Polish Warsaw Pact protestor gets recognition

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Ryszard Siwiec's name may mean little to many Poles since any coverage of his dramatic act was suppressed by the communist authorities.

The Polish accountant and teacher wrote a series of letters and tape recordings expressing his disgust over the crushing of the Prague Spring and the subsequent Warsaw Pact in which Poland was complicit.

Then, on September 12, 1968, he set himself alight in front of 100,000 spectators, political dignitaries and foreign ambassadors during a showpiece communist spectacle in Warsaw's national stadium.

A remarkable film taken at the stadium shows horrified onlookers using coats to beat out the flames engulfing Mr Siwiec's body, while later footage shows him calmly addressing the crowd despite his appalling burns.

Led away by the police, the father-of-five died three days later in hospital from his injuries.

Acutely embarrassed by Mr Siwiec's self-sacrifice, Poland's authoritarian government imposed a 20-year news blackout saying nothing other than that he had been suffering "from a mental illness".

The secret police made certain that any talk of Mr Siwiec became taboo, and his name became largely forgotten.

His act was also overshadowed by that of the Czech Jan Palach, who committed self-immolation in protest against the Soviet invasion four months afterwards.

But in an attempt to raise awareness of a man still largely unknown in his native land, this week Poland's media has run a series of series of stories and programmes commemorating Siwiec's death.

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