When Mikhail Gorbachev happily poses in New York with the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop, when he presses the flesh in Havana and talks of democracy, when he lifts up innocent youngsters in Bonn, West Germany, and hints of a Germany without the Berlin Wall, millions of hearts skip a beat.
To many in the West, Gorbachev is turning the postwar world on its ear.But at home, despite all the high rhetoric of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (economic reform), the political rallies and the heated debates of the new elected Congress of People's Deputies, the world in which the average Soviet lives has changed little.
"Perestroika has been a great time for the intellectuals," said Andrei Podgrebnikov, 30, a Moscow mechanic. "They have been able to talk and talk, and that makes them feel like something is changing. But for me, nothing has changed."
That refrain is common these days as ordinary Soviet citizens, after more than four years of Gorbachev's reforms, acknowledge little improvement in their daily lives. In fact, much of what has changed has been for the worse.
Food supplies, so basic and potentially so volatile, have deteriorated. Soviets say they eat more and more in the cafeterias where they work and search harder and harder in the markets for decent, affordable food.
For the first time since World War II, sugar is being rationed in Moscow.
Gorbachev recently disbanded part of the huge bureaucracy that governed agricultural production and gave farmers the right to lease private plots, but it will be years before more food supplies appear in the shops.
While Yegor Ligachev, the Kremlin's top agricultural planner, predicted this spring that there would be "a feast" on Soviet streets by 1995, Vladimir Tikhonov, a leading agricultural expert, said last week that "famine can be expected in the very near future."
Newly appointed Deputy Prime Minister Leonid Abalkin, an economist and one of the most strident supporters of reform, said earlier this month that unless living conditions improved within two years, the Soviet Union would face widespread social unrest.
That, among all his other nightmares, is something Gorbachev knows would end his liberal regime.