Krasnale and Pomarańczowa Alternatywa: the story of the dwarves of Wrocław7 min read

 In Analysis, Central Europe, Civil Society

Until not long ago, a small goblin lived in the green grass on the banks of the Oder River. He was known as the Oder Goblin. He entertained himself by playing pranks on the citizens of Wrocław, who quickly got tired of his jokes. The citizens tried in vain to catch him, but the Oder Goblin was small, fast, and smart. One day, someone decided to ask the dwarves for help. They accepted, and persuaded the Oder Goblin to return to the green grass by the Oder River, where he had lived before, and was never seen again. As a sign of gratitude, and in fear that the goblin could return, the citizens of Wrocław invited the dwarves to stay and live in the city.

Dwarves trying to move a ball to the right place

Wrocław is, indeed, the city of dwarves. Some of them are extroverted and invite you to get closer and get acquainted; others are shier, and it takes a good dose of exploration and adventure to find and meet them. Each dwarf tells a story and invites you to discover more about their life, starting from Papa Krasnal, the very first dwarf that appeared on Świdnicka Street. 

Wrocław’s dwarves are the protagonists of legends and tales, are present in literature, and are the top tourist attraction for those who visit Wrocław for the first time. However, we surely do not want to forget about the crucial role that they played in our history! The past of the little dwarves is well-entangled in the socio-political context of Poland in the 1980s, and this is exactly where the following story begins.

Papa Krasnal on Świdnicka Street

On the nights of 30 and 31 August 1982, two little dwarves appeared on the walls of Wrocław – one in the neighbourhood of Sępolno, and the other one in the nearby neighbourhood of Biskupin. They were painted on the wall by Waldemar “Major” Fydrych, founder of the anarchist, political-cultural movement Pomarańczowa Alternatywa (Orange Alternative). Major aimed to show the hypocrisy, absurdities, and defects of the communist regime by mocking the system and making people laugh at the same time. With Orange Alternative, he organized several happenings over the years and painted graffiti of dwarves, who became the symbol of the movement, all over Wrocław. 

Major had the idea to give birth to dwarves while sitting on the tram. “Stains are everywhere, there are thousands of them. People wrote anti-communist slogans on almost every house. I know what to do with those stains. I will draw dwarves” he explained in his book Lives of the Orange Men. “The stains in the city are probably more than thousands, and probably a million in the whole country. If millions of dwarves appear on stains, people will gather strength and the regime will fall”.

This is how the dwarves came to life. The communist regime had covered all the anti-communist slogans written on the walls, so Major decided to cover the stains by painting colourful dwarves. Krasnoludek z kwiatem (Dwarf with the flower), also known as Życzliwek (Well-wisher), became the symbol of the Orange Alternative. Nowadays, the little dwarf can be found in Rynek, Wrocław’s main square, smiling and holding a flower in his left hand. He is the ambassador of Kindness, and happily promotes this lifestyle.

Życzliwek promoting a kind lifestyle

Let us go back to the years 1987 — 1989, when the Orange Alternative was particularly active. All the initiatives organized by the movement were extremely successful and gathered more than ten thousand people, happy to finally have a chance to laugh and make fun of the communist regime. A lot of happenings were organized during those years, each of them having a title and serving a specific purpose.

On 1 June 1987, Major organized one of the most well-known happenings, called Krasnale. Hats of dwarves were sewn specifically for this event and people dressed up as dwarves and wearing orange hats danced joyfully on Świdnicka Street, singing “My jestesmy krasnoludki” (“We Are Dwarves”). Major thought that the Soviet army would intervene by taking the hats off the participants; however, they started to arrest them or, as Major recalls: “They started to arrest the dwarves”. The outcome of the event resonated throughout all of Wrocław.

Another happening took place in October 1987 and was titled Kto się boi papieru toaletowego? (Who Is Afraid of Toilet Paper?). Toilet paper was hard to find during the Communist regime, so the activists started to distribute toilet paper to the people walking down Świdnicka Street. As a result, the Soviet army ended up checking peoples’ bags for toilet paper. 

One more happening was organized on the occasion of the October Revolution, and was called the Wigilia Wielkiej Rewolucji Październikowej (Eve of the Great October Revolution). For this special occasion, a paper bird called Aurora flew over the streets of Wrocław, while underneath a group of people dressed in red promoted Lenin’s ideas. “Comrade, dress up for the feast. Wear red shoes, hats, scarves. Borrow a red purse from your neighbor, paint your fingers red, buy a red baguette with ketchup” promoted the activists. The aim of the march was to conquer Barbara, a bar in Świdnicka Street, but the bar was closed.

In December 1987, the citizens of Wrocław woke up one day with the information that Santa Claus had been arrested. Christmas was getting closer, and some men were hired with the specific purpose of being dressed up as Santa Claus to lighten up the spirit in the central parts of the city. The happening started at 16:00 on Świdnicka Street; some activists were dressed up as goblins, some of them as Christmas trees. Finally, a group of people dressed up as Santa Claus appeared, and they were all tied up with a rope, in an attempt to prevent the Soviet soldiers from arresting them. 

The event was described as such by Major: “Elves dressed as Christmas trees were running around. Some of them, together with some Santa Clauses, distributed sweets, trumpets and whistles. When the army arrested the fourth Santa Claus, they started to sing “Happy Birthday”. Christmas balls and spruces were hanging to the underground passage. To get Santa Clauses back, the crowd moved towards the building of the Presidium of the Army. Close to the opera house, there were many Soviet soldiers. The Army arrested another Santa Claus who was shouting that he was real”. The crowd continued marching under the temporary slogan “uwolnić sw. Mikołaja” – “Let Us Free Santa Claus”. The activists managed to confuse the Soviet army, who could not tell the  “real” Santa Clauses from the “fakes”, the activists. 

In March 1989 another clever happening was organized under the title Dzień Tajniaka (Day Undercover). A leaflet invited everybody to dress up as a secret spy: to wear black sunglasses, hats and raincoats, and to carry microphones and write down notes in notebooks. “You should use secret signs too” said the leaflet. “Scratch your nose, blink, fold the newspaper, bite your fingers”. The people who were walking by did not know who was the real spy and who were the activists pretending to be spies, and neither did the Soviet soldiers. The behaviour of the activists confused the real spies too, as they could not tell the difference and, thus, not do their job.

Female Wrocław citizen protesting for women’s rights

The dwarves were born in Wroclaw, but their deeds were already well-known in Gdańsk, Krakow, Poznań, and Warsaw. From 1988 – 1989, the actions of the Orange Alternative were documented by Polish and foreign press, both official and underground. The Orange Alternative denounced the absurdities of socialist society, laughed at the system and broke the fear connected to it. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the change of the political regime, the actions of the Orange Alternative started to resonate less among the citizens. However, the dwarves in Wrocław are here to remind us of their past, glorious deeds.

Recommended Posts