As world bids farewell to Madeleine Albright, Czechs mourn loss of compatriot and friend

Madeleine Albright's funeral

More than 1,400 people, including several foreign leaders, attended the funeral service for the former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at Washington National Cathedral on Wednesday. Among those present were representatives of the Czech Republic, Madeleine Albright‘s old homeland, where she commanded huge respect.

US President Joe Biden: “Today we honour a truly proud American who made all of us prouder to be Americans. I want to welcome the distinguished guests and dignitaries who travelled from around the world to celebrate a daughter of the Czech Republic who knew what it meant to endure war and flee persecution. I remember that when her friend Václav Havel died, Madeleine eulogized him with the words ‘He cast light in the places of deepest darkness and reminded us constantly of our obligations to one another.’ These words apply equally to Madeleine.”

Joe Biden | Photo: Andrew Harnik,  ČTK/AP

The funeral service for Madeleine Albright was broadcast live on national television in the Czech Republic and for the thousands of Czechs watching it, it brought back memories of the days when people in this country embraced their newfound freedom and celebrated the end of four decades of communist rule.

Madeleine Albright was one of the country’s biggest allies at the time and played a key role in helping not only Czechs, but the other post-communist states of Central and Eastern Europe, to return to the democratic fold of nations and come under NATO’s protective umbrella.

Czechs have never been more aware of how much this means as now, at the time of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. In his eulogy to her, President Biden emphasized the significance of her contribution.

“When I heard that Madeleine had passed away, I was in mid-air to Europe, to meet with our NATO allies in Brussels to help keep the alliance strong and unified in response to Russia‘s brutal and unjustifiable war against Ukraine. It was not lost on me that Madeleine was a big part of the reason NATO was still strong and galvanized, as it is today.“

In his eulogy to Madeleine Albright, President Clinton said that her dedication to defending freedom and democracy never waned, not even when she was in the final stage of cancer.

“Madeleine made a decision –that with her last breath she would go out with her boots on – in this case supporting President Biden and all of America’s efforts to help Ukraine.”

The music at Wednesday’s service included pieces by Czech composers in a nod to Albright’s roots: She was born in 1937 in what was then Czechoslovakia. Her Jewish family fled Prague to escape the Nazis, and she later came to the United States as a political refugee at the age of eleven. Thanks to her intelligence, perseverance and dedication she climbed right to the top – the first female to hold the post of US Secretary of State. But she never forgot where she came from and possibly because she experienced fascism first-hand she was able to foresee the dangers lying in store for the world sooner than others. As President Clinton said, she left the world an important legacy.

Bill Clinton | Photo: /Evan Vucci,  ČTK/AP

“Today we see in Ukraine all too tragically what Madeleine always knew, that the advance of freedom is neither inevitable nor permanent and that in politics, where the lure of power is strong and the temptation to abuse it is often irresistible, there are no permanent victories or defeats.”

Shortly after Madeleine Albright's death on March 23, Czechs started signing condolence books at the American Centre, her friends met at the Václav Havel Library to share treasured memories of her many visits to her homeland and Cardinal Dominik Duka celebrated a mass for her at St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague.

Madeleine Albright's funeral | Photo: Andrew Harnik,  ČTK/AP