A great many events have been held in the Czech Republic on Wednesday commemorating the 50th anniversary of the self-immolation of Jan Palach. At the launch of an exhibition about the student martyr at the top of Prague’s Wenceslas Square, one of the organisers discussed Palach’s legacy – and the high level of interest in him today.
It is not just Czechs who are currently remembering Jan Palach’s radical protest in January 1969 and the impact his sacrifice helped create. The British ambassador to the Czech Republic, Nick Archer, has had a painting by a UK artist – created right after Palach’s death – installed at his country’s historic embassy building in Prague. He explains the background to the acquisition.
Fifty years ago on January 16, a young Czech university student named Jan Palach doused himself in petrol and set himself alight at the top of Prague’s Wenceslas Square. Three days after staging this desperate attempt to rouse a demoralised Czechoslovakia in the face of Soviet occupation, he died in a burns clinic. Though his immediate political goals failed, Jan Palach inspired and steeled the resolve of countless others to fight for freedom during the two decades of ‘Normalisation’ that followed the crushing of the Prague Spring.
The 20th anniversary of Jan Palach’s self-immolation brought many thousands onto the streets for protests that had no precedent in communist Czechoslovakia. Palach Week, as it became known, began on January 15 1989 and saw running battles between demonstrators and riot police. Hundreds were arrested, among them top dissidents such as Václav Havel, and the events are seen by some as foreshadowing the Velvet Revolution, 10 months later.
Chairman of the Canadian House of Commons, Geoff Regan, will honor the
memory of Jan Palach at Charles University in Prague on January 18. The
Czechoslovak student died after setting himself alight in Prague on 16
January 1969 in protest against growing public apathy to the Soviet-led
invasion of Czechoslovakia.
A number of events to commemorate Jan Palach’s death are set to take place in the Czech Republic and abroad, including a special mass served by Tomáš Halík at the city’s parish of St. Salvatore on the eve of the anniversary.
On 16 January, the Speaker of the Senate, Jaroslav Kubera, will give a speech at a memorial service on Prague’s Wenceslas Square, held by organizers of the festival against totalitarianism Mene Tekel.
A new permanent exhibition in honour of Jan Palach in the house where he
grew up in Všetaty, Central Bohemia will open on August 21, a spokesperson
for operators the National Museum told iDnes.cz. Palach died after setting
himself alight in Prague on 16 January 1969 in protest at apathy in the
face of the Soviet occupation.
In connection with next week’s 50th anniversary of the then student’s act, memorial tiles are to be unveiled at spots in the courtyard of Charles University where his coffin stood in 1969.
There will also be an outdoor exhibition commemorating Palach’s self-sacrifice at the top of Prague’s Wenceslas Square, where he set himself on fire. Other events are also taking place in connection with the anniversary.
Fifty years ago this January, Jan Palach doused himself in petrol and set himself alight on Wenceslas Square to protest the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia. Prague City Hall is now looking to buy the former hospital where he died – slated to become a luxury hotel – and turn it into a “museum of totalitarianism”.
Prague City Hall has opened negotiations aimed at buying the building where
Jan Palach died with a view to it being turned into a museum of
totalitarianism, the news website deník.cz reported. The now rundown
former Borůvka Sanatorium on Legerová St. is also where priest Josef
Toufar died after being tortured by the communist-era secret police.
The current owners of the building, which is a short walk from the National Museum, received permission last year to convert it into a luxury hotel.
Prague’s mayor, Zdeněk Hřib of the Pirate Party, told deník.cz that the city would abandon its plan if the owners demanded an excessive sum for the property. The Prague 2 authorities say the location, where traffic is very heavy, would be inappropriate.
Up to now a space beneath where a statue of Stalin stood on Letná Plain has been in the frame to house a new museum of totalitarianism.
A sculptor tasked with reconstructing the communist era pylon in front of the National Museum’s New Building has discovered old documents which show the monument’s author, Czech architect Karel Prager, dedicated it to Jan Palach, who set himself alight and died in 1969, in protest of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. The museum is now considering restoring the original memorial.