People around the country, including Charles University, this week marked the 55th anniversary of Faculty of Arts student Jan Palach’s self-immolation in January 1969. The drastic sacrifice, meant to rouse fellow citizens from resignation following the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia that crushed the Prague Spring, deeply shocked fellow citizens. To this day Czechs honour Palach’s memory and commemorate the bravery of his deed.
Jan Palach succumbed to his injuries three days after his act. The next day, 20 January 1969, a commemorative procession was organised by the Union of University Students of Bohemia and Moravia, leading from Wenceslas Square to the building of the Faculty of Arts of Charles University on today's Jan Palach Square. From 24 January, 1969, a coffin with Palach's remains lay in display at the Carolinum, and the following day a funeral ceremony was held, where the then-minister of education and representatives of the university and the student body also spoke.
Fifty-five years later, a commemoration of Palach's deed was traditionally held at the Carolinum on 16 January. Representatives of Charles University, including Rector Milena Králíčková, paid tribute to his memory. Students from the Jan Palach Gymnasium in Mělník also attended the commemoration ceremony.
In the early evening, people gathered also in front of the building of the Charles University Faculty of Arts where Jan Palach studied from the autumn of 1968. A memorial plaque at the site of the building marks the student’s unforgettable deed. Palach’s death mask was cast by the famous Czech sculptor Olbram Zoubek.
This year's Palach Week, which is regularly organised by the Student Council of the Charles University Faculty of Arts together with other student associations and initiatives, was strongly marked by the tragic event that unfolded at the faculty on 21 December last year, claiming 14 lives.
TEXT: Helena Zdráhalová
PHOTOS: Vladimír Šigut
Edited and lightly revised from Czech.