The hunger strike in front of the National Museum starting on 18 January 1969. About 15 young people took part in it. (Photo: Dagmar Hochová)
Hunger striker in front of the National Museum, January 1969 (Source: National Museum)
Leading the Prague march on 20 January 1969, students carried black flags, Palach’s portrait, and a banner with the Czech lion. (Photo: Jiří Všetečka)
Gathering in front of the Faculty of Arts, Charles University, 20 January 1969 (Source: ABS)
On 20 January 1969, Krásnoarmějců Square in front of the Faculty of Arts was spontaneously renamed Jan Palach Square. (Source: ABS)
A few days later, the square was marked with enamel signs. However, these were soon removed. (Photo: Miloň Novotný)
Ceremonial guard in front of the National Museum fountain (Photo: Dagmar Hochová)
Front page of the Svobodné Slovo Daily, 21 January 1969 (Source: ABS)
In reaction to the march, the Czech singer-songwriter, Bohdan Mikolášek, composed the song Ticho on 20 January 1969. This song was later used by the director Milan Peer in the film of the same name. (Source: Libri Prohibiti)
Poem by the Czech poet, Petr Kopta, dedicated to Jan Palach in 1969
Survey in the Charles University Magazine (“Universita Karlova”), 24 January 1969 (Source: Petr Blažek)

Public Responce

“Silence and people flooded the street.”

Oldřich Mikolášek, Czech poet, January 1969

Already in the evening of 16 January 1969, the radio broadcast news about the self-immolation of a Faculty of Arts student J.P. In the following days, hundreds of news stories, reports, and comments followed both in the domestic and foreign media. The public was shocked and shaken by Palach’s radical protest.

One of the first events to support Palach’s demands was a hunger strike starting on 18 January 1969 by a group of young people in front of the National Museum. The hunger strikers spent four freezing days in tents; then the strike was finished.

On 20 January 1969 – a day after Jan Palach’s death – tens of thousands of people took part in a remembrance march. The parade organized by the Union of University Students of Bohemia and Moravia started on Wenceslas Square and finished in front of the Faculty of Arts building. A few people gave speeches from a faculty balcony.

Similar remembrance ceremonies took place in many other Czechoslovak cities. Just as in August 1968, Wenceslas Square became the main public gathering place. In front of St Wenceslas’ statue (decorated with many leaflets, Palach’s portraits, and candles), a ceremonial guard stood with a flag. On the fountain in front of the National Museum, Jan Palach’s death mask was exhibited, a present to students by the sculptor, Olbram Zoubek.

As early as January 1969, poets also started reacting to Palach’s act. In their poems published in newspapers and magazines, they impressively rendered the atmosphere of the time.