Exhibition organiser: Anniversary shows interest in Jan Palach is huge

16-01-2019

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.

Photo: Ian WilloughbyPhoto: Ian Willoughby Jan Palach died of severe burns on 19 January 1969, three days after he had collapsed in flames at the upper end of Wenceslas Square.

Many tributes were paid to the student martyr on Wednesday at the launch of an exhibition just metres from the spot where Palach carried out his extreme protest.

It was intended to shake Czechs and Slovaks out of what Palach considered their apathy less than six months after the Soviet invasion.

Among those present was historian Jakub Jareš from the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, which organised the exhibition.

“In terms of politics, he actually achieved nothing.

“But we must be aware that no-one else achieved anything at the time, because all protests were suppressed and other students who protested against the regime were then imprisoned.

“So thinking about his achievements, I think we must turn to our view to what happened next, after him, and what happened in the 20 years of normalisation, and what is actually happening until now.”

Also in attendance on Wednesday was TV presenter Emma Smetana, who has something of a family connection to Jan Palach.

“My grandparents were in the same high school with him and they actually remembered him as someone they didn’t really notice before the act.

“So I think they spent a whole lifetime wondering how it was possible, that they didn’t really notice this guy who then did what he did.”

Jakub Jareš, photo: Noemi Fingerlandová / Czech RadioJakub Jareš, photo: Noemi Fingerlandová / Czech Radio Historian Jakub Jareš is quick to dismiss any suggestions that Palach may have taken such radical action because he was troubled mentally.

“I can imagine this is said by people who are not able to imagine that someone could kill himself for some principle.

“Secondly we have proofs from psychiatrists, who were consulted by the police back in 1969 and found that he was normal.”

How do you think Palach is perceived by young Czechs today? Are they even much aware of him, do you think?

“I think young people are aware of him. There’s even a new public survey which shows that younger people are more interested in Jan Palach and appreciate him more as a hero than older people.

“Actually about 94 percent of people know who Jan Palach was, which compared to other historical persons is quite exceptional.

“That’s surprising, and even this anniversary is showing us that people’s interest in Jan Palach is huge, actually.”

16-01-2019