GENERAL Milan Rastislav Štefánik was the chief driving force behind the idea of forming a Slovak democratic nation for the first time in contemporary history, said Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák at the opening of a two-day international conference on Štefánik’s contributions to Slovakia and Europe, the SITA newswire reported.
The conference was held to mark the 90th anniversary of the political leader’s tragic death on May 4, 1919. The event brought together historians and diplomats from France, Italy, Russia, Serbia, Romania, the USA, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
State Secretary of the French Defence Ministry Jean-Marie Bockel told SITA that Štefánik is no longer very well known in France and he considers it his duty to change this. General Štefánik was also a French citizen and general. He was one of the heroes of WWI, who foresaw the rise and establishment of a new Europe.
A remembrance ceremony was held on May 3 at Bradlo, a hill in the Small Carpathians where Štefánik is buried in a monumental grave. Another memorial event was organised on May 4 at Bratislava Airport, close to where he died in a plane crash; the airport now bears his name. On the same day, a statue of Štefánik was unveiled in Bratislava near the new building of the Slovak National Theatre.
Milan Rastislav Štefánik was born on July 21, 1880, in Košariská. He was an astronomer, politician, and a general of the French Army. He was well-known for his work in astrophysics and solar physics. He served as minister of war in the first Czechoslovak government.
His plane crashed for unknown reasons shortly before landing upon his return to Bratislava from Italy in 1919. General Štefánik and three Italian pilots accompanying him died in the crash. According to historians, he ranks among the most noteworthy figures in modern Slovak history.
11. May 2009 at 0:00 | Compiled by Spectator staff from press reports