Vilnius, IX.2015 – I.2016
The world of growing regulations and social structures piling up one on the top of another needs a counterweight. A bit of chaos and creative freedom, and one of the manifestations of such are independent artists’ enclaves, often in very centers of big European cities. Copenhagens Christiania and Ljubljanas Metelkova stand together with Vilnius’ Užupis, with its own flag, constitution, currency, government and even army (of twelve men) – at the same time laying on the other side of Vilnia River than the Old Town of Lithuanian capital.
During the Second World War predominantly Jewish neighborhood has been decimated in Holocaust. And as the war ended it consisted of half-destroyed, abandoned buildings, neglected later during the Soviet era. But the location in the historical center of Vilnius attracted many artists at the time, and chance for unpaid housing outside of the law tempted social margin – lowlifes, prostitutes and homeless. This slowly created unique bohemian atmosphere of the place, growing deep roots on the riverbank. Finally, on 1st of April 1997 the district declared independence as the Republic of Užupis.
So – let me introduce you to this curious and not-well-known country on the map of Europe.
There is no country without a flag, so Užupis decided upon an open hand in a coloured circle. Why not blue circle, as seen on the photo? Well, I guess Užupis inhabitants thought “Why to have only one flag? That’s boring”. So the flag changes according to the season – blue circle can be observed in the winter, while in spring it is green, in summer – yellow, and in autumn – red.
The constitution of Užupis is a mix of serious statements close to my heart, like 2. Everyone has the right to hot water, heating in winter and a tiled roof. 16. Everyone has the right to be happy. or 32. Everyone is responsible for their freedom. On the other hand (pun intended) you can read such rights as 3.Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation. 13. A cat is not obliged to love its owner, but must help in time of need. as well as the very first article 1. Everyone has the right to live by the River Vilnelė, and the River Vilnelė has the right to flow by everyone.
The whole list can be read in several languages from all around the world, straight on the wall on Paupio street. If you are not willing to go that far to read it – although it is totally worth it – the complete list is at the end of this article.
As you cross one of the bridges leading to Užupis you encounter padlocks left by couples on the bridge, as in many European cities. Next thing you should notice if crossing the main bridge called Užupio tiltas is the Republics parliament building on the left. You might be mislead in the beginning as it looks like an ordinary bar, but believe me – this is the place where the constitution has been written and where the government gathers – especially on Friday nights.
If you came with a passport you can get a stamp upon entering the country, just in the parliament building. Ask the bartender.
Strolling through winding and narrow streets you are bound to bump into art everywhere and in any shape or form. If it’s a graffiti, sculpture, artistic installation, a painting hung on a wall, or just something “else”. But what else would you expect knowing that Užupis claims to have 7000 inhabitants including 1000 artists?
Most noticeable piece of art is a great sculpture of angel with trombone on a high pillar. It is said that the author, being unfocused and not disciplined enough as the big part of artistic souls are, couldn’t finish the sculpture by the scheduled day. So on the day of reveling the artwork, instead of an angel the gathered audience has seen… a giant egg. With the explanation that the angel will hatch from it in some undefined time in the future.
This actually has taken place, with egg being moved to Pylimo street, and guardian angel looking proudly from the top of the pillar after the peace and happiness of the district.
Well, that slowly concludes the story of the Republic of Užupis. A place full of galleries, workshops, bars and cute cafeterias, or simply – a place to visit once in Vilnius. I would like to leave you with the complete constitution quoted below, and one last piece of art found while strolling through the district. Take care!
The Republic of Užupis Constitution:
- 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