The death of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, led to the invention of Pizza Hut advertising.


The commercial opens with an icy shot of Moscow’s Red Square, where a man and his granddaughter pass by on their way to Pizza Hut. Once inside, other diners go gaga as Mikhail Gorbachev — the last leader of the Soviet Union to end the Cold War — sits in one piece.

Arguments will follow. The minute-long, 25-year-old Pizza Hut ad — resurfaced Tuesday after Russian news agencies reported it. Gorbachev is dead At 91 – fellow diners are divided over his legacy.

“Because of him, we are in economic chaos!” An old man says. “Because of him, we have a chance!” A young man answers.

Tom Darbyshire, who wrote the ad for advertising agency BBDO, told The Washington Post that the 1997 ad was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. Tapping into the debate over the legacy of Gorbachev — seen as a hero abroad and a villain in Russia — “pizza is one of those foods that brings people together and bridges their differences,” Darbyshire said.

But the ad that Pizza Hut trended on Twitter on Tuesday almost didn’t happen — it didn’t even air in Russia. It took a year of negotiations to get Gorbachev to agree. He refused to eat pizza on camera – instead asking his granddaughter to do it for him. They were getting ready to shoot that bitterly cold morning when he arrived late, Darbyshire recalled.

“We weren’t sure he would come,” he said. “He was an hour late, the negotiations were a little tense, and I think he only did it because he needed the money.”

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the value of Gorbachev’s pension plummeted. Foreign policy stated. Eliot Borenstein, a professor of Russian and Slavic studies at New York University, said it was “sad and ironic” that the former leader was so stuck up for money — and the only way Gorbachev received praise from Russians. Salary to actors.

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Despite the initial challenges, Darbyshire said the day of filming was filled with touching moments. They filmed on Thanksgiving, and because the crew ate pizza instead of turkey, Gorbachev insisted on standing up and serving slices, she recalled.

“On a day when we’re thankful for everything we have in America, our freedoms and our abundance, for him to make that symbolic gesture of realizing that he’s taking us away from our families … is something I’ll never forget,” he said.

The final product reflects Gorbachev’s complex legacy, said Jenny Kaminer, a professor of Russian at the University of California, Davis. The ad “sorts how different generations experienced the collapse of the Soviet Union,” he told The Post in an email.

For some, Gorbachev’s dual principles of glasnost (openness) and Perestroika (Reconstruction) brought the promise of economic freedom. For others “Unable to adapt to the rapid transition to a market economy, this means abject poverty, insecurity and a humiliating loss of dignity,” Kaminer said. That division is similar to how Westerners see Gorbachev versus how Russians see him, he added.

“Most Russians, I would say, agree with the old man’s verdict [in the ad] Blaming Gorbachev for creating chaos and instability, while Westerners cheer him for upholding our sacred liberal values ​​of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy,'” Kaminer said.

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University of Arizona professor Pat Willerton agrees.

“It was the Russians whose efforts led to the downfall of the country,” Willerton, a scholar of Russian politics, told The Post. “They saw someone who accelerated an already deteriorating domestic, political and socioeconomic situation. They saw a leader who was naïve in his engagement with the West. They felt that the West had taken full advantage of his efforts and relegated themselves to a position of inferior power.

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In a Pizza Hut ad, diners are interrupted by an older woman who interrupts the bickering, saying, “He’s got so many things like Pizza Hut!” Soon everyone was shouting “Hail to Gorbachev!” They raise slogans.

However, in reality, not everyone sees that common ground.

The Post’s David E. As Hoffman wrote, “Soviet Collapse Is Mr. Not Gorbachev’s goal, but his greatest legacy. It ended a seven-decade experiment born of utopian idealism that led to the bloodiest human suffering of the century. Yet Gorbachev’s bold moves proved to be a double-edged sword in a country that historically values ​​the strong.

Abroad, he inspired “Corbymania” — he was showered with praise for drawing huge crowds and defusing nerve-wracking nuclear tensions. But at home, he became a figurehead, consistently ranking among Russia’s most disliked leaders — even below Joseph Stalin, who ordered executions and forced people into labor camps.

“The totally opposite scenes are a reflection of the world we’re in,” Willerton said. “We are in a completely divided world.”

A 2017 Pew Research Center poll More than two-thirds of Russians surveyed said the collapse of the Soviet Union was a bad thing. That number is higher among older Russians, the poll suggests. In the same survey, 58 percent of Russians rated Stalin favorably, while 22 percent rated Gorbachev favorably.

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“In Russia, greatness has nothing to do with being beautiful; it has to do with being strong,” Willerton said. “That’s why a contemporary Russian might think ‘thank God’ when he sees the ad [President Vladimir] Putin is now out after the chaos of Gorbachev’s departure. “

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Stars Coffee opened its first location on August 18 in Moscow. A Seattle-based Starbucks restaurant that left the country in May is nearly identical. (Video: Jackson Barton/The Washington Post)

Gorbachev was aware of the negative views of the Russians. Initially, concerns about his legacy led him to refuse to act in commercials Financial TimesMadison Darbyshire wrote in 2019. “After a fight with his successor, Boris Yeltsin, he suddenly needed new office real estate for his foundation,” he finally admitted, Tom Darbyshire’s father.

The need for that funding led Gorbachev to agree to another now-viral moment: the 2007 Louis Vuitton campaign by Annie Leibovitz. It features the former politician in the back seat of a car with remnants of the Berlin Wall.

Gorbachev’s Pizza Hut ad didn’t make its debut on Tuesday. Although broadcast before the age of social media, advertising has found new audiences every now and then. was widely shared earlier this year amid talk of Pizza Hut is leaving Russia Regarding the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

This week’s commercial revival opened up another memory for Darbyshire: the process of translating the script from English to Russian. After reading it, a Russian speaker told him, “We don’t really have the word freedom in the way you think of freedom in America,” Darbyshire said.

“It’s an interesting idea, they don’t even have a word for freedom as we think, because this is a country that is in a hurry to try democracy without putting all the institutions in place,” he said. said.

Gorbachev later saw some of those celebrated freedoms in business reversed under Putin. However, pizza memes live on.

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