As a patron, I visited Prague this week to attend the Top Czech Women Awards. Our poll aims not to give out awards but to raise the profile of positive stories of women who become the best inspiration for others. Their successes confirm why we need to continue to break down the stereotypes that survive in the perception of the role of women in Czech society. Perhaps fittingly, this week also marks the sad anniversary of the passing of one of the most influential women in modern history – Madeleine Albright.
Her work influenced world history and the international community, and her courageous voice, strong views, and opinions will be sorely missed in this turbulent world. Much has been written, filmed, and said about Madeleine Albright, née Mary Jane Korbel, the first woman to serve as US Secretary of State. Fortunately, she wrote much of it herself. She worked until her last moments, teaching the next generation and lecturing at many international forums. She understood not only politics and diplomacy but also business and national security. Despite many years in the US, she remained a Czech at heart and still spoke beautiful Czech.
I had the great fortune to know “Madlenka” personally, to work with her on some projects, and even to call her my friend. With my height and her small stature, it was always touching to hug her. But her petite size was more than balanced by the strength of her personality, energy, and gift of speech.
Madeleine’s final farewell at Washington Cathedral was a well-deserved tribute to her and a testament to how many women she inspired and how many people she influenced during her lifetime. It was also a celebration and reminder of Czechoslovakia and our modern history. Hearing US President Biden mention her Czech origins and her friendship with Václav Havel certainly filled many of us with pride. She also received recognition from Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama, and many other distinguished politicians. They shared a beautiful and powerful message. It was not just a message to her loved ones, the Democrats, but to the entire American public and the world. Freedom and democracy must be fought for; they cannot be taken for granted.
Madeleine remained active until the last moment. She warned the world about modern fascism, populism, and nationalism and kept aware of what was happening in more than just the USA. Madeleine understood the significance of the movement behind Donald Trump’s victory. She foresaw conflict with Russia and publicly criticized the weakening of NATO.
But despite her career, secular commitments, and time pressures, she also managed to be a good mother to her three daughters. Moments when I didn’t tear up at the president’s speeches, I was thoroughly moved and cried with her children. Alice, Katherine, and Anne are about my age, with families of their own. But there’s only one mom in the world…
Madeleine was always direct and warm with me. She loved to sing and dance. We sang Take Me Home Country Roads together several times, dressed in country clothes. We’d jokingly announced to Americans that we represented Western Czechoslovakia. She had a natural authority, and she could express support and give courage. When we couldn’t see each other in person, she would call. She knew how to save time and words, going straight to the point, ready with a solution or opinion.
I invited Madeleine to Top Czech Women Awards several times, but unfortunately, covid and her untimely departure robbed her of the time to be our guest. I believe she would have loved it here and would have left happy and hopeful that successful and courageous women live here. I am also convinced she would have done her utmost to help Ukraine and activate all resources, contacts, and possibilities to end this war. She did not shrink from evil; she knew how to recognize and define it.
I remember her and miss her very much. But her work, energy, thoughts, and writings will live on, providing an example and inspiration for years to come. Not only for me personally and not only for women in the Czech Republic. For all of us.