After spending the weeks before I left for Prague reading historical texts and brushing up on Czech culture, I was surprised to find myself in awe of the statues and memorials that can be found around nearly every corner.

From the Jan Hus Monument to the Memorial of the Victims to Communism, it is apparent Czechs have a strong tie to their past; however, they are also looking to move forward.

The memorial to Jan Palach and Jan Zajic sits outside the National Museum in Wenceslas Sqaure.

The memorial to Jan Palach and Jan Zajic sits outside the National Museum in Wenceslas Sqaure.

The memorial to Jan Palach and Jan Zajic, located in Wenceslas Square outside of the National Museum, exemplifies Czechs’ progressive nature.

As part of the Prague Spring, the Charles University students lit themselves on fire in protest of censorship spurred by the Soviet invasion. Both Zajic and Palach left suicide notes detailing their belief that the invasion had demoralized the Czechoslovakian people.

Zajic’s death followed Palach’s, which happened a month prior. In a suicide note, he said he hoped his sacrifice would make the world a better place for his family:

I am not doing this because I would be tired by life, on the contrary, because I cherish it too much. Hopefully my act will make life better. I know the price of life and I know it is the most precious thing. But I want a lot for you, for everyone, so I have to pay a lot.

I visited their memorial Sunday afternoon, and their story reminded me of the importance of free speech. Free speech not only allows my classmates and I to follow a career path in communication, but also to share our own beliefs and ideas without fear.

The memorial reminds visitors, like myself, to never take free expression for granted, as progress does not come without sacrifice.

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