Balkans divided over Madeleine Albright’s wartime legacy

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) – A monument in Kosovo, Serbia, bears a snake named after him. Madeleine Albright was loved or hated in the Balkans for her pivotal role during the southern European region wars of the 1990s.

After the former US Secretary of State died at the age of 84 on Wednesday, how his legacy from the Balkans is viewed depends mostly on whether one was on the receiving end of the former Yugoslavia’s bloody breakup.

After becoming Secretary of State in 1997, Albright emerged as the Clinton administration’s leading hawk in the Balkans. He identified himself so strongly with the push for Western intervention in Kosovo that his critics dubbed the 1998–1999 conflict the “War of Madeleine”.

He championed the 78-day bombing of Serb-led Yugoslavia by NATO that stopped a bloody Serb action against the Kosovo Albanians. Earlier, serving as the US ambassador to the United Nations during President Bill Clinton’s first term, he urged a tough international response against the nearly four-year Bosnian Serb shelling in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo.

Albright also worked on bringing justice to all persons responsible for war crimes committed in the Balkans, including former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and wartime Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzi.

For that, Albright was declared a “Serb hater” in Serbia and a hero in Kosovo and Bosnia.

“She will be remembered in Serbia as a ruthless woman, one of the most vigorous advocates of the bombing of Yugoslavia and the independence of Kosovo,” the pro-government Vesernje Novosti newspaper said on Thursday.

Serbian officials remained largely silent without condoling Albright’s death.

In Kosovo, the reaction was quite the opposite.

“It is very difficult to find the right combination of politics, diplomacy and history, like in the unique personality of Madam Secretary Madeleine Albright,” said Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti while paying respects to Albright in front of a bronze-colored monument in Kosovo. Capital, Pristina.

“NATO’s intervention in Kosovo to stop the Serbian genocide in spring 1999 certainly has Madeleine Albright’s seal, and we will always be grateful and grateful to her,” Kurti told the Associated Press.

In Bosnia, Albright is well remembered as the US ambassador who, in the summer of 1995, told the United Nations Security Council the first of the mass atrocities committed in the eastern Bosnian city of Srebrenica in the final months of the country’s brutal 1992–95 war. evidence was presented.

Over 8,000 Bosnian Muslims died in 10 days of slaughter after the city was captured by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995. Their bodies were hastily dumped in mass graves and then later excavated with bulldozers and scattered among other burial sites to hide the evidence. The remains of the victims are still being traced and identified more than half a century later.

“Because of her own experience, she was a true champion of justice, she could not stomach injustice,” said former Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajczyk of Czechoslovak-born Albright, and then Soviet-East Europe. dominates. “She understood that (Bosnia) had suffered injustice and was looking for ways to fix it.”

While besieging Sarajevo during the war, he recalled former US President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 speech in Berlin, in which he told a crowd of several hundred: “Ja sam sarajevoka” (“I am a Sarajevan.”)

In his native Czech Republic, Albright’s legacy is respected, especially in light of the current Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“It is a great loss,” said Alexandre Vondra, a former anti-communist dissident and currently the Czech representative in the European Parliament.

“No one in the United States has done so much for us. Let’s think about it now when NATO protects us from the arrogant expansionism of Russia,” he said.

Albright’s relationship with the former Yugoslavia goes back to her childhood.

Soon after her birth as Maria Jan Korbelova in Prague on May 15, 1937, her parents moved to the then capital of Yugoslavia, Belgrade, where her father, Josef Korbel, served as a press attaché at the Czechoslovak Embassy. did.

He was withdrawn from Belgrade at the end of 1938. In March 1939, shortly after the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, the entire family moved back to Yugoslavia and eventually to Britain.

Albright often fondly recalls his days in Belgrade, addressing the Serbs two days after the start of NATO’s intervention in the Kosovo conflict 23 years earlier.

“As you can see, I remember a little Serbian – with a Czech accent – from my days as a kid in Belgrade,” she said in her address, which is posted on the State Department website. “My father was a Czechoslovak diplomat before World War II. When the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia, my father fled to Yugoslavia with his wife and children – me. I will never forget how ours as friends in need of help Warmly welcomed.”

“Americans don’t hate Serbs,” Albright continued. “Like me, they remember that we were allies of fascism,” she said. “Like you, Americans want to live at peace with their neighbors and the wider world.”

“That is why we could not sit quietly until the security forces were used to commit atrocities against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.” Albright said.

The speech was not relayed by Serbia’s state-run media amid the NATO bombing. Instead, the Belgrade Zoo named one of its pythons after him in protest of his role in the US-led intervention.


Sabina Niksic in Sarajevo, Bosnia, Karel Janicek in Prague and Florent Bajrami in Pristina, Kosovo contributed.

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