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First U.S. Ambassador To Moldova Reflects On Pace Of Change

Mary Pendleton was Washington's ambassador in Chisinau from 1992 to 1995.
Mary Pendleton was Washington's ambassador in Chisinau from 1992 to 1995.
On August 31, RFE/RL spoke to Mary Pendleton, Washington’s first ambassador in Chisinau (1992-1995), on the sidelines of an event at the National Endowment for Democracy called "Moldova’s Transition: 20 Years of Challenges and Successes."

She told RFE/RL that the pace of democratic reform in the tiny country has fallen short of initial expectations, at least partially due to early Western hope for post-Soviet countries that outstripped reality.

"[Moldova] fell short of everybody's expectations because everybody's expectations were unreasonable -- unrealistic," she said.

"We all expected it to move along a lot faster than it did, for everything to be resolved quickly, and we never expected in 1992 that the Transnistria problem would still be there.

"We never expected that with all the work they did to get their legal system into place that there would be such serious problems with corruption and trafficking of people. The laws are there -- it’s just a matter of enforcing them and strengthening the system."

On August 31, 1989, Moldova’s Supreme Soviet passed a law allowing for the use of Latin script for the Romanian language -- a linguistic precursor of more profound changes to come.

But even this change, Pendleton recalls, came more slowly than she had expected.

As late as 1992, she says, the National Opera’s program used Cyrillic script.

“Even until 1993, I would get menus in Cyrillic -- but that was because many didn’t yet have typewriters with Latin letters,” says the ambassador.

One of Pendleton’s favorite anecdotes from independent Moldova’s nascent years involves the U.S. government’s efforts to buy its embassy property -- no easy task in the early days of privatization:

"[Moldovan President Mircea Snegur] called me up one day and said, 'OK madam ambassador, you can go and buy your property.' So I called the mayor [of Chisinau] and talked to him about it and he said, 'Oh no, you can't do this. You're not a physical person.' I didn't know what that meant -- I thought I was pretty human, you know!

He said, 'You're not buying it for yourself, you're buying it on behalf of your government, so you're a non-physical person. So you have to go back to the parliament and tell them to do an amendment [to the new property ownership laws] to include non-physical persons’ -- which we did, and ultimately they did. In August 1995, two weeks before I left Moldova, we were able to complete the purchase. It was important not only for us but also for the Moldovans, because it gave them the money to buy their own embassy property in the United States."

Pendleton says she’s optimistic that further democratic reform is coming to Moldova, but adds that even 20 years after independence, the pace of that change still leaves some Western observers impatient.

-- Richard Solash