A Banknote that Tells Stories

by Tamas Revbiro

I have carefully put a worn and torn old banknote in my scanner, and scanned both sides to show it to you.

The note was first put into circulation in 1970 in a country called Czechoslovakia in the heart of Europe.

Today there is no such country, but in the late Sixties and early Seventies the world was eagerly watching what happened there. In August 1968, liberal political leadership was overthrown by troops from Russia and other countries of the Warsaw pact. The movement then called the Prague Spring was crushed, and months of futile resistance followed.

Jan Palach, a young man in his early twenties burnt himself on St. Wentzel Square in suicidal protest. There were casualties, among them a young woman, who was shot in the head in a clash between the military powers and the people of the city.

During and after this period, there was severe retaliation. Leading intellectuals of the country, scientists, university professors, authors and the like ended up as steel workers, taxi drivers, waiters etc.; an incredible waste of manpower took place in Czechoslovakia. Many were sent to prison. Perhaps the designer of this banknote escaped imprisonment, because — to my best knowledge — the artifact shown here was in use up to the last days of the country; it never was extracted from circulation.

The front of the note shows the portrait of Count Jan Zizka, (c. 1376—Oct. 11, 1424, national hero of Bohemia who led Hussite Protestant armies against the Germans), drawn after a sculpture representing the one-eyed Zizka.

The back of the note seems to be the reproduction of a Medieval codex illustration showing Zizka's army marching with flying colors to victory.

The problem is that reputedly there is no original to this illustration. It is a cleverly wrought fake specially designed to ridicule the oppressor and the dummy leadership of the country put into power by the Russians.

The details seem to prove it beyond any doubt.

The man who leads the procession carrying a sunflower (the symbol of opportunism) has two left hands.

The person who follows him on horseback brandishing a wooden club is blindfolded.

The others behind them are all sorts of idiots and cripples; for instance, one of them has three legs…

The background around this image seems to comprise the value of the note (20 Korun or Crowns) in an ornamental arrangement. Turning it into a mirror image reveals that it actually is SOS, the international signal for help repeated thousands of times: a country's desperate cry to the international community.

Let us now reverse the note and have a closer look of the Zizka head. The original of this stone statue really exists, but slight alterations have been made to it on the drawing. To decipher their meaning, the note has to be turned upside down.

On the left hand side of the head a distorted face can be detected — it is the likeness of the student who burnt himself in the main square of Prague.

The right hand side of the head reveals the face of the girl with a bullet hole under her right eye — the wound that killed her.

On the back, the names of the banknote's creators are clearly displayed. Karel Hruska and Milos Ondracek.

Let us hope that they are both alive and well.

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