Earlier this fiscal year–last calendar year–Madeleine Albright sat on the Coolidge Auditorium stage inside the Library of Congress and thanked the Library for helping her to write her doctoral dissertation.
“I’d like to thank the Library of Congress,” she said on the morning of November 19, 2014. “I wrote my dissertation on the role of the Czechoslovak press in 1968 during the Prague Spring, and none of that could have happened if it hadn’t been for the fantastic Slavic collections here. They had all the newspapers, so I spent an awful lot of time here. This is a great institution.”
The former U.S. Secretary of State–and the first woman to hold the position–took part in a morning-long program that commemorated Václav Havel’s influence and legacy. Havel himself was twice a scholar at the Library of Congress. In spring 2005, Havel held the Kluge Chair in Modern Culture. He returned to hold it again from December 2006 to March 2007.
As a scholar at Library of Congress, Havel conducted research on human rights and worked on his final play, “Leaving.” During his second stint as a scholar-in-residence, he worked on his memoir “To the Castle and Back.”
For these reasons the Kluge Center was delighted to collaborate with The Embassy of the Czech Republic and Florida International University to remember Václav Havel’s influence and legacy on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. The event (which you can watch here in its entirety) was followed by the dedication of a bust of President Havel in the U.S. Capitol. At the Library’s commemoration, Albright–who was born in Prague–was joined on stage by Sen. John McCain, who along with Albright was in Prague in 1990 when Václav Havel ascended to the Presidency. Their conversation was moderated by Michael Žantovský, Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the United Kingdom and a biographer of Havel’s (he served as Havel’s former press secretary and was a longtime friend).
The conversation that morning centered on Havel’s role in promoting human rights and his belief in the shared responsibility of us all to make a better society, both in our immediate surroundings and around the world. Žantovský also remarked on how Havel recognized the strategic role human rights could play in toppling a totalitarian regime, as well as Havel’s humor and his use of language, which helped enable him to become such a transcendent statesman.
Secretary Albright will return to the Coolidge Auditorium stage on July 8, 2015. She will be in conversation with former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to discuss finding shared values in foreign policy. The event is the first in a five-year lecture series hosted by the Kluge Center in conjunction with the Daniel K. Inouye Institute. The conversation will be moderated by Andrea Mitchell of NBC News.
So much of what was discussed on November 19th resonated with all in attendance. The same will be true of July 8th, I am sure. But on a personal note, what has stuck with me is the realization that once, years ago, a young woman from Prague entered the Library of Congress to conduct dissertation research in our Slavic newspaper collection–and, years later, that woman went on to become the first female U.S. Secretary of State. After all she accomplished in her career, she still remembers and appreciates how this institution helped her to learn and discover, and to reach an important milestone in her life. So this morning, as I wrote this, I took a short break to walk into the Library’s Main Reading Room and noticed the several young men and women conducting research in the stalls. Who knows what great things they may go on to do in their lives. Maybe one day, they’ll be back on the Coolidge Auditorium stage.
The inaugural Daniel K. Inouye Lecture occurs Wednesday, July 8th at 6:30 p.m. at the Library of Congress. The event is free and open to the public. Seating is on a first-come, first-serve basis; no tickets or reservations will be accepted.