Roman Mars [00:00:01] Vrbo offers whole vacation homes with the space to spend quality time with the people you love. In a Vrbo vacation home, a host doesn’t stay with you. So, when you rent a Vrbo, you get the whole upstairs, the whole downstairs, and the whole nap room–which is any room really if you try hard enough–where you can just be together because the most important thing in the world is quality time with your loved ones. Book your next day on the Vrbo app. Whether you’re a driverless car engineer or an augmented reality designer, Squarespace is the online platform to help you stand out with a beautiful website, engage with your audience, and sell anything. With Squarespace, you can collect email subscribers and convert them into loyal customers, display posts from your social profiles on your website, and even use the Analytics feature to gain insights to grow your business. Head to squarespace.com/invisible for a free trial–and when you’re ready to launch, use the offer code “invisible” to save 10% off your first purchase of a website or domain. This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars. In the months following the invasion of Ukraine, this one piece of graffiti started popping up on walls in cities across Russia–eight asterisks, written out all in a row.
Alexandra Arkhipova [00:01:15] Eight asterisks instead of the phrase, “No war.” In Russian, it’s eight letters.
Roman Mars [00:01:23] Alexandra Arkhipova is a Russian anthropologist. She’s been documenting different forms of protest happening inside Russia. Today, Russians can face years in prison if they’re caught speaking out against the war.
Alexandra Arkhipova [00:01:35] In Russia, you cannot say “war.” It’s forbidden. It’s absolutely forbidden.
Roman Mars [00:01:39] And so people are using symbols like the asterisk instead.
Alexandra Arkhipova [00:01:43] It’s coded language which people are trying to hide their messages in some innocent form to pretend that they’re saying some innocent things. But in reality, they’re not.
Sofie Kodner [00:01:58] And those innocent looking codes are evolving fast. Take, for example, the image of a fish that started to appear across Russia.
Roman Mars [00:02:06] That’s reporter Sofie Kodner.
Sofie Kodner [00:02:08] Back in September, a woman in Russia wrote out the Russian word for “no” in chalk in the street. But then, instead of writing out the Russian word for “war”–“Войне”–she wrote just the first and last letters of the Russian word with asterisks in between.
Roman Mars [00:02:23] Russian authorities had caught on to the asterisk thing by this point. So, the woman was detained by police and tried in court.
Sofie Kodner [00:02:30] At the hearing, she told the judge that the asterisks didn’t represent the letters in the word “war,” but rather another word that’s spelled almost exactly the same way.
Alexandra Arkhipova [00:02:40] She told to the judge that it means not “no war.” It means “Нет ВОБЛЕ.” It’s a special type of fish. Judge asked her why she wrote it. She said, “I just hate fish. I can’t stand the smell of fish. I hate fish.”
Sofie Kodner [00:03:01] The judge let her go. And because it was kind of a funny excuse, the story was picked up by the media and spread around the country.
Alexandra Arkhipova [00:03:08] And after that, there is a lot of jokes and graffiti with a symbol of fish. And now the image of fish–the picture of fish–means no war.
Roman Mars [00:03:25] As the restrictions on language and demonstrations in Russia have gotten more and more draconian, the dissent has gotten more and more outrageous.
Alexandra Arkhipova [00:03:34] We are coming to the very strange paradox. This situation became much more terrible, and the signs of protest became funnier and funnier. And that’s why in the very dark moments, the level of humor–of political humor–is going up, up, and up.
Sofie Kodner [00:03:54] This kind of cunning protest art makes for a good story. It shows how creative and resilient people can be in the face of political repression. But it can be hard to gauge its real-world impact. Painting a fish on the side of a wall probably isn’t going to bring down the regime.
Roman Mars [00:04:11] But there is an example from Soviet history of a time when art and humor actually made a massive difference in the trajectory of a different country–Poland.
Sofie Kodner [00:04:20] In the 1980s, a Polish anti-communist group called the Orange Alternative also used a seemingly random symbol to spread its message–a mythical creature with a tiny, pointed hat. And that innocent image amplified a powerful political message to the world, which ultimately contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union.
Roman Mars [00:04:50] The Orange Alternative was started by a man named Waldemar Fydrych–or Major, as he’s called.
Sofie Kodner [00:04:57] Major is an artist with an eccentric reputation. I was in Europe this past summer, and so I decided to pay him a visit. Major lives with his partner, Agnieszka, and their dogs in a cabin in the Polish countryside. I’m there in August, and yellow flowers shoot up from the ground. We’re close to a river, and everywhere smells damp and fresh.
Waldemar Fydrych [00:05:23] Hello, I am Waldemar Fydrych. I made the graffiti before Banksy.
Sofie Kodner [00:05:34] Major is in his late 60s. He has long white hair that’s parted on the side and sits loosely on his shoulders. He speaks slowly, even in Polish. And his canvases are all over the cabin, filled with brightly colored abstract shapes.
Sofie Kodner (Field Tape) [00:05:48] You paint with oil?
Waldemar Fydrych [00:05:50] And this is acrylic.
Agnieszka [00:05:53] Okay, I’m going to bake bread now.
Sofie Kodner [00:05:55] Agnieszka puts a loaf of bread in the oven. She’s making soup for dinner with mushrooms she foraged earlier in the day. I interviewed Major and Agnieszka, too–with Agnieszka translating for Major as closely as possible.
Agnieszka [00:06:16] So in the 1980s, he was like most of the Poles, and he was for freedom. He was a strong supporter of peace. “And I looked like a hippie.”
Roman Mars [00:06:35] At the time, Poland was one of many Eastern European countries aligned with the communist Soviet Union, which was in the throes of an economic crisis.
Agnieszka [00:06:43] We were under stress of poverty. The stress, you know, I remember very well when I was, you know, a child. I mean, I had to wait six hours to buy bread. It was normal.
Roman Mars [00:06:54] In the early 1980s, Poland’s government raised the price of food and other goods. But they didn’t increase wages to match those price hikes, and so people couldn’t afford their basic needs.
Lisa Romanienko [00:07:06] It is the quintessential factor that people must remember is that before it turned into any kind of serious movement, it was just people wanting milk.
Sofie Kodner [00:07:17] Lisa Romanienko is a Polish American sociologist. She’s written about the tactics of the Orange Alternative.
Lisa Romanienko [00:07:23] And then of all the things the communist regime should have never done–they cut the vodka supply, and they really sent the movement in a frenzy.
Sofie Kodner [00:07:34] A labor movement took off under the name Solidarity. It was led by shipyard workers, and it was the first independent labor union in a Soviet-bloc country. And millions of Polish people supported it.
Lisa Romanienko [00:07:47] People were having a backlash. They didn’t necessarily want democracy, but they just wanted food, they wanted freedom, they wanted to be able to dress, they wanted expression of the arts. And, you know, once you take away vodka and children’s food, there was nothing to live for. So, people became very, very powerful, very courageous, and always on the streets.
Roman Mars [00:08:19] But the communist regime responded swiftly, placing the whole country under martial law in 1981.
Newscaster #1 [00:08:24] The armed forces now rule in Poland with martial law and the threat of execution for those who break it.
Roman Mars [00:08:31] The media became heavily censored, curfews were put into place, and everyday movement was restricted.
Sofie Kodner [00:08:37] And during this time–under martial law–people would leave graffiti with messages supporting Solidarity on walls around Poland, including in the city of Wroclaw, where Major lived.
Agnieszka [00:08:48] And most of the graffiti in Poland at the time was written. It was just written slogans. So, for example, “Away with the communism,” or “Solidarity in struggle will win.”
Sofie Kodner [00:09:13] But these slogans wouldn’t last very long.
Agnieszka [00:09:15] And then as soon as they were written, the authorities would come with a fresh bucket of paint and just cover them up. So, you would have all these paint spots all over.
Sofie Kodner [00:09:25] Major grew fascinated with these paint spots. He was an undergraduate art history student at the time, and he was really into surrealism, which is all about using your irrational unconscious mind, liberating yourself from the boundaries of reality.
Agnieszka [00:09:41] And some of those spots were very interesting from the artistic point of view. So, they intrigue him, and he was wondering what he could do with them artistically.
Sofie Kodner [00:09:55] So Major turned to a traditional source of artistic inspiration.
Roman Mars [00:09:59] He smoked a joint and then passed out in public.
Agnieszka [00:10:03] He was high, and he just fell asleep on a piece of grass by the sidewalk.
Sofie Kodner [00:10:10] He fell asleep next to a children’s theater. And when he woke up, he saw a man in costume.
Agnieszka [00:10:15] The man was dressed as a dwarf and holding a bottle of beer in his hand. And then he had this enlightenment that, you know, that’s exactly what he should be drawing on those splashes in those spots.
Sofie Kodner [00:10:38] So Major decided to paint a stick figure dwarf with a little pointed hat. Instead of the beer, he put a flower in its hand.
Sofie Kodner (Field Tape) [00:10:45] Tell me more about why a dwarf?
Agnieszka [00:10:56] Only because of what he told you. Because he was high, because he woke up, because he saw this surreal image of this, you know, dwarf with the bottle in his hand. That’s a feeling he had. It was a feeling. It’s not making a conscious effort to make it a certain way. It’s just following your gut.
Roman Mars [00:11:19] In Polish, the word for this dwarf-elf-gnome-like mythical creature is “krasnoludek,” and they are a big part of Polish folklore, especially children’s tales. They’re less like the dwarves from the Lord of the Rings and more like the borrowers–like little spirits who live in your house and cause mischief.
Agnieszka [00:11:37] So, for example, we have sayings that “little dwarves did it.” For example, somebody, you know, did something wrong, and he says, “It was not me. Oh no, it’s the little dwarves that did it, you know?” And then we have this song, We Are the Dwarves.
Sofie Kodner (Field Tape) [00:11:53] Can you sing it?
Agnieszka [00:11:54] Oh, you don’t want me to. Okay, I’ll sing for you just the first line.
Sofie Kodner [00:12:23] So Major and some of his artist friends started painting dwarves on walls all around Wroclaw. They had to be careful because the city was still under martial law, so they would do it secretly at night.
Roman Mars [00:12:33] And the result was a surreal stack of images painted over each other. First, you had the original Solidarity slogan, then a layer of paint that the authorities had to use to cover up that message, and then those blotches of fresh paint became the perfect canvas for Major and his friends to paint a jolly little dwarf.
Sofie Kodner [00:12:51] The Orange Alternative painted hundreds of these dwarves in cities across Poland. And the silly images resonated with Polish people, in part because they broke through the monotony of martial law.
Agnieszka [00:13:03] Because nothing was appearing during the martial law. And suddenly something would appear that is new. That was already a great idea by itself.
Roman Mars [00:13:12] After about a year and a half of martial law, the Polish government had regained some control over the country. Thousands of Solidarity activists had been arrested, and many remained in jail. Meanwhile, outside of Poland, international pressure was mounting. Sanctions put in place by the United States were hurting the Polish economy. And in July of 1983, martial law was officially lifted.
Lisa Romanienko [00:13:34] I actually got on a plane with my father two days after martial law was lifted and experienced Poland as close to having lived through the hell as any future scholar could have been.
Sofie Kodner [00:13:48] Lisa Romanienko again.
Lisa Romanienko [00:13:49] I had my own personal soldier with a gun pointed at me and following me the day I arrived in Warsaw. So, although I was a teenager, you know, just to be able to see what the aftermath of what the worst of the times that people were living under.
Sofie Kodner [00:14:05] Even though martial law had been lifted, political repression went on. And so, anti-communist groups continued to organize underground.
Roman Mars [00:14:13] The Solidarity labor movement was allied closely with the Catholic Church and had the support of the Pope.
Sofie Kodner [00:14:19] Which was a problem for Major and his artist friends. They supported Solidarity, but they also wanted to distance themselves from the Catholic Church.
Lisa Romanienko [00:14:26] Being artists, they said, “Well, we have to be in between Vatican yellow and communist red. And the color we must focus on is the blend of the yellow and the red, which is orange.”
Sofie Kodner [00:14:38] And so the Orange Alternative was born.
Roman Mars [00:14:45] The artists in the Orange Alternative were anti-authoritarian and advocates for free expression. They published a satirical political magazine and began staging ridiculous demonstrations that they called “happenings.” They took the dwarf graffiti, which by then had popped up all over Poland, and brought it to life in the real world.
Lisa Romanienko [00:15:02] Everybody put on an orange elf hat and an orange scarf and pranced and danced through the streets like there was no tomorrow.
Sofie Kodner [00:15:19] Since they couldn’t advocate for their own rights, they would stage skits and sing songs that advocated for the rights of the krasnoludek.
Lisa Romanienko [00:15:32] I mean, when you looked at the videos in the footage from back in those days and you see, you know, tanks rolling through the streets like you saw in Tiananmen Square. And rather than a guy holding his, like, you know, supermarket bags, you see people donning orange caps and orange capes–large, large groups of orange elves. So, wherever those tanks were going, they had to keep stopping because these elves were just dancing.
Roman Mars [00:16:03] And it just cracked people up at a time when they really needed it.
Lisa Romanienko [00:16:08] Spontaneous laughter was so hard to come by. And these artists and performers were trying so hard to get people to laugh.
Sofie Kodner [00:16:16] But the orange alternative provided more than just comic relief. They also started handing out basic goods that were in short supply in Poland. At their happenings. They would give out things like toilet paper and tampons.
Lisa Romanienko [00:16:28] They had boxes and boxes of sanitary protection. They really had their finger on the pulse of what the people really wanted. So, if you showed up at a happening, you were going to walk away with something that was really crucial for your family’s safety. And they were brilliant in that way.
Sofie Kodner [00:16:45] The police didn’t treat the Orange Alternative lightly. There were many arrests. But the cops also didn’t really know what to make of these artists in costumes handing out tampons. Once after Major was arrested, he was sitting in the back of a police car, and he heard the officer upfront call for backup. Like, “Hey, there are a bunch of dwarves running around down here.”
Agnieszka [00:17:06] And the other the guy responded, “Are you drunk? What dwarves?” Basically, the police also started talking about them as dwarves–you know, not men dressed as dwarves, but as dwarves. And that’s what made it really, you know, even more interesting.
Sofie Kodner [00:17:23] It made a joke of the police and showed everyone just how absurd the situation they were living in had become.
Agnieszka [00:17:29] In the realistic situations you don’t have, you know, the police running around after dwarves, you know? I mean, come on, that’s just so surrealistic. And people, even policemen, they understand they participate in something, you know, completely goofy.
Lisa Romanienko [00:17:42] And it was even absurd to, you know, your typical communists. So, the soldiers were laughing, the tank drivers were laughing, and even, you know, Moscow had to be, like, chuckling.
Agnieszka [00:17:53] And what I like about the Orange Alternative is that it’s very peaceful because the force meets vacuum. If you–the force–meets another force, you have a conflict. But if the force meets a vacuum, the force dissipates. And that’s what Orange Alternative is for me.
Roman Mars [00:18:13] By 1988, Poland was alive with revolution. The Solidarity labor movement was holding mass demonstrations, and the Orange Alternative’s happenings grew huge. They spread to cities across Poland, including Warsaw and Lodz. Thousands of people would gather to chant, “Dwarves, dwarves, dwarves!”
Agnieszka [00:18:36] By bringing the militia to the point of ridicule, basically, people started losing fear of militia. And that allowed the people that freed them to do things in the streets that they wanted to do and to, for example, come to happenings with their own ideas. You know, they stopped being afraid. So, it broke the fear. You cannot be afraid of things that are ridiculous and funny–unless you’re a politician, then you’re very afraid.
Sofie Kodner [00:19:15] As all this was happening, a growing sense of patriotism was percolating in Poland–a sense that Polish people had their own identity separate from the Soviet Union. And the krasnoludek played a role. They were these distinctly Polish characters from Polish fairy tales.
Lisa Romanienko [00:19:33] And Orange Alternative understood that it was between Polish people in the military, Polish leaders of the Communist government, Polish artists, and Polish steel workers. This was a conversation between us that we had to have.
Sofie Kodner [00:19:49] And as that Polish identity was growing stronger, the end of communism was getting closer and closer.
Roman Mars [00:19:55] By the late 1980s, people all over Central and Eastern Europe were taking to the streets and demanding freedom and democratic reforms. The Soviet Union was losing its grip on the people.
Newscaster #2 [00:20:07] Poland today came one step closer to becoming the first east-bloc country not led by communists in more than 40 years.
Roman Mars [00:20:16] In 1989, facing pressure from the public, Poland’s government agreed to hold parliamentary elections. When the votes were counted, leaders of the Solidarity labor movement won out over the communists. Communism fell in Poland, and it led to a domino effect that ended up taking down the entire Soviet Union.
Sofie Kodner [00:20:33] It’s hard to say exactly how important the artists of the Orange Alternative were to Poland peacefully winning its independence. But Lisa gives them a lot of credit.
Lisa Romanienko [00:20:43] I would attribute the successes of the entire revolution and the entire lack of bloodshed, which could have been much worse than it was, to the amazing brilliance of Major and the Orange Alternative.
Joy Neumeyer [00:20:58] With any type of resistance or nonconformity, it’s easy to dismiss it as silly and trivial.
Sofie Kodner [00:21:07] Joy Neumeyer is a historian who studies Russia in Eastern Europe.
Joy Neumeyer [00:21:11] Or, on the other hand, it’s easy to lionize it as bold–as consequential–as bringing down the regime one little figure at a time. And I think the truth is very much somewhere in between.
Sofie Kodner [00:21:26] Joy recently wrote about a protest movement happening in Russia now, which some people have compared to the Orange Alternative. It’s called The Little Picketers.
Joy Neumeyer [00:21:35] The first time I came across The Little Picketers was actually in a photo in a Polish newspaper. And the author of that article made the comparison to Orange Alternative. “Oh, like, this looks a little bit like those dwarves from Wroclaw in the ’80s.
Roman Mars [00:21:50] The Little Picketers are small clay figurines, about the size of the palm of your hand, that are placed throughout Russian cities. They’re cute, silly, and colorful.
Joy Neumeyer [00:22:01] In Russian, it’s called “Malenkiy Piket,” which means “little protest.” So, yeah, they are miniature protesters.
Roman Mars [00:22:09] Some of them hold peace signs, Ukrainian flags, or anti-war messages. One of them is pictured holding a fish. It’s easy for anyone to get some clay, make a Little Picketer, and then discreetly drop it off in a public space without anyone else noticing. They usually get thrown away pretty quickly by Russian authorities. But before that happens, a photo is taken and submitted to an Instagram account.
Sofie Kodner [00:22:32] Joy likes the Little Picketers, in part because of how different they look from the imagery coming out of the regime.
Roman Mars [00:22:38] The most prominent pro-war symbol in Russia right now is the Z. You’ll see these big aggressive Zs spray painted on tanks and cars. They look intimidating and warlike.
Sofie Kodner [00:22:48] And the Little Picketers just feel like the opposite, which is in itself subversive.
Joy Neumeyer [00:22:53] This idea of trying to create something in contrast to the dominant reality around you, which can seem hegemonic and overwhelming–trying to create little, strange things that are at odds with that dominant reality and that point to some kind of other possibilities, other ideas, or other ways of acting or being in the world other than what the state wants you to do and think.
Sofie Kodner [00:23:20] I spoke to the creator of The Little Picketers, who we’ll keep anonymous for safety reasons. He said he sometimes hears criticism that Russians aren’t doing enough to protest the war.
Little Picketer Creator [00:23:30] And this is a position of critic of Russian people. You are just viewers. You didn’t do anything. Why don’t you go out on the streets and demonstrate? And of course, yeah, a great idea.
Sofie Kodner [00:23:49] He worries that even talking about the war inside his own home could get him arrested and thrown in jail.
Little Picketer Creator [00:23:55] I feel very paranoid and started to hear voices behind the walls of my neighbors. And it was the paranoia which I shared with a very, very huge amount of all Russians, I think. You know that your neighbors can call the police anytime. It’s a very scary thing.
Sofie Kodner [00:24:21] But despite this constant fear and anxiety, he still feels compelled to do something. He thinks a lot of Russians do, which is why he created The Little Picketers.
Little Picketer Creator [00:24:31] For Russian people, I think, it’s a training machine mostly–to feel yourself, feel your muscle of protest–to tear a piece of, “Yeah, I did it.” It’s not important, but it’s important. It’s important because it’s not so important. It’s daily routine. In another way, protest is to feel “Who are you? Can you do this?” And that’s funny because “Can I do this? Well, of course I can.”
Sofie Kodner [00:25:00] The Little Picketers are one of a number of ways that some people inside Russia are using play and humor to express their dissent against a very serious, brutal war–a war that’s already killed tens of thousands. If nothing else, these small actions offer self-preservation–like a way to save your own soul.
Roman Mars [00:25:22] And you never know. Sometimes a silly little symbol catches on. Sofie Kodner goes hunting for dwarves after this. As a business-to-business marketer, your needs are unique. B2B buying cycles are long, and your customers face incredibly complex decisions. Isn’t it time you had a marketing platform built specifically for you? LinkedIn Ads empowers marketers with solutions for you and your customers. LinkedIn Ads allows you to build the right relationships, drive results, and reach your customers in a respectful environment. You have direct access to and build relationships with decision makers. 875 million members, 180 million senior level executives, and 10 million C-level executives. You’ll be able to drive results with targeting and measurement tools built specifically for B2B. Make B2B marketing everything it can be and get $100 credit on your next campaign. Go to linkedin.com/invisible to claim your credit. That’s linkedin.com/invisible. Terms and conditions apply. This time of year means spring cleaning. And it’s also your annual reminder that you need more storage space. Article has everything you need to organize your bedroom, living room, and dining room with dressers, nightstands, sideboards, and more. I think my favorite piece of furniture in my house is my Geome sideboard. It’s where I hold my records and CDs. And I’m going to anticipate your next question–yes, I still have hundreds of CDs. You know why? Because if I did not have the CD of Bob Mould’s Hubcap album, I wouldn’t be able to listen to it. It’s not really available for streaming, but I don’t worry about that because I have the CD in the upper right corner of my Geome sideboard. Plus, Article has all the other furniture you want to get your space looking its best. Thanks to their online-only model, Article has some really delightful prices too. Article offers fast, affordable shipping across the U.S. and Canada. Plus, you pick the delivery time. They’ll send you updates every step of the way. Their knowledgeable customer care team is there when you need them to make sure your experience is smooth and stress free. Article is offering our listeners $50 off your first purchase of $100 or more. To claim, visit article.com/99 and the discount will automatically be applied at checkout. That’s article.com/99 for $50 off your first purchase of $100 or more. So, we are back with reporter Sofie Kodner. Thank you for bringing that story, Sofie. I really loved it.
Sofie Kodner [00:28:15] Thanks for signing off on my trip to Poland.
Roman Mars [00:28:18] Anytime. I mean, it sounded delightful. How did you enjoy it?
Sofie Kodner [00:28:22] Poland was super interesting. As you know, I went to the Polish countryside and interviewed Major at his cabin, which was really beautiful and peaceful. But I also went to the city of Wroclaw–that’s where Major lived and where the Orange Alternative came to be. And I was really excited to find that a big thing tourists do there is go hunting for krasnoludek.
Roman Mars [00:28:43] So what does hunting for krasnoludek mean? Like, what does dwarf hunting entail?
Sofie Kodner [00:28:47] So let me set the scene. Wroclaw has this big, medieval market square in the middle of its old town. It’s surrounded by these tall, sort of pastel-colored buildings that have amazingly detailed moldings. There’s actually a spiral motif–like a swirl on a lot of the buildings that I’m obsessed with.
Roman Mars [00:29:07] It sounds beautiful. Really charming.
Sofie Kodner [00:29:09] Yes, it was very, very charming. But anyway, Wroclaw also has these little, bronze statues all over town. There are the statues of krasnoludek–dwarves–with tiny, pointed shoes, pointed hats. They sort of look like garden gnomes but all bronze. And there are hundreds of them–something like 450 of them.
Roman Mars [00:29:30] Oh, wow.
Sofie Kodner [00:29:30] Yeah. They basically have their own world within Wroclaw. And tourists run around–try to spot them all. I actually hopped on a free dwarf tour while I was there with a local guide.
Tour Guide [00:29:42] So welcome to Wroclaw, everybody. And as I have said, first of all, we’ll take a little walk around the square to see some of those statues.
Sofie Kodner [00:29:51] We saw tons of dwarves on this tour. They’re all posed in different ways. Like, there’s one smiling and holding a sunflower. I personally love this one, sleeping next to a little bronze cellar door.
Tour Guide [00:30:04] This is usually referred to as the entrance to the dwarf underworld because you can see, like, the entrance going down.
Sofie Kodner [00:30:11] And some of them are harder to find than others.
Tour Guide [00:30:14] Some of them are, like, moving. There are, for example, dwarves in front of trams, in rows of boats, in public transport, and many of them are indoors. For example, in a moment, we are going to pass post office. There is a dwarf in the post office. A little further, there is KFC restaurant. Inside of the restaurant, there is a dwarf eating hot wings, for example.
Sofie Kodner [00:30:33] That one’s sitting on a little, bronze KFC bucket. And a lot of the krasnoludek are advertisements like that. They advertise for local businesses. Like, there’s one outside a bank that’s using a little, bronze ATM. There’s one eating ice cream outside an ice cream shop. Another one is drinking vodka outside a bar.
Tour Guide [00:30:53] Those businesses–they actually pay a lot of money to have those dwarves because this is like their advertisement. So, if you would like to have a dwarf, for example, like, your podcast would open an office in Wroclaw, you would like to have a dwarf at your door.
Sofie Kodner [00:31:05] Eh? 99PI krasnoludek?
Roman Mars [00:31:07] I’m all for it. It would be reason enough to open up an office in Poland. That would be amazing.
Sofie Kodner [00:31:13] A little Polish studio?
Roman Mars [00:31:14] Oh, I’d love it.
Sofie Kodner [00:31:15] Yeah. So, for the most part, everyone I met in Wroclaw was a huge fan of the dwarf statues. People love them, except Major. Major hates them.
Roman Mars [00:31:26] I think I can guess why. But tell me, why does he hate the krasnoludek around town?
Sofie Kodner [00:31:31] So the krasnoludek statue was put up in 2001, and that one was explicitly an homage to the Orange Alternative. It’s on a pedestal in the middle of a street where a lot of the Orange Alternative happenings went down. But since then, as more and more dwarf statues have gone up, they’ve basically become a marketing play for the town at large. And the history is kind of backseat.
Roman Mars [00:31:53] Do the dwarfs around town work to reinforce this revolutionary history, or is it really just marketing at this point? Has it all been obscured by other uses of the dwarf?
Sofie Kodner [00:32:04] Yeah, I would not say that they reinforce the history in any way.
Roman Mars [00:32:07] Okay.
Sofie Kodner [00:32:08] I think the people who lived through the revolution in Poland remember the Orange Alternative for the most part. But other than that, it’s not really common knowledge anymore. It’s not like something that’s being taught in schools in Poland.
Roman Mars [00:32:19] I mean, it’s not super surprising because, like, ’60s revolutionary stuff in this country isn’t really taught in schools that much. But it is kind of disappointing, especially since those symbols are everywhere.
Sofie Kodner [00:32:28] Right. And what really bothers Major about it is that the city of Wroclaw itself started using a krasnoludek drawing in their marketing materials, like as a logo, and it looked a lot like Major’s original krasnoludek graffiti. So, to him, it was a copyright issue–plagiarism issue. He actually sued the city a few years back, and he won. So, they don’t use that krasnoludek logo anymore.
Roman Mars [00:32:51] Wow. Okay. So, he has, like, a personal stake in this and them overusing or misappropriating that logo–even to the point of plagiarism. That’s interesting.
Sofie Kodner [00:33:01] Yeah. And I really like my tour guide’s take on the whole thing.
Tour Guide [00:33:05] So let’s say that this, you know, legal suit–the lawsuit he filed–this is one more happening on his behalf because he was creating happenings his whole life. And this is also maybe, like, the last time he was trying to kind of, you know, make people question this whole study–whether it’s okay to use a symbol of anti-communist era for marketing, right?
Roman Mars [00:33:28] So this is just another big happening–a big metacommentary by the Orange Alternative. I like that interpretation. That’s pretty fun.
Sofie Kodner [00:33:35] Exactly.
Roman Mars [00:33:36] Well, thank you, Sofie. This is so much fun. I just enjoyed the story immensely.
Sofie Kodner [00:33:39] Thanks, Roman.
Roman Mars [00:33:50] 99% Invisible was produced this week by Sofie Kodner. Edited by Emmett FitzGerald. Original music by our director of sound, Swan Real. With additional music by Jenny Conlee-Drizos, Jon Neufeld, and Nate Query. Sound mix by Martín Gonzalez. Fact-checking by Graham Hacia. Delaney Hall is our Senior Editor. Kurt Kohlstedt is our digital director. The rest of the team includes Chris Berube, Vivian Le, Christopher Johnson, Jayson De Leon, Lasha Madan, Jeyca Maldonado Medina, Kelly Prime, Joe Rosenberg, Sofia Klatzker, and me, Roman Mars. The 99% Invisible logo was created by Stefan Lawrence. Special thanks this week to Harry Tarpey, Martha Golonko, Agnieska Gryz, Megan Zerez, Carly Olson, and the Orange Alternative Foundation. 99% Invisible is part of the Stitcher and SiriusXM podcast family, now headquartered six blocks north in the Pandora Building… in beautiful… uptown… Oakland, California. You can find the show and join discussions about the show on Facebook. You can tweet me @romanmars and the show @99piorg. We’re on Instagram, Reddit, and TikTok too. You can find links to other Stitcher shows I love as well as every past episode of 99pi at 99pi.org. And so, people are using symbols like the asterix- The asterisks instead. And so, people are using symbols like the asteritsk- Like the asterix- Like the asterisks- Like the asterisksks- Like the asterix- Like the asterisks- Like the asteriss. You’re going to have to cut that. I can’t read the whole sentence and get it right.
Hey, nice to see story so close to home.
Just small correction all pictures from demonstration are from Wrocław, Street Protest on Świdnicka Street, not from Warsaw