February 25 marks 55 years since self-immolation of Jan Zajíc 

Jan Zajíc

On February 25,1969, Jan Zajíc, an 18-year-old student from Šumperk set himself on fire to protest against growing public apathy to the Soviet led-invasion in 1968.

39 Wenceslas Square in Prague,  house in which Jan Zajíc burned himself to death | Photo: Michaela Danelová,  Czech Radio

Zajíc set himself on fire in a passage off Wenceslas Square on February 25th 1969, close to the place where student Jan Palach made the ultimate sacrifice in an effort to rouse the nation a month earlier.

Zajíc, who felt that further protest actions were needed, committed the act on the 21st anniversary of the communist putsch in 1948. He had several letters with him urging the people to fight against the Soviet military occupation of Czechoslovakia.

Letter from Jan Zajíc to the people of Czechoslovakia | Photo: Czech Television

Jan Zajíc’s funeral could not take place in Prague due to the intervention of the communist secret police, which feared further demonstrations. His remains were taken to his native Vítkov, where he was buried on March 2, 1969. The funeral was attended by about 8,000 people, and the event became another symbolic demonstration against communist rule.

Funeral of Jan Zajíc | Photo: Czech Television

A memorial plaque commemorating Jan Zajíc can be found on Prague’s Wenceslas Square. In 1991, President Václav Havel awarded him the Order of T. G. Masaryk, First Class, in memoriam.

In 1991, director Ivo Trajkov made a film based on a script by Vladislav Kučík called Jan, which was based on the life story of Jan Zajíc.