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Remembering Madeleine Albright, the first woman to serve as secretary of state

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Today we remember Madeleine Albright, who became the first woman to serve as secretary of state. She died of cancer Wednesday at the age of 84. She was appointed secretary of state by President Clinton in 1997 in his second term. In his first term, she became the ambassador to the U.N. Among the things she's remembered for is advocating the expansion of NATO into the former Soviet bloc countries of Eastern Europe. Some of the other issues and crises she contended with during the Clinton years include the war in the Balkans, the genocide in Rwanda, the terrorist bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa, the suspension of weapons inspections in Iraq, Middle East peace talks and the start of the second intifada and the impeachment trial of President Clinton.

A little later, we'll hear the interview I recorded with her in 2018 during the Trump presidency after the publication of her book, "Fascism," in which she wrote about the growing threat of fascism in Eastern Europe and sounded the alarm about the growing threat of authoritarianism in the U.S. We'll start with our 2003 interview recorded after the publication of her memoir, "Madam Secretary." She was born in Czechoslovakia, where her father was a diplomat. During World War II, the family fled to England just before Germany invaded Czechoslovakia. After the war, they returned to their country only to flee again, this time in 1948, as the Communists were taking over. We started the interview by talking about being the first woman to serve as secretary of state.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: You write in your memoir, (reading) I am often asked whether I was condescended to by men as I traveled around the world to Arab countries and other places with highly traditional cultures. I replied, no, because when I arrived somewhere, it was in a large plane with the US of A emblazoned on the side. Foreign officials respect that. I had more problems with some of the men in my own government.

What are some of the problems you had with some of the men in your own government?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that, especially when I started at the United Nations - and I was a member of what is called - the so-called principals committee, which is a small group that includes the national security adviser, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, the chairman of the joint chiefs and the director of the CIA and the ambassador to the U.N. in our case because every administration can change the grouping of the principals. So I was a part of this group. And I had very strong opinions, especially about Bosnia. And I really was condescended to by the national security adviser who had - who has been a very good friend of mine and kind of made me feel as if my opinions were overly strong, or to use a word that's often used against women, emotional, mainly because I felt very strongly about it.

Also, the thing that I found, and this is the hardest part, is that even men that are very good friends and very nice people and have wives and daughters don't often understand that some way - something that they say or the dismissiveness of their tone makes you feel that your views are not welcome. And I think for the most part, many of them don't know they're doing it. It just gets pretty irritating.

GROSS: Tell me if you feel like you ever had to deal with this in your career as somebody who is very high-powered and having to fly around the world talking with heads of state. A lot of women, particularly women who are, like, in their 40s and over feel like they were brought up to be - socialized to be liked, to please and, you know, to accommodate. And sure, there's a certain amount of pleasing an accommodation that's a part of diplomacy, but there's also the necessity of, you know, of being tough, of saying no, of holding your ground no matter what. Do you feel like in your career you ever had to overcome that impulse to accommodate, to be nice, to be liked?

ALBRIGHT: Oh, my goodness. Yes. I can't tell you how many times. First of all, I do think that most women want to be liked. And they don't want to have face-to-face personal arguments. It was even larger in my case, because as I write in the first part of my book, having come to the United States as a foreigner and having constantly been moving around, I really wanted to be part of a group. And I did want to be liked. I still want to be liked. So I think that it's something that's very much a part of me and a part of women.

Now, the other thing that I learned, and I learned it very quickly when I got to the United Nations, is that you can't do the kind of normal women thing, which is to wait a while to get a sense of what a meeting is like, you know, kind of get the tenor of the room, who says what. And I was - went to my first meeting of the security council and kind of thought I'd take my time. And all of a sudden it dawned on me; I couldn't take my time. I was the United States. If I didn't speak, then the United States would not - our views would not be heard. And so I got over that very quickly.

The part that I think is very hard, and I think I probably speak for other women in this, is men are capable of having strong policy disagreements or arguments about a subject and then walk out of a room and go and play golf or have a drink or something. And I think women do take it more personally. And I don't think we like to have face-to-face confrontations. But I sure learned that it was essential to state my views very clearly and not care whether I was liked or not. And it took me a while to learn it. But I think others will testify to the fact that I did learn it.

GROSS: What is it like to fly to a country like Saudi Arabia to practice diplomacy knowing that in that country women have to be shrouded? Women can't drive. And granted, they understand you're a woman from a different culture. But you're still a woman.

ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, you really do think about the fact that you're going into this kind of a country where sisters have a very different lifestyle. And I find it appalling. Nevertheless, I had to carry on my duties as secretary of state. And I did not wear any covering on my head when I spoke to the ministers or the king or the crown prince. So I did not take any particular action of that kind. And in my first meeting with what's known as the Gulf Cooperation Council - those are the ministers from all the Gulf States - we had a very serious conversation, and at the end of it I said to them, you may notice that I am not clothed exactly the way my predecessors were. And I thank you very much for your great courtesy and kindness. And next time we'll talk about women's rights. And they were a little surprised.

On the other hand, one of the foreign ministers said, you know, I think we, in fact, might have a foreign minister as a woman in the period of the length of our history - 'cause they're relatively new countries - that's shorter than it took the United States to have a woman secretary of state. That same foreign minister then invited me to his home and introduced me to his daughters who had American educations and I think were probably going to end up having quite a different life from some of the other people. But it's - there's no question that it's a touchy issue and that it creates a certain level of difficulty, but not when you are representing the United States. I must say that I had the greatest respect from those leaders, especially - well, all of them. But I had a very good relationship with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Abdullah.

GROSS: Your first position in the Clinton administration was as U.N. ambassador. Your father was a diplomat. Your father had served as U.N. ambassador from Czechoslovakia. How do you think that, you know, being from Czechoslovakia influenced your feelings about Bosnia and Kosovo and your stand that there should be military intervention?

ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, my - everybody has their baggage. And mine clearly was Munich, an agreement made in September 1938 by the so-called Western powers, excluding the United States, to give away a piece of Czechoslovakia to Hitler - in other words, to appease aggression. And that was kind of a signal moment in the history of Czechoslovakia and something that my parents talked about a lot, that if you don't stand up to an aggressor, that, in fact, the aggressor will only take more.

The other parts that affected my life was that I clearly understood the horrors of not standing up to Hitler in other ways with the Holocaust and understanding that you could not permit ethnic cleansing to go unanswered. During the Second World War, a lot of people legitimately could say that they had no idea what was being done in terms of ethnic cleansing. We did know what was going on in Bosnia because of obviously a whole revolution in information.

I also knew a lot about Yugoslavia from the fact that my father had been ambassador there. And while I had only been of the ages from 8 to 11, I grew up learning about the problems of Yugoslavia. So those were all the reasons why I thought it was important to stand up to Milosevic.

GROSS: Shortly after becoming secretary of state, The Washington Post reporter Michael Dobbs came to you with information that your family was actually Jewish, not Catholic, and that three of your grandparents were victims of the Holocaust as well as at least one of your cousins. You write about this a little bit in your book and about how people couldn't believe you didn't know and that it made it - they made it seem like you had covered it up. You say, I was made to feel as if I were a liar and that - my father was portrayed as a heartless fraud. You never knew about it till Michael Dobbs told you?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I - no, I didn't. I mean, what happened was that - I think I explained in the first part of the book that my parents talked a great deal about their lives in pre-World War II Czechoslovakia and about generally history and that when we returned after the war - I was 8 years old - and that my grandparents were not alive. And I was told that they died of old age. And I had no - this is a very tragic part of everything I have to say. I mean, I didn't know any grandparents, so they never were real people for me. So I didn't kind of absorb that at all.

But I grew up as a practicing Catholic, actually a pretty good one. And I - there were no holes in the story of my life. And - but what happened - when I started being in the news, I would get letters from people saying that they knew something about my family. There were hints of things, but it didn't all come together until actually - in December 1996 as I was being named to be secretary of state, I got a letter that seemed to have all the facts together. And so when I was being vetted by the White House lawyers, I told them that I had reason to suspect that my family was of Jewish background, and they basically found that very uninteresting. I thought it was fascinating, and I really wanted to look into it more.

And then Michael Dobbs called me during the transition period and said he was going to do a profile of me. And I gave him a bunch of addresses of people in Yugoslavia and in Czechoslovakia. And then he's the one who came up with the fact that three of my grandparents had died in concentration camps, which is quite different from finding out that you're of Jewish background. And it was the horror of finding out about the horrible death of my grandparents that truly was the great tragedy.

And in addition to the divorce chapter, this was the hardest chapter to write. And I tried to really lay it out and try to explain why it was so difficult and how hurtful it was to have my father, whom I adored, be accused of trying to hide the facts when, from everything that I knew about my parents, all they ever did was try to figure out ways to protect us.

GROSS: What do you think their motivation was? Not only in - I mean, I guess the motivation for changing their religion is fairly obvious, to survive during the Nazi era. But what do you think their motivation was to never tell you?

ALBRIGHT: Well, again, it's hard to try to figure out motivation, but I think the following thing, again - that you have to put yourself back into the period. They had gone through having to leave their country twice. They came to the United States in 1948, '49, and it - and then in the '50s when we were getting our citizenship. And I think they just thought that it was safer not to tell.

By the way, I have the highest respect for Harry Truman and think he's one of the great American presidents. But if you read what has recently been revealed about what he said about Jews, then I think one can understand why my parents, coming to a new country from a country where Jews have been exterminated, might have thought that it was wiser not to tell us. Why they didn't tell me later, I don't know the answer.

GROSS: If you don't mind my asking, I'm wondering if you practice any religion now. Now, you grew up Roman Catholic. At your husband's request, when you got married, you joined the Episcopal Church and then found out later in life that your family is really of Jewish descent. So where are you now (laughter) in terms of faith?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I have written actually that it's confusing. I mean, it's a little hard to be 66 years old and be unclear about something like this. I was raised a Christian, and I am a - I don't see myself not being a Christian. I find it very difficult to assimilate all of it. And I don't know. I mean, I go to an Episcopalian church when I go, but many of my beliefs are very Catholic because I grew up a Catholic. And I respect Judaism, but I don't see myself practicing it. So it - you know, I have to honestly admit that it's sad in many ways to be this old and to be unclear about something that is so basic.

GROSS: We're listening to the interview I recorded in 2003 with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. She died Wednesday at the age of 84. A little later, we'll hear the interview we recorded in 2018 during the Trump presidency after the publication of her book, "Fascism," in which she warned about the growing authoritarianism in parts of Eastern Europe and sounded the alarm about the threat of authoritarianism in the U.S. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRAD MEHLDAU TRIO'S "BEATRICE")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to the 2003 interview I recorded with Madeleine Albright, the first woman to serve as secretary of state. President Clinton appointed her in his second term after she served in his first term as U.N. ambassador.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: Now, you married Joe Albright, who was from a very wealthy family, the family that owned the newspaper Newsday. Did you suddenly find yourself in a much more privileged world than the world you had traveled in? I know your father had been a diplomat, probably knew a lot of very important and powerful people. But still, was this a different world for you?

ALBRIGHT: Well, it was a completely different world. But the truth is that when my father had been ambassador, you know, we lived in an embassy and had a chauffeur and a maid and a cook and a butler and various other accoutrements of a privileged life. But then when we came to the United States, we were, as was known at the time, displaced persons and arrived in Denver with nothing beyond this green Ford coupe that my parents had bought. And so people lent us furniture, and we bought some junky furniture and lived in university rental housing. So life was quite different, physically, never different intellectually or emotionally because my parents were very clear that our life would go on in a respected way. But when I did marry into Joe's family, it was quite different. It is - it's a family that had many houses and servants and a lot of privileges.

GROSS: You write in your book that your husband divorced you in 1983. He told you that he'd fallen in love with a woman who was a reporter, who was considerably younger and beautiful. And you say that you hope that he was just being noble and brave because he was really diagnosed with a brain tumor (laughter) and was just trying to spare his family the pain of watching him suffer. Well, unfortunately or fortunately, whatever, that wasn't the case (laughter), and he was just leaving you for another woman. You say that when he did leave you, it left you with no confidence in your looks. Did you get over that? And as a woman who spent her life in the limelight, in front of cameras, but not in a beauty pageant, in diplomatic positions, in secretary of state - you know, in the position of secretary of state, did looks matter to you? How important was that?

ALBRIGHT: Well, you know, all I have to do is look in the mirror to know I'm no raving beauty, but it does help if you feel good about yourself. And so I think that if you go around moping or, you know, you decide one day you're never going to wear makeup, it doesn't work. I do think that you have to remember that you are representing your country. And it's very interesting. I actually don't think I wrote this in the book, but before I went up to the U.N., I met with Jeane Kirkpatrick, one of my predecessors and obviously also a woman and a professor. And Jeane Kirkpatrick, we probably disagree a lot on policy, but our lives are not dissimilar because we both taught at Georgetown. And what she did was ask me to come in and talk to her - or we had lunch. And she said - she was very funny. She said, Madeleine, get rid of the professor clothes, and buy yourself some good clothes because you really do need to look good for this job. So Jeane and I agree on those particular issues. And it does matter how you look.

GROSS: It matters why?

ALBRIGHT: Because I think not so much, I mean, if you're beautiful or not, but if you look confident and you look put together, I think it does play a role in how you present your case. And I tell one story in the book where we had had all-night negotiations on a resolution to do with Haiti, and I had done real retail diplomacy, gone around and talked to every one of the Security Council members. And I looked exhausted, and, you know, I'd rumpled my hair, and all the makeup was off of my face. But I - we were going to have time between what I was doing and the final vote. So I went back to my apartment, started all over, put on a blue linen dress that I thought I looked good in, came back, looked a lot better than all my colleagues, who were unshaven, and I think it looked as though I had confidence. We won the vote. I don't think because of my blue dress, but I think it does help to look good.

GROSS: My interview with Madeleine Albright was recorded in 2003. She died Wednesday at the age of 84. After a break, we'll hear the interview we recorded in 2018 during the Trump presidency, after the publication of her book, "Fascism," in which she warned about the growing threat of authoritarianism in parts of Eastern Europe and the threat to democracy in the U.S. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF JULIAN LAGE'S "ROGER THE DODGER")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Today we're remembering Madeleine Albright, who became America's first woman to serve as secretary of state. She was appointed by President Clinton during his second term and served as U.S. ambassador during his first term. Albright died of cancer Wednesday. She was 84. The second interview we recorded was in 2018 during the Trump presidency. She had just published her bestselling book, "Fascism," in which she wrote (reading) we should be awake to the assault on democratic values that has gathered strength in many countries abroad and is dividing America at home.

The book examined how fascism took hold in Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy. Then she warned about how authoritarianism was taking hold again in several Eastern European countries and was already well in place in Russia and North Korea. One chapter was devoted to Trump and the alarming threat of authoritarianism in the U.S.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: Madeleine Albright, welcome to FRESH AIR. This book is a very personal one in a lot of ways because you fled fascism twice. Your family is from Czechoslovakia, where you were born. Your father was a diplomat. The family fled fascism when you were a child, first, from Hitler. You moved to England. And then after World War II, you returned to Czechoslovakia but fled again when the Communists were taking over and came to America. What is the warning you want to send to Americans about what is happening here?

ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, I'm delighted to be with you. But let me say, the reason that I wrote the book and the warning is, as you've pointed out, it's something that I saw or have certainly heard about from my parents. And part of the reason for writing it is to say that, in fact, this can happen in countries that have democratic systems, that have a population that's interested in what is going on, that is supportive, because so many of the things that have happened and happened in Czechoslovakia were steps that came as a result of ethnic issues with the German minority, but mostly steps that seemed not so terrible that there couldn't be a deal made. And so that's what's so worrisome, is that these - fascism can come in a way that it is one step at a time and in many ways then goes unnoticed until it's too late.

GROSS: One step at a time within the system.

ALBRIGHT: Within the system, and partially because it is a way of undermining democracy and the democratic institutions that are the basis of democracy or criticizing the press or thinking that there are those that are enemies of the people and are the cause of distress or bad economic situation. And it kind of works on the fear factor rather than the hope factor.

GROSS: And with your father, for instance - he was a diplomat. He was close to the president of Czechoslovakia. And so when your father sensed that the Communists were taking over, the president of Czechoslovakia was saying, no, it's going to be fine. Don't worry about it. And your father left in spite of those reassurances. You know, the whole family left in spite of those reassurances. And you were lucky that you did. You write your father would have been put in prison had the family stayed in Czechoslovakia - so another example of how when fascism or authoritarianism or Communism is coming, not everybody sees it.

ALBRIGHT: And that's absolutely true, because part of it, both with the fascism and with the Communism - there really was not enough pushback from the people and, to some extent, the authorities there at the time. Or there's an outside power that doesn't support. So, for instance, what happened when the fascists took over was the period that is known as appeasement that, in fact, was carried out by friends and allies, like the British, who gave in to what this group that was organized to help Hitler in what is known as Sudetenland, the small part of Czechoslovakia that was occupied by a German minority. And people thought, well, if we give in on this, nothing else will happen. And that's - is exactly what did happen. One step led to another. And if you are trying to feed the beast and the beast is a fascist, then it makes it very hard to push back.

GROSS: Your book starts with a quote from Primo Levi. Every age has its own fascism. What are you trying to say by using that quote? Are you saying, don't expect fascism to look like it - exactly like it did with Hitler or Mussolini or Stalin?

ALBRIGHT: Well, that's exactly - because one of the reasons that I wrote the book was to show the different ways that fascism has penetrated a lot of our societies now. And each one is a little bit different. And certainly, eras are different. And so one has to look at what some of the signs are but not expect a total replication that everything is exactly the same because - both the situations in the country, the international situation, what is happening with technology, how people see their lives. So it's very hard. And frankly, Terry, the hardest part in the book was really coming up with exact definitions because it's always slightly different.

GROSS: Let's talk about what's happening in the United States. I want to read a passage that you write in your book, "Fascism: A Warning," a passage about President Trump. You write, (reading) we've never had a president, at least in the modern era, whose statements and actions are so at odds with democratic ideals. Trump has spoken harshly about the institutions and principles that make up the foundation of open government. In the process, he has systematically degraded political discourse in the U.S., shown an astonishing disregard for facts, libeled his predecessor, threatened to lock up political rivals, bullied members of his own administration, referred to mainstream journalists as enemies of the American people, spread falsehoods about the integrity of the U.S. electoral process, touted mindlessly nationalistic economic and trade policies and nurtured a paranoid bigotry toward the followers of one of the world's foremost religions.

Do you think that President Trump has the instincts of an authoritarian leader?

ALBRIGHT: I think that he is the most antidemocratic president that we have had in modern history and that his instincts are really in that direction. And I think that that's what's worrisome. And the passage that you read really does show that what he's trying to do is undermine the press - and has disdain for the judiciary and the electoral process and minorities. And I think that his instincts are not ones that are democratic. And he is interested basically in, I think, exacerbating those divisions that I talked about. And so I am very concerned. And basically, this is - you know, I've written the book because I have picked up that phrase, see something, say something. And I am seeing some things that are the kinds of things that we've seen in other countries. And so I'm saying not only should we say something, but we have to do something about it.

GROSS: President Trump, when he was campaigning, when he talked about NATO, he'd talk about how America was, like, spending too much and European countries are spending too little when it came to dues. And he seemed to see NATO as being about, like, some kind of business arrangement where America was being played. We were being taken advantage of because we were paying more. You were secretary of state when NATO opened its doors to Eastern European countries, in Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary. They entered NATO in 1999 when you were secretary of state. So NATO was very important during your tenure in in that position. I mean, the shape of NATO changed. And now we've seen Brexit, and we've seen President Trump having this kind of changeable, ambivalent position about NATO. How does that feel personally? Because you were so - like, NATO was such an important part of your professional life as secretary of state.

ALBRIGHT: Well, I see it as the most unbelievable step backwards because I do believe that the United States is stronger when we have friends and allies to deal with the various issues, whether they are in-area, as we say, members of NATO itself or out-of-area, whether it's in the Balkans or Afghanistan, that the Europeans and NATO are really part of this incredible alliance that we've had. And I always say, as a European who has spent her life in the United States, I see the Euro-Atlantic alliance as one of the most important bulwarks of our society. So seeing this go on, I find appalling. And what is the issue, again, it's this lack of understanding of what this alliance is about. It is not somebody coming to rent hotel rooms to see if they can get the best price or - it's not transactional. It is something that is basic to our system.

And so I think one of the parts, though, Terry, is that he's gone back on certain things, so that he generally has now said that he is supportive of NATO. So one of the parts that's a little bit confusing, what is he really for? What is he against? Is it one of those things where the last person that speaks to him has all the influence? But I do think that what is going on with Europe and our relationships with Europe are part of the very - you know, are really a big part of the problem in terms of a lack of understanding about America's role.

And then one other part I think that is really part of this story is that what Trump is doing is making America seem like a victim. Everything is somebody else's fault. Countries are taking advantage of us. The Mexicans are sending drug dealers. Countries are not paying their dues. The trading system is unfair. And by making Americans seem like victims all the time, it then is able to again make the divisions stronger in terms of who's with us, who's not with us and is totally anti-American foreign policy. And so I think it's very, very worrisome in terms of this victimhood. I don't see America as a victim. I see America as the most powerful country in the world that has a role to play standing up for democratic ideals and human rights across the board.

GROSS: We're listening to the 2018 interview I recorded with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. She died Wednesday at the age of 84. We'll hear more of the interview after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILL FRISELL'S "LISTEN")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. We're remembering Madeleine Albright, the first woman to serve as secretary of state. She died Wednesday at age 84. Let's get back to the interview we recorded in 2018 after the publication of her book, "Fascism," in which she warned about authoritarianism in several Eastern European countries and sounded the alarm about the assault on American democracy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: Let's talk about Russia. We have evidence now that Russia interfered in the presidential election. We don't know what their plans are for the midterms. If you were secretary of state, would you see a role for yourself now in dealing with future Russian interference in our democracy?

ALBRIGHT: Well, from everything that I have read, I think that it is a dereliction of duty not to see what the Russians have been doing and that this really requires a whole of government approach to it, where the president directs the various parts of the government to do what they have to do to figure out what the Russians are up to and how to prevent them from doing more during the midterm election and all the time, frankly. And then also - and as secretary of state, the other part that would be important is to point out what the Russians are doing in other countries. We know, for instance, what has been happening in Europe. Then they have, in fact, undertaken a lot of propaganda and false information throughout Europe. There are even those who think that they were involved in the Brexit vote. So as the secretary of state, what you try to do is to look at what are the effects of Russia's behavior among our friends and allies? Who needs help? How do we share intelligence? And what do we do to make sure that our democracies are not undermined? And that's the role of the secretary of state.

GROSS: You met with Vladimir Putin when you were secretary of state. What was his position at the time?

ALBRIGHT: Well, it was interesting. The first time I met him was when he was still kind of acting president in an APEC meeting that took place in New Zealand. And he was in a a stage of his life where he seemed to want to be very ingratiating to everybody and wanted to kind of pretend - or was, in fact, kind of a small figure. Then, when I went back to prepare for the summit that President Clinton had in the summer of 2000 - and I have to say, I was very impressed with how smart Putin was. And when he met with President Clinton, he - Putin - was able to talk without notes, as President Clinton was, and also took notes and really was very smart. I think that he is a smart man. He has played a weak hand very well. And he is a former KGB officer. And we can never forget that.

GROSS: You wrote down your impressions of him after your first meeting. And you wrote, Putin is small and pale, so cold as to be almost reptilian. Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness. That kind of holds up.

ALBRIGHT: Well, it does. And part of it, I have to say, is that in '91, when I - before I went into the government, I did this survey of all of Europe after the end of the Cold War. And we did a lot of questionnaires, but also focus groups. And I will never forget a focus group outside of Moscow where this man stands up and says, I'm so embarrassed; we used to be a superpower, and now we're Bangladesh with missiles. And so what Putin has done is identify with that kind of loss of national pride that the Russians have had, and he has restored it from - in their eyes. And so he is popular, and it has something in terms of restoring Russia's position. And as I say, he has played a weak hand very well.

GROSS: So an interesting anecdote in your book - and this takes place in 2003, when you were speaking in Turkey. And, you know, as we've been saying, like, identity is such a big issue in this era of, like, nationalism and anti-immigration feelings. So you're in Turkey. You're giving a speech. And then during the Q&A, you're asked your opinion of whether women should wear headscarves. And there's women with headscarves in the audience and women without them. And you say, well, that's easy; it should be a woman's personal choice. And you say that everybody in the room hated you after that. (Laughter) That was, like, an incredibly unpopular response. What's the moral of that story?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think the moral is that we cannot think that everybody wants to be like American women. I have - again, to go back on this survey that I did in the '90s, a lot of women that had lived under communism had basically been liberated to work twice as hard. So one of the questions that we asked in that was, do you want to have a marriage where you stay at home and take care of the children, or do you want to have a job? And I can't remember the exact numbers, but most of the women wanted to be at home with their children.

And so I think we do have to be careful not to think that everybody wants to be like us. And so I believe that we need to be helpful where we can, where women in countries want to have support from outsiders, and be supportive of women running for office, and try to figure out how to end domestic violence and a variety of different things. But the issue there - and it really did surprise me, I have to say - was that I gave a typically American answer. I mean, I always think that for women, the best word for us is choice. We need to be able to choose what we do with our bodies, and our lives and how we generally operate. And I was surprised that I had given a typical American answer that didn't suit anybody. And it continues to trouble me because I think we have to be careful not to mirror image. On the other hand, we need to be helpful.

GROSS: Well, Madeleine Albright, it's been a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so much.

ALBRIGHT: Thank you.

GROSS: My interview with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was recorded in 2018 after the publication of her book, "Fascism." She died Wednesday at the age of 84. I'm Terry Gross. And this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MIKE FAHIE JAZZ ORCHESTRA, AARON IRWIN AND NICK GRINDER'S PERFORMANCE OF TCHAIKOVSKY'S "SYMPHONY NO. 6, II. ALLEGRO CON GRAZIA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.