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Czech Student Jan Palach Remembered 45 Years After Self-Immolation

On January 16, 1969, 20-year-old student Jan Palach set himself on fire in Prague in protest against the August 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops. He died of his burns three days later. Palach's funeral turned into a mass demonstration of opposition against the Soviet Union's crushing of the liberal reforms of the Prague Spring. His act of protest inspired two other Czechs -- Jan Zajic and Evzen Plocek -- to commit suicide by self-immolation in the following months, followed by several in other communist countries. In 1989, on the 20th anniversary of Palach's death, gatherings in his memory turned into mass anticommunist protests, giving momentum to the Velvet Revolution that brought down the communist regime later that year.

People lay flowers on Prague's Wenceslas Square on January 22, 1969, in honor of Jan Palach, who had died of self-inflicted burns three days earlier.
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People lay flowers on Prague's Wenceslas Square on January 22, 1969, in honor of Jan Palach, who had died of self-inflicted burns three days earlier.

Palach in an undated photo. He studied history at Charles University in Prague.
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Palach in an undated photo. He studied history at Charles University in Prague.

A fellow student is pictured in Palach´s university dormitory room in Prague in January 1969.
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A fellow student is pictured in Palach´s university dormitory room in Prague in January 1969.

Palach inspired demonstrations in support of his anticommunist protest. On January 19, the day that he died of his burns, hunger strikers gathered in his honor in central Prague.
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Palach inspired demonstrations in support of his anticommunist protest. On January 19, the day that he died of his burns, hunger strikers gathered in his honor in central Prague.

Students carry flags and a picture of Palach during a march in Prague on January 20, 1969.
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Students carry flags and a picture of Palach during a march in Prague on January 20, 1969.

Thousands of students attended the January 20 rally.
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Thousands of students attended the January 20 rally.

Thousands more waited in line to pay their last respects to Palach at Charles University on January 22, 1969.
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Thousands more waited in line to pay their last respects to Palach at Charles University on January 22, 1969.

Palach's grieving mother, Libuse Palachova, is supported by her son Jiri during Jan's funeral in Prague.
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Palach's grieving mother, Libuse Palachova, is supported by her son Jiri during Jan's funeral in Prague.

Police detain protesters on January 15, 1989, 20 years after Palach's suicide. Demonstrations in his honor escalated into what would be known as "Palach Week," mass protests against Czechoslovakia's communist regime. The rallies were crucial in mobilizing support for the anticommunist protests of the Velvet Revolution later the same year.
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Police detain protesters on January 15, 1989, 20 years after Palach's suicide. Demonstrations in his honor escalated into what would be known as "Palach Week," mass protests against Czechoslovakia's communist regime. The rallies were crucial in mobilizing support for the anticommunist protests of the Velvet Revolution later the same year.

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