Self-immolation is a way to get attention. Just ask Ndreca, Palach, Plocek, and Zajíc. There is a whole list that I can barely fathom, especially since the last one was in 15 days ago. They've picked up popularity, though I wasn't aware of almost any of the immolations in the past 10 years, which have to do with Tibet or an Indian province that would like to separate. But they had a strong tradition in the USSR.
This form of protest is considered the ultimate sacrifice - the martyrdom of fire. It's a very flamboyant, dramatic display of protest, one that easily gets attention. It speaks to a desperation that can only be announced in such a destructive way. It's a suicide, a call for attention, a cry for help. The failed revolutions of 1956, they were a cry, but it gets muddled in the details of battle. Immolation is a self-destructive act that is not provoked by battle and shows that the victim could only seek relief from non-combatant pressures by using his death as a smoke signal.
It's almost as if all their pain is the gasoline to their fire and there is such ample fuel that they combust on their own. In reality, there is gasoline and the combustion is from a spark or a tiny bit of fire. That's not very poetic. The poetry of their deed speaks to the combustion of the human spirit, lit on fire by the oppression pushing them into a corner. This isn't a hunger strike, which is a slow, but not inevitable, death. It's so slow it doesn't quicken your pulse. The fire consumes the person entirely, not a moment is to waste if they want to live. But they burn, burn, burn, and soon they extinguish like the flame. They die of their wounds, like a burning ember, or they are consumed by the fire. Fire is often a symbol of fragility, how we go "out like a light" and get snuffed, but it has such immense power and explodes in the moment of its creation. It's the bright burst of power that can fall away in a moment's notice, leaving only the impression of its short life. It doesn't linger like a supernova, it doesn't leave traces like any other explosion. It is almost entirely self-contained in its destruction, leaving only fine traces that anything was there to provide fuel.
They burned themselves at the stake, but that stake was invisible. It is the greater forces, the Soviet oppression, that tied them there to burn. Though of their own free will, they do not feel that freedom and burn to pay the price, to open the door for freedom. It purges them of all the injustice that was laid on their shoulders, seeping into their skin, and worming its way into their soul. Their souls will not be mangled by the choices laid before them; they will burn bright and true to absolve them from this terrible fate. Everyone knew this mangling was working its way in, but only the brave few put their lips to the coal to clean themselves, to release themselves in an act of truth and defiance. They did not pit within the pressures of the system and it set them alight.
Their fire, while burnt out, left ashes scattered about, sitting in the cracks of their nation, irritating it and never letting it rest. The pebble in their nation's shoe. The memory of the bright flames has not died and it is part of a history that hardly seems real anymore. They knew what we knew: you cannot be free unless you set yourself alight to burn bright and shed light into the darkness of oppression. But it does not need to gasoline. It only need be the fuel sitting inside you.