Monument unveiled to Polish 'human torch' protestor against Soviet invasion
A monument was unveiled in Prague on Friday morning to Ryszard Siwiec, the Polish man who set himself alight in September 1968 in protest at his country’s participation in the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. Siwiec committed suicide in Warsaw just weeks after the invasion and six months before the Czech student Jan Palach made his own terrible sacrifice in Prague. The monument was unveiled on the eve of the 42nd anniversary of the invasion.
You’re a former priest and a religious man – suicide, for Christians, is a sin.
“Yes, but this one is a symbol, it was an offering for freedom. It’s a higher level than suicide. I think it’s not possible to understand it as suicide. It’s a symbolic act.”
The street outside the Institute has already been renamed Siwiecova; the new monument is part of a continuing effort by Czech officials to recognise those who stood up to the communist system. Radek John is the country’s new interior minister:
“I’m glad we renamed the street after him. Formerly this street was named after a communist. Now it’s renamed after a hero from Poland, from a foreign country, but he is our hero. I think a man who goes against the communist regime so strongly is our hero, regardless of whether he comes from Poland or Russia and so on.”
Poland’s communist government went to great lengths to erase his act from the public consciousness. A tape-recorded message explaining his actions was seized by the secret police; even his farewell letter to his wife and family, written on the train to Warsaw, never reached them.