Friday, May 7

Prague: What Would It Take If Anything?

When people visit Eastern Europe, one of their favourite cities is Prague in the Czech Republic.  Walking along the Charles Bridge, spanning the river Vltava, is a joyous walk past 75 statues, musicians, local artists, towards a historical city whose modern buildings derive from the 11th century.

Or lifting ones chin to look up from the Old Town Square to see the towers of Tyn Church, whose construction began in 1256 and continued for the next 400 years.

Gazing out from the top of the Old Town Hall and Astrological Clock to see the red shingled roofs of the town as far as one's eyes can peer.

How could the visit to the St. Vitus Cathedral be any more timely than to see the sunlights rays glowing through the multi-coloured stained glass, casting a glorious array of colours on the stone wall?

Then there is the modern art in the middle of the city reminding visitors that it is still a vibrant place growing up within its torrential past.

It is it's past that I did not appreciate until my friend Karen and I headed to the Museum of Communism found the centre of town and advertised as being located between the casino and the McDonald's.  You can therefore deduce that it is not a large museum nor well-known, but a visit helps the tourist truly appreciate the city's stretch of history back in time, the people's desire for independence, and the depths of their fighting spirits.

It was after the visit that I realized Wenceslas Square, the now shopping / eating district, was actually the heart of the protests of the Czech people during the Velvet Revolution, which eventually changed the country and allowed its citizens to make choices within a democratic nation.  

My mind read every placard with every pieces of information, which was translated into 4 or 5 languages, including English.  What I remember most was Jan Palach, his decision and pact with university friends to perform self-immolation in 1969 to send a message to the government that communism was not the citizens' government of choice.  What is self-immolation you may ask?  Lighting oneself on fire.  Can you imagine being so committed to an ideology, a group, a person, a way of life that you are willing to cause that degree of pain to your own body?  It was not a thought I had made until I read the accounts of his death in 1969, of the copycat behaviours of a few others in proceeding years, or until I saw the raised cross on the ground outside the National Museum.  Jan lived for three days after alighting himself and begged his friends from the University pact not to follow his lead, as the resulting pain was so incredibly excruciating.

(Picture from Wikipedia.)

If you care to perform research on self-immolation and its part in world history, you will find that a good number of people who have participated in this act had political or social reasons.  Most recently women in Afghanistan have been sending a repeat message to their government and families that forced marriages or abusive marital situations are no longer tolerable.  That the act of lighting oneself on fire is preferable to a having little to no control over one's own life.

In talking to a friend this past month we discussed many important issues, including this particular idea.  We each asked ourselves if there was anything that would cause herself to participate in self-immolation.  Neither one of us could immediately come up with a scenario, but in continuing our conversation the question raised itself repeatedly: would this cause you to light yourself on fire?  Turns out, it is an interesting question.  I want to know, what type of situation it would take, if any, for you to cause yourself such an enormous degree of physical pain in order to alleviate an even greater degree of emotional, mental or psychological pain?

Pain.  I don't like pain.  I could never EVER do this.

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