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Sep 26, 2019

A Republic of One-Square Kilometer

Užupis, which roughly translates into English as “behind the river,” is a bohemian, artistic, and free-spirited republic. 

 

Užupis Constitution

“A dog has the right to be a dog,” reads the Užupis Constitution, which I saw engraved on a shiny plaque in Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania. The Republic of Užupis is a small self-declared country. Užupis, which roughly translates into English as “behind the river,” is a bohemian, artistic, and free-spirited republic. 

Užupis declared itself independent from Lithuania on April 1st, 1997; however, this is no April Fool’s joke. The tiny republic, which covers less than one square kilometer, has a president, foreign affairs minister, passport stamps, currency, and of course a constitution.  

The constitution was written in July 1998 by Thomas Chepaitis, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uzupis and Romas Lileikis, the President of Užupis. It is translated into languages as diverse as Nepalese, Armenian, and Farsi, with more than 30 translations hanging on the wall and new languages being added all the time, including Dutch, Urdu, and Portuguese. 

To truly understand the quirky nature of Užupis, here is the constitution in full: 

1. Everyone has the right to live by the River Vilnele, and the River Vilnele 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 idle.

10. Everyone has the right to love and take care of the 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.

The parliament is housed in a local bar, by one of the entrances to Užupis. People are encouraged to get involved in the Užupis government by, for example, becoming an ambassador to any number of nations, real or imagined, from the Embassy to Iceland to the Embassy of Hugs and the Embassy among Hummingbirds

“I take all this seriously, but with humor, of course, because humor is a vital fluid of life. In some sense Ministry is my biggest happening or event, in which over 500 people are taking part now,” said Thomas Chepaitis, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, in regards to the embassies.

Despite the light-hearted aspects of this republic, Užupis truly emulates the overarching ideas of liberalism regarding freedom and independence, accompanied by a generally anti-statist attitude.

The idea for Užupis emerged following the breakdown of the Soviet Union. When Lithuania declared itself independent from the Soviet Union in 1990, andpeople started taking down all the statues of Lenin, Saulius Paukstys had the idea to erect a statue of Frank Zappa. 

“We were desperate to find a symbol that would mark the end of communism, but at the same time express that it wasn’t always doom and gloom,” Paukstys told The Guardian in 2000. “Okay, so Zappa never visited Lithuania and had no connection with the country, but as far as I was concerned, this was a test of our new-found freedom,” added Paukstys. “Lithuania had just proclaimed itself to be a democratic country. I wanted to test it and see if I would be able to realize my ideas.”

In a time of rampant post-Soviet corruption and cronyism, Užupis’ flag sports a blue hand with a whole in it, alluding to the fact that their officials will not accept bribes. “The main thing is we have nothing to hide in our hands,” said Kestas Lukoskinas. If you do not like the particular mores of Užupis, you have the complete right to exit. While you can get your visa stamped, people have the freedom to come and go from Užupis without any government say so, though I suspect that this charming community will see much more of the former than the latter.