems. It is ridiculous but the old feeling of "superpower" and "empire" is still present in many of us. Well maybe not, since we are still having plenty of nuclear weapons as I think. Although we are giving them up to Russia slowly. Anyway the commander of helicopter has got the order of the head of airforce to shoot down the baloon. Our president Mr. Lukashenka has been at that time in Moldova and wasn't able to interfere.

Who is guilty? Commander of helicopter? General that gave the order? Belarusian governmental clerk that has signed the paper and hasn't given info to military? Swiss organization that haven't submitted a standard request for air space crossing? Maybe European Union that is pushing us away from entering it? Or NATO that doesn't want us as a member. To some extent we are still kept as an enemy. Not only we ourselves are heavily recovering from the mistrust and hatred of a cold war but the West too. Actually some guy from Oklahoma hurried up to announce back the cold war to me on September 14, 95.

My country is a mess now. Millions of people feel themselfs manipulated and frustrated. I only hope that the later incident would be the only tragedy. Only removal of the artificial barriers built by the West to our integration into the world's community can normalise things in Belarus. Only intensive cultural, economic and religious exchange can bring us to a safe and better world.

I've got many responses on my apology. I think just posting them the way they were sent make a powerful political statement.

Alexander Artsyukhovich

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