LONDON (Reuters) - Movie stars, singers and politicians will turn out on Wednesday for a gala concert in London to honor former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who celebrated his 80th birthday earlier this month.
The glitzy red carpet affair, co-hosted by U.S. actors Kevin Spacey and Sharon Stone, underlines the celebrity status Gorbachev enjoys in the West, where he is widely perceived as the man who freed Eastern Europe from Soviet rule and ended a Cold War nuclear standoff.
“Mikhail Gorbachev is one of the few people who can justify the label ‘The man who changed the world’,” said the Royal Albert Hall on its website advertising the charity event at the prestigious venue in central London.
Attitudes in the former Soviet Union to the 1990 Nobel Peace laureate are more ambivalent, with many people lamenting the collapse of the Soviet Union and laying blame for the resulting economic hardships on Gorbachev’s shoulders.
“To me, he is a good-for-nothing man,” Sergei Orlov, a 53-year-old Moscow lawyer, told Reuters on March 2 when Gorbachev turned 80, summing up the view of millions.
Gorbachev, he added, “simply betrayed his people, he destroyed the mechanism of the state and sold his country for nothing.”
But Gorbachev also enjoys star status in Russia and met President Dmitry Medvedev on his birthday.
An exhibit dedicated to the end of the Soviet Union was on display in his honor near the Kremlin, and much fanfare was made of the anniversary on state television.
Medvedev also awarded Gorbachev Russia’s top medal, calling it “a fitting evaluation of the big work you did as head of state” — but, in a careful nod to Gorbachev’s bitter critics, said that work “can be assessed in different ways.”
The musical gala in London will feature performances from Bryan Ferry and Shirley Bassey as well as leading Russian conductor Valery Gergiev and will raise funds for the Gorbachev Foundation and Macmillan Cancer Support.
Expected to attend are actor-turned-politician Arnold Schwarzenegger, former British Prime Minister John Major and Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato