On the Republic of Užupis and the Most Awesome Constitution Ever.

I’ll admit to being just a little bit curious upon hearing that there was a self-proclaimed independent state residing inside Vilnius, even if it wasn’t entirely serious. This micro-nation, known as the Republic of Užupis, is basically an artist’s quarter on one side of the Vilnelė River – in fact the name itself, Užupis, means ‘on the other side of the river’. Apparently the primary requirement for entry to Užupis is a smile – it’s included on the entrance sign.

Welcome to the Republic of Užupis!

According to the free walking tour guide, the district of Užupis was once the Jewish quarter. Most of the Jewish population vanished during the Holocaust, and after the war the abandoned houses attracted a bunch of dodgy people – criminals, drug dealers, prostitutes and so on. As a result of this, no one wanted to live there and so it was pretty cheap. In the nineties, a bunch of creative types such as artists, writers, philosophers and other strange bohemian people began moving in and taking over the districts. On April Fool’s Day in 1997, they declared the district to be a Republic, complete with a president [a former Mayor of Vilnius], a flag [of a hand with a hole in it, for some reason] and an impressive army of twelve.

The Wonderful World of Už…

They apparently also declared themselves to be a new type of human…homo artisticus, as opposed to homo sovieticus or homo capitalisticus. I guess you can’t claim that they haven’t thought it through! Užupis Day is celebrated annually on April 1st, and the choice of date suggests that the declaration of the Republic – which has not been recognised by any government – may have been a bit tongue in cheek. Either way, it’s fun.

Getting into Užupis from the Old Town in Vilnius requires crossing one of many bridges [it is, after all, across the river]. As in other parts of the Baltics, the Russian tradition of newlywed couples attaching padlocks to bridges as a symbol of their undying love is popular here, and so the bridges are pretty chunky with locks of all colours.

Tokens of undying love…

Apparently if you take your passport, it’s possible to get it stamped with the official Republic of Užupis stamp at the Galera. Unfortunately, the first time I went there I didn’t have my passport and the second time they were closed.

The Galera

Once in, it’s really a matter of just wandering around. There’s not a huge amount of ‘official sightseeing’ to do here, aside from the angel statue, the mermaid in the wall and, of course, the Constitution.

Angel of Užupis

Alright, I’m putting it out there. The constitution of the Republic of Užupis is the single most awesome constitution I’ve seen, and not just because I happen to love cats. To be fair, I haven’t actually read through a lot of constitutions, so maybe there’s other countries that have thought equally long and hard about the rights they want constitutionally enshrined and come up with 41 equally brilliant points…but I highly doubt it.

Constitution Wall of Už

I really don’t think that any government is too concerned about protecting the right of an individual to own and love a cat, or the right of a dog to simply be a dog…as opposed to what, I’m not sure. Anyway, I would invite those who doubt my judgement to peruse the complete constitution of the Republic of Užupis and come to their own conclusion, which I expect will concur with mine.

  1. Everyone has the right to live by the River Vilnelė, and the River Vilnelė has the right to flow by everyone.
  2. Everyone has the right to hot water, heating in winter and a tiled roof.
  3. Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation.
  4. Everyone has the right to make mistakes.
  5. Everyone has the right to be unique.
  6. Everyone has the right to love.
  7. Everyone has the right not to be loved, but not necessarily.
  8. Everyone has the right to be undistinguished and unknown.
  9. Everyone has the right to be idle.
  10. Everyone has the right to love and take care of a cat.
  11. Everyone has the right to look after the dog until one of them dies.
  12. A dog has the right to be a dog.
  13. A cat is not obliged to love its owner, but must help in time of need.
  14. Sometimes everyone has the right to be unaware of their duties.
  15. Everyone has the right to be in doubt, but this is not an obligation.
  16. Everyone has the right to be happy.
  17. Everyone has the right to be unhappy.
  18. Everyone has the right to be silent.
  19. Everyone has the right to have faith.
  20. No one has the right to violence.
  21. Everyone has the right to appreciate their unimportance.
  22. No one has the right to have a design on eternity.
  23. Everyone has the right to understand.
  24. Everyone has the right to understand nothing.
  25. Everyone has the right to be of any nationality.
  26. Everyone has the right to celebrate or not celebrate their birthday.
  27. Everyone shall remember their name.
  28. Everyone may share what they possess.
  29. No one can share what they do not possess.
  30. Everyone has the right to have brothers, sisters and parents.
  31. Everyone may be independent.
  32. Everyone is responsible for their freedom.
  33. Everyone has the right to cry.
  34. Everyone has the right to be misunderstood.
  35. No one has the right to make another person guilty.
  36. Everyone has the right to be individual.
  37. Everyone has the right to have no rights.
  38. Everyone has the right to not to be afraid.
  39. Do not defeat
  40. Do not fight back
  41. Do not surrender

Pretty brilliant huh? It’s translated into eight different languages and displayed, quite inconsiderately for photography I might add, on mirrors on a wall in the centre of the Republic.

Inconveniently mirrored constitution…I’m sure someone thought it was a great idea…

What really disappointed me though was the fact that in all of Vilnius I couldn’t find any souvenir-type thing that included the Constitution. Surely that would be a top-selling tea-towel or something like that. Keyring? Magnet? T-shirt? I could potentially make some money from this…
Wandering around Užupis was interesting, coming across little bars, Tibet Square – a square dedicated to recognising all the nations of world which are unwillingly occupied – and strange statues. I mean, Backpacker Jesus? WTF? No really… here’s the Lord Jesus Christ with a backpack, complete with a sleeping mat and everything. He’s definitely prepared for something.

Backpacker Jesus?

There’s also, for some reason, a statue of a penis. I couldn’t find out any story behind this, but I’m pretty sure it symbolises the same thing that giant phalluses have symbolised throughout human history. At least it’s better designed than the numerous penises that have been drawn on walls and posters by some uber-creative teenagers who probably imagine that they’re the first to think of drawing a dick and balls on billboards.

Yes, it’s exactly what you think it is.

There’s a strange little alleyway in Užupis that is apparently dedicated to an old Lithuanian street artist, who paved the way decades ago for the development and appreciation of street art.

Alleyway

I know his first name was something like John…and that this little alley, covered in graffiti, was apparently preferred by him over a nice shiny statue or some similar sterile honour. The first day I went there, there was a cool broken old phone the size of a brick in a little alcove. It was gone the following day, but some flowers had been added to a tyre-vase attached to the wall a little further down. It was an interesting place.

Strange looking decorations…painted tyres that sometimes have flowers in them or growing in them

What would you like to add to your constitution?
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21 responses to “On the Republic of Užupis and the Most Awesome Constitution Ever.

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  5. Passport stamping is also done at the lovely riverside cafe and pub, the Uzupio Kavine. Remember to smile 🙂

    Long Live Uzupis!

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  8. Hey!
    This is great, thanks.
    I just went to Uzupis and am a big fan 🙂
    Had breakfast with the president, who speaks in poetry… not rhyme but poetic perspectives…anyhoo.

    Two things:

    The flag with the hole in it means:

    “You can love Uzupis
    You can live in Uzupis
    But you cannot Have Uzupis”

    Th artist is a legendary film maker called Jonas Mekas.

    peace

    Naomi

  9. Good Evening,
    the pub in the background of your first photo certainly used to sell T shirts with the constitution printed on them, I have still got one I bought in 2004, I suggest you go back to see if they are still available, it is great at this time of year, or any other time for that matter.

  10. I was just there, it is an awesome thriving vibrant area, full of interesting areas ready to be explored! Vilnius is absolutely beautiful, too bad the language is so hard to learn. If you are going stay at the backpackers hostel; Jimmy jumps house, the owner Peter is the greatest host in the world and very easy to get along with.

  11. This place sounds … interesting! haha. I can just imagine you walking through the streets laughing to yourself at almost everything you found.

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