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British PR Maestro May Work For Belarus
British PR Maestro May Work For Belarus
BBC News
Advertising and public-relations executive Lord Bell, best known for his advisory role in Margaret Thatcher's three successful UK general election campaigns, has confirmed he has met and is hoping to advise Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
Lord Bell helped set up advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi and was regarded as an instrumental figure in the Conservatives' general election victories under Lady Thatcher. He advised her on interview techniques, what to wear – even her hairstyle. Bell was behind the campaign to publicize the poisoning of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006, a case that badly strained relations between Britain and Russia.
Now he is hoping to secure a new client – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. He stressed that the object of any public relations campaign would be the country of Belarus rather than its leader and that he had not yet been hired by Lukashenko. But the president was warm towards him last week. "I think it will be pleasant for you to work in our country, with authorities which are persecuted – perhaps less so by Europe, than by the United States," he told Bell.
"I have been asked to make a proposal to improve the external reputation of Belarus," Lord Bell told Reuters in London on Tuesday. "Lukashenko thinks it's a pity that to make friends with some countries, you need to be an enemy of others."
Alexander Lukashenko has been President of Belarus since 1994 – and it is no understatement to say that international diplomatic niceties have not been a top priority for him.
So why would a highly respected public-relations executive want to get involved with Belarus?
Lord Bell is not keen to say too much before any possible deal to work for President Lukashenko. But he strongly believes that Belarus suffers because of what he sees as the double standards of many Western governments.
Why, for example, is Russia a member of the G8 club of industrialised nations and there is little criticism of Kazakhstan's human-rights record? Cynics point to their abundant oil and gas reserves – and Belarus' distinct lack of either. Lord Bell acknowledges Belarus's leader "isn't perfect" and admits he has already been criticised for even contemplating working for him. But he detects signs the country may be changing. And perhaps it is.
Perhaps, now that Belarus borders three countries that are fully paid up members of the European family – Poland, Lithuania and Latvia – there is a feeling in Minsk that it is time for relations with the West to thaw.
Belarus has made an effort to improve ties with the EU and has released some opposition activists. The EU has cautiously praised Minsk for this and said relations may improve as the country gears up for a September parliamentary election.
And investors' interests were piqued last year after Standard & Poor's and Moody's assigned the nation of 10 million its maiden ratings. Lukashenko signalled that the Soviet-style control over the economy would be loosened.
The European Commission will soon be opening an office there and there are further incentives for President Lukashenko to consider. "We are ready to re-engage with you, and move towards a normalisation of our relations, provided that additional serious steps are taken in Belarus towards democratisation," says Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU's External Relations Commissioner.
But for the country's critics, a new image can only be a start.
Mike Blakemore, from human-rights group Amnesty International, says: "If President Lukashenko really wants to improve his image, actions would speak louder than words – however well they might be spun. "He should stop harassing and locking up opponents... release prisoners of conscience and join countries such as Belarus's near neighbour Uzbekistan, that have abolished the death penalty."

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