The Orange Alternative

The Orange Alternative is the name of an artistic and opposition movement, which was created in the 1980s in Wrocław (a city in south-west Poland) by a history and art history student, Waldemar Fydrych known as "Major" aka "Commander of Festung Wrocław".  Strongly influenced by dadaism and surrealism, it organized happenings and was one of most picturesque elements of the Polish opposition against communism. The symbol of the Orange Alternative - Dwarf with a Flower - came from the dwarf graffti painted by Waldemar "Major" Fydrych in the years 1982-1983, during the martial law period in Poland, on spots painted by the secret police to hide anti-regime slogans written on city walls.

Initially it was the name of a student newspaper published by Major Fydrych, Wiesław Cupała, Piotr "Pablo" Adamcio, Zenon Zegarski and Andrzej Dziewit during the first student strike in Wrocław in 1981. The name had come from Andrzej Dziewit`s fascination with the Provos movement active in the late 1960s in Netherlands.

Particularly active in the period 1986-1989, while Solidarity protests have been taking a deep breath and were inactive, the Orange Alternative was the purest expression of Socialist Surrealism. Unlike those pursuing national or economic freedom, the Orange Alternative made no explicit demands at all; rather, it had 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.

During 1988, the Orange wave spilled out throughout Poland with "happenings" also organized in other major Polish cities like Łódź, Lublin, 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.

On another occasion, Stalinist hymns were sung by a crowd which gathered round the chimpanzee cage in Wroclaw Zoo. Following the release of activists 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, the Orange Alternative had enjoyed success and popular support (on occasions attracting the participation of up to 10,000 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.

Whilst initially the 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. The movement included in its ranks Krzysztof Skiba, presently a known performer and the leader of "Big Tit" music group, and in Wrocław, as a very young man, Mateusz Morawiecki, prime minister of Poland.

Bakhtin argues in his book Rabelais and his World, in the chapter on the history of laughter, that in the process of resisting hypocrisy "laughing truth... degraded power".

The Orange Alternative happenings such as Revolution of Dwarfs in 1988 during which the regime`s militia forces were ordered to disband and arrest thousands of “dwarfs"  (i.e. people wearing orange dwarf hats), were instrumental in undercutting the morale of the regime security forces. As the Orange Alternative founder, Major  Fydrych once said: Can you treat a police officer seriously, when he is asking you: "Why did you participate in an illegal meeting of dwarfs?" .

This truth was furthermore confirmed by General Jaruzelski himself who, when interviewed in December 2009, recalled telling General Kiszczak, his minister of interior affairs and public security, to let the Orange Alternative go as any attacks on its activists were only making the state security forces worse off.

That is why the New York Times wrote that “Solzhenitsyn destroyed Communism morally, Kolakowski philosophically and the Orange Alternative aesthetically".

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 the Orange Alternative. Major Fydrych’s master thesis is in in the collection of University of California at Berkeley, USA. At the time the Orange Alternative inspired other rebellious movements and people in the countries of the Soviet Block. In communist Hungary, oppositionists published a newspaper called "Hungarian Orange." In Czechoslovakia it inspired the movement called "Česke Deti". It offered inspiration to similar groups even in the Soviet Union itself and it continues to inspire other people engaged in social, political and artistic activities around the world and in Poland.

Today, from the perspective of several decades, the Orange Alternative can be seen as one of the world’s most influential currents in the history of the civic disobedience and anti-totalitarian struggle and one of the greatest examples of peaceful opposition in the Mahatma Ghandi’s spirit of non-violence.

Since 2000, the leader of the Orange Alternative, Waldemar "Major" Fydrych staged a number of happenings in Poland and abroad, for example in France in collaboration with students from the 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, Waldemar "Major" Fydrych and his students were invited by Mayor of Nancy to organize a happening celebrating the accession of new countries to the European Union as part of the Traverse Festival in that city. In December of 2004, while Ukraine was drowned in the social upheaval of the Orange Revolution , Major Fydrych with a group of students joined in it with a happening “Kyiv – Warsaw – common affair". They went in the Orange Bus from Warsaw to Kyiv, stopping on the road in Polish and Ukrainian cities with happenings during which participants of all ages continued knitting the Orange Scarf of Support, initiated earlier in Warsaw by Ruslana, the singer – icon of the Orange Revolution.

This Scarf measuring altogether 16 meters was handed in to Ruslana by Major and Maia, a young student of Polish-Ukrainian origin, on the date of the 2nd vote  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 the Orange Alternative was organized by an eurodeputy, Marie-Anne Isler Beguin 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 at the Kyiv Mohyla Academy, the best Ukrainian gallery located on the grounds of the most prestigious university.