Josef Hlavatý

* 4 December 1943, Křimice

† 25 January 1969, Pilsen

“His state of health is critical. During his transportation to the hospital, Mr. Hlavatý did not tell anything except his name and address. When the doctor asked for reasons of his act, he said it was a protest against the Russians because he did not like them.”

From a VB contingency report, 21 January 1969

On 20 January 1969, Josef Hlavatý (25, blue-collar worker) poured himself with kerosene and set himself on fire. Five days later, Jan Palach’s first follower died in hospital.

From 16 to 31 January 1969, a relevant Czech report lists ten attempts of self-immolation, two of which ended in death. One of them was Jan Palach, the other was Josef Hlavatý who set himself on fire on 20 September 1969 around 8 p.m. at the Dukelské Square (today’s T. G. Masaryk Square) in Pilsen, near Czechoslovak State Bank. A few passers-by smothered the burning man and called for an ambulance. It was a symbolic place – there used to be a First Republic memorial of National Liberation with the statue of Masaryk, Czechoslovak’s first president (restored after 1989).

Several people stayed at the venue and others kept coming to discuss the event. In the end, there were about 150 of them. Someone brought Czechoslovak flag and placed a crown of thorns on it, someone else brought Jan Palach’s photo from newspapers and people put lighted candles around it. At the very same evening, general public found out about Hlavatý’s act because then-President Ludvík Svoboda mentioned it in his live and very emotional TV interview, asking young people not to follow Palach’s self-immolating example. A visibly shocked politician said: “I have just heard that another young man attempted to kill himself in a similar way.” Svoboda feared that Hlavatý might be a member of Palach’s group but this concern was not fulfilled. On the following day, radio and television informed that Josef Hlavatý was an alcoholic who set himself on fire because of his private life problems and that the event cannot be linked with Jan Palach because they had not even known each other. An article in Rudé právo daily written in a similar way with reference to the Ministry of Interior followed.

According to archived investigation documents, Josef Hlavatý was most probably a young man with serious personal problems. He grew in a family of an ex-warden from Bory prison. He was learning founder but he was expelled from the school because of his problems with alcohol and too many missed classes. He changed several jobs before working as a worker in Pilsner brewery. He married in 1964 and had two children but the marriage was unhappy and after four years, his wife filed a petition for divorce. They were divorced on 9 January 1969, less than two weeks before his self-immolation. Investigators found out he took it hard, especially because of his children who were entrusted into the care of his ex-wife. She and some of his friends testified that he mentioned suicide several times.

Hlavatý’s ex-wife also told that he had not been interested in politics but other testimonies indicated the opposite. The investigation report says: “He was very active during the August 1968 events. He was dwelling at the building of the Czechoslovak Radio in Pilsen and participated in acts of sabotage, such as removing of street signs and writing of anti-Soviet slogans. From that moment, he started to have hostile approach towards USSR even thought he (like his parents) used to be a supporter of its politics. He was more pensive during his last days but it is not known whether it was because of his divorce or Palach’s self-immolation. However, he never mentioned this act to his family nor friends.”

On the ill-fated day, Josef Hlavatý went to Lidový dům restaurant where he drank a few beers. Around 7 p.m. he went to his parents’ house where he took a bottle of kerosene and headed for the nearby Dukelské Square where he set himself on fire. Afterwards he was brought severely burned to the military hospital in Pilsen. He suffered third-degree burns on his face, chest and stomach and second-degree burns on his backs and head. He died in hospital on 25 January 1969. As his act was challenged, he had a silent funeral.

Bibliography: >>>

BLAŽEK, Petr – EICHLER, Patrik – JAREŠ, Jakub a kol: Jan Palach ´69. FF UK – ÚSTR – Togga, Praha 2009.