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Americanizing Moscow : Reagan-Gorbachev Summit Triggers an Influx of Distinctly Western Flavorings

May 31, 1988|NIKKI FINKE | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — The fourth Reagan-Gorbachev summit may produce agreement on two bilateral arms accords. But what the average Ivan may remember most about President and First Lady Nancy Reagan's visit here is that it brought pizza-to-go and pink bubble gum ice cream to the publika.

It's all part of what can only be described as the increasing, subtle Americanization of Moscow.

To say that Marx Street already has turned into Main Street--or ever will--would be a gross exaggeration, even though Pepsi, Coke and Fanta Orange stands are sidewalk fixtures; Astro Pizza has been selling genuine U.S.-style pies to the comrades for the last month, and Baskin-Robbins will sign a deal today to open its first Soviet store in July. McDonald's and Pizza Hut have already announced similar plans.

But there's lots more going on here than just good ol' American junk food. Especially when the heady combination of both the summit and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost, or openness, has meant that Muscovites suddenly became exposed to U.S. culture, the wide variety of American consumer goods and even ads for Visa credit cards by turning on their television sets.

"They are showing such things about America on the television that it's incredible. Incredible!" exclaimed Yevgeny Yevtushenko, the Soviet poet. "They would have gone to prison for such things in the past."

The impact has been powerful on this not-very-Westernized country, where change has come slowly and even in modern times sweeping the streets with long-bristled brooms or counting out kopeks with an abacus are common sights.

Green Light From the Reds

But it wasn't until President Reagan and General Party Secretary Mikhail S. Gorbachev met in the Kremlin this week that Baskin-Robbins of Glendale suddenly got a green light from the Reds after 18 months of fruitless negotiations to introduce 31 flavors to a vanilla-only population.

"The President is here, and now America's favorite ice cream is here. I think that the summit had a lot to do with it," exulted Barney Brown, vice president of international operations for Baskin Robbins.

There's even going to be a new flavor, he said: Kremlin Cranberry.

The summit also focused attention on a mobile Astro Pizza truck that has been roaming the Soviet capital for the past month. Before the van parked outside the Rossiya Hotel, where staffs of the American TV networks are living and working, it had been selling mostly to curious Muscovites for whom pizza and U.S.-style fast food in general are still a new phenomenon.

One day, more than 100 people lined up in the Leninsky District when the truck parked near a Metro station to get a pizza to go, according to Oleg Bushkin, a Moscow mechanic turned Astro doughman.

"Children asked their mothers to go to the pizzeria and order a pie to take home on the subway. One mother told me her child wanted a whole one for himself," Bushkin said. "Another mother explained that her family wouldn't eat anything but pizza after they tried it once."

Remarked one U.S Embassy diplomat about the way that Muscovites embraced the new taste treat: "This is literally, 'Let's go out for pizza.' "

While some things like pizza are new to the Soviets, other aspects of American life have been experienced vicariously because of a much-talked-about non-judgmental series on America that was shown on Soviet television earlier this month.

Moderated by Soviet television political commentator Victor Pozner--the frequent guest on ABC's "Nightline" who speaks Brooklyn-accented English--the broadcast included American commercials and reached many of the Soviet Union's estimated 100 million TV watchers.

In fact, much of the pre-summit coverage of U. S. life on Soviet TV has become so riveting that many Soviets say they are following a trend that's already afflicted Americans: They're becoming couch potatoes.

And while moviegoing used to be the principal pastime, now it's settling into a comfortable chair and channel hopping.

"Newspapers and magazines and TV are so interesting that people have no time anymore to see films," said Sergei Klikunov, a mining engineer who is wearing Levi corduroys and a button-down Wall Street-style power shirt. "If they can see (pop singer) Michael Jackson on TV, then why should they go see a movie that might not be as entertaining?"

Thirteen-year-old Sergei Turkin couldn't agree more. Standing in line at the Pepsi-Cola stand just yards from Red Square, he talked about Jackson, who has been singing and dancing on Soviet television in a Pepsi ad that was timed for the Moscow summit.

'Real Modern Person'

"I like him very much. He's a real modern person," the teen-ager gushed. "I like his style while singing and dancing."

With that, he bought his fourth glass of Pepsi of the morning and greedily gulped it down.

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