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Famous Czechs – Jan Zajic

Famous Czechs – Jan Zajic


To set the scene you have to understand that the August 1968 invasion of Prague by Warsaw Pact countries extinguished the Prague Spring freedoms. Any political or social reforms were cancelled and Czechoslovakia regressed to its 1950’s state. As was increasingly common in the late 1960s, the method of the ultimate protest was self-immolation. Jan Zajic was one of these protesters, he was 18 years old.

a representation of jan zajic on a czech national flag
An artistic representation of Jan Zajic from a famous photo

Self-Immolation

The famous story of self-immolation where the victim sets light to themselves is well documented by guidebooks as they direct you around the city to see memorials to Jan Palach and you can read more about him on my Jan Palach post. When he self-immolated on January 16th 1969 and ultimately when he died on the 19th, neither of these dates had any political meaning.

But the day that Jan Zajic self-immolated was February 25th 1969 which was the 21st anniversary of what the Communists called “Victorious February” when the Communists took control of the country in the 1948 Political Coup d’Etat.


The Differences

Whereas Jan Palach was born and went to School in Prague, Jan Zajic came from Moravia-Silesia (North-east of the country) and went to school in the town of Sumperk so he was a visitor to Prague.

Jan Palach left no suicide note because it’s believed that he did not intend to commit suicide whereas Jan Zajic left suicide notes to both his family and to the Czech People. Before he died, Jan Palach had asked his doctors to tell everyone not to do this and instead carry the fight forward in good health but it did not stop Jan Zajic or others around the country self-immolating throughout 1969.

passageway of number 37 wenceslas square in prague where jan zajic died on february 25th 1969
The passageway of number 37 Wenceslas Square where Jan Zajic died

Jan Palach’s choice of location was right in front of the National Museum at the top of Wenceslas Square. Jan Zajic had intended to set himself alight in one of the Wenceslas Square passageways and then run out into the square itself but having set fire to himself too early he was unable to run and died in the passage. But the memorial cross in front of the National Museum has both their names (pictured below).

burned cross memorial to jan palach and jan zajic in front of pragues national museum
The memorial to Jan Palach and Jan Zajic outside the National Museum

is Jan Zajic Commemorated In Other Ways?

plaque commemorating jan palach and jan zajic on prague wenceslas square
The Jan Palach and Jan Zajic plaque on Wenceslas Square in Prague

In the bushes about 50 metres down from the big horse statue on Wenceslas Square is a plaque pictured above where you often find candles.

On the side of the square at number 37 is a plaque pictured below. Note that in the passageway picture earlier, the lightning conductor is routed around the plaque.

memorial on the wall of wenceslas square number 37 for jan zajic
Memorial plaque to Jan Zajic with a poster showing the most popular photo on what would have been his 71st birthday

In Prague the 7th District street called Komsomolska (Komsomol was the name of the Leninist Young Communist League) was renamed after him.

In the home town of Jan Zajic in Vitkov they renamed the Square of Red Army Soldiers in his honour in 1993 (they did the same for Jan Palach).

In the Sumperk school that he attended there is a plaque by Olbram Zoubek, similar to the one he did for Jan Palach but this one has the living face of Jan Zajic.


Related Content or A few Minutes Away

Famous Czechs – Jan Palach

Famous Czechs – Josef Jungmann

Famous Czechs – Vaclav Havel

The House of the Suicide Mother

Wenceslas Square