Poland marks 49 years since anti-communist protester set himself on fire
PR dla Zagranicy
Friday marks 49 years since a former Polish Home Army soldier doused himself in paint thinner and set himself on fire in protest of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Ryszard Siwiec. Photo: National Institute of Remembrance/Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)
On the night between 20-21 August 1968, USSR-led Warsaw Pact forces invaded Czechoslovakia to put a stop to liberal reforms.
Less than three weeks later, 59-year-old Ryszard Siwiec protested the move as he was handing out leaflets during an official harvest festival in central Warsaw, where some 100,000 people had gathered.
A fierce opponent of the regime in Poland, Siwiec distributed anti-communist leaflets which he wrote under the pen name Jan Polak.
Before setting himself on fire – an idea he may have borrowed from monks protesting against the Vietnam War – he wrote his will and recorded an anti-communist manifesto which ended with the words: “Hear my cries, the cries … of a man who loved his own freedom and that of others more than anything else, more than his own life”.
He left his wife a letter in which he said: “Forgive me, it could not have been any other way”.
Siwiec died in hospital four days after later.
But his protest went largely unnoticed. The authorities said Siwiec was mentally ill and film footage of Siwiec in flames did not emerge until after the fall of communism.
He was posthumously awarded Czech, Slovak and Polish state distinctions. (vb/pk)