After the Second World War, Soviet influence over Eastern Europe became all encompassing to such a degree that Winston Churchill described it as an Iron Curtain descending. For decades, communism kept countires like Poland, East Germany and Hungary, firmly under its heel, but as time passed, disaffection set in. Beginning in January 1968, reformist Alexander Dubček was elected First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ) and he set in place a series of reforms that became known as the Prague Spring.
Alarmed by the reforms, the Soviet Union, using as an excuse the recently signed Bratislava Decleration – one that gave Warsaw Pact countries the right to intervene if a member government showed ‘bourgeois’ tendencies – invaded with upwards of 250,000 troops on the night of 20–21 August 1968. That number more than doubled in the following weeks and it took months to quell the demonstrations. Over 500 were seriously wounded during the occupation, and 137 Czechoslovakian citizens lost their lives. It wasn’t until the Velvet Revolution of 1989 that the country finally broke free of the Soviet yoke.
To commemorate the demonstrations against the invasion, the National Bank of Slovakia has issued an 18 gram, 0.900 silver coin with the snappy title “The spontaneous, non-violent civic resistance against the Warsaw Pact invasion of August 1968”. The reverse face of the coin takes a small part of perhaps the most famous contemporary image of the event, one taken in Bratislava by young photographer, Laco Bielik. Called “The Bare-chested Man in Front of the Occupiers Tank”, it appeared on the front page of newspapers around the world and infuriated the Soviets. This potent image is a fine basis for the coin and the number 50 in the background does little to diminsh it.
The obverse has the number 68 in place of the 50, representing the year the events took place, this time behind rows of symbolic barbed wire. Designed by artist Patrik Kovačovský, with his work translated to an engraving by Dalibor Schmidt, the coin was struck by the Kremnica Mint. Two versions are available, differing only in finish. The higher quality proof variant will have a maximum mintage of 6,650 pieces, while the cheaper brilliant uncirculated variant will top out at just 2,850. The coin should be available to order now.