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A Famous Soviet Symbol Revived

"The Worker And Collective Farmer" at its unveiling ceremony in Moscow today

"The Worker And Collective Farmer" at its unveiling ceremony in Moscow today

Even if a hand holding a hammer didn't jut out from behind a veil, there was no mistaking the monumental statue of the worker and the collective farmer, newly restored and 50 meters in the air as it waited to be unveiled today.

A few dozen people and as many journalists came to watch the unveiling of Vera Mukhina's statue, a famous Soviet symbol that was built in the 1930s to represent the country's supposed energetic stride into socialism.

The statue of the worker holding up a hammer in one hand whilst the female collective worker proudly brandishes a sickle, had watched over the exhibition center VDNKh, dedicated to the achievements of the Soviet people and more recently a capitalist market of spectacular scruffiness before it was taken down six years ago for restoration.

For many of the older people who gathered to watch the unveiling the statue was an excuse for nostalgia for the Soviet times.

"The statue shows the country's achievements "said Yury Sentsov, an engineer who said he was as old as the statue, "It's a worker and a collective worker, not a New Russian in a red jacket."

Khafiz Alyautdinov, an engineer, mourned the loss of real jobs and trades like those up behind him.

"What is a 'manager,'" he said with undisguised contempt. "It is speculation. They are just trading thin air."

Maria Smagina said it was a wonderful event, as would be Saturday, the anniversary of Stalin's constitution. "Happy times," she said, even though it was introduced during the repressions that killed millions.

Organizers of the unveiling did not spare the chance to milk the Soviet nostalgia that has become more entrenched over the last decade. For others, the return was a happy moment not for ideological reasons, but because of fears that the statue had gone the way of many of the city landmarks, knocked down by development in recent years.

"Sometimes they return," wrote Sergei Nikitin, the founder of Moskultprog, a group that organizes walks around Moscow. "And that cannot not but bring joy when inside you had already said goodbye to it."

And despite the symbolism from the past, present-day capitalism, perhaps crony capitalism, also encroached on the two workers staring into the future in the north of Moscow.

The statue was first unveiled in Paris at an international exhibit in 1937, where it won the Grand Prix. When installed in Moscow in 1939, the pair stood on a far smaller pedestal, which Mukhina derisively called "a stump."

In its new incarnation it is on a 30-meter-high pedestal, a copy of the original Parisian one, and has an 8,000-square-meter exhibition center built in to the pedestal (not a copy of the Parisian original).

Close to 3 billion rubles (around $99 million) went to a company that is owned by Yelena Baturina, the wife of Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, for the restoration and construction of the pedestal. The company won a tender in which it was the only entry, "Vedomosti" newspaper reported.

-- Kevin O'Flynn

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