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The gift Madeleine Albright leaves behind shows us what is possible: NPR

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Madeleine Albright

CBS Photo Archive / CBS via Getty Images

Sometimes the impact of a person’s death can wave across time zones and continents and trigger memories that can inspire today.

I was reminded of that this week when Madeleine Albright’s family announced it she had passed away. Albright died at the age of 84 – her family attributed the death to cancer.

Albright represented different things to different people. As a refugee who as a child fled with her family from Europe after World War II to the United States, she represented the so-called “American dream” of raising herself through education and hard work. For others, Albright’s decades of public service proved itself a model for a person who chooses to serve their country.

And for so many, Albright was a feminist icon. The first woman to become US Secretary of State, Albright, literally changed American diplomacy. Throughout her life, she often talked about what it meant to be the only woman in a room of men, and the responsibility women take on when they open the doors to power with their own voices:

“If you have to interrupt, you need to know what you’re talking about. And you have to do it with a strong voice,” she wrote in 2015.

Kevin Drew is supervising editor at NPR Digital

Kevin Drew


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Kevin Drew

Kevin Drew is supervising editor at NPR Digital

Kevin Drew

The news of Albright’s death took me back to the summer of 1994, when she was the US Ambassador to the UN and I was a (much) younger journalist, a serious correspondent for The Associated Press based in Bratislava and excited to cover what was then Europe’s youngest country, Slovakia.

I had already been in Europe for a few years, first arriving in Prague, the capital of what was then Czechoslovakia. When 1992 gave way to ’93, I witnessed and covered the dissolution of one country as it gave way to the creation of two others, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

People pray in cemetery during a ceremony held on the 28th anniversary of the Ahmici massacre under coronavirus (Covid-19) measures in Vitez, Bosnia-Herzegovina on April 16, 2021. 116 Bosnian civilians were killed by the Croatian Defense Council (HVO) under the Croatian Bosnian war in April 1993 in the village of Ahmici.

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People pray in cemetery during a ceremony held on the 28th anniversary of the Ahmici massacre under coronavirus (Covid-19) measures in Vitez, Bosnia-Herzegovina on April 16, 2021. 116 Bosnian civilians were killed by the Croatian Defense Council (HVO) under the Croatian Bosnian war in April 1993 in the village of Ahmici.

Anadolu Agency / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

In 1993, when many journalists met to cover the wars in the Balkans, I moved to Tallinn, Estonia. I returned to Central Europe in early 1994 to cover Slovakia. The annals of world history will show the importance of that year: I began the year in Lillehammer, Norway, and covered the drama between the American skaters, Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. Pop culture lovers will remember another reality TV moment: OJ Simpson and a white SUV.

But several important global markers took place: South Africa chose Nelson Mandela as president when the people of the country threw the shackles of apartheid aside; IRA declares a ceasefire in Northern Ireland; Israel signs agreements with Palestinians. These events hinted at the possibilities of a better world.

It should not be. More sober incidents took place: Serbian bombing of Sarajevo; Russia attacks the separatist republic of Chechnya; The United States is sending military forces to the Persian Gulf.

And then there were the massacres that took place in Rwanda. The United States came under criticism for its slow response to the genocide that took place in Africa, and Albright himself accepted the UN response.

An archive photo showing South African President Nelson Mandela taking the oath of office on 10 May 1994 during his inauguration at the Union Building in Pretoria.

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An archive photo showing South African President Nelson Mandela taking the oath of office on 10 May 1994 during his inauguration at the Union Building in Pretoria.

WALTER DHLADHLA / AFP via Getty Images

All this was in play in August 1994, when Albright returned to a part of the world where she was born, to honor the victims of what is now called the Slovak National Uprising. In August 1994 I covered the 50th anniversary from the moment the Slovaks took on Nazi military forces. It was a doomed mission, but it was also a testament to the human spirit to stand up to oppression, even when it is likely to mean your death.

Albright was there at these anniversary ceremonies. At a press conference, she spoke about the Slovaks who stood up to oppression, seemingly slipping effortlessly between English, Czech and Slovak at the press conference, like a dancer trained to move from tango to waltz.

And then came my moment with Albright. I groped with my greetings in Slovak:

“Good morning, Pani Albrightová. …” (Hey, Ms. Albright …)

Her stature (4 feet 10 inches) and her penetrating eyes immediately struck me.

For me, the gift that Madeleine Albright leaves behind is knowing the possible: that a woman who grows to small dimensions able to order a room, thanks to knowledge and grace.

Today, when Ukraine, whose people are being tortured just to be their own nation, is defending itself against Russian military forces, Albright’s journey is particularly important:

“If you have to interrupt, you need to know what you’re talking about. And you have to do it with a strong voice.”

Kevin Drew is supervising editor at NPR Digital.

The gift Madeleine Albright leaves behind shows us what is possible: NPR

Source link The gift Madeleine Albright leaves behind shows us what is possible: NPR

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