Gorbachev's Cheesy Legacy

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MOSCOW: History is a cruel and capricious mistress, a fact of which nobody ought to be more aware than Pizza Hut poster boy Mikhail Gorbachev. The man once feted as the visionary whose reforms brought down the Iron Curtain has been reduced to a prop in a fast food ad.

In a commercial filmed in a Moscow outlet this week, the former Soviet leader smiles with as much dignity as he can muster while customers conclude that his crowning achievement is their access to America’s favorite pie. “They had to work hard to persuade Gorbachev to do the ad,” says TIME's Moscow correspondent Andrew Meier, “because he knows how humiliating it is. But his foundation desperately needs the money.”

Perhaps the unkindest cut is that the ad is exclusively for Western consumption. “You can’t use Gorbachev to sell anything to Russians right now,” says Meier. “He’s not a very popular figure around here.” In fact, being linked with Pizza Hut would probably boost Gorbachev’s popularity in Russia more than it would promote the fast-food chain.