Wind.md project — Women in diplomacy
Ambassador, you first diplomatic post was in Italy, your home country. Which foreign country you were appointed to as a diplomat first?
After four years of diplomatic career in Rome I was appointed in 2001 as a Chief of Consular Office and Press and Cooperation Representative at the Italian Embassy in Belgrade. I stayed there for four years.
Valeria Biagiotti and her collegues at the Italian Embassy in Belgrade, Serbia 2001
My duties included different issues, from standard consular activities to development and cooperation matters. It was of course a challenging experience, taking into account the events that had shaken that region in the preceding decade and the fact that it was my first post abroad.
Serbia & Toscana forum on economic development. Belgrad, July 2002
Did you have some “severe” experience in some countries?
You will not be surprised to hear that the pandemic has been indeed the most severe experience I had to cope with in my whole career. In other cases, I had to face situations of turmoil and of high political instability, taking care first of all of the security of Italian citizens.
Speaking generally, is it difficult to be a woman in diplomacy? Have you ever encountered some far pleasant gender-related situations?
I haven’t really faced unpleasant situations or special challenges during my career but indeed in most countries, including mine, this is unfortunately a profession where female representatives are often a minority.
Speaking about Italy, the number of young female diplomats is increasing more and more but the percentage of women in the highest positions, including in Ambassadorial posts, is still quite low. Therefore and hopefully, it will only be a question of time and of generations.
My wish for an increased female presence in this field is in any case part of a general desire for gender parity in all professions and is not related to the assumption that women have special characteristics or qualities that make them more suited to work in diplomacy.
Valeria Biagiotti with Signe Burgstaller and Asya Varbanova at UN Women office, 2017
You have interesting geography of your diplomatic posts. Is it hard to move from one country to another?
It is very exciting but it’s also very hard. Every time you have to start from zero: new house, new friends, new colleagues, new tasks.
For instance, when I was in New York I exclusively handled activities related to the United Nations, while in Chisinau, as a Head of Mission, I have been dealing with all kind of issues, political, consular, economic, in addition to all requirements you have to comply with internal rules when managing an Embassy.
This variety of tasks is very challenging but also very enriching and it is one of the reasons why I chose this profession.
Valeria Biagiotti at one of the charity balls organized in Chisinau. Times before the pandemic
Is it possible for a diplomat to reject the appointment? Can you say: “I don’t want to move to Serbia, I want to go to France”? Do you have a choice?
In our system, you can’t be forced to take a post you don’t want to. Usually there is a list of vacancies coming out periodically and you can indicate your preferences. If you cannot get one of the posts you have asked for, you can anyway wait for an option you like.
There are also time limits. You can’t usually stay in a country for more than 4 years and after 8 years abroad you are supposed to work for at least two years at the headquarters in Rome.
Were you ready for such a different geography at the very beginning?
Already when I started High School, I had decided I wanted a job that would allow me to travel around the world. Of course, only later did I realize that it is not easy to live far away from your country, parents, relatives, loved ones.
At the same time, I like the fact that every city you are posted to, that place becomes your home for 3-4 years. This is the case of Chisinau at the moment. Despite changes in habits related to lockdown, if you ask me about my current daily routine, I will think about my everyday “route” from Telecentru to Centru and back, while until three years ago I would have thought of my way from 61st to 49th street in New York.
Chisinau work-from-home office. Valeria Biagiotti’s cat is helping to cope with her daily difficult tasks
How do you think what qualities and education one needs to become a successful diplomat?
As regards qualities, I think that flexibility, adaptability, firmness, calm are the most important qualities of a diplomat. Every diplomat should be ready to face all kinds of challenges and to deal with very different subjects, from cuisine to complex political or consular problems.
Chisinau. Official reception on the occasion of the Week of Italian Cuisine. Times before the pandemic
If speaking about education, to participate in the selection, in Italy you need to have completed your studies in economics, law or political science/international relations. It is also important to attend specific courses to prepare for the exam, which is very tough and requires a very strong preparation.
As far as I am concerned, I studied Political Science, with a major in international relations. This is the faculty where most of diplomats in Italy come from. After my degree, I attended the College of Europe in Bruges (Belgium), a well renowned institution for those who want to work in the European Union, which is also useful for those who want to join diplomacy.
What can you advise those young specialists who decided to make their career in diplomacy?
Well, I would advise first of all not to give up, because this is not an easy career at all. As I already said, at least in Italy you have to pass a very difficult exam and you may not be able to pass it at once, so you may need to try again.
I would also reassure them that despite challenges and disadvantages, this profession gives a unique opportunity to get to know different realities, people, cultures.
What was your first impression about Moldova and how can you describe it now?
When I came to Moldova I had only read about this country. I arrived here therefore with an open mind, curious and looking forward to discover it. What impressed me most when I arrived, getting here from New York in a festive period, was its calm and silence.
What I appreciated since the beginning is the possibility of getting in touch with different cultures, traditions and identities. It’s not a country that you can understand in a minute – you need time.
Ambassador Biagiotti at Charity Auction «Give a Dream». Chisinau, December 2019
Comparing Moldovans and Italians, what do they have in common and what differs?
I am not really able to answer these questions because it is not easy to generalize. It is already difficult to speak about a single Italian mentality given the different history, traditions, cultural heritages that have influenced different parts of Italy along the centuries. But apart from analogies/differences, what clearly emerges between Italians and Moldovans is a very strong interest towards each other culture, as it is shown by the consistent communities living in both countries.
You mentioned that a lot of Moldovans live in Italy. Some of them think that living in Italy is far better than in Moldova. Do you think we should appreciate more our country?
I can’t be really objective in answering this question since Italy is my home country and I must confess I enjoy living there more than everywhere else in the world.
We usually promote the motto “vivere all’Italiana” to underline the uniqueness of some aspects of Italian life, our very special appreciation for beauty, taste, creativity.
At the same time, I think it is a very enriching experience to live in other countries, and I enjoy living in Moldova, as many other Italians also do. I am also happy to see that many Moldovan citizens who used to live abroad, including in Italy, decide to go back to their country and to use the experience they have acquired elsewhere to contribute to the economic development of Moldova.
The problem of Moldovans working illegally in Italy still exists. What can be done to ameliorate the situation?
I think it is important to raise awareness about the importance of working legally and to reject and denounce any offer that does not allow to have a legitimate status.
Working illegally is not just a violation of the law but also deprives workers of all the rights and benefits envisaged by the law. I think this became very clear also during the pandemic, where many people found themselves in very difficult situations.
Being an Ambassador is a post of high responsibility. How do you find your balance between your duties and your private life?
It’s not easy because my mind continues to work even when I am at home and I am supposed to relax.
Butuceni moto ride 2018
I try anyway to find the right balance between work and private life and to do other things besides work: to practice sport, to read, to go out with family and friends. I think such balance is essential not only for one’s wellbeing but also to ensure efficiency at work.
You were attending different events in Moldova, before the pandemic. Some of them were closely related to your post, some were “optional”. Which events you liked to attend most of all?
I like events that give me the possibility of meeting new people, with different backgrounds, first of all Moldovan citizens, not just the diplomatic community. I think this helps me to get to know Moldova better.
Italian Design Week 2019. Times before the pandemic
Before the pandemic, in normal times, I tried to attend as many events as I could, including “optional” ones, even if sometimes it was difficult and tiring.
Ambassador Biagiotti receives her birthday presents from her collegues. Chisinau, May 2020
How do you manage your time, what is the secret of your efficiency?
First of all, I like to wake up quite early, to have more time during the day. Secondly, I am always writing “to do” lists.To manage time efficiently, I think it is very important to have a clear idea of what to do in order not to get lost in different tasks.
What books or films can inspire you?
I especially like to read books and watch movies that help me understand better different countries, societies, cultures.
Let’s talk about pandemic. COVID-19 has come quite unexpectedly. How it was for you? Were you here in Moldova at that time?
As you know, Italy was the first European country to be severely hit by the pandemic, at the end of February.
At that time I was in Moldova and haven’t been able to go back to Italy until July. It has been extremely hard and painful for me to follow what was going on in my country from far away, being anxious about the health of my family and friends there.
Chisinau, lockdown. One of the most difficult periods for Ambassador Biagiotti. Her cats also stay at home
Italy became of the most affected European countries. How do you think, what really helped Italians to cope with such a severe situation?
Italians had to cope with one of the most severe lockdowns ever introduced during this period but reacted very bravely and resiliently. This has progressively led to a considerable improvement of the situation and the namber of cases has decreased considerably. Of course we know we should not let the guard down and continue following all necessary precautions.
What from the Italian experience can be helpful for Moldova? As you see the infection spreads quite fast here.
I think the sense of responsibility of each and every citizen is key to the decrease in the number of infections. It is important to respect social distancing, wearing a mask and continue following all precautions.
Wearing a mask is important!
During the pandemic you were here, at your diplomatic post. What was your primary role, how the Embassy was helping Italians in Moldova?
After regular flights were stopped, many Italians and also Moldovan citizens residing in Italy were stranded here. We had a lot of people who had come to Moldova for dental care for instance. This is why we organized a special flight on March 22 from Chisinau to Rome.
At the same time, we had to take care of Italian citizens who are resident here. In these months we have continued working on a contingency plan to face possible emergencies and have tried to give them all information on decisions taken by Moldovan authorities.
Tell us about your team experience. Was it hard to work from home?
It has not been easy to introduce new modalities of work from one day to the other. Already after a few weeks some colleagues were calling me to ask when it would be possible to get back to normal!
Despite the evident challenges we had to face, I think we have been able so far to cope with the different tasks we are required to fulfill.
We all know that this period was tough for everyone. Being a diplomat was even tougher. How have you been coping with stress during this far not an easy period?
It was indeed and it still is in many respects very tough. Among the activities that have helped me coping with stress I have started having daily yoga sessions at my home, with the help of a virtual trainer.
Now, borders with Italy remain closed. But we are sure we can visit it someday. If talking about Rome, what would you advise to visit there first? Shall we start with Coliseum or Vatican?
Well, may be none of them. What I would advise you to do first is just to get lost in the center of Rome, to feel the atmosphere of this unique city. Even without following a touristic path, be sure you will find on your way some ancient Roman ruins, some baroque buildings and many romantic and characteristic spots. After that, you can of course visit the Vatican, the Coliseum and all other famous attractions.
Rome, Italy 2020. Piazza San Pietro — Vatican
Ambassador, this is your last year mission to Moldova. What are your next plans?
After almost 8 years abroad, it is time for me to go back to Rome and to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, although I don’t know yet what my tasks will be. I plan to spend at least two years in my beautiful country and then I will be ready for a new experience!
Interview: Elena Cernicova
Photo: Mrs Biagiotti’s personal archive
Interview was realised as a part of Audience Understanding and Digital Support project implemented by Internews with the support of Sweden.