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Remembrance Day of Milan Rastislav Štefánik in Slovakia

4 May 2024 marks the 105th anniversary of the death of Milan Rastislav Štefánik – Slovak politician, French army general, diplomat, pilot, and astronomer. General Milan Rastislav Štefánik died in a plane crash on 4 May 1919 in the village of Ivanka pri Dunaji near Bratislava.

Milan Rastislav Štefánik (* July 21, 1880, Košariská – † May 4, 1919, Ivanka pri Dunaji) was born as the sixth child in the family of a local priest Pavol Štefánik and his wife Albertína. The talented boy excelled in his studies. After graduating from high school in the Hungarian town of Sarvaš in 1898, he attended Charles University in Prague. During his studies he attended lectures on philosophy by professor T. G. Masaryk (former president of Czechoslovakia). This became the basis for their future political co-operation. In 1904, Štefánik defended his dissertation and in the same year moved to Paris and began working at Pierre Janssen's observatory. Rastislav was an outstanding astronomer, repeatedly participated in scientific expeditions, and visited Africa, Asia, and America. During the First World War, he volunteered for the French army. He is credited with the creation of the military meteorological service. Štefánik was promoted from soldier to general, receiving the highest French orders.

In 1916, the Czechoslovak National Council was established in Paris with T. G. Masaryk as its president and Štefánik as its vice-president. He engaged in active efforts to establish connections with Slovak and Czech political and volunteer organizations in the United States, Italy, and Russia. The Czechoslovak Legions were formed, which later played an important role in the struggle for the country's independence. On 14 October 1918, the Czechoslovak National Council was proclaimed the Government of Czechoslovakia and Štefánik became the Minister of War. After this event he said: “So Czechs and Slovaks are free at last. I am satisfied with myself. I could die in peace.”

After spending many years abroad, on Sunday, May 4 1919, he departed from Campoformido near Udine, Italy. He travelled by plane with an Italian military crew, heading back to his homeland. However, he could not embrace his liberated nation and native land as he tragically died after the plane crashed. The question still remains as to why this tragic plane crash occurred. According to the official version, the reason for the crash was bad weather and the technical condition of the aircraft.

Milan Rastislav Štefánik is remembered and honoured in Slovakia. In the poll for the Greatest Slovak (2019), Slovaks voted for M. R. Štefánik. Furthermore, the Bratislava airport and the Prague observatory on Petřín Hill are named after the national hero. You will also find many artefacts related to Štefánik's life and work in the Slovak National Museum in Bratislava, including his personal belongings, documents, and photographs.

Translation: Alexandra Koreňová