The Orange Alternative: There Is No Freedom without Dwarfs
March 17, 2019 10:48 AM   Subscribe

The cheeky gnomes taking over Wrocław -- Cute as they may be, each statue is a nod to the Orange Alternative, an anti-Soviet resistance movement that helped bring down Poland’s oppressive communist regime in the 1980s (BBC Travel). By opposing conformism and consumerism with intelligent humour, the Orange Alternative (Pomaranczowa Alternatywa) movement achieved a considerable artistic victory over the Communist regime. Their continuing influence upon Polish political protest is noticeable to this day. (
Although it sounds like little more than a twee tourist gimmick, gnomes have long held a place in Polish folklore, and their current iconic incarnation as symbols of Wrocław actually has a direct correlation to the political climate of the 1980s. Under communism gnomes became the absurdist calling card of the 'Orange Alternative' movement – an underground protest movement that used absurdity and nonsense to stage peaceful, yet subversive protests. Armed with paint cans and led by Waldemar ‘Major’ Fydrych, an artist and art history student at Wrocław University, the group specifically ridiculed the establishment’s attempts to censor public space. During communism, any anti-establishment graffiti or public art was quickly painted over by the militia; upon seeing fresh daubs of paint, the pranksters of the Orange Alternative quickly painted over them yet again...with gnomes. As the movement gained popularity, gnomes became inexorably linked with the Orange Alternative and Wrocław, though they soon began appearing in other major Polish cities as well.
Gnomenclature: Wrocław's Gnomes (In Your Pocket)
posted by filthy light thief (7 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
country roads take me gnome
posted by growabrain at 12:31 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]

The article's description of the dwarf protests was really interesting in light of reading Nothing is True and Anything is Possible recently, which describes the way that Putin's Russia has coopted many disparate 'liberal' movements in the service of a kleptocratic state. As in, today the dwarf protests would be coordinated by the KGB, or the KGB would organize elven counter-protests, or something.
posted by ropeladder at 1:26 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]

As in, today the dwarf protests would be coordinated by the KGB, or the KGB would organize elven counter-protests, or something.

Sometimes I wonder if that's who's behind all the "ironic" tankie memers out there.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:15 PM on March 17 [4 favorites]

Thanks for this -- I spotted a single Sisyphus when I passed through Wrocław in 2004.
posted by Rash at 8:58 PM on March 17

Wrocław is Poland at its most charming and, for many, its least pronounceable

More unpronounceable than, say, Łódź or Bydgoszcz, or the tongue-twister Szczebrzeszyn?

Wrocław may not roll off the English-speaking tongue, but in terms of Polish place names, it'd be at the beginner-to-intermediate level.
posted by acb at 7:57 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]

I think the difficulty in pronouncing Wroclaw is really how innocuous it looks. Like, it seems totally pronounceable. Rock-law! Got it in o-- Wait. Where did that T come from? Was it made out of the missing L?

My Dad was born there, but back when it was Breslau.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:20 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]

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