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Monument to Jan Palach unveiled in Prague

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Prague, Jan 16 (CTK) – Prague Mayor Adriana Krnacova unveiled a memorial to Jan Palach, a student who immolated himself in protest against the Warsaw Pact occupation of Czechoslovakia in Prague in 1969, at the embankment of the Vltava River yesterday.
U.S. Ambassador Andrew Schapiro, Israeli Ambassador Gary Koren, Prague Archbishop Dominik Duka were among the participants in the event.
Senator Vaclav Hampl, former Charles University (UK) rector, said Palach’s death played a very important role in January 1989 when it motivated a series of strong demonstrations against the communist regime in Prague.
“Desire for freedom appeared then and the victim of Jan Palach was the inspiration,” Hampl said.
Duka said Czech students sacrificed their lives to the belief that violence cannot control the society several times in the 20th century. He said not only Palach but also the students who resisted the Nazi regime in 1939 may inspire the young generation.
UK Faculty of Arts Dean Mirjam Friedova said Czech students who left for refugee camps in the Balkans to provide aid as volunteers follow up Palach’s legacy.
The memorial is comprised of two six-metre geometric statues with flames going out of a square plinth. It was designed by U.S. sculptor and architect of Czech origin John Hejduk.
Daughter of the late artist recalled that the original version of the statues were installed at the Prague Castle, seat of Czech presidents, in the 1990s. Heyduk donated them to president Vaclav Havel and the people in Czechoslovakia. But the wooden statues decayed and were removed in 2000.
The light statue symbolises the figure of a son carrying light, the House of the Suicide, and the dark one a suffering mother, the House of the Mother of the Suicide. It is complete with a commemorative plaque with a poem by U.S. writer David Shapiro called Jan Palach’s Funeral. He wrote it after reading about Palach’s act in newspapers in 1969.
Shapiro read the verses at the ceremony yesterday.
Palach, a 20-year-old student of the UK Faculty of Arts, attempted to burn himself to death in Prague’s central square on January 16, 1969. His act was to rouse the society from lethargy following the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, which crashed the reform movement, Prague Spring. On January 19, Palach succumbed to his burns.
Earlier yesterday, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and Minister for Human Rights Jiri Dienstbier Jr (both Social Democrats, CSSD) paid respect to Palach at a plaque commemorating his act in Wenceslas Square.
“It seems to me that his act permanently reminds us that we must take care of values such as freedom, democracy and human rights protection because we may sometimes take them for granted,” Dienstbier said.
On Saturday morning, a commemorative meeting was held at Palach’s native house in Vsetaty, north of Prague.

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