Contents of spoon-archives/avant-garde.archive/papers/orange.txt

Oranges and Lemons Over the last 18 months (1987-1988), while more familiar protest has been gathering pace across Eastern Europe, in the industrial town of Wroclaw a new dissidence has emerged. Socialist Surrealism has arrived in Poland under the banner of Orange Alternative. Unlike those pursuing nationalistic or economic freedom, Orange Alternative make no explicit demands at all; rather, they have adopted an altogether more radical strategy - that of directly challenging on the streets the State appatatus' monopoly on Truth. During the last year and a half, the Orange Alternative (so called because orange is a non-political colour in Poland - there is a nascent White Alternative in Warsaw) have staged a series of "happenings" on the streets of Wroclaw that have succeeded in attracting mass participation as they expose to ridicule some of the most deep-seated aspects of the ideological rhetoric of the communist State. Many of these events have been truly inspired, combining playfulness with a ruthlessly tongue-in-cheek approach that has consistently wrong-footed the authorities. The prime mover and inspirational leader of Orange Alternative is the taciturn yet charismatic Waldemar Frydrych, known to all as "Major". Unshaven and dressed a little like a New Age Traveller, the 35 year old independent writer, former graduate in history and the history of art, generates a certain amount of reverance a more and more extraordinary tales grow up concerning his life. Major has been the main initiator of the "happenings", the most successful of which have, as time has pass ed, been honed down into succinct anecdotes that have received some airin gs in the western press. For those that might have missed them, the most reported of these starts with the "happening" on 1st June last year, International Childrens' Day, when dozens of participants dressed as gnomes or smurfs with red hats danced in the streets and distributed sweets. After an anti-war demonstration on 1st September, October 1st saw a "happening" known as "Who's Afraid of Toilet Paper?". Focussing on one of the primary espoused functions of the State as one of redistributing the social product, the decision was made to aid the authorities in their task - redistribution begins at home. At 4.00pm in Swidnicka Street - site of many Orange Alternative happenings - Major and others solemnly distributed single sheets of toilet paper to passers-by. "Let us share it justly. Let justice begin from toilet paper. Socialism, with its extravagant distribution of goods, as well as an eccentric social posture, has put toilet paper at the forefront of people's dreams. Are the queues for toilet paper an expression of (a) a call for culture? (b) the call of nature? (c) the leading role of the party in a society of developed socialism? Tick the right answer." This same theme was later echoed when Major was arrested on International Womens' Day for distributed sanitary towels in the streets. October 7th is the official Day of the Police and Security Service in Poland. This time, Wroclaw youth under the banner of Orange Alternative decided to assemble and march to demonstrate their appreciation of these public servants for "doing their duty with a smile", showering police officers and patrol cars with flowers. Attempts to embrace the police and thank them were met with reasonable force and Major was arrested once again. Operation "Melon in Mayonnaise" took place on 12th October, the anniversary of the Polish People's Army. Orange Alternative held "manoeuvres" in the streets of Wroclaw under the slogan "The Warsaw Pact - An Avant-Garde of Peace". On 6th November, the eve of the October Revolution, Orange Alternative held an elaborate celebration when about 150 people converged on a restaurant which had been designated the Winter Palace. Two groups had constructed large models of the battleships Potemkin and Aurora and the leaflets distributed beforehand to announce the event encouraged all to attend wearing something red to play the part of the Reds. Banners were carried bearing slogans such as "We support Boris Yeltsin" and "We demand the full rehabilitation of comrade Leon Trotsky" (leading to the misreporting in the western press, who missed the irony of the occasion, that the demonstration was by Trotskyist youth.) Another banner demanded an 8-hour working day for the security services. As crowds gathered and passers-by of all ages started to join in and shout "Revolution" and Bolshevik slogans, those who had not brought something red to wear queued to buy Zapiekanki (a type of Polish hot-dog that comes liberally dabbed with ketchup) in order to hold them aloft. The police, realising what was happening, moved in to close the hotdog stall down. The vendor argued that he had never done such good business, but the police were adamant; no more hot-dogs were to be sold. The next person in the queue, on being refused a hotdog, asked for just ketchup and was promptly arrested. During the referendum on social policy held on November 27th, Orange Alternative demonstrated and called for Wroclaw to be the city with 200% turnout: "Vote Yes Twice". 150 people were arrested and detained for a number of hours. Againon 7th December,the streets were flooded with Santa Claus's: "Bring Christmas decorations, fir branches to decorate the subway. Let's help the new administration in this noble task... Let the new existence shape the new consciousness!!! Only Santa Claus can save you from poverty." Confusion reigned as the police tried to round up the Santas, arresting many official Santas in the process. A crowd of more than 2,000 called for the release of Santa and pressed in on the police, later surrounding the district Police HQ before being dispersed. Such "happenings" continued throughout Poland, in Wroclaw, Poznan, Gdansk, Krakow and Warsaw during 1988; during the Nowa Huta strikes a letter was read out to the workers giving support to strikes in the most fulsome terms. The author of the letter was Lenin. Stalinist hymns were sung by a crowd which gathered round the chimpanzee cage in Wroclaw Zoo. On June 30th, following the release of activist and PPS members Pinior and Borowczyk, a demonstration took place featuring a mock trial at which the defendants were Pinior, Borowczyk,Marx and Engels. More recently, Orange Alternative have paraded the streets in groups as the People's Guard with toy guns and a pet dog, demanding identification papers from the police, who demanded theirs. This month, on the anniversary of the Russian Revolution, 4000 people marched through Warsaw chanting "We love Lenin". In all of these actions, Orange Alternative have enjoyed considerable success and popular support (on occasions attracting the participation of up to 13,000 people) by outwitting and embarrassing authorities who maintain a system which relies on a single version of the truth for its survival and who are used to a more direct form of protest. Whilst initially Orange Alternative 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 do not have to take on the lifestyle of a militant means that they now have the support of many members of WiP (Peace and Freedom) and the Polish Socialist Party. The two questions which occupy a central position in considering such a phenomenon, however, are firstly the long-term relationship between Orange Alternative and the more explicit aims of the rest of the Young Opposition in the Polish Socialist Party and WiP, and secondly the contrast between the current success on the style of Orange Alternative and the decline of such tactics in the West. On the first question, at present there are excellent relations and much crossover between Orange Alternative and other groups in the young opposition, even if Waldemar Frydrych eschews a definitively political interpretation of his motivation in organising the "happenings". When asked "Do you set up happenings in order to expose the totalitarianism of the system under which we live?" the reply was "I do them because I do them, but one does things because of or for something.. . Well yes, when I was preparing for the gnome happening, I assumed that we would have a good time with sweets and streamers..." Josef Pinior, former leading member of Solidarnosc and now an activist in the PPS described himself as a "great champion" of Orange Alternative, the content of whose actions "has been on the borderline between culture and politics and has a surrealist form". However, Orange Alternative, who are familiar with the ideas of Andre Breton and the Situationists, encourage self-expression and activity without a particular set of political demands - indeed the demands they make are often absurdist and obscure (e.g. "Freedom and Water" and "Let the world forces of peace flourish in the shade of the martial arts") in order to avoid the star system of the official (Solidarnosc) opposition. At the same time, the PPS, for instance, is poised to consolidate and elucidate just such a set of demands in the form of a programme at this year's First General Conference, due to take place this November (1988), shifting the PPS from a broad coalition of the young Left fighting for the rights of the oppressed to a more distinct opposition party. Whether this could, in time, bring them into any kind of conflict with the more anarchic antics of Orange Alternative, or even whether such a move towards a programme actually takes place, remains to be seen, but it is tempting to see Orange Alternative as having the kind of expression that will always find fertile ground no matter what administration is in power. Their irony and parody could theoretically be levelled at anyone who has a clear set of demands to put forward whilst they avoid criticism themselves through the advocacy of a perpetual "party atmosphere" in order to "scout out the reality in which we live". More immediately striking, however, is the fact that, whilst the style of such a Socialist Surrealism is familiar to use in the West, such an approach has little popularity here compared with the sixties and seventies. Indeed the only events which have taken place in Britain in recent years which have had even a tiny element of some of the characteristics of Orange Alternative are perhaps the impersonation of businessmen during the "Stop The City" demonstrations of the early eighties whose novelty quickly diminished as the police just as quickly learnt to deal with them. Part of this contrast can be explained by the extent to which the authorities have learnt to handle ironic criticism and at the same time some of the skills of the more celebrated practitioners of "political surrealism" have been enlisted by the free market. Witness Jerry Rubin's graduation from Yippie prankster to Yuppie party organiser and Jamie Reid's association with Malcolm McLaren to help "market" anarchy and the Sex Pistols. Similarly, in a recent Orange Alternative "happening" General Jaruzelski had fun poked at him as "The Dragon of Wawel", a mythical Polish figure. Jaruzelski replied on national television "I may not be the dragon of Wawel, but I am a dragon". Initially felt to be a victory in terms of recognition for Orange Alternative, it was quickly realised that the lack of such a sense of humour had been precisely what Orange Alternative had previously been exploiting so successfully. The cunning response was thought to be the work of government spokesman Jerzy Urban, long known to be something of a quick-witted and smooth-tongued operator. Again, a story has emerged that on one occasion when Orange Alternative joined an official Childrens' Day parade, instead of meeting the usual heavy-handed police resp onse they were merely officially announced over the tannoy "...and here comes Orange Alternative", thus efficiently defusing their potentially disruptive effect by simply incorporating them into the celebrations. Of course, Orange Alternative will still find plenty of mileage in an assured brutal and inflexible response from the authorities and this is their greatest weapon. But as a warning it should be noted, as the global market draws ever nearer, esewhere that the skills necessary to reveal them ultiple meanings within reality are in hot demand in the world of advertising and marketing. That is not to say we live in Poland's future, of course, but we do live in a system where there is less reliance on a single official version of Truth, where multiple truths mean multiple opportunities for selling and where stripping away layers of meaning, ridiculing outdated assumptions with a flourish of smug cynicism and packing your message with multifarious bizarre and apparently unconnected references is the hallmark of the very cutting edge of po-mo advertising techniques, now even being adopted by the government in the marketing of social policy. When we spoke to Major at a house in Wroclaw he waxed enthusiastic about the possibility of an Orange Alternative international event with thousands of people simultaneously across Europe dressing-up as police and patrolling the streets of major cities. Whilst such an idea has a certain breathtaking appeal, we in the UK already live in a society where the authorities themselves can organise, and with a straight face, a football match between striking miners and the officers policing them. George Branchflower, autumn 1988 from Here & Now no.7/8

Driftline Main Page


Display software: ArchTracker © Malgosia Askanas, 2000-2005