Eternal resting place. M.R. Štefáník is buried in the middle of this monument which sits on a hill above his native village.
A drive or hike up to the white stone monument is a breathless experience. Only one car can fit on the loose gravel road which cuts back and forth in order to scale the steep face of the hill. Once you get to the top, a short walk takes you to a wide staircase up a structure with four pillars at the corners and a large sarcophagus that forms a peak in the direct center. The tribute is to Milan Rastislav Štefáník, the architect of Slovakia's joint republic with the Czechs in 1918.
The view is serene. Green forests fold endlessly to the north and south, and open fields divided by irrigation ditches or one-lane roads run to the east and west. The memorial's design has an unusual effect, as its sloping white bricks lead to different levels. Only from the sky - by airplane or balloon - does it make sense, as the layout is meant to be in the shape of a star.
From one corner of the monument the view overlooks Štefaník's birth place, a tiny village called Košariska. You can almost see young Milan gazing at the night sky as a boy in the 1890s. From early childhood he was fascinated with astronomy and would have gladly spent his entire life behind a telescope except for strong feelings of patriotism toward his home.
Milan was forced to speak Hungarian in primary school in Šurany and in high school in Bratislava. At that time, Hungary was full of nationalistic fervor bent on creating a large Hungarian state that incorporated Slovakia as well as parts of Romania and Yugoslavia. While Milan never had any hard feelings toward Hungarian people, he and his family resented Hungary's efforts to assimilate Slovaks. His father helped persuade young Milan to study in Prague instead of Budapest.
Milan Rastislav Štefánik, 1880-1991.
Štefaník didn't live long to enjoy the fruits of his efforts. He died in a plane crash outside Bratislava along with three Italians. The memorial, built in 1927-28 above Brezova pod Bradlom and his birthplace, is a powerful reminder of his life.
Though immortalized in today's Slovakia, Štefaník was a forbidden name during communism because of his strong anti-communist sentiments. The communists, especially after the 1950s, demonized Štefaník by saying that he was mean to children, a member of the bourgeoisie that exploited workers, and a counter-revolutionary plotting against Soviet Russia. Even before this, during Slovakia's independent war-time fascist state, Štefaník was a cursed name because of his friendship towards the Czechs.But his name survived, through the stories of old people who remembered what he had done to lift Slovakia away from Hungarian domination and help give Slovaks a modern identity. He was also preserved because he was a good person, with high moral standards, and a deep love for his homeland.
A museum in his original home in Košariska documents his life's story. He is best remembered in his own words:
"I shall overcome, because I want to overcome."
"I am a Slovak body and soul - I cannot love by halves."
"I believe in the advance of science and therefore in the advance of everything that is noble and beneficial to humankind."
"Maybe my efforts are not in vain, maybe I have contributed and will contribute to the building of a temple of humanity and progress."
"For people of firm resolution and perseverance, there is no such thing as the impossible."
"My life is stormy and will be full of struggle. I would share my happiness, but if I fall, I wish to fall alone."
"I have lived a beautiful life. I have experienced eternity in seconds."
"Whoever thinks that others will fight and win peace for them, is not worthy of such peace."