Jaroslava Moserova - remembering Jan Palach

Jaroslava Moserova is one of the most widely respected Senators in the Czech parliament, and has even been spoken of as a possible successor to President Havel. But her memory for this week's Witness goes back to her previous career as a doctor and burns expert at the plastic surgery clinic of the Charles University Faculty Hospital here in Prague. She was on duty when, on the 16th January 1969, the twenty-year-old Jan Palach was rushed into the clinic with third degree burns. He had doused himself with petrol and set himself alight on Wenceslas Square, a desperate protest against the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia five months earlier. Jan Palach died three days later, 34 years ago last Sunday, but around the world his name remained a symbol of the tragedy of the occupation.

"I was one of those who did the first care, who cleaned the burned areas. Of course I shall never forget it, nor the days that followed. We were all very unhappy, not only over his fate, but over the fate of the nation, because he did it for the nation. And I think that was clear for everyone from the very first. I wasn't with him when he was being taken upstairs to the intensive care unit, but one of the nurses that was with him said that he kept repeating: "Please tell everyone why I did it. Please tell everyone." I spoke with him for quite a long time, because he was able to speak right after the admission - later on he started having great difficulties breathing - so he not only could talk, but the reason why he did it was quite clear. It was not so much in opposition to the Soviet occupation, but the demoralization which was setting in, that people were not only giving up, but giving in. And he wanted to stop that demoralization. I think the people in the street, the multitude of people in the street, silent, with sad eyes, serious faces, which when you looked at those people you understood that everyone understands, all the decent people who were on the verge of making compromises. It certainly had a huge impact on young people, students, in this respect. And what I think is that it had an enormous effect on communist parties abroad, in democratic countries. And what I regret very deeply is that so many people seem to be forgetting the atmosphere of the time and what he did."