“Let there be no mistake. As long as you choose, Kosovo will remain your home."
With these words, on June 29, 1999, in Prishtina, Secretary Madeline Albright assured the Kosovars that their country was free.
The crowd chanted ‘Nona! Nona!’ (Mother in Albanian) expressing the utmost love for a pivotal figure in rallying Western capitals behind military intervention to stop Serbia’s ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, and later to see those who committed war crimes in Kosovo face justice.
As secretary of state, Albright played a key role in persuading Clinton to intervene militarily against Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic over his treatment of Kosovo's Ethnic-Albanian population in 1999. Albright insisted that NATO’s intervention in Kosovo was the right thing to do “in the name of freedom.”
And she did not stop there, she fought for justice, because she believed that “that justice is apparent to peace. That those indicted for ethnic cleansing and murder should be held legally accountable and that Slobodan Milosevic should answer for his crimes."
A Jewish immigrant from Czechoslovakia, Albright made it her life goal to fight against authoritarianism. In her actions, in politics, and as an opinion maker, she was an uncompromising critic of repressive regimes.
It was only becoming of her, she spent her last days warning the world against Vladimir Putin.
In 2019, 20 years after NATO’s intervention, Kosovo leaders inaugurated a bronze bust in her honor. It would be the last time Albright visited Kosovo, which she considered one of the proudest moments of her legacy.
On Thursday, Kosovar leaders paid tribute to Albright.
President Vjosa Osmani described her as "a great friend of Kosovo."
"She became our voice and our arm when we had neither a voice nor an arm. She recognized the suffering of our people because she had experienced persecution herself since childhood," said Osmani in a Facebook post.
Kosovo publicist and negotiator during failed talks between Serbs and Kosovars in Rambuje Veton Surroi recalled Albright’s important contribution in Kosovo’s journey to independence.
Surroi told Euronews on Thursday that Kosovo was extremely lucky to have on its side a person who identified the war in Kosovo as her own. “Albright was Kosovo’s saviour. She is our hero. We will never forget what she did.” “She is the mother of our nation, our Nona.”
It is a sentiment shared widely by Kosovars.
'Medal of freedom'
During her term as State Secretary, Albright contributed to the expansion of the NATO. She focused on reducing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and increased human rights initiatives across the globe.
In 2012, she was honoured with the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the highest honor awarded to a civilian - by US President Obama.
She died of cancer at the age of 84, surrounded by family and friends.
A month before her death, as Russia launched its brutal invasion of Ukraine, Albright warned the West of the same traps that had engulfed the Balkans in wars three decades ago.
Albright appealed to the West for unity and perseverance in confronting Putin’s authoritarianism. She stayed true to the values that came to shape her convictions and her actions: that people were entitled to decide their own fate no matter who their neighbors happened to be.