Jan Palach to be remembered

The student died in a protest against the Soviet occupation

It is 50 years since Czech student Jan Palach set himself on fire to protest the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia. Commemorative events are planned across the Czech Republic.

In Prague, people can meet Jan 16 at 6 pm at Wenceslas Square for a quiet march with candles and flowers starting at 6:45 pm and ending in Old Town Square between 7:30 and 8 pm.

Several events will also take place throughout Jan. 16 and 17 under the banner Jan Palach – naše svědomí (Jan Palach – Our Conscience).

An exhibition about his life will open at 11 am on Jan. 16 pm the upper part of Wenceslas Square. The same exhibition was shown in 2009 in the Karolinum but has been expanded with new information.

A program will take place on the upper part of the square from noon to 6 pm, with a prayer ceremony at 2:30 pm.

In the courtyard of the Karolinum on Ovocný trh at 9:30 am on Jan. 16 a new plaque will be unveiled on the site where Palach’s coffin was displayed during his funeral.

A memorial act will also take place in front of the existing Jan Palach plaque on the Philosophical Faculty of Charles University at náměstí Jana Palacha at 6:30 pm, followed by a panel discussion in Czech inside the building’s large hall.

An international conference on Jan Palach’s legacy will take place the next day at Charles University at Ovocný trh.

Museum Kampa on Jan. 18 at 7 pm will open an exhibition called Síla činu: Jan Palach a Jan Zajíc v umění v letech 1969 – 1989 (The power of action: Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc in the Arts in the Years 1969 – 1989).

After introductory comments in the museum courtyard, the museum will open for free until 9 pm.

The exhibition will run until March 24.

Palach committed his protest act Jan. 16, 1969, on Wenceslas Square after sending letters to public figures calling for an end to censorship and for a general strike. He died from his burns three days later on Jan. 19 and is now buried in Olšanské hřbitovy. During communism, his grave was moved to keep it from becoming a site for anti-government protests. It was moved back in 1990.

The nurse who treated him, Jaroslava Moserová, said he was protesting the demoralization of the people brought on by the occupation, and not the invasion itself, which happened in August 1968.

The Soviet-led invasion brought an end to communist leader Alexander Dubček’s Prague Spring reforms meant to show “socialism with a human face.” A strict policy called Normalization was put in its place, and that lasted until the Velvet Revolution in 1989.

Palach was not the only person to protest via self-immolation. Student Jan Zajíc followed on Feb. 25, 1969, also on Wenceslas Square. In April in the town of Jihlava, Evžen Plocek set himself on fire, though this was less publicized.

A memorial bronze cross on a small rise in the sidewalk is in front of the National Museum on Wenceslas Square.

There is a square in Prague named after Palach, náměstí Jana Palacha, where the Rudolfinum concert hall; Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague (VŠUP); Museum of Decorative Arts In Prague (UPM); and Philosophical Faculty of Charles University are located. There are also streets and places named after him in other Czech towns, as well as in Luxembourg, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Bulgaria.

He posthumously received the Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, a high state honor. His story has been the subject of films including Burning Bush (2013) and Jan Palach (2018).

His action is also mentioned in books, poems and songs by artists ranging from Salman Rushdie to rock band Kasabian.

The house where Jan Palach grew up in Všetaty is being turned into memorial operated by the National Museum. It is scheduled to open Aug. 21 this year, the 51st anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion.

The house was purchased in 2014 and was in poor condition due to it being uninhabited for many years. An architectural competition was held to find a plan to renovate the building, and a design was chosen in May 2016. The winning design includes a large dark wedge on one side of the building to symbolize communism.

The National Museum got a building permit in early 2018 but had difficulty finding a contractor for the amount of money offered. One was finally chosen and work began in August 2018.

The house will contain objects from Palach’s life as well as displays to put the events of 1968 and ’69 into context.

For more about the Jan. 16 march visit www.facebook.com/events or www.milionchvilek.cz

For more about Jan Palach – naše svědomí visit www.facebook.com/events or palach2019.ff.cuni.cz

For more about the exhibit at Museum Kampa visit www.facebook.com/events or www.museumkampa.cz

For more about the house in Všetaty visit www.nm.cz

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