Historical records matching Madeleine Albright, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and Secretary of State
About Madeleine Albright (Marie Jana Korbel)
Madeleine Korbelová Albright (born May 15, 1937) is the first woman to become a United States Secretary of State. She was appointed by U.S. President Bill Clinton on December 5, 1996, and was unanimously confirmed by a U.S. Senate vote of 99–0. She was sworn in on January 23, 1997.
Albright now serves as a Professor of International Relations at Georgetown University's Walsh School of Foreign Service. Her PhD is from Columbia University. She holds honorary degrees from Brandeis University (1996); the University of Washington (2002); Smith College (2003); University of Winnipeg (2005); the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2007), and Knox College (2008). Secretary Albright also serves as a Director on the Board of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Albright is fluent in English, French, Russian, and Czech; she speaks and reads Polish and Serbo-Croatian as well.
Albright was born Marie Jana Korbelová (Czech pronunciation: [ˈmarɪjɛ ˈjana ˈkorbɛlovaː]) in the Smíchov district of Prague, Czechoslovakia. At the time of her birth, Czechoslovakia had been independent for less than twenty years, having gained independence from Austria after World War I. Her father, Josef Korbel, was a Czech Jewish diplomat and supporter of the early Czech democrats, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and Edvard Beneš. She was his first child with his Jewish wife, Anna (née Spieglová), who later also had another daughter Katherine (a schoolteacher) and son John (an economist).
At the time of Albright’s birth, her father was serving as press-attaché at the Czechoslovak Embassy in Belgrade. However, the signing of the Munich Agreement in March 1938 and the disintegration of Czechoslovakia at the hands of Adolf Hitler forced the family into exile because of their links with Beneš. Prior to their flight, Albright's parents had converted from Judaism to Roman Catholicism. Albright spent the war years in England, while her father worked for Beneš’s Czechoslovak government-in-exile. They first lived on Kensington Park Road in Notting Hill, London, where they endured the worst of The Blitz, but later moved to Beaconsfield, then Walton-on-Thames, on the outskirts of London. While in England, a young Albright appeared as a refugee child in a film designed to promote sympathy for all war refugees in London.
Albright was raised Catholic, but converted to Episcopalianism at the time of her marriage in 1959. Albright did not learn until late in life that her parents were Jewish and that many of her Jewish relatives in Czechoslovakia had perished in The Holocaust, including three of her grandparents.
After the defeat of the Nazis in the European Theatre of World War II and the collapse of Nazi Germany and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Albright and family moved back to Prague, where they were given a luxurious apartment in the Hradcany district (which later caused controversy, as it had belonged to an ethnic German Bohemian industrialist family forced out by the Beneš decrees – see "Controversies"). Korbel was named Czechoslovak Ambassador to communist Yugoslavia, and the family moved to Belgrade. Communists governed Yugoslavia, and Korbel was concerned his daughter would be indoctrinated with Marxist ideology in a Yugoslav school, so she was taught by a governess and later sent to the Prealpina Institut pour Jeunes Filles in Chexbres, on Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Here, she learned French and went by Madeleine, the French version of Madlenka, her Czech nickname.
However, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia took over the government in 1948, with support from the Soviet Union, and as an opponent of Communism, Korbel was forced to resign from his position. He later obtained a position on a United Nations delegation to Kashmir, and sent his family to the United States, by way of London, to wait for him when he arrived to deliver his report to the U.N. Headquarters, then in Lake Success, New York. The family arrived in New York City, New York, in November 1948, and initially settled in Great Neck, on Long Island, New York. Korbel applied for political asylum, arguing that as an opponent of Communism, he was now under threat in Prague. With the help of Philip Mosely, a professor of Russian at Columbia University in New York City, Korbel obtained a position on the staff of the political science department at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado. He became dean of the university’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, and later taught future U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Life in the United States
Albright spent her teen years in Denver, and graduated from the Kent Denver School in Cherry Hills Village, a suburb of Denver, in 1955, where she founded the school’s international relations club and was its first president. She attended Wellesley College, in Wellesley, Massachusetts, on a full scholarship, majoring in political science and graduated in 1959. Her senior thesis was written on Czech Communist Zdeněk Fierlinger. She became a U.S. citizen in 1957, and joined the College Democrats of America.
While home in Denver from Wellesley, Albright worked as an intern for The Denver Post, where she met Joseph Medill Patterson Albright, the nephew of Alicia Patterson, owner of Newsday and wife of philanthropist Harry Frank Guggenheim. The couple were married in Wellesley in 1959, shortly after her graduation. They lived first in Rolla, Missouri, while he served his military service at nearby Fort Leonard Wood. During this time, she worked at the Rolla Daily News.
In January 1960 the couple moved to his hometown of Chicago, Illinois, where he worked at the Chicago Sun-Times as a journalist, and Albright worked as a picture editor for Encyclopædia Britannica. The following year, Joseph Albright began work at Newsday in New York City, and the couple moved to Garden City on Long Island. That year, she gave birth to twin daughters, Alice Patterson Albright and Anne Korbel Albright. The twins were born six weeks premature, and required a long hospital stay, so as a distraction, Albright began Russian classes at Hofstra University in Village of Hempstead, New York.
In 1962, the family moved to Georgetown in Washington, D.C., and Albright began studying international relations and continued studying Russian at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington DC. However, in 1963 Alicia Patterson died, and the family returned to Long Island with the notion of Joseph taking over the family business. Albright gave birth to another daughter, Katherine Medill Albright, in 1967, and continued her studies at Columbia University's Department of Public Law and Government (later renamed as the political science department, which is located within the School of International and Public Affairs). She earned a certificate in Russian, a Masters of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy, writing her Master's thesis on the Soviet diplomatic corps, and her doctoral dissertation on the role of journalists in the Prague Spring of 1968. She also took a graduate course given by Zbigniew Brzezinski, who would later be her boss at the U.S. National Security Council.
Albright returned to Washington in 1968, and commuted to Columbia for her PhD, which she received in 1975. She began fund-raising for her daughters' school, involvement which led to several positions on education boards. She was eventually invited to organize a fund-raising dinner for the 1972 presidential campaign of U.S. Senator Ed Muskie of Maine. This association with Muskie led to a position as his chief legislative assistant in 1976. However, after the 1976 U.S. presidential election of Jimmy Carter, Albright's former professor Brzezinski was named National Security Advisor, and recruited Albright from Muskie in 1978 to work in the West Wing as the National Security Council’s congressional liaison. Following Carter's loss in 1980 to Ronald Reagan, Albright moved on to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where she was given a grant for a research project. She chose to write on the dissident journalists involved in Poland's Solidarity movement, then in its infancy but gaining international attention. She traveled to Poland for her research, interviewing dissidents in Gdansk, Warsaw and Krakow. Upon her return to Washington, her husband announced his intention to divorce her for another woman.
Albright joined the academic staff at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., in 1982, specializing in Eastern European studies. She has also directed the University's program on women in global politics. She has also served as a major Democratic Party foreign policy advisor, and briefed Vice-Presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis in 1988 (both campaigns ended in defeat). In 1992, Bill Clinton returned the White House to the Democratic Party, and Albright was employed to handle the transition to a new administration at the National Security Council. In January 1993, Clinton nominated her to be U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, her first diplomatic posting.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
Albright was appointed Ambassador to the United Nations, her first diplomatic post, shortly after Clinton was inaugurated, presenting her credentials on February 9, 1993. During her tenure at the U.N., she had a rocky relationship with the U.N. Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, whom she criticized as "disengaged" and "neglect[ful]" of genocide in Rwanda. Albright wrote:
My deepest regret from my years in public service is the failure of the United States and the international community to act sooner to halt these crimes.
In Shake Hands with the Devil, Roméo Dallaire claims that in 1994, in Albright's role as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N., she avoided describing the killings in Rwanda as "genocide" until overwhelmed by the evidence for it; this is now how she describes these massacres in her memoirs. She was instructed to support a reduction or withdrawal (something which never happened) of the U.N. Assistance Mission for Rwanda but was later given more flexibility. Albright later remarked in PBS documentary Ghosts of Rwanda that
it was a very, very difficult time, and the situation was unclear. You know, in retrospect, it all looks very clear. But when you were [there] at the time, it was unclear about what was happening in Rwanda."
Also in 1996, after Cuban military pilots shot down two small civilian aircraft flown by the Cuban-American exile group Brothers to the Rescue over international waters, she announced, "This is not cojones. This is cowardice." The line endeared her to President Clinton, who said it was "probably the most effective one-liner in the whole administration's foreign policy."
On May 12, 1996, Albright defended UN sanctions against Iraq on a 60 Minutes segment in which Lesley Stahl asked her "We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?" and Albright replied "we think the price is worth it." Albright later criticized Stahl's segment as "amount[ing] to Iraqi propaganda"; said that her question was a loaded question; wrote "I had fallen into a trap and said something I did not mean"; and regretted coming "across as cold-blooded and cruel". Sanctions critics took Albright's failure to reframe the question as confirmation of the statistic. The segment won an Emmy Award.
Secretary of State
When Albright took office as the 64th U.S. Secretary of State on January 23, 1997, she became the first female U.S. Secretary of State and the highest-ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government. Not being a natural-born citizen of the U.S., she was not eligible as a U.S. Presidential successor and was excluded from nuclear contingency plans. In her position as Secretary of State, Albright reinforced the U.S.'s alliances; advocated democracy and human rights; and promoted American trade and business, labor and environmental standards abroad.
During her tenure, Albright considerably influenced American policy in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Middle East. She incurred the wrath of a number of Serbs in the former Yugoslavia for her role in participating in the formulation of US policy during the Kosovo War and Bosnian war as well as the rest of the Balkans. But, together with President Bill Clinton, she remains a largely popular figure in the rest of the region, especially Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Croatia. According to Albright's memoirs, she once argued with Colin Powell for the use of military force by asking, "What’s the point of you saving this superb military for, Colin, if we can't use it?"
As Secretary of State she represented the U.S. at the Transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong on July 1, 1997. She boycotted the swearing-in ceremony of the China-appointed Hong Kong Legislative Council, which replaced the elected one, along with the British contingents.
According to several accounts, U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Prudence Bushnell repeatedly asked Washington for additional security at the embassy in Nairobi, including in an April 1998 letter directly to Albright. Bushnell was ignored. In "Against All Enemies," Richard Clarke writes about an exchange with Albright several months after the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed in August 1998. "What do you think will happen if you lose another embassy?" Clarke asked. "The Republicans in Congress will go after you." "First of all, I didn't lose these two embassies," Albright shot back. "I inherited them in the shape they were." Albright was booed in 1998 when the brief war threat with Iraq revealed that citizens were opposed to such an invasion, although this is often overlooked.
In 1998, at the NATO summit, Albright articulated what would become known as the "three Ds" of NATO, "which is no diminution of NATO, no discrimination and no duplication – because I think that we don't need any of those three "Ds" to happen."
Both Bill Clinton and Albright insisted that an attack on Hussein could be stopped only if Hussein reversed his decision to halt arms inspections. "Iraq has a simple choice. Reverse course or face the consequences," Albright said.
In 2000, Albright became one of the highest level Western diplomats ever to meet Kim Jong-il, the communist leader of North Korea, during an official state visit to that country.
In one of her last acts as Secretary of State, Albright on January 8, 2001, paid a farewell call on Kofi Annan and said that the U.S. would continue to press Iraq to destroy all its weapons of mass destruction as a condition of lifting economic sanctions, even after the end of the Clinton administration on January 20, 2001.
Following Albright's term as Secretary of State, many speculated that she might pursue a career in Czech politics. Czech President Václav Havel talked openly about the possibility of Albright succeeding him after he retired in 2002. Albright was reportedly flattered by suggestions that she should run for office, but denied ever seriously considering it. She was the second recipient of the Hanno R. Ellenbogen Citizenship Award presented by the Prague Society for International Cooperation.
In 2001, Albright was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The same year, she founded the Albright Group, an international strategy consulting firm based in Washington, D.C. It has Coca-Cola, Merck, Dubai Ports World, and Marsh & McLennan Companies among its clients, who benefit from the access that Albright has through her global contacts. Affiliated with the firm is Albright Capital Management, which was founded in 2005 to engage in private fund management related to emerging markets.
Albright currently serves on the Council on Foreign Relations Board of directors and on the International Advisory Committee of the Brookings Doha Center. She is also currently the Mortara Distinguished Professor of Diplomacy at the Georgetown University Walsh School of Foreign Service in Washington, D.C..
In 2003, she accepted a position on the Board of Directors of the New York Stock Exchange. In 2005, Albright declined to run for re-election to the board in the aftermath of the Richard Grasso compensation scandal, in which Grasso, the chairman of the NYSE Board of Directors, had been granted $187.5 million in compensation, with little governance by the board on which Albright sat. During the tenure of the interim chairman, John S. Reed, Albright served as chairwoman of the NYSE board's nominating and governance committee. Shortly after the appointment of the NYSE board's permanent chairman in 2005, Albright submitted her resignation.
On October 25, 2005, Albright guest starred on the television drama Gilmore Girls as herself.
On January 5, 2006, she participated in a meeting at the White House of former Secretaries of Defense and State to discuss U.S. foreign policy with George W. Bush administration officials. On May 5, 2006, she was again invited to the White House to meet with former Secretaries and Bush administration officials to discuss Iraq.
Albright currently[clarification needed] serves as chairperson of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and as president of the Truman Scholarship Foundation. She is also the co-chair of the Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor and held the Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders Women's Ministerial Initiative up until November 16, 2007, succeeded by Margot Wallström.
In an interview given to Newsweek International published July 24, 2006, Albright gave her opinion on current U.S. foreign policy. Albright said: "I hope I'm wrong, but I'm afraid that Iraq is going to turn out to be the greatest disaster in American foreign policy – worse than Vietnam."
In September 2006, she received the Menschen in Europa Award, with Václav Havel, for furthering the cause of international understanding.
Albright has mentioned her physical fitness and exercise regimen in several interviews. She has said she is capable of leg pressing 400 pounds.
At the National Press Club in Washington on November 13, 2007, Albright declared that she with William Cohen would co-chair a new "Genocide Prevention Task Force" created by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the American Academy of Diplomacy, and the United States Institute for Peace. Their appointment was criticized by Harut Sassounian and the Armenian National Committee of America.
On May 13, 2007, two days before her 70th birthday, Albright received an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Albright endorsed and supported Hillary Clinton in her 2008 campaign for U.S. President. Albright has been a close friend of Clinton and serves as her top informal advisor on foreign policy matters. She is currently[clarification needed] serving as a top advisor for U.S. President Barack Obama in a working group on national security. On December 1, 2008, then-President-elect Obama nominated then-Senator Clinton for Albright's former post of Secretary of State.
In September 2009, Albright opened an exhibition of her personal jewelry collection at the Museum of Art and Design in New York City, which ran until January 2010. The collection highlighted the many pins she wore while serving at the United Nations and State Department, including the famous pin showing a snake and apple she wore after the Iraqi press called her "an unparalleled serpent", and several jeweled insect bugs she wore to meet the Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov after it was discovered the Russian secret service had attempted to bug the State Department.
World Justice Project
Madeleine Albright serves as an Honorary Chair for the World Justice Project. The World Justice Project works to lead a global, multidisciplinary effort to strengthen the Rule of Law for the development of communities of opportunity and equity.
The Hague Institute for Global Justice
Madeleine Albright serves as Chair of the advisory council for The Hague Institute for Global Justice, which was founded in 2011 in The Hague.
Art ownership controversy
Following the Washington Post's profile of Albright by Michael Dobbs, an Austrian man, Philipp Harmer, launched legal action against Albright, claiming Josef Korbel had illegally taken possession of artwork which belonged to his great-grandfather, Karl Nebrich. Nebrich, a German-speaking Prague industrialist, was forced to abandon some of his possessions when ethnic Germans were expelled from the country after WWII under the Beneš decrees. His apartment, at 11 Hradčanská Street in Prague, was subsequently given to Korbel and his family, which they occupied before also being forced to flee to America. Harmer felt Korbel stole his great-grandfather's artwork, which was left in the apartment. The matter was handled by Albright's brother, John Korbel.
During his first hearing in front of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Radovan Karadžić stated that Albright along with Richard Holbrooke offered him a deal which would allow him avoid prosecution for asserted war crimes if he left public life and politics. According to Karadžić, Albright offered him a chance to relocate to Russia, Greece, or Serbia and open a private clinic, or to go to Bijeljina. Karadžić was quoted as saying that Holbrooke or Albright would like to see him disappear and expressed the fear for his life by saying "I do not know how long the arm of Mr Holbrooke or Mrs Albright is ... or whether that arm can reach me here".
Madam Secretary (2003) – Albright's memoir, published after her retirement
The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs (2006)
Memo to the President Elect: How We Can Restore America's Reputation and Leadership (2008)
Read My Pins (2009)
Albright's Family Tragedy Comes to Light By Michael Dobbs Washington Post Staff Writer Tuesday, February 4, 1997; Page A01 Madeleine Korbel Albright was almost 2 years old when her parents whisked her out of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, less than two weeks after the Nazi occupation, giving up their life as a prominent Czech diplomatic family and saying goodbye to many relatives. Eventually, she and her parents came to America, where Madeleine followed in her father's footsteps into a diplomatic career that culminated two weeks ago when President Clinton made her the first female secretary of state.
Albright has spoken movingly of her past and of the importance that her family's experience with Nazis and later Communists has had on her political views. But she says she never was aware of what happened to family members who stayed behind in Czechoslovakia: Research by The Washington Post shows that more than a dozen relatives, including three grandparents, were killed as Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
In an interview last week, Albright, who was raised a Roman Catholic and now is an Episcopalian, said her father and mother never talked to her or her two siblings about the relatives' fate or their Jewish background. She said she found the new information "fairly compelling" but wanted to conduct her own research into her family and its fate. "Obviously it is a very personal matter for my family and brother and sister and my children," she said.
"The only thing I have to go by is what my mother and father told me, how I was brought up," Albright said.
She said her parents said of her relatives only that they died "during the course of the war."
Albright defended the choices her parents made and said she cannot question their motivation. "I believe that my parents did wonderful things for us," she said.
The new information was uncovered during research for an article for The Washington Post Magazine, scheduled for publication Sunday, about Albright's family's experiences in Czechoslovakia in the late 1930s and 1940s. The information is based on documents in German, Czech and Jewish archives, Auschwitz transportation lists, and interviews with friends and family members in Europe.
Captured Nazi documents now in the possession of Holocaust researchers show that close relatives of Albright's who remained behind in Czechoslovakia during World War II – including the grandparents, her uncle and aunt, and a first cousin – died in Nazi concentration camps. Albright, who was born in Prague in 1937, spent the war years in London, returning with her family to Czechoslovakia in 1945 after its liberation from the Germans. Her parents were granted political asylum in the United States in 1948 after a communist coup in Czechoslovakia.
Albright comes from a family of Czech Jews who owned a building materials business before World War II, according to interviews in the family's home village. Albright's father probably embraced Roman Catholicism around the time of the war, according to Josef Marek, who worked closely with Albright's father immediately after the war.
Like many other assimilated Czech Jews, Albright's father, Josef Korbel, considered himself a Czechoslovak patriot first and rarely referred to his religious background. Under the racial laws introduced by the Nazis following the takeover of Czechoslovakia, however, a family like the Korbels would have been considered 100 percent Jewish.
"I have always thought of myself as a Czechoslovak Catholic," Albright said in the interview Thursday. "My parents were of the generation who thought they were the children of a free Czechoslovakia, the only democracy in central Europe. This was their pride [and] that is what I grew up with."
Albright said that she had received a number of letters with information about her family background since the 1989 collapse of communism in Czechoslovakia and particularly since 1993, when her name began appearing in the papers as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Some of the letters contained erroneous information, such as the claim that she was born in Belgrade.
In this context, Albright had also received "the occasional letter which would say something about the fact that my family was of Jewish origin," she said. "This obviously has become more intense the more my name has been in the paper and [in connection with] my current job [as secretary of state]."
Jewish Origins Cited
The question of Albright's religious background was raised in December by Arab newspapers, which cited unsourced reports of her Jewish origins as a basis for attacking her nomination as secretary of state. Questioned about these reports, State Department officials said she had been raised a Roman Catholic and had converted to Episcopalianism following her 1959 marriage to Joseph Medill Patterson Albright, scion of a wealthy newspaper family.
Some Albright relatives and family friends in what is now the Czech Republic said they had long known of her relatives' fate. "My children know very well about every detail," said Dagmar Simova, Albright's first cousin, who stayed behind in Czechoslovakia after the 1948 coup and has had only sporadic contact since then with the American branch of the family.
When Simova learned in the summer of 1945 that her parents and sister – Albright's aunt, uncle and cousin – had died in the Holocaust, Albright was only 8 years old and was considered too young to be told, Simova said.
Family members who died during the Holocaust included Albright's two paternal grandparents, Arnost and Olga Korbel, according to documents made available by a Holocaust research center supported by the Prague Jewish community. The documents and a family friend suggest that Albright's maternal grandmother, Anna Spieglova, was killed by the Nazis as well.
The records, which are based on transportation lists captured from the Nazis at the end of World War II, show that some of Albright's relatives were killed in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Others died of typhoid and malnutrition at a holding camp at Terezin, where Czech Jews were kept before being sent to Auschwitz.
In an unpublished, unfinished 11-page family narrative made available by Albright, her mother made no reference to relatives who died in the Holocaust. In the memoir, written after Josef Korbel's death, in 1977, Mandula Korbel attempted to describe his "turbulent life." The memoir ends abruptly in 1945, just before the Korbel family returned to Prague from London.
The manuscript describes in detail how Albright's parents succeeded in leaving Czechoslovakia in March 1939 with their nearly 2-year-old daughter, 10 days after the Nazi invasion. Mandula Korbel recalled that her husband returned to Prague from England just two days before the invasion.
"With the help of some good friends and lots of luck and a little bribery . . . we managed to get the necessary Gestapo permission to leave the country," wrote Mandula Korbel, who died in 1989.
Roundup of Czech Jews
Albright's chances of surviving the Holocaust had she and her parents stayed in Czechoslovakia would have been very slim. The German authorities insisted that registrars provide detailed records of everyone of Jewish descent.
Josef Korbel's file at the Foreign Ministry contains a birth certificate issued in March 1941, describing him as "Jewish."
Of the 80,000 Czech Jews who were rounded up and sent to Terezin in 1941 and 1942, the survival rate was approximately 10 percent. Most of the survivors were young men and women who were "selected" to perform various menial tasks at Auschwitz rather than being sent directly to the gas chambers.
While the subject of the Holocaust was evidently too painful for the Korbels to discuss with their children, they apparently did discuss the matter with friends in Yugoslavia, where Josef Korbel served as a diplomat both before and after World War II. Brief references to the tragedy have appeared in the Yugoslav press, based on the reminiscences of a now-deceased Yugoslav journalist, Pavle Jankovic, who was very close to the Korbel family.
Of all the Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, the Czech Jews were probably the most assimilated. Survivors of the Holocaust recall that the Czech Jews went to their deaths at Auschwitz by bursting into song. Roughly one third sang a Jewish anthem; another third sang the Internationale, the anthem of the communist movement; the remaining third sang the Czechoslovak national anthem.
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