Vitaly Busko: ‘Those who don’t love people, can’t be happy’

[b]For thirty years, he has been working in Lyakhovichi, in the Brest Region, running Zherebkovichi large agricultural production co-operative. He is a ‘real’ farmer[/b]All anniversaries are different, although they all mark the passing of time. You may have a positive attitude, seeing the occasion as one on which to take stock of your successes, saying, “I’m only 30 but I already have everything I desire: home, family and a job I enjoy. Meanwhile, so much more lies ahead!”
For thirty years, he has been working in Lyakhovichi, in the Brest Region, running Zherebkovichi large agricultural production co-operative. He is a ‘real’ farmer
All anniversaries are different, although they all mark the passing of time. You may have a positive attitude, seeing the occasion as one on which to take stock of your successes, saying, “I’m only 30 but I already have everything I desire: home, family and a job I enjoy. Meanwhile, so much more lies ahead!” Alternatively, you could find yourself with a bitter taste in your mouth, musing that your best days are behind you and wondering how long you still have to live.
Some anniversaries are a source of pride and joy or surprise. The Chairman of Zherebkovichi Agricultural Production Co-operative, Vitaly Busko, has headed the farm for 30 years — half of his life! It is known not only for its consistently good harvests but for its significance to the whole Lyakhovichi District; it was responsible for 20 percent of grain harvested in the district this year.
So… how has Vitaly kept the chairman’s seat for so many years — surviving the notorious ‘perestroika’ and the collapse of the Soviet Union? It was a test of strength and an act of extreme dedication. Each farm has faced a similar struggle...
He is stockily built yet athletic, being light and swift of step. His energy literally spills over, despite his greying short hair. His penetrating eyes clearly question our reasons for being here, although he’s used to chatting with visitors; they take half of his working day. However, I can feel that he views journalists differently. I tell him that I’ve interviewed other heads of agricultural production co-operatives and he recognises many of their names; some are his personal acquaintances and friends. He studied on the same course with the Chairman of Progress-Vertelishki Co-operative, Hero of Belarus Vasily Revyako, at the Grodno Agricultural Institute.
If I want him to speak frankly, I need him to trust me. I’m not sure how to tackle the task. However, he soon begins to tell me details from his life:
“Do you want to know how to become a chairman? I’d say it has nothing to do with orders from above. Gifted people always arise but they are a rare phenomenon. Hundreds may train but it doesn’t mean they can do the work efficiently, since you either have the right personality or you don’t. You need to face unexpected challenges while staying true to yourself. You could say that Fate plays its part but you also need personal desire and, perhaps, ambition. It’s as if a beacon lights up inside you, urging you to ‘Go for it!’
As a schoolboy, I remember asking my father’s permission to go out walking with classmates. He made a sarcastic comment about my wasting time and having no money in my pocket so, although most young men dream of becoming a pilot or astronaut, I replied to my father’s cynical taunt about me never amounting to anything by saying I’d become a chairman one day. “Time will show,” he replied wisely. It wasn’t childish stubbornness which incited me to utter those words; there was something deep in my soul. Only God knows how that golden grain came to be inside me but it began to grow.
As a student, my two friends and I stayed with our friend in the Berestovitsa District for a weekend, helping gather beets from the field. Our faces became red but we felt cheerful and were teasing one another. Our friend’s father, who was driving the tractor, smiled while watching us, asking which specialisations we were studying. I replied that I was planning to be a chairman, as if I’d decided long ago. Seven years later, I really became a chairman! Of course, proving yourself in that role is another thing...
I came to Belarus Farm from the Lyakhovichi District’s Progress Farm. I was assigned there to the post of Deputy Chairman. It was good experience for me, which continued in Belarus Farm, headed by Alexander Bokach — a strong leader and a really good man. He later became the Deputy Chairman of the Brest Regional Executive Committee and Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the BSSR. Such a person worked at our farm!
At 29, I became the youngest chairman in the district, managing a huge farm. Savetskaya Belarus Farm joined with us, so we had to make the best of the situation, developing in order to avoid collapse. Without exaggeration, I couldn’t bear to fail the legacy I’d inherited; it would have been my fault. Responsibility is less frightening than loss of hope though. There was funding and a contractor but we weren’t included on the development plan. Rather than keeping quiet, I spoke up and people believed in me. One of the officials we were relying upon asked me, “What car do you drive, Chairman?” I replied, “A Volga left by my predecessor. I’ll sell it and transfer the value to your account.” I gathered together my farm management staff and explained the situation. Some understood my actions at once while others were reproachful, wondering how I’d cope without a car. I replied that I’d happily walk everywhere if it ensured our modernisation.
As a result of selling the Volga, we soon had four new calf-houses, a granary, ten-storied residential buildings, a dairy farm and other facilities. To be honest, I never once thought of leaving, saying to myself that I could just stay a year or so, to avoid any shame from departing.
The past 30 years have flashed by like 30 days. Probably, I could have become quite a successful entrepreneur, taking the profession of animal husbandry to new heights. However, I know that, if I were offered another job, I’d die of boredom. Some in our profession see only the dark side: endless work, the huge burden of responsibility, the lack of a private life, unfair treatment by local authorities, and chronic, mind-numbing fatigue - which saps your health, regardless of your fitness. This is all true but there is a bright side. Nothing happens independently in farming. You’d only have weeds to harvest if you left a field unattended for a single summer. Everything from the soil is gained by hard work and tremendous effort. Gold, coal and oil are ripe for mining, to be turned into products. Reaping the fruits of the soil gives similar satisfaction. You might stand admiring the new shoots bursting forth, feeling the very air turning green from them — or stand at the edge of a rye field covered in mist. At harvest time, when you breathe the incomparable smell of bread wafting from a combine, you can’t help but feel happy. You’re at the centre of this whirl of activity, always part of it, focusing all your efforts and drawing power from the sense of achievement. You reap what you sow.
In the end, everything depends on people: their abilities, diligence, patience and dedication. Such qualities can be easily erased if you are careless with others’ well-being. They are not so easy to nurture. During the hard times of the 1990s, many farms, including those which were strong, went down, as they ran out of money. We decided to pay staff in grain in lieu of wages. To the last, I was determined that we’d give, rather than take from people. I remember a machine operator coming into my office almost in tears, as he was losing his sight, needing surgery in Moscow. He begged for a loan, saying he’d work for it but we had no money to give. We found an unusual solution in advancing him six cows against his future salary. He sold them, raising money for the surgery. We saved his eyes and, perhaps, his very life...
Our machine operators receive hot meals throughout the year at nominal cost as you work better when you’ve eaten well. We don’t have housing problems since we buy empty homes and repair them. We give blocks and lumber, allowing the owner to complete the work himself. If you build something, it binds you firmly to the land. You should never divide people into good and bad. If someone makes a slip, stealing or doing something wrong, they should be punished but never lose their dignity! If you don’t love people, you can’t be happy.”
It’s said that happiness involves choosing the right saddle to suit your circumstances: too big and you’ll fall off; too small and it will rub painfully. Vitaly Ivanovich Busko has chosen his well… and has no plans to retire.

By Leonid Semyonov
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