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Putin hands ‘Hero of Labour’ awards to conductor, coalminer

President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday handed out the first “Hero of Labour” awards to Russians since reviving the Soviet-era tradition this year, with recipients ranging from top conductor Valery Gergiev to a Siberian coalminer.

The honorary Hero of Labour award and medal, recreated by the Kremlin in March for the first time since the end of the Soviet Union, was bestowed on a group of five people for the first time as Russia marked the May 1 holiday with organised parades of labour unions and pro-Kremlin politicians.

In a televised speech in Saint Petersburg’s Konstantinov palace, Putin praised the five medallists who have “brought glory to the motherland with their labour.”

“The Hero of Labour medal is yet another step to restoring the continuity of traditions, and strong connections between different eras and generations,” he said.

“We can only go forward based on our cultural and spiritual heritage,” he said, striking a highly patriotic tone. “Creating a strong, wealthy Russia can only be possible with hard work.”

Russian channels prominently aired biographies of the five recipients of the golden star-shaped medal, which looks like a copy of the Hero of Socialist Labour award given out to Soviet workers between 1939 and 1991.

The Soviet tradition of awarding the top honour both to internationally-known cultural figures like ballet dancer Galina Ulanova and obscure cotton pickers and railroad workers from the vast stretches of the Soviet Union was also continued.

Mariinsky Theatre director Gergiev — renowned in the music industry as a workaholic — received the medal along with an especially productive coal miner from the Kemerovo region of southern Siberia.

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.