Self-immolation: A protest of despair (1968-2019)

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On 10 SEPTEMBER 2019, 79-year-old activist Albert Razin set fire to himself in Izhevsk, capital of the Udmurt Republic (Volga Federal District) in protest against the policy of the national government [note 1] concerning languages and linguistic minorities within Russia.

No fire extinguisher was near to hand and he died later in hospital.

Albert Razin (RFE - RL)

This horrendous act recalls not only Jan Palach and the protests of other young Czechs after the Warsaw Pact invasion of August 1968, but desperate acts of the kind in Ukraine and in Lithuania between 1968 and 1972.

CCE No 6 : 28 February 1969


6.11 Appeal by Grigorenko and Yakhimovich   [JC]

On 5 December 1968 Vasily Makukha set fire to himself on Kreshchatik, the main street in Kiev, crying “Long live a free Ukraine!” He died hours later from the extensive burns (CCE 6.9, item 2).This self-immolation took place over two months earlier than that of Jan Palach in Prague.

In February 1969 another Ukrainian attempted to follow the example of Makukha’s suicide; teacher Nikolai Berislavsky from the Rostov Region also set fire to himself in the Ukrainian capital (CCE 8.6). If it was the intention of Pyotr Grigorenko and Ivan Yakhimovich to prevent such acts of desperation, their appeal on 23 February 1969 did not halt further attempts at self-immolation within the USSR.

On 14 May 1972 Romas Kalanta died after dousing himself in petrol and setting light to his clothes in one of the squares in Kaunas (CCE 26.11). He was holding a placard that read, “Freedom for Lithuania”. His example was followed on 28 May in Varena (Lithuania) by Stonis, and on 3 June by a 60-year-old worker named Andriusevicus, again in Kaunas (see CCE 26.11).


Razin’s suicide was not the only such dramatic event of the past year in Russia.

On 31 October 2018, a young man later identified as 17-year-old student Mikhail Zhlobitsky blew himself up outside the entrance to FSB Regional HQ in Arkhangelsk (see Radio Svoboda report, in Russian). The incident was later classified as a terrorist attack.

Journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva discussed the incident on 7 November 2018 in her regular programme on the “Echo Moskvky in Pskov” radio station. Subsequently, she was arrested and threatened with two years’ imprisonment for promoting terrorism.



[1] See Damelya Aitkhozina, “Self-immolation highlights controversy over cultural rights in Russia”, Open Democracy, 12 September 2019.