Madeleine Albright

(b. 1937)

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(1937– )

US diplomat and politician, who was appointed US representative to the United Nations in 1992 and became America's first woman secretary of state (1996–2001).

Madeleine Albright can be regarded as an internationalist by birth, breeding, conviction, and career. She was born in Prague, the daughter of Joseph Korbel, a Czech diplomat, but spent World War II in exile in London, acquiring English with a British intonation. Following the communist seizure of power in Czechoslovakia in 1948, her father took her with him into asylum in the USA, where she completed her education, graduating from Wellesley College in 1957. She went on to do postgraduate work at Johns Hopkins and Columbia universities, where she studied under Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was to become President Carter's national security adviser. Having completed a PhD in Russian history in 1976, Albright gained practical political experience working for such prominent Democrats as Adlai Stevenson, Edmund Muskei, and Jimmy Carter. At the same time she taught international relations at Georgetown University and brought up three daughters, following the dissolution of her marriage to journalist Joseph Albright in 1980.

In 1992 Albright was appointed US representative to the United Nations, the first foreign-born US citizen to hold that post. Trained as an academic, rather than as a career diplomat, she soon established a reputation for bluntness, especially where US interests or human-rights violations, as in the case of Bosnia, were concerned. After serving four years at the UN Albright was appointed US secretary of state in December 1996. The revelation that Albright was of Jewish birth came as a surprise to her, her father having converted to Catholicism in her infancy as Prague lay under Nazi threat. Albright was raised as a Catholic but subsequently became an Episcopalian. The discovery that she was ethnically Jewish was accompanied by the disclosure that many members of her family, including three grandparents, had perished in the Nazi death camps. Thus history itself provided a sombre endorsement of Albright's own passionately held convictions that democracies must stand up to dictators and terrorists wherever human rights or the due processes of international law are threatened.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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