Belarus president goes two-wheeled to appeal to youngsters

Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko took part in a biker show leading a motorcycle column on a shining Harley-Davidson.

Visiting the "Minsk-2009" biker festival with his younger son Nikolay, he watched the stunt show, and chatted with the organizers and some of the 800 bikers that took part in the event.

At some point, Lukashenko was presented a biker jacket and asked if he wanted to ride a Harley himself. He agreed and headed the pack with little Nikolay on his lap.

Lukashenko, who has previously been seen on skis, ice-skates, roller-skates and a bicycle, is not the first leader to appear at a biking event.

Earlier in July, Russia's Prime-Minister Vladimir Putin appeared at a bikers' club called the Night Wolves, who also got a blessing from Russia's Patriarch Kirill in May.

Just a ride or a political declaration?

Political scientist Olga Abramova, quoted by the Belarusian Zavtra Tvoey Strany daily, notes that, "as a man of rural background, Lukashenko probably always knew how to handle a bike, but dealing with a Harley-Davidson demands special training."

"So the event was planned, rather than spontaneous, and had a specific aim," Abramova adds.

Public relations expert Sergey Lozhkin sees the move as an attempt to establish a stronger connection with the young and with business-owners.

"A good bike costs a lot, so most Belarusian bikers are successful people that are not too young. Youngsters, in turn, admire them. So Lukashenko wanted to demonstrate that he hasn't renounced liberalism and is not against the young and business-owners. In my view, the demonstration was a success," Lozhkin told Zavtra Tvoey Strany.

The Belarusian government has traditionally struggled to appeal to youngsters and entrepreneurs. A recent study by the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) revealed that some 40% of youngsters and 25% of business-owners have considered emigration.

Some also see a foreign policy declaration in Lukashenko's turning down Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev's invitation to his horse race, but riding on an American-made motorcycle in the same weekend.



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