Copy of an “abused student” poster. (Source: ABS)
On 11 February 1969, the Ministry of Interior openly denied to have provided anyone with the outcomes of Palach’s act investigation. (Source: Rudé Právo daily)
Merkur hotel where Mr. Nový talked about “cold fire” in February 1969. (23 March 2012, photo: Petr Blažek)
The lounge of Merkur hotel where Mr. Nový talked about “cold fire” in February 1969, first floor view. (23 March 2012, photo: Petr Blažek)
The lounge of Merkur hotel. (23 March 2012, photo: Petr Blažek)
Luděk Pachman was brought to court from custody in the handcuffs, July 1970. (Source: WikipediaCommons)
Cover of Nový’s book about Klement Gottwald, published in 1978. (Petr Blažek’s Archive)


“Mr. Nový pointed out that it is in a prime interest of politics to reveal the truth about Jan Palach to the public as it could help beat the pants off some rightists and eliminate them from the media.”

From a top secret record of an interview between S. V. Chervonenko, USSR ambassador in the Czechoslovakia, and Vilém Nový, member of the KSČ Central Committee, 3 February 1969

Self-immolation of Jan Palach was publicly condemned by Party hard-liners, especially by the dogmatic KSČ members from Libeň (a Prague district) who were talking about his abuse. Vilém Nový, MP and member of the KSČ Central Committee was one of the main propagators of this mendacious statement. At the end of January 1969, he introduced a “cold fire” theory in his interview for the AFP foreign news agency. According to Mr. Nový, Jan Palach should have believed that the liquid was flammable but would not burn him (in fact, there is no such chemical); however, his ostensible suicide attempt went wrong, Jan Palach burnt himself and right-wing writers and journalists then distorted the “facts”.

Mr. Nový retold his “cold fire” theory on 20 February 1969 at a public meeting of MPs and voters held at Merkur hotel in Česká Lípa. This time, he mentioned the names of people who should have talked Jan Palach into the act: Vladimír Škutina and Pavel Kohout (writers), Lubomír Holeček (student representative), Emil Zátopek (sportsman) and Luděk Pachman (chess player; most likely an act of revenge for Holeček’s acknowledgement of the self-immolation in an interview for Czechoslovak Television; he was talking about it with great respect but at the same time tried to discourage Palach’s potential followers). In March 1969, the five accused filed a civil action for protection of personal rights. So did Libuše Palachová who asked JUDr. Dagmar Burešová to be her counsel. The story of Jan Palach’s mother inspired Czech film series called Hořící keř (“Burning Bush”).


On 20 May 1969, it was decided that a joined trial for all the claims would be held. Mr. Nový was trying to hinder the trial by refusing to receive the summons for several weeks. He considered the trial to be just a result of smear campaign aimed to “scandalize and remove the officials devoted to KSČ, socialism and alliance with the USSR”. He also emphasized that the claims are based only on information presented by journalists who – in his words – grossly distorted his statements. Moreover, he was convinced that as an MP, he should be exempted from the proceedings because of his legislative immunity. The counsels for the plaintiffs argued that under the Czechoslovak Supreme Court’s ruling, the decision on civil action for protection of personal rights can be made by the court only.

The political situation escalated in summer 1969, the year after the start of Soviet occupation. Street demonstrations in Prague, Brno, Liberec and Bratislava were brutally suppressed.

Shortly afterwards, the State Security took action against the authors and signatories of petition called Deset bodů (“Ten Points”) condemning the occupation and subsequent political concessions. The petition was organized by Luděk Pachman who was arrested together with historian Jan Tesař and social scientist Rudolf Battěk. However, all three of them were released after ten months without any trial. For the hearing with Nový, Pachman was brought from custody in the handcuffs. Even as a political prisoner, he refused to withdraw his claim (unlike Emil Zátopek who “penitentially” withdrew his claim right in the courtroom).


Mr. Nový was striving to change the jurisdiction of the court – instead of Prague court, he wanted the trial to be held before the court in Česká Lípa but the counsels for the plaintiffs managed to thwart it because of possible prejudice of the court as he was an MP for the region. The court heard witnesses who attended the public meeting in Česká Lípa in February 1969. It was found out that the course of the meeting was tape-recorded. At the end of July 1970, the court heard Vladimír Hončík who had been working in the agriculture department of the Czechoslovak Radio and who accidentally recorded the meeting together with his colleagues. Although the recording provided clear evidence of Nový’s defamatory statements, the plaintiffs lost the action. On 30 July 1970, presiding judge JUDr. Jarmila Ortová delivered a statement showing the justice was in service of the power. She dismissed the action as Mr. Nový was – in her words – not just right to criticize Jan Palach but even obliged to do so. The plaintiffs had to defray expenses in connection with proceedings and they were called enemies of socialism.