The gnomes in Wroclaw, Poland
It starts with just one of them. One little guy, all bronzed and steady, looking up at you from a pavement in Wroclaw.
He’s a blend between a gnome and a dwarf – for the sake of this conversation, let’s call him a gnome.
This guy isn’t your usual garden variety, though. He’s a symbol of a dark period of history in Poland and a peaceful campaign that helped bring it to an end.
Walking the streets of Wroclaw, you notice another gnome, then another.
By the seventh one you’re almost expecting to see Snow White pop her head out from a tavern. But the little guys just keep on coming.
There’s a gnome asleep on a bed, one locked up in jail, another reading a book and a couple on their way to fight a fire. They’ve each got their own identity, their own character and their own reason for being.
This is no accident. Each of the gnomes has been sponsored by a business and has usually been placed in front of their office.
The company would have commissioned a local artist to sculpt them a character (and normally paid about 1200 euros). In most cases, his identity is related to the business… the gnome using a tiny cash machine outside a bank, for instance.
Where did the Wroclaw gnomes come from?
New gnomes arrive every year, gradually populating more and more streets in Wroclaw. But it all started with one.
It was put there to represent a protest movement in the 1980s that used humour and satire to oppose the communist regime at the time.
Called Orange Alternative, the group dressed up as gnomes or painted pictures of them over government propaganda.
It was peaceful, it was nonsensical, and it was extremely effective.
The leader of the movement, Waldemar Fydrych, is quoted as saying: “Can you treat a police officer seriously, when he is asking you the question – Why did you participate in an illegal meeting of dwarfs?”
Today, the gnomes add a layer of fun to the city and spawn scavenger hunts for children and tourists keen to find them all. It’s important not to forget the reason they’re there, though.
Sometimes when the system oppressing you seems absurd, that’s the very weapon that is going to be the most effective. Fight fire with satire.
Time Travel Turtle travelled to Poland as a guest of the Polish National Tourist Office but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.