Whoever is doing Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's PR at the moment, it seems to be working wonders.
Although many Italian newspapers were full of criticism
of their government for being the first to help break Lukashenka's diplomatic isolation, the defining image of the meeting was not "Lukashenka the dictator," but "Lukashenka the father."
Never one to be upstaged, the Belarusian leader brought his five-year-old son, Nikola, to the meeting. Resplendent in a white cardigan among the papal grays and purples, Nikola stole the show, playing with a football and presenting the pope with his ABC's book. (See more photos
here from our Belarus Service
In 2008, Lukashenka employed the services of British PR guru Timothy Bell
and, while remaining erratic and hard to pin down
, the president has toned down some of his excesses
. Even the FT did a flashy spread
about the benefits of doing business in Belarus last November.
Lukashenka has two elder sons, but Nikola, is rumored to be his favorite. (The identity of Nikola's mother is not known in public and Lukashenka, who grew up without a father, reportedly has a special affection for his youngest son.)
Some observers have even suggested that Lukashenka is grooming Nikola as his successor which, if true, would indicate the president is playing a very long game indeed.
-- Luke Allnutt