“After planting new greenery around the St Wenceslas statue, the situation here has significantly improved. The new greenery has stopped people from gathering under the statue, where they significantly disrupted the continuity and safety of rail transportation, in particular.”
From the Czech police report on the reactions to Jan Palach’s act, January 1969
Street gatherings were one of the most visible manifestations of the public’s reaction to Jan Palach’s act. In several cities, remembrance marches took place, often with several tens of thousands of people taking part. They were often organized by university students, and security forces did not intervene. However, in the centre of Prague, a few unrestrained demonstrations took place against the invasion of Czechoslovakia and the inevitable approach of “normalization”.
On 17 January 1969, people gathered on Wenceslas Square where there were leaflets with information about the tragic event – especially near the St Wenceslas statue and near the place where Palach had committed his act. The following evening in the centre of Prague, the first spontaneous demonstration took place in which thousands of mainly young people took part. According to the Czech police report, they shouted slogans like “Abolish censorship! Abolish the News! Russians, go home!” The demonstrators also shouted offensive comments about Leonid Brezhnev and the Czechoslovakian president, Gustáv Husák.
A similar street demonstration took place on the day after Jan Palach’s funeral. At around 5 p.m. on 26 January 1969, several hundred people gathered near the St Wenceslas statue. From here, they headed to Můstek and went through the city centre to Karmelitská Street. Gradually, more people joined, and in the end, there were around three thousand people. After the intervention of security forces, some demonstrators went back to the centre and were involved in more conflicts with the Czech police. Eventually, the demonstrators were disbanded on Opletalova Street, and 193 people (mostly young workers) were taken to the police station.
On 27 January 1969, groups of young people gathered again on Wenceslas Square. In the evening, the last demonstration took place in the centre of Prague, and around two thousand people took part. The next day, new greenery was planted around the St Wenceslas statue to prevent people from gathering there.