Prague, Czech Republic – A new mural was unveiled in Prague paying tribute to Ryszard Siwiec, a 59-year-old Pole who set himself on fire to protest the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.
Several months before Jan Palach or Jan Zajíc and just a few weeks after Soviet tanks invaded Czechoslovakia, Ryszard Siwiec self-immolated on September 8, 1968.
A former member of Poland’s Home Army, Ryszard Siwiec had become disillusioned with life in communist Poland, with some sources claiming that he had been planning his act of protest and desperation long in advance, even before the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia.
But the crushing of the Prague Spring appeared to have been the final straw. Attending a harvest festival at Warsaw Stadium in presence of communist leaders, including Władysław Gomułka, Siwiec set himself on fire surrounded by banners reading “For our freedom and yours” and “Honour, Fatherland.”
Although his act occurred among a huge crowd of people and was even caught on camera, the event was quickly suppressed by communist authorities. The 59-year-old Pole was himself transferred to a nearby hospital, and died of his injuries four days later, on September 12, 1968.
His story became more widely known only from the late 1980’s and after the fall of communism, including thanks to the 1991 award-winning documentary Hear My Cry.
The new mural was unveiled last week in the Ryszard Siwiec Street, named after the Pole in Prague’s Žižkov district back in 2009. A monument in his memory was also erected there the following year.
Its construction was spearhead by the Polish Institute in Prague, in cooperation with the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes (ÚSTR), headquartered in the same street.
“I am glad that we can once again remind ourselves of the importance of Ryszard Siwiec as well as other people who stood against totalitarian regimes and when a state or states jointly attack another state and impose their political doctrine or their ideas about imperial government,” commented Kamil Nedvědický, ÚSTR deputy-head, adding that “this is still a topical issue today”.