'Hear my cry': New mural honoring Ryszard Siwiec unveiled in Prague

A new mural dedicated to the Polish citizen who killed himself in protest of the invasion of Czechoslovakia has been created in Žižkov.

Jason Pirodsky

Written by Jason Pirodsky Published on 05.11.2022 14:58:00 (updated on 06.11.2022) Reading time: 2 minutes

A new mural to Ryszard Siwiec, a Polish citizen who killed himself in protest against the 1968 Warsaw Pact Invasion of Czechoslovakia by Soviet forces, has been unveiled in Prague's Žižkov neighborhood this weekend.

Siwiec killed himself by self-immolation, following in the footsteps of Buddhist monks in Vietnam. He was the first to do so in response to the Soviet invasion, and inspired numerous others, most notably Czech students Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc.

A 59-year-old accountant and former member of Poland's Home Army resistance movement against Nazi rule, Siwiec became deeply disillusioned with life in communist Poland and took part in student protests in March of 1968.

Weeks after the invasion of Czechoslovakia, on September 8, 1968, Siwiec attended a large celebration at Warsaw's 10th-Anniversary Stadium. He lit himself on fire in front of tens of thousands of spectators, including communist officials. While he was extinguished and remained conscious during the event, he died four days later.

The act was captured on camera, but it was successfully repressed by Soviet authorities at the time. Through word-of-mouth, Siwiec's suicide inspired Jan Palach, whose death by self-immolation on Prague's Wenceslas Square the following January received worldwide media attention.

Only after the fall of the Iron Curtain did Siwiec's protest receive greater recognition, largely thanks to his friends and family and filmmaker Maciej Drygas, who relayed the story in the 1991 documentary Hear My Cry.

Over the past three decades, Siwiec's act has finally received the attention he intended; it remains unfortunately relevant in light of current events. In Prague, a Ryszard Siwiec Street was inaugurated near the University of Economics and Business in Žižkov in 2009, and a monument installed on the street the following year.

The new mural, unveiled this weekend, appears behind the monument on the facade of the building that housed the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, which is currently undergoing reconstruction.

The mural features a portrait of Siwiec by Czech artist Ondřej Vyhnánek and the words "hear my cry" on one side, and a depiction of the 1968 Warsaw Pact Invasion by artists Ondřej Klíma and Michal Filak featuring a Soviet tank in Liberec on another.

The Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, in cooperation with the Polish Institute in Prague, presented the memorial to local media on Friday.

"I am glad that we can once again remind ourselves of the importance of Ryszard Siwiec as well as other people who stood against both totalitarian regimes and when a state or states jointly attack another state and impose their political doctrine or their ideas about imperial government," Kamil Nedvědický, deputy director of the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, told reporters.

"This is still a topical issue that we're still experiencing today, in 2022, in the 21st century."

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