“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.