Jan Palach

Jan Palach was a Czech
Czech Republic
The Czech Republic is a landlocked country in Central Europe. The country is bordered by Poland to the northeast, Slovakia to the east, Austria to the south, and Germany to the west and northwest....

 student who committed suicide by self-immolation
Self-immolation refers to setting oneself on fire, often as a form of protest or for the purposes of martyrdom or suicide. It has centuries-long traditions in some cultures, while in modern times it has become a type of radical political protest...

 as a political protest.


In August 1968, the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 invaded Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia or Czecho-Slovakia was a sovereign state in Central Europe which existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1992...

 to crush the liberalising
Liberalism is the belief in the importance of liberty and equal rights. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally, liberals support ideas such as constitutionalism, liberal democracy, free and fair elections, human rights,...

 reforms of Alexander Dubček
Alexander Dubcek
Alexander Dubček , also known as Dikita, was a Slovak politician and briefly leader of Czechoslovakia , famous for his attempt to reform the communist regime during the Prague Spring...

's government during what was known as the Prague Spring
Prague Spring
The Prague Spring was a period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia during the era of its domination by the Soviet Union after World War II...

. A group of Czech students including Palach made a suicide pact intending to sacrifice themselves in protest of the invasion. Prague
Prague is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. Situated in the north-west of the country on the Vltava river, the city is home to about 1.3 million people, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of over 2.3 million...

-born Palach was the first to set himself on fire, in Wenceslas Square
Wenceslas Square
Wenceslas Square is one of the main city squares and the centre of the business and cultural communities in the New Town of Prague, Czech Republic. Many historical events occurred there, and it is a traditional setting for demonstrations, celebrations, and other public gatherings...

, on 16 January 1969.

According to Jaroslava Moserová
Jaroslava Moserová
Jaroslava Moserová, MU Dr.Sc. was a Czech senator, ambassador, presidential candidate, doctor, and translator.-Biography:...

, a burns specialist who was the first to provide care to Palach at the Charles University Faculty Hospital, Palach did not set himself on fire to protest against the Soviet occupation, but did so to protest against the "demoralization" of Czechoslovakian citizens caused by the occupation.
Most of the other students did not go through with their part, after the well-publicised pleas Palach made on his deathbed about the degree of pain they faced.
The funeral of Palach turned into a major protest against the occupation, and a month later (on 25 February 1969) another student, Jan Zajíc
Jan Zajíc
Jan Zajíc was a Czech student who committed suicide by self-immolation as a political protest...

, burned himself to death in the same place, followed in April of the same year by Evžen Plocek
Evžen Plocek
Evžen Plocek was a Czech man who committed suicide by self-immolation as a political protest.- Death :...

 in Jihlava
Jihlava is a city in the Czech Republic. Jihlava is a centre of the Vysočina Region, situated on the Jihlava river on the ancient frontier between Moravia and Bohemia, and is the oldest mining town in the Czech Republic, ca. 50 years older than Kutná Hora.Among the principal buildings are the...


Posthumous recognition

Palach was initially interred in Olšany Cemetery
Olšany Cemetery
Olšany Cemetery is the largest graveyard in Prague, Czech Republic, once having as many as two million burials. The cemetery is particularly noted for its many remarkable art nouveau monuments.- History :...

. As his gravesite was growing into a national shrine, the Czechoslovak secret police (StB
STB is an acronym that can mean:* Sacrae Theologiae Baccalaureus – Bachelor of Sacred Theology* Set-top box – a television device that converts signals to viewable images* Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP -- a law firm...

) set out to destroy any memory of Palach's deed and exhumed his remains on the night of 25 October 1973. His body was then cremated and sent to his mother in Palach's native town of Všetaty while an anonymous old woman from a rest home was laid in the grave. Palach's mother was not allowed to deposit the urn in the local cemetery until 1974. On 25 October 1990 the urn was officially returned to its initial site in Prague.

On the 20th anniversary of Palach's death, protests ostensibly in memory of Palach (but intended as criticism of the regime) escalated into what would be called "Palach Week". The series of anticommunist demonstrations in Prague between 15 and 21 January 1989 were suppressed by the police, who beat demonstrators and used water cannons, often catching passers-by in the fray. Palach Week is considered one of the catalyst demonstrations which preceded the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia 11 months later.

After the Velvet Revolution
Velvet Revolution
The Velvet Revolution or Gentle Revolution was a non-violent revolution in Czechoslovakia that took place from November 17 – December 29, 1989...

, Palach (along with Zajíc) was commemorated in Prague by a bronze cross embedded at the spot where he fell outside the National Museum
National Museum (Prague)
The National museum is a Czech museum institution intended to systematically establish, prepare and publicly exhibit natural scientific and historical collections. It was founded 1818 in Prague by Kašpar Maria Šternberg...

, as well as a square named in his honour. The Czech astronomer Luboš Kohoutek
Luboš Kohoutek
Luboš Kohoutek is a Czech astronomer.Kohoutek has been interested with astronomy since high school. He studied physics and astronomy at universities in Brno and Prague...

, who left Czechoslovakia the following year, named an asteroid
Asteroids are a class of small Solar System bodies in orbit around the Sun. They have also been called planetoids, especially the larger ones...

 which had been discovered on 22 August 1969, after Jan Palach (1834 Palach
1834 Palach
1834 Palach is a main belt asteroid discovered on August 22, 1969 by Luboš Kohoutek at the Hamburg-Bergedorf Observatory, West Germany. It was named in memory of the Czech anti-Soviet protester Jan Palach.- External links :*...

). There are several other memorials to Palach in cities throughout Europe, including a small memorial inside the glacier tunnels beneath the Jungfraujoch in Switzerland.

Several later incidents of self-immolation may have been influenced
Copycat suicide
A copycat suicide is defined as an emulation of another suicide that the person attempting suicide knows about either from local knowledge or due to accounts or depictions of the original suicide on television and in other media....

 by the example of Palach and his media popularity. In the spring of 2003, a total of six young Czechs burned themselves to death, notably Zdeněk Adamec, a 19-year-old student from Humpolec
Humpolec is a town in the Vysočina Region of the Czech Republic, situated south-east of Prague and roughly halfway between the Czech capital and Brno, on the northwestern edge of the Bohemian-Moravian highlands ....

 who burned himself on 6 March 2003 on almost the same spot in front of the National Museum where Palach burnt himself, leaving a suicide note explicitly referring to Palach and the others who had committed suicide in the 1969 Prague Spring
Prague Spring
The Prague Spring was a period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia during the era of its domination by the Soviet Union after World War II...


Just walking distance from the site of Palach's self-immolation, a statuary in Prague's Old Town Square
Old Town Square (Prague)
Old Town Square is a historic square in the Old Town quarter of Prague in the Czech Republic at .Located between Wenceslas Square and the Charles Bridge, Prague's Old Town Square is often bursting at the seams with tourists in the summer. Featuring various architectural styles including the...

 honours iconic Bohemian religious thinker Jan Hus
Jan Hus
Jan Hus , often referred to in English as John Hus or John Huss, was a Czech priest, philosopher, reformer, and master at Charles University in Prague...

, who was burned at the stake for his beliefs in 1415. Himself celebrated as a national hero for many centuries, some commentary has linked Palach's self-immolation to the execution of Hus.

Cultural references

The music video for the song "Club Foot
Club Foot (song)
"Club Foot" is a song by English indie rock band Kasabian, featured on their 2004 debut album Kasabian. It was released on 17 May 2004 in the UK. This song is dedicated to Czech student Jan Palach, who committed suicide in political protest by self-immolation...

" by the band Kasabian is dedicated to Palach.

The composition "The Funeral of Jan Palach" performed by The Zippo Band and composed by Phil Kline
Phil Kline
Phil Kline is an American composer. After graduating from Columbia University with a degree in English Literature, he formed the New York No Wave band The Del-Byzanteens in the early 1980s with filmmaker Jim Jarmusch and painter James Nares, collaborated with photographer Nan Goldin on the...

 is a tribute.

Palach is mentioned in The Stranglers
The Stranglers
The Stranglers are an English punk/rock music group.Scoring some 23 UK top 40 singles and 17 UK top 40 albums to date in a career spanning five decades, the Stranglers are the longest-surviving and most "continuously successful" band to have originated in the UK punk scene of the mid to late 1970s...

' bassist, Jean-Jacques Burnel
Jean-Jacques Burnel
J. J. Burnel , is a Franco-English musician producer and songwriter, best known as the bass guitarist with the British rock band The Stranglers.-Life and career:...

's solo album of 1979, Euroman Cometh
Euroman Cometh
Euroman Cometh is the 1979 debut solo album by The Stranglers' bassist J. J. Burnel.Guest musicians were Peter Howells of The Drones , track 9 featured Brian James of The Damned , Lew Lewis and Carey Fortune of Chelsea...

. In the track "Euromess", a song about the liberalization of Czechoslovakia in the 1960s and then its subsequent normalization
Normalization (Czechoslovakia)
In the history of Czechoslovakia, normalization is a name commonly given to the period 1969 to about 1987. It was characterized by initial restoration of the conditions prevailing before the reform period led by Alexander Dubček , first of all, the firm rule of the Communist Party of...

, Burnel pleads: "Don't forget young Jan Palach, he burnt a torch against the Warsaw pact".

In their song "Nuuj Helde" the Janse Bagge Bend (from the Netherlands) asks if people know why Jan Palach burned.

Palach is mentioned in the play Wenceslas Square by Larry Shue
Larry Shue
Larry Shue was an American playwright and actor, best known for writing two often-performed farces, The Nerd and The Foreigner.-Early life:...


After seeking political asylum in the United States, Polish artist Wiktor Szostalo
Wiktor Szostalo
Wiktor Szostalo is a Polish sculptor who currently resides in the United States. He works in a variety of media, most notably welded stainless steel, wood, and bronze.-Early life:...

 commemorated Jan Palach in his "Performance for Freedom" proclaiming "I am Jan Palach. I'm a Czech, I'm a Pole, a Lithuania
Lithuania , officially the Republic of Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe, the biggest of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, whereby to the west lie Sweden and Denmark...

n, a Vietnam
Vietnam – sometimes spelled Viet Nam , officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam – is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea –...

ese, an Afghani
Afghanistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located in the centre of Asia, forming South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. With a population of about 29 million, it has an area of , making it the 42nd most populous and 41st largest nation in the world...

, a betrayed You. After I've burnt myself a thousand times, perhaps we'll win"

On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the death of Jan Palach, a statue sculpted by András Beck
András Beck
András Beck was a Hungarian sculptor. He was noted for hissymbolic and expressionist bronze statuettes and portrait busts.Beck was born in Alsógöd in 1911. His father an artist Ödön Fülöp Beck trained him from a young age and he later became a pupil of Zsigmond Kisfaludi Strobl at the Hungarian...

 as a tribute to the student was transported from France to the Czech Republic. The statue was installed in Mělník
-Places:Bulgaria* Melnik, Bulgaria, a town in Bulgaria* Shiroka Melnishka Losa, a Bulgarian wine grape also known as MelnikCzech Republic* Mělník, a townUnited States* Melnik, Wisconsin, an unincorporated community...

, the city where Jan Palach did his studies.

Italian songwriter Francesco Guccini
Francesco Guccini
Francesco Guccini is an Italian singer-songwriter, considered one of the most important Cantautori. During the five decades of his music career he has recorded 16 studio albums and collections, and 6 live albums. He is also a writer, having published autobiographic and noir novels, and a comics...

 wrote a song "La Primavera di Praga"" in dedication to Jan Palach, compared to religious scholar Jan Hus
Jan Hus
Jan Hus , often referred to in English as John Hus or John Huss, was a Czech priest, philosopher, reformer, and master at Charles University in Prague...

: "Once again Jan Hus is burning alive".

Polish singer Jacek Kaczmarski
Jacek Kaczmarski
Jacek Kaczmarski was a Polish singer, songwriter, poet and author.Kaczmarski was a voice of the Solidarity trade union movement in 1980s Poland, for his commitment to a free Poland, independent of Soviet rule. His songs criticized the ruling communist regime and appealed to the tradition of...

 wrote a song about Palach's suicide, called "Pochodnie" ("Torches").

Palach is referenced in Milan Kundera
Milan Kundera
Milan Kundera , born 1 April 1929, is a writer of Czech origin who has lived in exile in France since 1975, where he became a naturalized citizen in 1981. He is best known as the author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, and The Joke. Kundera has written in...

's novel "Life Is Elsewhere
Life Is Elsewhere
Life Is Elsewhere is a Czech-language novel by Milan Kundera published in 1973.The setting for Life Is Elsewhere is Czechoslovakia before, during, and after the Second World War, and tells the story of Jaromil, a character who dedicates his life to poetry....

" (7th part, chapter 2).

The Slovenia
Slovenia , officially the Republic of Slovenia , is a country in Central and Southeastern Europe touching the Alps and bordering the Mediterranean. Slovenia borders Italy to the west, Croatia to the south and east, Hungary to the northeast, and Austria to the north, and also has a small portion of...

n poet Edvard Kocbek
Edvard Kocbek
Edvard Kocbek was a Slovenian poet, writer, essayist, translator, political activist, and resistance fighter. He is considered as one of the best authors who have written in Slovene, and one of the best Slovene poets after Prešeren...

 wrote a poem "Raketa" ("Rocket"), in which he contrasted two events that took place in 1969: the Moon landing
Moon landing
A moon landing is the arrival of a spacecraft on the surface of the Moon. This includes both manned and unmanned missions. The first human-made object to reach the surface of the Moon was the Soviet Union's Luna 2 mission on 13 September 1959. The United States's Apollo 11 was the first manned...

 of Apollo 11
Apollo 11
In early 1969, Bill Anders accepted a job with the National Space Council effective in August 1969 and announced his retirement as an astronaut. At that point Ken Mattingly was moved from the support crew into parallel training with Anders as backup Command Module Pilot in case Apollo 11 was...

 and Jan Palach's suicide: he saw the Moon landing was the ultimate act of an expansive voluntaristic nihilism
Nihilism is the philosophical doctrine suggesting the negation of one or more putatively meaningful aspects of life. Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value...

, writing: "this mathematical excursion of force to the Moon is the greatest fraud of all time, an obsessed reiteration of a spinning World, caught up in death and darkness"). For the poet, the true event of the year was Palach's human sacrifice, which transformed him into "a burning rocket that has measured all history from bottom to top".

The Luxembourg-based Welsh composer Dafydd Bullock was commissioned to write "Requiem for Jan Palach" (op 182) to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of Palach's suicide. It includes a setting of words which appeared briefly on a statue in Wenceslas Square after the event, before being erased by the authorities: "Do not be indifferent to the day when the light of the future was carried forward by a burning body".

Palach featured in a monologue radio play entitled "Torch No 1" on BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4 is a British domestic radio station, operated and owned by the BBC, that broadcasts a wide variety of spoken-word programmes, including news, drama, comedy, science and history. It replaced the BBC Home Service in 1967. The station controller is currently Gwyneth Williams, and the...

, directed by Martin Jenkins, and written by David Pownall
David Pownall
David Pownall FRSL is a British playwright and author of novels and short stories. Some of his plays have been adapted as films, for instance, Music to Murder By , and others were written as radio plays.-Life and career:...

. Palach was played by Karl Davies.

French documentary filmmaker Raymond Depardon
Raymond Depardon
Raymond Depardon is a French photographer, photojournalist and documentary filmmaker.-Photographer:...

 directed a 1969 about Jan Palach.

The suicide of Jan Palach is mentioned in Norwegian singer and songwriter Åge Aleksandersen's song "Va de du Jesus"

The Heartbeat Song from The Futureheads
The Futureheads
The Futureheads are an English post-punk band from Sunderland. consisting of Ross Millard , Barry Hyde and David "Jaff" Craig...

 2010 album 'The Chaos' is dedicated to Jan Palach.

A sequence of poems exploring the implications of Palach's death called One Match by the poet Sheila Hamilton were published in issue 51 of the Dorset based poetry serial, Tears in the Fence (ed. David Caddy) in 2010.

Place names

The Jan Palach Square
Jan Palach Square
Jan Palach Square is a town square in the Old Town of Prague. It is located on right bank of the Vltava River next to the former Jewish Quarter. Unlike other squares in the Old Town, Jan Palach Square was created at the end of 19th century, making it one of the newest ones.-Buildings and...

 in central Prague was named after Palach, there are Palachovo náměstí (Palach Square) in Brno
Brno by population and area is the second largest city in the Czech Republic, the largest Moravian city, and the historical capital city of the Margraviate of Moravia. Brno is the administrative centre of the South Moravian Region where it forms a separate district Brno-City District...

. He also had streets named after him in Luxembourg city
Luxembourg (city)
The city of Luxembourg , also known as Luxembourg City , is a commune with city status, and the capital of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. It is located at the confluence of the Alzette and Pétrusse Rivers in southern Luxembourg...

 (Luxembourg), Angers
Angers is the main city in the Maine-et-Loire department in western France about south-west of Paris. Angers is located in the French region known by its pre-revolutionary, provincial name, Anjou, and its inhabitants are called Angevins....

 and Parthenay
Parthenay is an ancient fortified town and commune in the Poitou-Charentes region in western France, sited on a rocky spur that is surrounded on two sides by the River Thouet...

 (France), Kraków
Kraków also Krakow, or Cracow , is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Situated on the Vistula River in the Lesser Poland region, the city dates back to the 7th century. Kraków has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish academic, cultural, and artistic life...

 (Poland), Assen
Assen is a municipality and a city in the north eastern Netherlands, capital of the province of Drenthe. It received city rights in 1809. Assen's main claim to fame is the TT Circuit Assen the motorcycle racing circuit, where on the last Saturday in June the Dutch TT is run...

 (Netherlands), Varna
Varna is the largest city and seaside resort on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast and third-largest in Bulgaria after Sofia and Plovdiv, with a population of 334,870 inhabitants according to Census 2011...

 (Bulgaria) and Nantwich
Nantwich is a market town and civil parish in the Borough of Cheshire East and the ceremonial county of Cheshire, England. The town gives its name to the parliamentary constituency of Crewe and Nantwich...

 (United Kingdom). In Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

 (Italy) (as well as in many other Italian towns), there is a central square named after Palach with a commemorative statue.

The oldest rock club in Croatia
Croatia , officially the Republic of Croatia , is a unitary democratic parliamentary republic in Europe at the crossroads of the Mitteleuropa, the Balkans, and the Mediterranean. Its capital and largest city is Zagreb. The country is divided into 20 counties and the city of Zagreb. Croatia covers ...

 is named Palach. It is situated in Rijeka
Rijeka is the principal seaport and the third largest city in Croatia . It is located on Kvarner Bay, an inlet of the Adriatic Sea and has a population of 128,735 inhabitants...

 since 1969 to this day. There is a bus station in the town of Curepipe
Curepipe is a town centrally situated in Mauritius, an island country in the southwest Indian Ocean. It is second in size and importance to Port Louis, the capital....

, Mauritius named after Jan Palach. A student hall in Venice
Venice is a city in northern Italy which is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. It is the capital of the Veneto region...

, Italy on the Giudecca island has also been given the name of Jan Palach.

See also

  • Thích Quảng Đức
  • Ryszard Siwiec
    Ryszard Siwiec
    Ryszard Siwiec was a Polish accountant, teacher and former Home Army soldier who was the first person to commit suicide by self-immolation in protest against the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia.- Self-Immolation :...

  • Evžen Plocek
    Evžen Plocek
    Evžen Plocek was a Czech man who committed suicide by self-immolation as a political protest.- Death :...

  • Romas Kalanta
    Romas Kalanta
    Romas Kalanta was a Lithuanian high school student known for his public self-immolation protesting Soviet regime in Lithuania. Kalanta's death provoked the largest post-war riots in Lithuania and inspired similar self-immolations...

  • Oleksa Hirnyk
    Oleksa Hirnyk
    Oleksa Mykolajovyč Hirnyk was a Ukrainian Soviet dissident, an engineer by profession, who burned himself to death as an act of protest against Soviet suppression of the Ukrainian language, culture and history...

  • Liviu Cornel Babe%C5%9F
  • List of political self-immolations

External links

Biography of Jan Palach
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