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Fifty Years After His Self-Immolation, Czech Student Jan Palach Remains A Symbol Of Defiance

On January 16, 1969, Jan Palach set himself on fire in Prague in protest against the August 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops. The 20-year-old university student 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 similar acts by protesters 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 Czechoslovakia's communist regime later that year.

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Lucie Steinzova

Lucie Steinzova is the photo editor for RFE/RL.