Putin restores Soviet 'Hero of Labour' title

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday restored an honorary Hero of Labour title that was first awarded in the Lenin era to workers who outperformed their Communist work quotas.

Mr Putin - a former KGB agent who once called the dissolution of the Soviet Union one of the great tragedies of the 20th century - signed a presidential decree restoring the award for the first time since the USSR crumbled in 1991.

"In the Soviet Union, we had a title called the Hero of Socialist Labour, and on the whole, I think this was justified," Mr Putin said in remarks published on the Kremlin website.

"I know that this is the view not only of the machine workers, but of those who generally do things with their hands and use their heads," the 60-year-old president said.

"This is also the view of our leading professional union," he added in reference to the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Mr Putin signed a decree restoring the title shortly after making those remarks.

Mr Putin has occasionally tapped populist Soviet themes to boost his standing among older voters who look back on Russia's Communist days with nostalgia.

He quickly restored the tune of the booming Soviet anthem on his rise to the presidency in 2000 and has since highlighted the positive economic achievements under Stalin.

Mr Putin first raised the idea of restoring the Hero of Labour title in December by noting that "it would be good".

"Only we need to think. We cannot completely copy the Soviet times," he added at the time.

The Hero of Labour - introduced under Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin in 1921 -was one of the Soviet Union's most coveted awards and a sign of either a person or factory's commitment to socialist ideals.

The Soviet Union functioned through a strict quota system regulating the amounts of goods that needed to be produced daily by any one person or collective.

Those who consistently outperformed those requirements and were recommended by others were then considered by party leaders for the award.

The Soviet Union's economy eventually malfunctioned and the country suffered from shortages of goods that people actually needed but were never produced in sufficient quantities.

The original Hero of Labour title was replaced at the height of Stalin's purges in 1938 by the even more prestigious Hero of Socialist Labour.

The latter was awarded directly by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR - the ultimate body of power in Moscow for most of the past century.

Mr Putin did not explain in his brief remarks on Friday who will be awarding the new title in Russia.

A Hero of Socialist Labour also became eligible for the two very highest awards of the time - the Order of Lenin and the Order of the Sickle and Hammer.

The award to many Russians is still synonymous with the name of Alexei Stakhanov.

The simple miner was made into a legend for allegedly producing 227 tonnes of coal in a single shift in 1935. Parents soon tought their children to become "Stakhanovtsy" who could fulfil their dreams of serving the Soviet state.

The New York Times questioned that feat in a 1985 article that alleged his performance was staged by the Soviet authorities.

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