At 66, the father of glasnost and perestroika can boast the advantage of still having most of his wits about him, but the collapse of the Soviet Union and the relentless economic malaise that followed in Russia has done irreparable damage to his popularity and reputation. Almost none of the heroic stature that he enjoys abroad is evident in his home land. If he ever doubted that, painful confirmation came last year when he ran for the Russian presidency and attracted less than one per cent of the ballot, some 396,000 votes. By contrast, more than 26 million more people voted in the first round for his sworn foe and nemesis, Boris Yeltsin.
The list of the former Soviet president's domestic enemies is awesomely long and a little unfair. The rural and elderly, who hanker after communism, blame him for destroying the party. Patriots blame him for wrecking an empire. Anti-communists and liberals blame him for trying to use force to cling on to the Soviet Union and the Party and contend that anything he achieved was more by circumstance than judgement. Drinkers still scoff at his anti-alcohol campaign, which has had no lasting impact. And the jealous blame him for his glamorous wife, Raisa, whose reputation for high-living damaged them both. Unlike Mr Reagan, he has no political party to cultivate the memory of his achievements; the communists vilify him.
This month Mr Gorbachev's decline seemed complete when news broke of his latest enterprise. Six years after he was forced out of office, the former president interrupted his semi-retirement to star in a Pizza Hut advertisement, reportedly to raise money for his Moscow-based think tank, the Gorbachev Foundation. The commercial, shot in Moscow but for broadcast only outside Russia, reportedly shows enthusiastic fast foodies crying out: "Long Live Gorbachev, who brought us Pizza Hut!" At present, that is the only complement he can hope for, at least at home.
Phil Reeves, MoscowReuse content