Hundreds queue in Brno, Prague for signed copy of Albright memoirs

20-10-2003

Hundreds of people have been queuing up outside bookshops in Prague and Brno, eager to get their hands on a signed copy of "Madam Secretary" - the memoirs of former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Ms Albright, born Marie Korbelova in Prague, arrived in her native city on Friday, for a five-day visit. The story of the refugee girl from Czechoslovakia who made it to the top of the U.S. political establishment is still a source of pride for many here.

This weekend Madeleine Albright paid a visit to Czech Radio, and found time to drop into Radio Prague. I asked her how she had managed to maintain such excellent Czech, seeing as she left Czechoslovakia at the age of 11.

"First of all I did speak with my parents. Though what happened is what happened to many émigrés is that you start making some kind of language up: you fit in an English word whenever you can't think of the Czech one. For me it started as an oral language. The way I really learnt a Czech that was not that of a ten-year-old was after the Velvet Revolution, and I came here, or Czechs would come and see me, and so it's evolved. And I'm just so thrilled that it works when I'm here. I forget a word here and there, but I'm just so excited that people say and are surprised that I speak good Czech."

Madeleine Albright's memoirs lift the lid on what has been an extraordinary career and a fascinating life, one which hasn't been without its twists and turns. In the book she describes how she learnt, very late in life, that she came from a Jewish family, and that three of her grandparents had perished in the Holocaust. The book also contains candid and moving details of the collapse of her marriage to journalist Joseph Albright. I asked her why she'd felt the need to bare her soul in such a way.

Interview with Madeleine AlbrightInterview with Madeleine Albright "First of all, I decided that diplomacy and public service is made up of people. And that it's very important to see who the people are, where they come from, what their motivations are. So I thought it was important to do it for that reason. The other reason I did it was that it is a women's story as well. A lot of women were very nice when I became Secretary and felt that I was a role model. I felt that they needed to know that I went through a really horrible time and came out pretty well at the end. That's why I decided I had to be honest. There's no value in writing your memoirs if you're not honest."

Madeleine Albright, a Democrat, is a staunch critic of the policies of the Bush Administration, particularly what it calls the "war on terrorism". But she remains a firm believer in American engagement, something born out of her own life story as a refugee from Czechoslovakia.

"One of the reasons I felt it was important to write about myself was so that people would know what baggage I came with. I do think that what I learnt as a result of being born here was that when the United States was not involved, as in Munich, terrible things happened. When the United States came into the war, things were reversed. When the decision was made to let the Soviet Union "liberate" this country, terrible things happened. So my theme and my life has been the importance of American engagement."

And you can hear the complete interview with Madeleine Albright in this week's One on One - http://www.radio.cz/en/current/one-on-one

20-10-2003