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Helen Betts | all galleries >> Baltic Odyssey >> Vilnius: City of Churches and Culture > Republic of Užupis
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Republic of Užupis
16-JUN-2012

Republic of Užupis

Užupis, meaning "other side of the river," is a neighborhood of Vilnius' Old Town. In 1997, the residents of the area declared the Republic of Užupis, along with its own flag, currency, president, cabinet of ministers, a constitution written by Romas Lileikis and Thomas Chepaitis, an anthem, and an army (numbering approximately 11 men). They celebrate this independence annually on Užupis Day, which falls on April 1st. Artistic endeavours are the main preoccupation of the Republic; the current President of the Republic of Užupis, Romas Lileikis, is himself a poet, musician, and film director.

Artūras Zuokas, mayor of Vilnius, lives in Užupis and frequently takes part in the Republic's events. Užupis does not house internet-cafes, kiosks, big malls, or governmental institutions (except Užupian), and there is no embassy to Lithuania.

It is unclear whether the statehood of the Republic, recognized by no government, is intended to be serious, tongue-in-cheek, or a combination of both. The decision to place Užupis Day on April 1st (April Fools' Day) may not be coincidental, emphasizing the importance of humor and non-importance of "serious" political decisions.

Copies of the 39 articles of the Republic's constitution and 3 mottos - "Don't Fight", "Don't Win", "Don't Surrender" - in fifteen languages, can be found affixed to a wall on Paupio street in the area. Some of these articles would be unremarkable in a constitution; for instance, Article 5 simply reads "Man has the right to individuality.". Others are more idiosyncratic. A typical example can be found in Articles 1 ("People have the right to live by the River Vilnelė, while the River Vilnelė has the right to flow past people."), 12 ("A dog has the right to be a dog.") and 37 ("People have the right to have no rights."), each of which makes an unusual apportionment of rights. There are a number of paired articles, such as Articles 16 ("People have the right to be happy.") and 17 ("People have the right to be unhappy.") which declare people's right to either do or not do something, according to their desire. (Wikipedia)

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