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"I THINK I WOULD BRING A CHRISTMAS PUDDING FROM BRITAIN"
Interview with First British Ambassador
Bernard Whiteside is the first British Ambassador to Moldova. He started his career in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in 1979. His previous office was in the Department for International Development, London (Programme Manager, Russia). He willingly scheduled a time to discuss some of his prospective work in Moldova with Welcome magazine.
Welcome: Mr. Whiteside, is this your first visit to Moldova?
Answer: It's not my first time in Moldova, I did come for a week fifteen years ago. Now I am back again here but it is the first time since 1986 when I came to an exhibition of British books in Chisinau. Now I am here to set up the British embassy as the first British ambassador to Moldova. So for me it is an enormous personal change. Chisianu has obviously changed a lot.
What are you impressions of this country so far?
I cannot really say. I have been in Chisinau just five weeks and I have really not been out of town very much. I did go on two very brief trips into the countryside but I have not seen other towns other than Chisinau so far. The countryside is very pleasant.
Were there any challenges you knew you would have to face from the very beginning as the first British ambassador?
Obviously there are challenges. We have the whole challenge of setting up our permanent office in a much bigger building just for the British embassy. The big challenge is to get the building ready for next year when we hope to open it. There are also challenges in the sense that this is the first time the UK has had an ambassador resident in Chisinau. It is a pleasure for me to get to know a range of people in Chisinau.
What primary sources of information did you use to learn more about Moldova?
I had read a certain amount about Moldova and obviously I have taken an interest given it I knew I was coming here. My sources of information were the press, a couple of books by academics that I have looked at and then of course I've tried to meet Moldovans before I came here and other people interested in this country. In the year 2002 a great source of information is of course the Internet.
Do you plan to take an active part in the social and cultural life of Moldova? Are there any particular events that you might be interesting in participating in?
Well, I am not here as a tourist but these events are important to the life of the country so it might interesting to see how they unfold. I certainly will be in town for Independence Day and Language Day. On the part of the embassy we hope to organize some cultural events when we have a building of our own and more space than we have now. Once we have moved into our offices in Nicolai Iorga street I hope that we can organize some exhibitions.
What are the major points on your agenda as an ambassador besides setting up a permanent building?
The major points for any ambassador here are to follow internal political developments. That is a matter of great interest to Western Europe and to countries in the European Union so that is the first priority that takes up most of my time. In August it is slightly quiet from all points of view including political life but that will be our key interest. We will gave to collaborate with Moldova as far as we can in its attempts to make reforms and to establish itself which is the chief aim of this embassy and I suppose of any Western European embassy. We also have the opportunity to establish more bilateral links with Moldova when we have a presence of our in Chisinau. We hope to encourage trade and commercial interest between Moldova and the UK. And once we have an opened office we will have people whose job it is to see what commercial opportunities there are. That will be a great challenge for us.
British presence in Moldova will encourage businesses to invest more in the economy of this country. Will it also stimulate tourists from the UK to visit Moldova?
Even in this month of August we will have a group of 200 British tourists come to Moldova for one particular reason, which is a football match. It will bring a lot of people from Aberdeen which is in Scotland and they will be playing a football game in Chisinau on Thursday 29th. Of course they will be here only for a short time but they will see all there is in Chisinau.
How do you believe a British embassy in Moldova can influence the relationship between the two countries from a political point of view?
I think it will be very useful. We have had diplomatic relations from an early date but I think it will make it easier to have a dialogue at a political level. We are now the third country of the European Union to have established an embassy here. I am very delighted to be here with my European Union colleagues.
What have you encountered to be the biggest problem Moldova faces today as a newly independent state?
It's obvious that Moldova does face a number of problems and all of those are commented on daily in the Moldovan press. People here are very conscious of all the difficulties. But on the other hand the country has a well-trained workforce and I think the people here are very well aware of what challenges need to be addressed. It is for Moldovan politicians to decide what their priorities are. Clearly it is in the interest of every country in Europe for prosperity to spread to the East so that the countries of the former Soviet Union can share in the prosperity of Western Europe but that is a process that takes a great deal of time. The UK has spoken of the need to make sure that the European Union gives careful attention to the relationship with countries like the Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova that will probably become neighbors of the EU in this decade. We are conscious that the interest of increased prosperity and market and democratic reforms in Moldova are a benefit both here in Moldova and Western Europe generally.
How many years do you think it will be before Moldova is fully prepared to join the EU?
That is a question it would not be possible for anyone to answer with any confidence. We have to deal with the situation as we find it now. We have to be aware that fairly soon Moldova will be a neighbor of the EU and that is an important change.
If you were to describe Moldova to a British friend what three things that impressed you most would you mention?
I would say for one thing that Chisinau is a pleasant town. I am a city person rather than a country person. I like Chisinau with its street life and parks. I will also say that the countryside is very, very nice I mean for people who like going around the hills. I would point out that at least in my experience so far which is less than two months that people have been friendly and willing to talk to people from Western Europe.
Typically Moldovans traveling abroad bring a bottle of wine with them as a souvenir. What object of cultural value would you bring from Britain?
There are so many things in Britain... I think I would bring a Christmas pudding. It is something of cultural interest.
Thank you, for your time, Mr. Whiteside.
Welcome magazine hopes to contribute to the British Embassy future development efforts in Moldova.
British Embassy temporary office: