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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Everyone has the right to live by the River Vilnelė, and the River Vilnelė has the right to flow by everyone.
- Everyone has the right to hot water, heating in winter and a tiled roof.
- Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation.
- Everyone has the right to make mistakes.
- Everyone has the right to be unique.
- Everyone has the right to love.
- Everyone has the right not to be loved, but not necessarily.
- Everyone has the right to be undistinguished and unknown.
- Everyone has the right to be idle.
- Everyone has the right to love and take care of a cat.
- Everyone has the right to look after the dog until one of them dies.
- A dog has the right to be a dog.
- A cat is not obliged to love its owner, but must help in time of need.
- Sometimes everyone has the right to be unaware of their duties.
- Everyone has the right to be in doubt, but this is not an obligation.
- Everyone has the right to be happy.
- Everyone has the right to be unhappy.
- Everyone has the right to be silent.
- Everyone has the right to have faith.
- No one has the right to violence.
- Everyone has the right to appreciate their unimportance.
- No one has the right to have a design on eternity.
- Everyone has the right to understand.
- Everyone has the right to understand nothing.
- Everyone has the right to be of any nationality.
- Everyone has the right to celebrate or not celebrate their birthday.
- Everyone shall remember their name.
- Everyone may share what they possess.
- No one can share what they do not possess.
- Everyone has the right to have brothers, sisters and parents.
- Everyone may be independent.
- Everyone is responsible for their freedom.
- Everyone has the right to cry.
- Everyone has the right to be misunderstood.
- No one has the right to make another person guilty.
- Everyone has the right to be individual.
- Everyone has the right to have no rights.
- Everyone has the right to not to be afraid.
- Do not defeat
- Do not fight back
- Do not surrender