1937-2022Madeleine Albright, the first US Secretary of State, died of cancer at the age of 84. She was praised as a “tough aunt”. The woman who fled the Nazis as a child became the driving force behind the crackdown on war crimes in Bosnia.
Jewish Albright Mary Jana Korpilova was born in 1937 in Prague, Czechoslovakia. She was only two years old when she fled her country of origin from the Nazis. The family went to London. After the war, the family initially returned. She went to school in Switzerland and took the name Madeline. At the age of eleven, Albright immigrated to the United States with her family.
Her own experience as a war refugee made Albright a combative in her job as a diplomat when she was appointed US ambassador to the United Nations in 1993. She was sensitive to the injustices she saw in those turbulent 1990s, when the world witnessed genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
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While the US administration under President Bill Clinton was reluctant to intervene in these foreign crises for fear of a second Vietnam, Albright did not hesitate to call for faster and tougher action against the Serbs. It supported the creation of the United Nations war crimes tribunal.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was established in The Hague. Albright pledged to bring to justice those responsible for war crimes in Bosnia – including Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic.
Meanwhile, Albright was appointed Secretary of State in Clinton’s second term (1997). She was the first woman to hold this position in the United States.
As minister, she traveled through the former Yugoslavia to warn Karadzic and Milosevic vehemently not to abide by the peace agreement. Milosevic personally handed them court evidence against the suspected generals. “He has no excuse any longer,” she said.
As minister, she advocated the use of force as the conflict in Kosovo shifted toward the ethnic cleansing of Albanians by Serbs. The Americans have learned the lesson from Bosnia and their reaction is now swift and sufficient.
It was a sign of a tough Albright who wasn’t shy about confrontation. When Cuban fighters shot down two American civilian airliners in 1996, they responded with the historic words: “Frankly, these aren’t balls, that’s a coward.”
Albright used her clothes and jewelry for political statements. And the snake’s favorite brooch was, a reference to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein who called it “a matchless snake.” In 2003 she wrote in her book Madam Minister About her distinctive jewelry that she used as a diplomatic tool. If she is wearing a balloon or flower, she is feeling optimism, while a crab or tortoise indicates frustration.
In 2000, she traveled to North Korea to meet with leader Kim Jong Il in an effort to prevent the country from having a nuclear weapons program. The trip to Pyongyang did not produce the desired result, but it is the highest-ranking American representative ever to visit North Korea.
Her term ended in 2001 when George W. Bush became president. Albright went on to become an icon of the feminist movement. Inspired young women to fight for equal opportunity and respect in the job market. “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other,” Albright said.
She later described the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the failure to reach a peace agreement in the Middle East as her most regrettable. President Barack Obama said when awarding her the 2012 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
‘One of the best foreign ministers’
Former President Bill Clinton said Albright knew that America had the power to make a difference in the lives of people around the world. “She was one of the best Secretary of State, an outstanding ambassador to the United Nations, an accomplished professor and an extraordinary person,” Clinton wrote on Twitter.
“She saw her job as a commitment and an opportunity,” Clinton wrote the last time I spoke to her two weeks ago. “In spite of everything, she never lost her sense of humor and her determination to go out in shoes and support Ukraine in the fight to preserve freedom and democracy.”
Prime Minister Mark Rutte describes Madeleine Albright as “a versatile figure” and “an icon in the field of geopolitical relations”. “Because of her origins, she has never felt so important to democratic values as anyone else. We will miss her.”
Foreign Minister Wupke Hoekstra says he is “very sad”. Her firm commitment to freedom and democracy will not be forgotten. As the first US Secretary of State, she inspired so many women and girls.”
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