From just a joke on April Fool’s Day, one of the smallest republics in the world was born right in the middle of Europe, with government, constitution and own money.
Locals say that if you stare at the eyes of the Užupis Mermaid as you cross the bridge into the tiny proclaimed Republic of Uupupis located in the neighboring capital of Lithuania, you will never want to leave this place.
Crafted by sculptor Romas Vilčiauskas in 2002, this bronze statue welcomes visitors to the small republic.
Born on April Fool’s Day
According to the BBC, located in Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius, Užupis is one of the smallest republics in the world, with an area of less than 1 square kilometer.
But don’t let that area measure fool – there are separate presidents, constitutions and currencies, and even a navy consisting of three or four small ships, mostly used for ceremonial purposes. Until recently, Užupis had an army of about… 10 people, because the country followed the path of peace, the army was retired.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, many bases were places to place vacant Soviet symbol statues throughout Vilnius. In 1995, a group of local artists used one of these stands to build a statue of American rock icon Frank Zappa as a symbol of freedom and democracy. Two years later, in April 1997, they took another step to declare the Užupis region independent of the rest of Lithuania.
Although Užupis is not officially recognized by foreign governments, this tiny country has become a pride in Vilnius and throughout Lithuania. In Lithuanian, Užupis means ‘outside the river’, which is separated from the rest of the city by the river Vilnele.
Every year, this self-proclaimed republic celebrates its independence on April 1, right on April Fool’s Day, which is called by the local people on Užupis Day. On this day, visitors can stamp their passports when they cross the bridge into the country (on the remaining days, the border is not guarded), they use the local currency (unofficially) ) and enjoy the flow of beer flowing from the fountain at the main square.
From an idea of playing in the April Fool’s Day of a small group of founders has now become a serious mission.
Today, the Republic of Užupis has a constitution translated into many languages. Foreign Minister Užupis, Tomas Čepaitis, one of the founders of this tiny nation, explained that this republic was founded on the philosophy of the ancient philosopher Aristotle that any great city should limited population. “We want to create a new small country based on the ancient thought that a good country cannot have more than 5,000 people because the human mind cannot remember more faces than that,” he said. “Everyone knows everyone else, so it is difficult for people to deceive or manipulate each other.”
Užupis’s flag painted an image called ‘Sacred Hand’: a hand with a hole in the middle so it was impossible to accept bribes.
“It is important that we have nothing to hide in our hands,” Tourism Minister Užupis, Mr Kestas Lukoskinas, has lived in Užupis for 18 years, said.
Foreign Minister Čepaitis said he and his fellow countrymen wanted to create a country where people could separate from the distractions of modern life and reconnect.
“If you cross the bridge, you can become yourself. You no longer play a social role. You don’t belong to anyone … You feel happier and more comfortable. You can Enter the pub, meet the mayor of the city, or a famous basketball player, a famous artist, while everyone is relaxing.And anywhere else in the world you come, the shops Wine or luxury restaurants all have limitations, the rules are completely absent from Užupis, ”said Mr. Čepaitis.
While the story of the birth of Užupis is quite mild, its history is not so.
In the mid-20th century when the land was still under the Soviet Union, it was a ruined place, a dangerous area in the city only for brave or insane people.
One of the main roads here, Užupis Road, once nicknamed the ‘Road of Death’, is not only due to the high crime rate but also to commemorate the Jewish community in the slaughtered area. in the Nazi disaster genocide.
As soon as this place gained independence in 1997, the constitution quickly came into being. This document was written by Čepaitis and Romas Lileikis, President Užupis, within only three hours on a summer afternoon in 1998.
“We’ve just declared a republic, and at that time he (Lileikis) stopped by me because he didn’t have hot water. That’s why there’s a hot water clause.” Foreign Minister Čepaitis said, referring to Article 2 of the Constitution, which assumes that everyone has the right to hot water, to be heated in the winter and roof tiles.
A total of 41 articles of the constitution condensed the essence of Užupis ideal, including freedom of thought, with points like “Everyone has the right to die, but this is not mandatory” “and” Everyone has the right to understand, “as well as the” Everyone has the right to understand nothing “.
Even pets are mentioned in the constitution, with terms like “dogs have the right to be dogs” and “cats do not have to love their owners but must help when necessary”.
“I write about cats because I’m a cat breeder, and Lileikis writes about dogs because he’s a dog breeder,” explained Foreign Minister trưởngepaitis.
The Constitution, printed on large rectangular boards hung along the road that local residents called the Constitution Avenue. More than 30 metal panels were hung along the wall, in which the latest Latin-language table was added – it was blessed by Pope Francis himself when he visited the Baltic countries in September 2018.
Like most other things in Užupis, the government structure and the appointment of officials are also very comfortable. The parliament building is both a pub and a pub. A core group of about a dozen ministers oversees the operation of this tiny country.
Although it may sound odd, the government system in Užupis has been working well for the past 21 years. During that whole time, the president was still in power, although Lileikis sometimes joked that he wanted to rest. The cabinet meets on most Mondays. They are also actively building relationships with other countries even though informal.
The Republic of Užupis has been attracting tourists’ attention since 1997. The good result since then has been that the country has grown stronger and raised its position higher, making housing prices soar.
“Now this is the second most expensive area in Vilnius, after the Old Town. No artist can buy an apartment at this time – he needs to be rich and famous,” Tourism Minister Lukoskinas to speak.
This has made some ministers concerned. They worry about losing their native culture and lifestyle when the number of visitors increases and the population grows. However, Mr. Čepaitis hoped that this would help Užupis’s ideals spread more widely.