Jan Palach 2 : Media Portrayals

The story of Jan Palach and his dramatic action of self-immolation captured a lot of hearts. Many people and media outlets wanted to retell the story and help the world become aware of his actions, and message. From documentaries, music videos to simple references Jan Palach became world known as one of the heroes that actively stood up against communist Czechoslovakia.

One of the most acclaimed documentaries that told of his story and the days following his suicide, is The Burning Bush by Agnieszka Holland. Holland is a Polish born director who having had studied in Prague at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU), had knowledge and interest in the Czechoslovak revolution and Jan Palach.

Many bands and musicians also wanted to portray or dedicate and tribute their songs and music videos to Palach’s actions including Kasabian’s song “Club Foot”, Francesco Guccini’s song  “La Primavera di Praga”, “The funeral of Jan Palach” by the Zippo band.

As well as documentaries and songs, statues were also erected to commemorate Palach.  Though statues and art might not be considered media, they still serve the same purpose of informing and reminding the masses of a person or event creating a collective memory. Andras Beck unveiled a statue in the city of Melnik dedicated to Palach on the 40th anniversary of his death. This statue is currently in France.

beck_andras_palach1970

Mwen Fikirini

Jan Palach

Jan Palach was a student at Charles University in Prague that committed suicide in 1969 in protest against the invasion of the Soviet forces marking the end of the Prague Spring. His act of self-immolation was meant to remind the Czech people of their demoralisation, it was said a resistance group was set up for the purpose of acting out until these demands were met. Many different people some who spoke to Jan and knew him reflected upon their meetings with trying to explain why he did what he did. Many people spoke of his protest against demoralization of the Czech people and his hatred of the Soviet regime. These demands were abolition of censorship, the banning of Zprava (the official newspaper of the Soviet forces) also calling for the Czechoslovak people to strike in support of these demands.

The people of Czechoslovakia united in their sympathy for Palach and their realisation of what their government was doing to them.

“Last night, students in Vienna took to the streets to express their solidarity with Czechoslovak students. Equipped with dozens of banners, they organized a silent procession.”

Svobodné slovo daily, 25 January 1969

 

The world also sympathised with the Czech people, many newspapers reported of his suicide and even officials from around the world sent their condolences. Pope Paul VI paid tribute to Jan Palach’s memory in his message of 26 January 1969 when he stated: “We can uphold the values that put self-sacrifice above others to the supreme test, but we cannot approve the tragic form taken on behalf of their aims.”

Palach was buried at Olsany Cemetary, because of his politically charged suicide his gravesite became a national shrine. This scared the communist party as they did not want an anti-communist martyr, so the StB exhumed and cremated his remains sending them back to his mother. The urn with the remains was not returned until 1990.

Memorial

P1010732In 1989 people began airing their grievances in peaceful marches, these protests were named “Palach Week”, the police tried to quash these anti-communist demonstrations. Since they knew news of them might spread disobedience and revolt through the country, the Velvet Revolution occurred and less than a year later communism had fallen. In Tim Cresswell’s book Place an introduction, he states there can be “many manifestations of place” (2004:3), in Prague this can be related to Jan Palach’s (and Jan Zajic’s) memorial. After the revolution they were commemorated through a bronze cross embedded in Prague outside the National Museum, for the people this is a sign of hope and honour to their memory while for the communists it was a significant sign of the revolutions both Velvet and Prague Spring as well as the end of communism. Different spaces are made meaningful by different individuals making them places “a meaningful location” (Cresswell, 2004:7) because they become attached in a variety of ways.

When considering place it is also important to highlight that John Agnew (1987) defined place as having 3 components making it a meaningful location these are location, locale and sense of place. Cresswell also discusses the issue of gaining a sense of a place from filmic representations of the place, this relates to hyper reality. If you look into the previously linked BBC video of Jan Palach’s funeral which was broadcasted across the world, it is important to realise to the western world this was one of the few representations of war torn Czechoslovakia. This sense of place proved to be very different to what we came across when we travelled to the Czech Republic.

As well as this memorial, Jan Palach was also honoured through different places, streets and squares being named after him in Czechoslovakia, Luxembourg, France, Poland, Netherlands, Italy, Bulgaria, United Kingdom and even Mauritius.

References

Cresswell, T. (2004) Place: a short introduction. Blackwell Publishing Ltd:Oxford

Mwen Fikirini

Constructivist Grounded Theory

After talking a bit about constructivism and grounded theory, I would like to discuss now constructivist grounded theory.

This type of research was developed by Charmaz, a student of Glaser and Strauss, she points out the a researcher has to look beyond date, to seek meaning in ideologies, environment, beliefs and values, all in the context of the participants. There is an underlying assumption that the interaction between the researcher and participants “produces the data, and therefore the meanings that the researcher observes and defines” (Charmaz, 1995, p. 35) also she assumes that “data do not provide a window on reality. Rather, the ‘discovered’ reality arises from the interactive process and its temporal, cultural, and structural contexts” (Charmaz, 2000, p. 524). To enrich these data, Charmaz (1995) has positioned the researcher as coproducer, exhorting them to “add . . . a description of the situation, the interaction, the person’s affect and [their] perception of how the interview went” (p. 33).

Charmaz (2000) developed the theme of writing as a strategy in constructivist grounded theory in her later work, when she advocates a writing style that is more literary than scientific in intent. She has argued that constructivist grounded theorists are impelled to be analytical in their writing but that their style of writing needs to be evocative of the experiences of the participants (Charmaz, 2001). The researcher’s voice need not “transcend experience but re-envis[age] it . . . bring[ing] fragments of fieldwork time, context and mood together in a colloquy of the author’s several selves—reflecting, witnessing, wondering, accepting—all at once” (Charmaz & Mitchell, 1996, p. 299)

Charmaz, K. (1995b). Grounded theory. In J. Smith, R. Harré,&L. Langenhove (Eds.), Rethinking methods in psychology (pp. 27-65). London: Sage

Charmaz, K. (2000). Grounded theory: Objectivist and constructivist methods. In N. Denzin & Y. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (2nd ed., pp. 509-535). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Charmaz, K. (2001). Qualitative interviewing and grounded theory analysis. In J. Gubrium & J. Holstein (Eds.), Handbook of interview research: Context and method (pp. 675-694). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Charmaz, K.,&Mitchell, R. (1996). The myth of silent authorship: Self, substance, and style in ethnographic writing. Symbolic Interaction, 19(4), 285-302.

The Fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia

Velvet Revolution

Unlike any other communist country that had to go through a violent revolution, Czechoslovakia fortunately had a non-violent revolution. The non-violent revolution which saw the overthrow of the Communist government took place on the 17th of November to the 29th of December 1989 was named the Velvet Revolution.
On the 17th of November 1989, a group of students held a peaceful demonstration in Prague but was suppressed by the riot police. A student was attacked by the riot police (Tim Lambert, N/A). Following the incident, it sparked a lot attention and ignited the anger within the people thus causing a series of demonstrations that continued until late December. On the 19th of November, human right activist formed the Civic forum (Tim Lambert, N/A). The number of peaceful protestors in Prague grew from 200,000 to 500,000 in merely two days. Although the government resigned on the 24th of November due to the pressure, that was not the end as the demonstrations went on.

On the 27th of November, all citizens of Czechoslovakia took part on a two hour general strike. Eventually, the Communist party agreed to end the 1 party rule and promised to form a coalition government (Tim Lambert, N/A). The citizens of Czechoslovakia were not satisfied with the new government as they were still under the power of the communist party. So, the citizens held more demonstrations. Due to the pressure, a new government was formed on the 10th of December where the Communist became the minority. On the 29th of December, Vaclav Havel a playwright and leading opponent of Communism was elected as the president by the Federal Assembly.

Finally for the first time in 40years, Czechoslovakia held its first multi-party elections and a new government made up of a coalition of parties opposed to the transitional government and Havel was re-elected (Howstuffworks, (N/A).

Tim Lambert. N/A. The Fall of Communism In Eastern Europe. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.localhistories.org/communism.html. [Accessed 15 April 13].

How Stuff Works. N/A. History of Czechoslovakia. [ONLINE] Available at:http://history.howstuffworks.com/european-history/czechoslovakia3.htm. [Accessed 15 April 13].

Foong Lin, Liew

‘Eastern Bloc’ Communist Countries Comparison

A comparison of communist countries allows the researchers to have a better understanding of the effects of communism and the knowledge help approach interviews more effectively.

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“The comparison is fantastic on various levels.  Primary level is the violence at the very end of the regime whereas the Czechoslovak is closely bound to the ideology of non-violence and brotherhood”  [….]  “We don’t have to compare only violence and nonviolence, not only civil rights and religions rights but also can compare things like drug culture and everyday life.  But this is something we have to do now”  (Dr Michal Pullman [Contemporary History Lecturer at the Charles University, Faculty of Arts] in response to a question on the comparison between Romania and Czechoslovakia)

However during the interviews others felt it was too vast a subject and to do a comparison would be difficult because of several factors such as the size of the countries, and the population “So I agree that those regimes, there were some common features based on ideology. Communist ideology was definitely more universal”[…..]  I think to find parallels and differences is a good thing, but it’s not so easy to say Czechoslovakia was like Poland and was different to Romania.” (Dr. Oldrich Tuma)

Quick overview of some Eastern Bloc communist countries

Country Communism infiltration Architecture Revolutions
Czechoslovakia1948 – 1989 Democratically elected HistoricalModernismCubism Jan 1968 Prague SpringNov-Dec  1989 Velvet Revolution
Romania1947 – 1989 Falsified election results Communist-influencedPower related Romanian Revolution (series of riots and protests in Romania in December 1989
Bulgaria1946 – 1990 Coup d’etat on existing government Principles of Totalitarian architecture, representativeness and impressiveness, were combined with classical architectural forms i.e. hotel “Balkan”, the Central Shopping Mall, the Communist Party Building October 1989 Enviromental demonstration in Sofia
Poland1947 – 1989 Rigged election results April – September  1988 (Fall of Communism strike)
Hungary 1949 – 1989 Soviet intervention allowed  communist control after coalition government had been formed. Oct-Nov 1956 uprising

War Crimes

“I think everyone was a victim of the communist regime. Even the communists were victims of the regime; their life was deformed by it; they had to lie, they had to muddle through it. So I think that just for numbers of repressions…repressions based on imprisonment and executions, perhaps Czechoslovakia is not such an exception if compared to Hungary or Eastern Germany” (Dr Oldrich Tuma –Director of  Institute of contemporary study)

In Poland, repressions affected up to 400, 000 people. During 1944-1953, military courts sentenced 70,097 people for crimes against the state (any alleged anti-regime activity or sentiment). 20,000 prisoners died due to harsh condition in prisons. Furthermore, 6,000,000 Polish citizens were classified as suspected members of a “reactionary or criminal element” and subjected to investigation by state agencies. The repressions were meant to scare the common people and get rid of any anti-communist opponents. Often the accusations and sentences were exaggerated or fabricated to speed up the process.

In Bulgaria those who didn’t adhere to the strict Soviet policies were marginalised and denied access to educational, personal and job opportunities.  All religious activity was severely restricted or banned apart from the which later became infiltrated by communist activities.  Over 90 000 dissidents were eliminated via expulsions, arrests and killings between 1948-49.

Hungary had the harshest dictatorship in Europe with over 50 000 women & girls raped.  Approximately 350,000 Hungarian officials and intellectuals were removed  from 1948 to 1956. Were many were arrested, tortured, imprisoned in concentration camps or were executed.

“Even in Czechoslovakia it is hard to say how many victims of the communist regime were…. We know exactly something like 250 people got sentenced to get executed for political reasons… it’s not such a great number” (Dr Michal Pullman – Contemporary History Lecturer at the Charles University, Faculty of Arts))

Exile prisons such as the one in Pitesti, Romania were created to re-educate their political prisoners using violent and degrading methods known today as ‘the Pitesti Phenomenon’.

Rose Muzvondiwa

‘Eastern Bloc’ Central and Eastern Europe Communist Countries

‘Eastern Bloc’ refers to the former communist states of Central and Eastern Europe, generally the Soviet Union and the countries of the Warsaw Pact.  These countries include Czechoslovakia, Romania, East Germany, Bulgaria, Poland and Hungary.  The term Communist Bloc was used to denote the groups of states associated with the Soviet Union.

eastern bloc

European Communist Countries (sourced 22 april 2013)

These European countries experienced communism and their dictators relied on spectacle in order to create and maintain their citizen’s compliance to their communist ideology and used fear, oppression, arrests and killings to suppress the public but in the end mass revolts helped restore democracy. “Whoever becomes the ruler of a city that is accustomed to freedom and does not destroy it can expect to be destroyed by it, for it can always find a pretext for rebellion in the name of its former freedom” (Debord 2009:113).

“Communist states claim to be guided by a specific law of interpretations and goals  – these are Marxism-Leninism” (Wesson 1978:13) and there is quite a lot of similarities within these countries during the periods they experienced communism.  These similarities include totalitarian rule, dictatorship, food shortages and terrible war crimes.

Communist societies are very militaristic and include long periods of military duty, glorification of military heroism, cult of leadership and of violence and loyalty is the basic virtue (Wesson 1978:12-13). 

Rose Muzvondiwa

Graffiti in Prague

In Prague, they too have a special wall that is dedicated to graffiti. The once normal ordinary wall became the famous wall of Prague in 1980s. The famous wall was then called the John Lennon Wall, named after the famous pop star from the Beatles, John Winston Ono Lennon. Although it was named after John Lennon, the legendary pop star has never been to Prague in his life. The wall was filled with quotes, lyrics and graffiti that are all inspired by John Lennon and his band, the Beatles.

Image
Credit: Prague.net

John Lennon was considered as the pacifist hero for the Czech subculture during the totalitarian era (Ron Synovitz, 1998). While the communism ruled the country, western pop songs especially songs by John Lennon and his band the Beatles were banned by the Communist authorities simply because their songs were praising the freedom that doesn’t exist there and then. Some unlucky musicians who were caught playing those songs were jailed.

John Lennon becomes a hero when he was murdered in 1980. Upon hearing the news of his death, fans of John Lennon gathered and mourned his death together in Prague but were at risked of being caught and put in jail by the authorities over the offence of “subversive activities against the state”. His pictures were painted all over the wall and a group of anonymous youth group in Prague set up a mock grave for the famous pop star.

8325566017_208c3169d5_z
Credit: thehaymans

The threats of prison weren’t all that successful in stopping these people from coming out at night to scrawl graffiti in honor of John Lennon. Slowly, the wall was filled with feelings and dreams of the painter as they had limited freedom of expression. The communist authorities tried every single way they could to keep the wall clean either by repainting the wall or installation of surveillance cameras or even an overnight guard was not good enough. The wall will be filled with graffiti the very next day. It was basically a war between the people and the communist authorities who cleaned the wall. The Lennon Wall represented not only a memorial to John Lennon and his ideas for peace, but also a monument to free speech and the non-violent rebellion of Czech youth against the regime (Prague.net, 2008).

Image
Credit: broadgairhill

What makes the John Lennon Wall special today is the history behind it, although it may have looked like any other graffiti walls around the world. The wall had to go through reconstruction of its crumbling façade in 1998, but the spirit of the wall lives till today. The famous John Lennon Wall was once filled with anti-Communist graffiti is now filled with graffiti and messages on love and peace. You can still get a glimpse of tributes to John Lennon and a yellow submarine if you looked hard enough at the wall.

Image
Credit: experienceprague.com

Ron Synovitz. (1998). Prague’s Lennon Wall. Available: http://www.bagism.com/library/lennonwall.html. [Accessed 10 April 13].
Prague.Net. (2008). John Lennon Wall. Available: http://www.prague.net/john-lennon-wall. [Accessed 10 April 13].

Tony Hayman, (2012), John Lennon Wall Prague [ONLINE]. Available at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tonyhayman/8325566017/ [Accessed 10 April 13].

Experienceprague.com, (1998), The John Lennon Wall [ONLINE]. Available at: http://www.experienceprague.com/mala_strana.htm [Accessed 10 April 13].

Prague.net, (N/A), John Lennon Peace Wall [ONLINE]. Available at: http://www.prague.net/gallery/john-lennon-wall/pic1.php [Accessed 10 April 13].

broadgairhill, (2008), Prague – John Lennon wall [ONLINE]. Available at: http://photo.broadgairhill.com/index.php?showimage=7 [Accessed 10 April 13].

Foong Lin, Liew

The Czechoslovak State Security (StB)

The Czech state security known as the StB Státní bezpečnost (Czech)/ Štátna bezpečnosť (Slovak) was active between 1945 and 1990. The sole aim of this force was to deal with any issues that could be considered anti-communist; this usually meant arresting, torturing and even executing any citizens that spoke up against or protested the communist regime.

The StB were used as an instrument by the communist party to show their power, they intimidated, spied and even forged false allegations and evidence against anti-communists. Their aim was to keep any talk against the party and therefore chance of uprising at a minimum. One of the many visible actions they took against the Czechoslovakian people was by trying to destroy or erase any signs of their revolutionary actions against the regime. One of these was the self-immolation and suicide of Jan Palach in 1973, the StB tried to destroy any memory of his action by trying to stop the demonstrations that occurred at his funeral as well as exhuming his body after burial and cremating it. An anonymous body replaced his at the grave site, reassuring the communist party that they had deprived the Czech and Slovak people of a martyr. It is not until October of 1990 when the cremated remains were returned to their rightful resting place. Actions such as this were seen as normal for the StB, as it was very important for them to keep the communist agenda.

The StB now

Though the StB was dismantled and dissolved in 1990, their headquarters still remains in Prague. It is currently being used as the police headquarters.Image

Some members of the public that we spoke with felt that this was not a coincidence as some members of the StB still held powerful positions in companies, businesses and even the police force. This is not meant to be the case, as with its dissolving in 1990 former members of the StB and associates were banned from specific and powerful roles such as that of a police office, government official etc.

Support for the opinion that this rule has not been adhered to exists in a lot of sources some of which can be seen at the bottom of this post, showing that perhaps the StB still has former members in powerful positions.

http://www.jrnyquist.com/bolshevik_inquisition_3.htm

http://www.prague-tribune.cz/2003/9/7.htm

                                                             Mwen Fikirini