The Wrocław Dwarfs: From Political Protest to Silliness for its own Sake

31 May 2017

The Polish city of Wrocław was, in the 1980s, still in the thrall of an authoritarian communist regime.  A dissident protest movement, Orange Underground, evolved to peacefully protest against the regime as part of the wider Solidarity movement.  These protests would be as nonsensical as possible, so that the police could not arrest its members without becoming a laughing stock.  When the authorities painted over anti-government graffiti, Orange Underground moved to respond. In perhaps its most fondly remembered antic, its members painted dwarfs on top of the whitewash. This was commemorated in 2001: with the country now a democratic state, the council placed a sculpture of a dwarf on the city’s Świdnicka Street.  It didn’t stop there.

The first monument (see below) was not alone for very long.  Soon, dwarfs began appearing all over the city.  They were not as large as the original but positioned in places where people might come across them and smile at their incongruity in a busy, modern metropolis of over 600,000 people. 

One might wonder why dwarfs (in Polish: krasnale, krasnoludki). Members of Orange Underground chose them as a symbol for their movement and back in the 1980s it must have made perfect sense: the ubiquitous, anonymous little guy fights back. Plus as the movement’s leader Waldemar 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?

Image Credit Flickr User Piotr
A quick glance at the original and it can be quickly and easily divined that a series was not, at first, planned. What started as a single monument has blossomed in to a city-wide celebration.

Image Credit Flickr User Nozoomii
Image Credit Flickr User JZ
Image Credit Wikimedia
After the original statue was erected, slowly, but surely, the dwarfs started to multiply. This was all with the blessing of the city’s authorities.  It may be one of the few examples where the powers that be have commemorated a subversive movement dedicated to the downfall of the (then) state with such enthusiasm. 

Image Credit Flickr User Klearchos Kapoutsis
Image Credit Flickr User Klearchos Kapoutsis
Throughout the city, dwarfs can be seen carrying on with their day to day lives.  Some entertain one another with song; others participate in imbibing as much alcohol as they possibly can and one even prepares to carry an important message via pigeon post - quite possibly a request for more hard liquor.

Image Credit Flickr User Klearchos Kapoutsis
Image Credit Flickr User Elzbieta-s
When you live a life of partying, however, sometimes all you want to do is take a nap in the morning sunshine outside your home. Occasionally, you might even move your bed outside.

Image Credit Flickr User Radek Pula
Image Credit Flickr User Magic Madzik
 Of course, the general dwarf population of any city is not known for its reluctance to celebrate anything and everything.  When tipsy enthusiasm turns to drunken abandon there are always going to be repercussions.

Image Credit Flickr User Nozoomi
Image Credit Flickr User Elsbieta-s
Image Credit Wikimedia
Some dwarfs are seen to be getting on with life's little tasks.

Image Credit Flickr User Klearchos Kapoutsis
Image Credit Flickr User Elsbieta-s
Others still have been placed in order to highlight a particular issue.  The three above, for example, were commissioned for the city’s 2008 Wrocław Without Barriers campaign. This was part of the authority’s commitment to raise awareness of disability issues in and around the city.

Image Credit Flickr User Nozoomii
Image Credit Flickr User LaChan
However, it seems that the chief occupation of most of the dwarfs is... carousing, even if not everyone makes it to his bed.

Image Credit Flickr User Elsbieta-s
Image Credit Flickr User Adam79
Note the use of the word his. Out of the huge number (250 and growing) of dwarfs in Wrocław, so far only three are female (and we have found pictures of all three of them).  This may be indicative of folklore where male dwarfs always seem to vastly outnumber the female of their species. Or it could be a sign of their natural proclivities: perhaps they are a race of, ahem, bachelor boys.

Image Credit Wikimedia
Image Credit Wikimedia
Image Credit Wikimedia
That aside, here are the ladies. The first is seen serving beer: it has to be said that female emancipation may not yet have reached the Wroclaw dwarfs but at least the second seems to be having more fun in the workplace in as much as the work bit has disappeared from the word. The third seems to be preparing for a date. Perhaps the triumph of hope over experience in this boystown?

Image Credit Flickr User Piotr
Image Credit Wikimedia
The dwarfs have become such a popular attraction in the city that the local tourist office even publishes a leaflet telling would-be dwarf spotters where to find them.  What started as a form of political protest may now be just an excuse for a little silliness for its own sake. Yet there is serious history here too, which, thanks to the dwarfs, will not be forgotten.

Image Credit Wikimedia
Second Image Credit Flickr User Nozoomi


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