Getting second Motherland
Josef Pronko or Jose as friends and acquaintances call him was born in Paraguay in 1940. His father with two brothers emigrated to South America before World War Two began. There they tried to grow vegetables, but the land was no good. Then Josef’s family resettled to Argentina. They worked as bakers in Buenos Aires. They had to work hard round-the-clock. However, they managed to save up some money and buy a house of their own. By the time Josef had finished school and entered a polytechnic. However, he did not have time to finish the education. At that period magazine “Ogonek”, which was popular among emigrants, called them to return to the native land. In 1957 the family decided to return to the USSR. It was the largest trip of emigrants from Argentina — 1,200 people left for the Soviet Union. For 20 days the passengers memorised the USSR hymn in Spanish to share their joy with fellow compatriots and demonstrate their patriotism on arrival.
Josef still remembers the words and can sing the hymn for curious reporters with his pleasant baritone.
“When we finally reached the shore and started emotionally singing the USSR hymn, people in paddle jackets and caps were just sitting and smoking as if they had heard nothing. I couldn’t understand what was wrong. No one of the former emigrants had expected such a welcome”, Jose recalls. The emigrants were enthusiastic enough to sing but just one verse.
Josef’s father was native of the village of Domashi (Lyakhovichi District, Brest Region), however, compulsory job assignment dislodged him and his family from Minsk and sent them to the village of Glubokoye (Vitebsk Region).
“In Soviet clubs in Buenos Aires we read Ogonek magazine and knew that the USSR has plenty of everything. We saw people travelling with full sacks back to their villages. It turned out they had bread in the sacks. Bread to a village!”
The former foreigners exited the train at the next station and travelled back to Minsk.
The Belarusian Argentinean tried working at a plant and even got to the third metalworker grade, but since childhood Josef had been attracted by photography. He asked his brother Vladimir, who was a cameraman then, to get him a job at the cinema studio Belarusfilm. Initially he was an odd-job man, pushing furniture and replacing sets. Then he got promoted to a lighting man position. Only after that he became an assistant cameraman. It seemed his dream came true. The colleagues noticed the energetic young man. A bit later Josef got bored with shooting movies. His desire to shoot documentaries was driving him crazy.
Once a China delegation arrived in Minsk. It was accompanied by Brezhnev, who was the Chairperson of the USSR Supreme Council Presidium at that time. As an assistant cameraman, Pronko had to make the general shot and the medium one. At the time extraordinary occurrence happened. While shooting, Josef was moving his camera back and stepped on Leonid Bruzhnev’s foot. First, Pronko was confused, but Brezhnev patted him on the shoulder, saying it was a trifle, he was just doing his job. Just at the moment a press photographer of a central newspaper shot the picture of the scene and presented it to Josef the next day. Regretfully, the photo has been lost…
But in 1961 when a TV studio was set up in Brest, the photo landed Josef a cameraman job in the new studio. The same year Josef and the studio’s creative team arrived in Brest to shoot a film “Morning upon the River Bug”. It was then that Josef met his future wife. The Argentinean decided to move from Minsk to Brest. He was close to getting the job at the studio, when his superior learnt about Josef’s Argentinean origin and refused to take him, though the need for experienced workers was desperate. Then the Brezhnev’s photo came in handy. Josef took the photo and went to the local KGB.
“I showed the photo to the KGB chief and told him that this man trusts me, but the studio director does not. I still had problems speaking Russian, but somehow managed to explain I’d resigned my job in Minsk, my wedding was approaching”, Josef recollects the old story.
A week later when he called the studio, they told him he had been on the payroll for five days already.
“When I started working in Brest, there was no studio at all: just one camera and seven people. Initially we did test broadcasts. September 23, 1961 saw the first professional broadcast by the Brest TV Studio. It was the day the Brest television was born”, said my talker knowingly and smiled.
Josef Pronko was the cameraman when the first film about Belovezhskaya Puscha bisons was made. In 1964 the film was a success in Moscow and was sent to an international festival in Montreal. Soon 17 countries sent in applications to buy the film. After the contest 17 non-socialistic countries sent applications for the film acquisition.
“They used to make films with bisons running all the time. These are calm animals, they should not be rushed for the sake of special effects. We were making a film about their true life, tried to show their character. Sometimes even the producer was too expressive for me. I would get up at 4 a.m., take a car, go to the forest, lie down somewhere and shoot alone”.
“Television is my life”
When Josef Ivanovich got a chance to return to Argentina, he did not need it. The life was well-established. His interests were quite different and, of course, he had a job he loved.
“When I mention my first home, I mean my job. I come home only to spend the night. The night over, I am back to work. A job I love, my dear wife, and good friends are everything I need in my life”.
Josef Pronko said, he sometimes feels nostalgic. He has souvenirs from Argentina, a map of the country at his place. The Belarusian Argentinean listens to radio in Spanish.
“Television is my life, my profession. I resigned five years ago. But I am alive, I can talk, run, shoot, and work. If I left the television, I would have to set up a studio of my own or come up with something”, smiling, said Belarusian Argentinean Josef Pronko.
by Valery Stasyuk
Josef Pronko Argentinean of Belarus origin
Destinies of people, who got involved in transcontinental migration streams, turned out differently. Nevertheless, among us there are witnesses and participants of the resettlements. Josef Pronko, cameraman with 45 years of experience of working for the Belarusian TV and Radio Company in Brest and Grodno regions, is one of them