By News Desk
Madeleine Albright, who came to the US as a refugee and made history as the first woman to be secretary of state, has died. She was 84.
A family statement posted to Twitter read: “We are heartbroken to announce that Dr Madeleine Albright, the 64th US secretary of state and the first woman to hold that position, passed away earlier today.
“The cause was cancer. She was surrounded by family and friends. We have lost a loving mother, grandmother, sister, aunt and friend.”
Born Marie Jana Korbelova in Prague in 1937, but known as Madeleine since infancy, she fled with her family for London in 1939 after the Nazis took Czechoslovakia. She came to the US in 1948.
Albright was raised Catholic and only decades later discovered her parents were Jewish and that several family members were murdered in the Holocaust.
Albright became secretary of state in 1996, the highest-ranking woman in the history of US government at the time. The role made her third-in-line to the presidency, though like her predecessors Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski she would not have been able to fill the role, not being a natural born US citizen as defined in the constitution.
On Wednesday, the state department spokesperson, Ned Price, said: “The impact that Secretary Albright … had on this building is felt every single day in just about every single corridor. She was a trailblazer as the first female secretary of state and quite literally opened doors for a large element of our work force.”
Ben Rhodes, a former foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama, said: “Among everything else she did, Madeleine Albright was always exceedingly generous to and encouraging of younger people coming up in national security. In what is usually a tough and competitive field, she always extended a hand, opened her home, and shared her wisdom.”
Val Demings, a Florida congresswoman and Senate candidate, called Albright “not only a trailblazer and breaker of glass ceilings, she was a brilliant, passionate, dedicated public servant, who cared deeply for our values and our safety”.
Michael Beschloss, a presidential historian, said Albright was “a lovely, great, proud American who always understood the importance of democracy here and abroad”.
The threat of authoritarianism was the subject of Albright’s last book, Fascism: A Warning, published in 2018.
“Democracy is not the easiest form of government,” she told the Guardian then. “It does require attention and participation and carrying out the social contract. And it doesn’t deliver immediately. What we have to learn is how to get democracy to deliver because people want to vote and eat. But it just took me 10 minutes to explain it and that’s the problem.”
In her book, Albright called Donald Trump “the first anti-democratic president in modern US history” and “actually really smart – evil smart, I think”.
But she cast her eye worldwide.
“The things that are happening are genuinely, seriously bad,” she said. “Some of them are really bad. They’re not to do with Trump; it is the evolution of a number of different trends. All the various problems that we have, they can’t be solved by simple slogans. But it’s easier to listen to some simple slogan.”
Four years later, as Vladimir Putin amassed Russian forces on the border with Ukraine last month, Albright published a column in the New York Times in which she recalled being the first senior US figure to meet the then new president of Russia, in his country in 2000.
“Flying home,” she wrote, “I recorded my impressions. ‘Putin is small and pale,’ I wrote, ‘so cold as to be almost reptilian.’ He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. ‘Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.’”
Writing 22 years later, Albright said that if Putin ordered an invasion of Ukraine he would make a historic mistake. A month later, Russian troops are bogged down in brutal fighting and Russia is an international pariah.
In her interview with the Guardian in 2018, Albright said she thought the US, which had recently chosen Trump over Hillary Clinton, had a problem with women in politics.
“Must have,” she said. “I don’t understand it, frankly. We are very good at being No 1 in many things and yet we are not in this and I don’t know the answer. Because there are certainly very qualified women.
“When my name came up to be secretary of state, you would think that I was an alien, you know. People actually said: ‘The Arabs won’t deal with a woman.’”
Lamenting Clinton’s defeat, she said: “I think she would have been a remarkable president. And I think that it’s very disappointing. It’s something that we all talk about. I don’t know the answer.”
In 2012, Albright was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest US civilian honour. Speaking to the Guardian six years later, she said: “You ask if I’m an optimist or a pessimist. I am an optimist who worries a lot.”
Culled from the Guardian