Thursday, 22 January 2015
Jan Palach Day
At a time when the issues of democracy and freedom of speech are very much in mind, it was appropriate that I took time last week to walk to the top of Wenceslas Square in Prague to view the memorial to Jan Palach, the student who set fire to himself as protest in 1969. His act is often seen as a protest against the Soviet suppression of the Prague Spring, but he claimed to the doctor who treated him that instead "It was not so much in opposition to the Soviet occupation, but the demoralization which was setting in." In other words it was a protest against the absence of protest over the loss of democracy.
I know this is not the first time I have blogged on this subject. You can read more about Jan Palach in a previous post here. But it is a subject that consistently moves me, asking as it does what I would do to defend democracy in England. I am struck by how demoralized I sometimes feel about the state of British democracy and how much I feel that my voice is not heard. But how far would I go to defend it, I do not know.
Being in the Czech Republic, with its recent history of political suppression, and speaking with Czechs who remember not only what it was to be unheard but also to know that speaking could cost them their liberty, makes me remember how lucky we English are to have had the concept of personal liberties enshrined in a charter exactly eight hundred years ago.