- the Story -

The Big Manouvers
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Orange Alternative
(Pomarañczowa Alternatywa) is a name for an underground anarchic movement, which was started in 1981 in Wroclaw, a city located in south-west Poland, by Waldemar Fydrych, known as Major (Commander of the Festung Breslau). Bearing some traits of Provos, and strongly influenced by dadaism and surrealism, it organized happenings, painted absurd graffiti dwarfs on city walls, which became its symbol and was one of most picturesque element of Polish opposition against communism.

It is said that the name of Orange Alternative arrives from Orange being in the middle of colors representing two major political powers in Poland (until this very day) – the Red for the Communist or left, and the Yellow for the Church and the right; initially it was the name of a student newspaper published by Major Fydrych and Andrzej Dziewit during the first student strike in Wroc³aw in 1981. In fact, the name had come from Andrzej Dziewit's fascination with the Provos movement in the Netherlands of late 1960's.

One of thousands of Dwarfs opposing Communism...
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Particularly active in the period 1986-1989, while more familiar protests have been gathering pace across Eastern Europe, Orange Alternative was the purest expression of Socialist Surrealism. Unlike those pursuing nationalistic or economic freedom, Orange Alternative made no explicit demands at all; rather, it has adopted an altogether more radical strategy - that of directly challenging on the streets the State’ monopoly on Truth.

Many of these events have been truly inspired, combining playfulness with a ruthlessly tongue-in-cheek approach that had consistently wrong-footed the authorities. The prime mover and inspirational leader of Orange Alternative was “Major” - the taciturn yet charismatic Waldemar Fydrych – former graduate in history and the history of art. Major was also the main initiator of the "happenings", the most successful of which had, as time passed, been honed down into succinct anecdotes that received multiple airings in the western press.

A young Major on a TV clip...
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During 1988, the Orange wave spilled out throughout Poland with "happenings" also organized in other major Polish cities like Poznan, Gdansk, Krakow and Warsaw; during the Nowa Huta strikes in 1988, a letter was read out to the workers giving support to strikes in the most fulsome terms. The author of the letter was Lenin.

PA Activists carrying a slogan to one of the happenings...
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On another occasion, Stalinist hymns were sung by a crowd which gathered round the chimpanzee cage in Wroclaw Zoo.

Following the release of activist and Polish Socialist Party members Pinior and Borowczyk on June 30th 1988, a demonstration took place featuring a mock trial at which the defendants were Pinior, Borowczyk, Marx and Engels. Later on in 1988, on the anniversary of the Russian Revolution, 4000 people marched through Warsaw chanting "We love Lenin".

In all its actions, Orange Alternative had enjoyed success and popular support (on occasions attracting the participation of up to 13,000 people) by outwitting and embarrassing authorities, who maintained a system which relied on a single version of the truth for its survival and who were used to a more direct form of protest.

The Revolution of Dwarfs in Wroclaw, 1988
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A dwarf just left the wall...
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Whilst initially Orange Alternative had attracted some criticism that the style of their actions brought the opposition into disrepute, their success in partially demystifying opposition by involving ordinary people in actions in such a way that they did not have to take on the lifestyle of a militant gained it the support of mainstream oppositionists from WiP (Peace and Freedom) and the Polish Socialist Party.

Orange Alternative did not die along with the demise of the communism. It just changed of the target. Following a brief suspension of activity in 1989, the movement was reactivated in 2001 in a happening “Dwarf for President” run simultaneously with elections to Warsaw’s Presidency, and featuring slogans such as “vote for dwarfs: only dwarfs can save the country!”.

A dolar banknote with Major's portrait
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A poster from the presidential campaign in 1989
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Its traces are found all throughout the world in form of doctoral theses, numerous articles and books. Its spirit permeated American universities resulting in the University of Syracuse student anarchy journal called “Orange Alternative”, as well as a number of courses on art, sociology and political thought that study the phenomenon of Orange Alternative.

Orange Alternative has been also active outside of Poland. Several events have been recently organized in collaboration with students from Arras and Nancy universities, targeting such ills of the present day society as a police state, stereotypes and negative aspects of globalization.

On May 1st 2004, Orange Alternative was invited by Mayor of Nancy to organize a happening celebrating the accession of new countries to European Union as part of the Traverse Festival staged by the students of University de Nancy. In December of 2004, while Ukraine was drowned in the Orange Revolution social upheaval, Major Fydrych with a group of students joined the Revolution with a happening “Kyiv – Warsaw – our common affair”. They went in an Orange Bus from Warsaw to Kyiv, stopping on the road in Polish and Ukrainian cities with happenings, during which participants of all ages were making the Orange Scarf of Support, initiated earlier in Warsaw by Ruslana, the singer – icon of the Orange Revolution.

Ruslana in Warsaw OA's Happening
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This Scarf was handed in to Ruslana by Major and Maia, a young student of Polish-Ukrainian origin, in front of thousands of supporters assembled on the Majdan Square, as the symbol of renewed friendship between Poles and Ukrainians.

Ruslana gave the Scarf to President Elect Yushchenko, minutes after his victory was announced. On June of 2005, an exposition dedicated to the history and achievements of Orange Alternative was organized by several eurodeputies at the European Parliament in Brussels. In November and December 2005, an exhibit on Orange Alternative was shown in major Ukrainian cities, including an over month long stay at the Center for Contemporary Arts of George Soros at the Kyiv Mohyla Academy, the best Ukrainian gallery located on the grounds of the most prestigious academic and intellectual center of Ukraine.

Orange Ukraine's leaders with the scarf
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Ukrainian student group R.E.P. makes a happening inspired by Orange Alternative}
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French students in happening inspired by and co-organized by Orange Alternative's Major
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Today, from the perspective of several decades, Orange Alternative can be seen as one of the world’s very influential currents in the history of the civic disobedience and anti-totalitarian struggle and one of the greatest examples of peaceful opposition inscribing itself in the Mahatma Ghandi’s spirit of non-violence.

Based on George Branchflower’s article, autumn 1988

from Here & Now no.7/8


Copyright (c) 2004- La Papesse