In May of 1937, Madeleine Albright was born in Czechoslovakia to Josef and Anna Korbel.
Josef Korbel was a political scientist of Jewish descent who worked as a diplomat in the government of Czechoslovakia. In 1939, when the Nazis invaded during World War II, Josef, Anna and baby Madeleine had to flee their homeland because of their Jewish heritage. This might have saved them at the time as Josef’s parents were murdered during the Holocaust.
The young family fled to London where Josef served as an advisor to Edvard Beneš, the exiled president of Czechoslovakia. Fast forward to 1948, the war had ended and communism was on the rise. Josef applied for political asylum in the US as he believed his family was in danger back in their country. This was due to what he called his “faithful adherence to the ideals of democracy.”
Now in America, he became of Professor of International Politics. One of his students was the first African-American woman appointed as a Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. Josef Korbel was a big influence on his young daughter’s foray into foreign policy and international relations.
During the Jimmy Carter administration in 1978, Madeleine Albright was recruited by a former professor to work in the White House as a part of the President’s National Security Council. This marked her first taste of American politics.
Albright would go on to work as a foreign policy adviser to a number of vice-presidential and presidential candidates. In 1993, after Bill Clinton was elected President, she was appointed as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. In 1997, she became the first ever female secretary of state. During her tenure, Albright considerably influenced American foreign policy in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Middle East. She became even more famous when she pushed the Clinton administration to intervene in the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo being carried out by the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milosevic. The war in Kosovo to this day has been dubbed “Madeleine’s War”
“I take full responsibility… for believing it was essential for us not to stand by and watch what Milosevic was planning to do,” she said at the time. “We cannot watch crimes against humanity.”
As a former refugee herself, she believed in America using it’s military might to intervene in conflicts around the world. According to Colin Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time, she once exclaimed “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”
Kosovo would eventually declare its independence from Serbia in 2008. After news of Albright’s death broke, the country’s president, Vjosa Osmani, said Kosovo had lost an “invaluable friend”, adding that her “contribution to our freedom and democracy will never be forgotten”.