In 1978 the tractor plant in Minsk, the capital of Byelorussia, was celebrating the 25th anniversary of the popular Soviet tractor called Belarus. Some workers suggested marking the jubilee by putting the first tractor made there on the central factory square. It was not that easy. They had to go looking for it, searching the scrap metal warehouses, the graveyards of old machinery. After a long search, they found it. The tractor, made on 14 October, 1953, had been found in autumn of 1978 in full working order and sound health, working in the autumn field, at the Bolshevik collective farm in Minsk region.
It seems there is nothing much to boast about. In the 25 years that passed, newer and improved makes of the tractors began working. The old MTZ-2 model was obsolete, of course. And still the fact that our tractor went through most various types of work for 25 years, or a hundred seasons on the farm, speaks for itself. First of all it demonstrates high reliability of fittings and parts, some of them being unchanged during all that time. It is living proof of the fact that the people who work on the land were pleased with that model. Those who once sat at the steering wheel of the Belarus, are in no hurry to swap this tractor for something else.
Kiriakos Papandopulos, a farmer from Greece, used the MTZ-50 tractor for twelve years and he believes that the tractor was its own best recommendation. Then he switched to another model – MTZ-80 – and once again had no problems with it for many years … how did they start taking care of quality and caring reputation for the factory trademark? They started from the very beginning in 1946, when postwar Minsk, a city lying in ruins, began building the new enterprise. The goal of the construction workers had something of a passion for self assertion: to prove to the whole world that a country ruined by the war might build within a short span of time a first-class factory and start producing there the most modern machinery. The first Kd-35 tractor was made in Minsk already in 1950. But it wasn’t at once, that the factory ‘found its own face.’ It was in the autumn of 1953 that they produced wheeled tractors of their own design, which had a uniquely Byelorussian flavour.
The search for the best design continued for several years. In 1956-9 the factory produced 10 different models of tractors. Stability came in 1959, when the enterprise finally began specialising in universal wheel tractors supplied with various hinges and semi-hinges, with up to 250 different specialised attachments.
Belarus’s greatest advantage is that it is a highly adaptable tractor, which can be operated during the whole year and at practically all kinds of agricultural work. And it is thanks to this tractor‘s universal character that it became so popular abroad. It has been bought by more than seventy countries: Canada and West Germany, Uruguay and New Zealand, Finland and Australia, Denmark and Greece. The tractors work successfully in practically all soil and climatic zones of the world.
This has a simple explanation. The tractor was designed for use in the gigantic Soviet Union, the country that has practically every variety of climatic conditions. At present, every fifth Minsk tractor is made for export. But 80 per cent are used at home. In such countries as Canada, Finland, Sweden, Britain, France, and Australia it is the shareholders’ societies, set up with the participation of Tractorexport.
In some countries they assemble their own MTZ tractors, but using the design and components supplied by Minsk factory.
Thus a plant belonging to the Fekto company in Pakistan manufactures up to five thousand tractors a year. Recently, a Mexican company similarly arranged to manufacture tractors, and there are plans to manufacture tractors in various Third World countries.
This article was part of USSR – land of many Republics, a Guardian eight-page special report on the nation in the throes of perestroika in politics, in industry, in trade relations. Martin Walker introduced the investigation.