Expert: Albright’s relationship with Havel was “crucial”
Madeleine Albright, a former United States secretary of state who was born in Czechoslovakia in 1937, has died at the age of 84. Mrs Albright was the first woman in history to serve as US foreign policy chief and played a key role in the Czech Republic’s accession to NATO. I discussed her legacy with Daniel Anýž, a well-known commentator on Czech-US affairs:
“Madeleine Albright was one of the key persons in the process of NATO enlargement. As we see now with the war in Ukraine, it was really a decisive moment for our country. If not for her, we would be in a much more difficult situation at the moment.
“It was thanks to her on the US side and thanks to Václav Havel here in Prague and Lech Wałęsa in Poland, who were all pushing for it. First, we were offered the Partnership for Peace, but fortunately that was not enough for Havel and Wałęsa.
“They persuaded Madeleine Albright to be really active within the Bill Clinton administration, which had some doubts in the beginning, including President Clinton. She had an even more difficult job in dealing with the US Senate, which had to approve the enlargement.
“At the beginning of the negotiations, there was really only a minority of senators who were willing to do it. And in the end it was thanks to Madeleine Albright that it happened.”
You mentioned the late Czech president Václav Havel. What was Madeleine Albright’s relationship to Havel and how important was that relationship for her understanding of our region?
“I think it was crucial. They met for the first time in Prague at the end of 1989, at a time when she was teaching at Georgetown University and she was not yet in diplomacy.
“She told Havel to go to Washington to introduce the new Czechoslovakia to the United States. That was the beginning of the famous trip of Václav Havel to Washington in February 1990, when he gave that great speech at the Congress. And then they became friends and they met regularly and spoke over the phone.
“On a personal note, I would say that they were quite frank to each other. In her last book, she wrote a lot about Václav Havel and about his role.
“She included some critical notes, that in his personal life he was a bit unreliable and maybe too artistic and bohemian. But still, you can feel from reading these lines that they really loved each other as friends.”
You yourself have met Madeleine Albright on many occasions. How will you remember her? What impression did she leave on you?
“I don’t want to be impolite but my impression was that she was fun. She was really able to say things in a humorous way, sometimes she could be pretty tough, but she was tough on herself as well.
“We once spoke about her going to the gym each morning and doing bench press. She always complained a bit about trying to keep her weight down, but she simply enjoyed conversation and she enjoyed life.
“Even when we were speaking after she published the book Prague Winter, which tells the story of how she discovered her Jewish roots and the sad story of her family, it was still an optimistic conversation about life repeating itself in her, the daughter of parents who escaped two tyrannies, and in her six grandchildren, whom she loved very much.”