On February 25 1969, exactly one month after Jan Palach, another man set himself alight in protest to Czechoslovak apathy following the Soviet invasion of 1968. The name of the second human torch was Jan Zajíc, a high school student from Šumperk. Fifty years on his act still brings chills of shock, but also respect among Czechs.
A travelling exhibition on the life and legacy of Jan Zajíc, who set
himself on fire to protest against growing public apathy to the Soviet
led-invasion in 1968, opened in his home town of Vítkov on Friday.
Zajíc set himself on fire in a passage off Wenceslas Square on February 25th 1969, close to the place where student Jan Palach made the ultimate sacrifice in an effort to rouse the nation a month earlier.
Zajíc, who felt that further protest actions were needed, set himself on fire on the 21st anniversary of the communist putsch in 1948.
The exhibition of texts and photographs reflecting his life and legacy will travel around the country in the coming months.
Which Central Europeans are most likely to believe conspiracy theories? Which are most nostalgic for the communist regime or pro-NATO? The answers may well surprise you, say researchers at Globsec, a Bratislava-based think-tank focused on security and sustainability in Europe. Katarína Klingová and Miroslava Sawiris, two of the co-authors of the Globsec report “Generation Trends”, spoke to Radio Prague about what the data reveal about the complexity of regional perceptions of geopolitics. I began by asking them about orientation – East or West?
Though forced to live in exile for most of his life, the world-renowned pianist Rudolf Firkušný maintained strong Czech traditions at his home in the United States. Indeed, his daughter Véronique Firkusny’s mother tongue was Czech and today she translates leading authors from her parents’ homeland and helps opera singers get to grips with Czech-language works. When we spoke in New York, I first asked Véronique Firkusny how her father had viewed the situation in his native country following the Communist takeover of 1948.
Until recently Zdeněk Toman was an obscure name to many Czechs. However, his incredible story has now reached a broad audience thanks to an eponymous film about him that was released last autumn. Just this week Toman was nominated for 13 prizes at the upcoming annual Czech Lion awards. I spoke to Martin Šmok, the man who originally discovered his extraordinary story.
Otakar Dušek is a designer and artist with a passion for history and historical justice – something he hopes to instil in his students at the prestigious Václav Hollar School of Art in Prague. That passion helped propel him from a teacher of graphic design, fonts and computer graphics to world renowned medallist – an artist specialising in commemorative medals.
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.
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”.
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