Accepted proposal for the Conference “Dissidents and Exiles from Socialist Eastern Europe and the USSR: History, Archives and Memories (1945-1991)”

I am delighted to announce that my proposal for the International Conference “Dissidents and Exiles from Socialist Eastern Europe and the USSR: History, Archives and Memories (1945-1991)” has been accepted. The conference will be held on 2 – 3 June 2022 on the campus of Université Paris Nanterre at “La contemporaine“, a library, archive center and museum renowned for its collections covering the history of the 20th and 21st centuries.

This will be the final session of the project DISSINVENT, recipient of a grant from the CollEx-Persée in 2020, which aims to identify and increase the national and international visibility of the collections produced by Eastern European dissidents exiled in France between 1945 and 1991. A similar research project called COURAGE (“Cultural Opposition – Understanding the CultuRal HeritAGE of Dissent in the Former Socialist Countries”) was funded by the EU between 2016 and 2019 with the objective of creating a digital database of online and offline private and public collections in Europe.

The conference will provide an excellent opportunity for me to discuss my doctoral research and the challenges of collecting private archives of exiles from Eastern Europe in France. The contributions will be published in French in a special issue of the magazine Matériaux pour l’histoire de notre temps in late 2022.

Veronika Durin-Hornyik PhD

Madeleine K. Albright, 1937-2022: from Cold War refugee to “staunch advocate of democracy”

In her last book, Madeleine K. Albright recounted a story about distributing naturalization certificates at Monticello’s annual Independence Day Celebration. After the naturalization ceremony, a man exclaimed to his family, “Can you believe that I came to the United States as a refugee, and I’ve just received my citizenship papers from the secretary of state?”. Albright went to him and replied, “Can you believe a refugee is the secretary of state?”. 

This story dates back to 1998, the year Albright commemorated 50 years in the US. Born in Prague, she was forced to flee Czechoslovakia with her family in 1938 when the Nazis invaded. Ten years later, in 1948, they fled Europe when the communists seized power in Czechoslovakia. This was the last country in Central and Eastern Europe that fell under the yoke of the USSR, showing the world the most evident sign of Soviet expansion at the dawn of the Cold War. The Korbel family arrived in the US in November 1948. A few months earlier, President Harry S. Truman signed the Displaced Persons Act, which authorized the admission of 200,000 DPs from Europe as permanent residents. Albright’s father, the diplomat Josef Korbel, who joined the family a bit later because of a mission with the United Nations in South Asia, was granted a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation to teach at the University of Denver. In 1964, he founded the Graduate School of International Studies and became its first Dean. 

While she always recognized her Czechoslovakian heritage, Albright was grateful to be naturalized in 1957. She felt that becoming a U.S. citizen was the most important thing to have happened to her. After more than two decades of her political and academic career, she served as US Ambassador to the United Nations (1993-1997) as well as Secretary of State (1997-2001) under Democrat Bill Clinton’s two-term presidency. She was not the first top US diplomat born abroad (the German-born Henry Kissinger served from 1973 to 1977), but the first woman to hold that position. Albright’s rise in the US establishment, alongside the Polish-born Zbigniew Brzezinski who was President Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor from 1971 to 1981, emblematized American geopolitical and strategic interests towards Central and Eastern Europe during the Cold War era. Apropos, Brzezinski was Albright’s “tutor”.

Albright was in office from the end of the Cold War until the beginning of the war on terror. During this period, the US was a hyperpower, according to the former French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine, with no rival able to match its capabilities after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Reflecting America’s status, Albright supported the expansion of NATO, promoted a more active US role in UN operations, and sought to reduce the spread of nuclear weapons. In doing so, she was recognized as the liberal hawk of the Clinton administration. Determined to put an end to the ethnic cleansing of Albanians in Kosovo by Yugoslavian and Serbian forces, which forcibly displaced more than 800,000 Kosovar Albanians into neighboring Albania and Macedonia, she pushed for NATO bombings in Yugoslavia in 1999. The 78-day bombing campaign called Madeleine’s War was launched as a humanitarian intervention without the UN Security Council’s approval. The Kumanovo Agreement, signed on June 9, 1999, ended the Kosovo War, allowed peacekeepers to enter Kosovo, and withdrew all security forces so as to transfer governance to the UN. The Republic of Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008. 

Beyond her public service, Albright held chief positions in nonprofit organizations to strengthen democracy and human rights around the world. Because of her refugee background, she often noted that Americans take democracy for granted. Defining herself as a “worried optimist”, a “problem solver”, and a “grateful American”, she was a “staunch advocate of democracy” both domestically and abroad. She was committed to supporting freedom and sustaining democracy in the pursuit of US interests.

Albright helped foster democracy abroad as vice chairman of the influential National Democratic Institute (NDI) from its foundation in 1983. The NDI is one of the four organizations operating under the umbrella of the National Endowment for Democracy, the most influential American NGO dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world and funded mainly by the US Congress. During its first two decades, the NDI was working in the Philippines and Chile in the 1980s, in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and across Africa, Asia and Latin America after the end of the Cold War. Keeping a nonpartisan approach and working with a large spectrum of political parties, the NDI safeguards and monitors the electoral process through a series of election-related programs and develops democratic cultures and institutions while emphasizing the inclusion of women, minorities, and youth in all aspects of public life.

The promising political changes that occurred at the beginning of the 1990s in Eastern Europe, South Africa, and Latin America overwhelmed Albright: “Thus began democracy’s golden moment. […] Nearly everywhere, the language of freedom was being spoken or learned. With head-swiveling speed, requests for assistance poured in. Hundreds of million were exclaiming, “Hurrah, we have democracy! Now what do we do? NDI, a magnet for this type of inquiry, answered the call”. On behalf of the NDI, Albright was particularly involved in missions in her native homeland. One of her connections was Jiri Dienstbier, a Czech dissident and ex-journalist, whom she met in the US and who provided information for her PhD dissertation, completed in 1976, on the Czechoslovakian press during the Prague Spring in 1968. In January 1990, Albright went on a mission to Prague for the first time. Dienstbier was then the Foreign Minister of the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic and arranged to introduce Albright to President Vaclav Havel. Thus began the lifelong friendship between Albright and President Havel. The NDI delegation helped establish the electoral law and staffing structure for the Czech presidential office. Years later, the Czech government awarded Albright for her efforts in helping them create their democracy and join the EU and NATO. Havel even suggested she succeed him as President of the Czech Republic in the early 2000s.

After the end of her governmental service, Albright became the NDI’s chairwoman in 2001. Since then, the institute has been supporting activists who inspired the Arab Spring in 2011, overseeing further programs in the MENA region, and encouraging democratic changes in Ukraine. In 2005, the Madeleine K. Albright Grant was established to promote women’s roles in political and civic life worldwide.

Meanwhile, Albright remained dedicated to the fate of Kosovo, an issue that was “near to [her] heart”. The NDI was instrumental in the formation of a democratic opposition in Yugoslavia which brought down Milosevic. The NDI launched several programs to build a strong civic culture in Kosovo which proved to be “success stories”. Throughout the 1990s, the Kosovar diaspora around the world raised funds to support schools and other institutions in Kosovo, which resulted in the foundation of the American University of Kosovo in Pristina in 2002. The idea itself of setting up a private university based on the American model also came from the Kosovar and Albanian diaspora; they wanted to rebuild the country by training young Kosovars and honor the role the US played during the war. RIT Kosovo (A.U.K.) is a chartered non-profit higher education institution in Kosovo that offers degrees from the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). To support Kosovars seeking to study in the US and to strengthen the emerging democracy in Kosovo, the Kosovo Ministry of Education, Science and Technology established the Madeleine Albright Scholarship Fund.

From 2001, Albright held key positions and was a board member of various organizations, including her own firms (Albright Stonebridge Group and Albright Capital Management LLC).  She established, among other organizations, the Albright Institute for Global Affairs in 2010 at her alma mater, the Wellesley College (historically a women’s college) with the goal of educating and inspiring future global leaders. She was honorary co-chair of the Board of Trustees of the Aspen Institute, a think-thank based in Washington, DC with offices around the world, which organizes leadership development initiatives through educational and policy programs. She was the president of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, which awards scholarships to US citizens with outstanding potential to pursue a career in public service. Albright always had a “warm spot” for Truman, who was the president when she arrived in the US, “because of his skill in handling multiple crises simultaneously” and in leading the country “while also sharing responsibility with others through alliances and global institutions”. Albright also occupied the honorary chair of the World Refugee & Migration Council, originally called World Refugee Council, which works to complement the efforts of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In 2016, she strongly supported the Leaders’ Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis, hosted by President Obama at the UN in New York City. The summit had three goals, one of which was to improve access to education for refugees.

Among several distinctions, Albright received the highest American civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Liberty, by President Barack Obama in 2012. Obama acknowledged her efforts to bring peace to the Balkans and how she paved the way for progress in some of the most unstable corners of the world. In his speech, Obama highlighted Albright’s refugee past and referred to her story about the naturalization ceremony back in 1998. Upon being honored with the medal, Albright pointed out that youth participation is essential for a functioning democracy. Concerning her professional life, she noted that she was most proud of bringing peace and democracy to Kosovo.

At the end of her life, Albright was very much concerned about the future of democracy and the rise of authoritarian regimes and antidemocratic leaders around the world, including in the US. She was constantly repeating that “democracy everywhere is not an accomplishment but a pursuit”, and that in order to cultivate it, a democratic culture is indispensable: “If democracy were a flower, we couldn’t make it bloom just by tugging at it; that would tear it up by the roots. Instead, we needed a wide-ranging approach that would moisten the soil with fair elections, responsible political parties, competent police, unbiased courts, an independent press, and other attributes of a free society”.  For this reason, she co-chaired an initiative with the Atlantic Council to promote a new Atlantic Charter, referring to the convention signed by Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in 1941. The Atlantic Charter was intended to persuade wobbling populations around the world to support the Allies in their struggle with Nazism. The Declaration of Principles of Freedom, Prosperity, and Peace, issued in 2018, lists public rights and responsibilities in order to emphasize the protection of those who build a democracy or seek to defend it.

Veronika Durin-Hornyik PhD

All quotations come from Madeleine K. Albright’s last book, Hell and other Destinations: A 21th Century Memoir, co-written by Bill Woodward, E-book ed., Harper, 2020.

Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search