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The diplomacy of pins

“Read my pins”, the belligerent Madeleine Albright used to say to journalists who pestered her outside the Security Council Chamber when she was permanent American representative to the United Nations. A similar communications strategy was also adopted during the years when Albright was the first woman in history to lead her country’s diplomacy. To understand the state of mind of the Secretary of State and of the Clinton administration it sufficed to glance at piece of jewellery pinned on her suit: three monkeys – I do not see, I do not hear, I do not speak – after Putin’s refusal to recognize the atrocities committed by the Russians in Chechnya; a brooch in the form of a bee in the face of the continuous obstacles set by Arafat to hinder the negotiations on the Middle East; a golden angel to commemorate the 212 victims of the attacks in Tanzania and Kenya. Moreover, Read my pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box is the title of the book that Albright herself wrote in 2009, and the pins themselves have been the object of a travelling exhibition for years. In 2017 the lady whom Saddam Hussein described as “an unparalleled serpent” (a definition which not only flattered Albright but gave her the idea of conveying messages via jewellery) recently donated her collection to the United States Diplomacy Center in Washington, whose museum will shortly be opening.

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