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160th Anniversary of the January Uprising

The January Uprising was one of the most important events in 19th century Poland. Its premature launch was due to the announcement of compulsory conscription to the Russian army, a move that was supposed to break up the Polish conspiracy movement. On the night of 22 to 23 January 1863, an armed uprising against the Russian occupier began and the Manifesto was proclaimed by the Provisional National government calling to arms the nations of the former Polish Commonwealth. The visible symbol of the joint struggle was the adopted tripartite coat of arms featuring the Polish Eagle, the Lithuanian Chase and Michael the Archangel symbolizing Ruthenia. The coat of arms also featured an inscription describing the goals of the insurrection: Equality–Freedom–Independence.

Despite the uprising’s insufficient preparation and premature launch, the insurgents fought a heroic battle against the Russian Empire for one and a half years. In the face of overwhelming enemy superiority and an acute shortage of weapons, the only viable form of combat was guerrilla warfare. It engulfed the Kingdom of Poland and large swathes of today’s Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine. Great support was provided by Poles living in the other two partitions: the Prussian and the Austrian. This is where volunteers, weapons and supplies came from, and this is where the insurgents found refuge.

Enemy superiority and the brutal repressions it applied suppressed the insurrection. Graves, exiles and emigrants, destruction and forced contributions as well as the adopted sharp course towards Russification were the price which the Poles paid for their emancipatory aspirations. The peasant reforms carried out at that time contributed, however, to opening a new era in Polish history and to the inclusion of the rural population in the national movement.

The insurrection of 1863–1864 became a moral foundation for those who fought for the independence of their homeland during World War I. After Poland regained independence, the insurgents gained veteran status. They were entitled to wear special uniforms, they received honours, and their fellow countrymen widely considered them to be living legends of the struggle for freedom. The memory of the January Uprising left a clear mark on the national culture and heritage, becoming an important element in building the historic awareness of many subsequent generations of Poles.

The central part of the reverse of the gold coin features a panoply with banners and the January Uprising tripartite coat of arms composed of the crowned White Eagle symbolizing Poland, the Chase symbolizing Lithuania and Michael the Archangel symbolizing Ruthenia. The image presented on the coin constitutes a fragment of a banner from the times of the January Uprising (the banner from the collection of the Polish Army Museum in Warsaw).

The reverse of the silver coin features a fragment of a drawing by Walery Eljasz-Radzikowski entitled “Insurgent patrol in 1863” depicting a group of Polish insurgents. On the left, there is a seal of the Polish National Government with a crowned tripartite coat of arms featuring the White Eagle, the Chase and Michael the Archangel. Around the coat of arms, an inscription: RZĄD NARODOWY RÓWNOŚĆ WOLNOŚĆ NIEPODLEGŁOŚĆ [POLISH NATIONAL GOVERNMENT EQUALITY FREEDOM INDEPENDENCE].

The obverse of the silver coin features a stylised banner and weapons (scythe, sabre, rifle) from the January Uprising period.

Wojciech Kalwat