Milan Rastilav Stefanik: the cofounder of Czechoslovakia

21-07-2005

One of the founding fathers of Czechoslovakia, Slovak astronomer and politician Milan Rastislav Stefanik was born on July 21st 1880 exactly 125 years ago. Stefanik first studied in Prague where he met his professor and future collaborator Tomas Garigue Masaryk. Later he moved to France and together with Masaryk and Edvard Benes endeavored to establish an independent Czechoslovak state. But today Stefanik is far less widely remembered than the other two.

Commemoration ceremony of the 125th anniversary of birth of Milan Rastislav Stefanik, photo: CTKCommemoration ceremony of the 125th anniversary of birth of Milan Rastislav Stefanik, photo: CTK Martin Mikule talked to historian Jan Kuklik from Charles University and asked him to explain Stefanik's role in the process of setting up an independent state.

"Since he was a French citizen and French army officer, he was able to make relationships with leading French army representatives as well as with French politicians, he was very important for Masaryk and especially for Benes. He was an important figure in negotiations with French politicians and French army officers on establishment of Czechoslovak exile movement in France but also regarding the establishment of Czechoslovak army units called legends during the First World War."

How important was this military element in the process of foundation of Czechoslovakia?

"I think it was very important because it was the first time when the western allied powers thought about the possibility to create a Czechoslovak state. They saw that there were Czech and Slovak military units and later, in 1917 and 1918 they tried to find some political form for the representation of Czechoslovak nation and Czechoslovak state."

Shortly after Czechoslovakia was established Milan Rastislav Stefanik died in an airplane accident. There are speculations that it was an assassination. What do you think about it? Who could be interested in his death?

Milan Rastislav StefanikMilan Rastislav Stefanik "I must say I am not in favor of such conspiracy theories. I think it was an airplane crash, at Ivanka pri Dunaji, just outside Bratislava. There were certain rumors that there were certain - especially Czech - politicians who could have had some interest in his death but I must say that it is not grounded, and as I said, it is a kind of conspiracy theory which I don't like in history."

"At the time of his death, Stefanik was Minister of Defense of the Czechoslovak provisional government in exile and he could have become a leading representative of Czechoslovak state."

Even though Stefanik is still popular in the Czech Republic he is not celebrated as much as Masaryk or as Benes. Do you think it is different in Slovakia?

"Well, I must say it's a great pity that Stefanik is sometimes a little bit forgotten. I must say he was almost of the same importance as Masaryk regarding the establishment of the new Czechoslovak state. As a Slovak, he could have played very important role in the relationship between Czechs and Slovaks during the process of establishment of Czechoslovakia."

21-07-2005