The first woman to represent the US in foreign affairs, veteran politician Madeleine Albright spoke to The Local's blogger Natalia Brzezinski following a recent visit to Stockholm and reflected on Sweden's role in shaping global democracy.
Published: 9 April 2015 10:54 CEST
Madeleine Albright (right) with President Obama in 2008. Photo: TT
Madeleine Albright was an icon to a generation of young women in America and around the world in the 1990s as the first female US Secretary of State in history, working alongside President Clinton.
Now 78, she retains a position on the international stage, writing books, teaching at Georgetown university in the US and travelling the world as a keynote speaker, a role which recently took her to Stockholm.
In February she appeared at the Post-Davos Nordic Summit, one of the most prestigious gatherings of business leaders in the region, and joined discussions on some of the main themes presented at Davos, the annual conference hosted by the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.
"The Post-Davos summit provided an opportunity for Nordic business leaders to come together and discuss how 21st [century] global challenges will affect corporate decision-making," she told Brzezinski.
Former Swedish Foreign Minister and Prime Minister Carl Bildt also spoke at the event, looking into the importance of geopolitical uncertainty in corporate decision-making and the effect that crises and the associated political decisions can have on businesses.
A Democrat politician during her time in government and a passionate supporter of President Obama, Albright said she had long admired the work of the centre-right Moderate party politician as well as that of Swedish leaders closer to her end of the political spectrum.
"I was particularly impressed by the presentation of Carl Bildt, with whom I was privileged to work closely with on many occasions, particularly the crisis in the Balkans," she told Brezinski, adding that she had also spent time with "another friend", former Social Democrat Finance Minister Pär Nuder.
"They are just two of a number of exceptional Swedish leaders who continue to remind the world of Sweden’s commitment to democracy, freedom, and human progress," she said.
"For as long as I can remember, Sweden has met every test of global citizenship. It has been a consistent champion of law, peace, development, the environment and human rights. It has also given the world such leaders as Dag Hammarskjold, Olaf Palme, Hans Blix and my former colleague Anna Lindh – whom I shall never forget and will forever miss," she added.
Madeleine Albright with former US President Bill Clinton in 2000. Photo: TT
But while Albright clearly sees the Nordic nation as a beacon for peace and fairness, she warned that Sweden needs to remain alert to external issues that could threaten the country's stability.
"To use a diplomatic term of art, the world is a mess," she told Brzezinski.
"Sweden’s neighbour, Russia, has continued a campaign of aggression against Ukraine that is jeopardizing our shared vision of a Europe whole and free."
The former politician also highlighted climate change as a "vexing nontraditional" security challenge, causing environmental degradation, and potentially leading to more outbreaks of pandemic disease and natural disasters.
"I know this is an issue that is of particular relevance to the Nordic region, as the impacts of climate change are shifting the Arctic landscape rapidly – creating both challenges and opportunities for the people of the region," she stressed.
Madeleine Albright in 2013. Photo: TT
While not directly asked about immigration and integration in Sweden – issues that are among the most important to Swedish voters in 2015 as the nation takes in record numbers of refugees – Albright reflected on her own experiences as a Jewish immigrant who moved to the US.
"Having been forced to flee my native Czechoslovakia two times – first from the Nazis and then from the Communists – I learned at a young age that human freedom is both immeasurably precious and inherently fragile," she said.
"From my parents I inherited a love for two countries, and a particular set of beliefs that has shaped my worldview," she added.
"I think my own experience and the experience of my parents made me an optimist at heart, because I have witnessed the capacity of people and nations to change."
Natalia Brzezinski is a blogger for The Local. She is also a journalist and public speaker on behalf of U.S. Embassy Sweden.
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