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Bohemic Užupis

Užupis is a neighbourhood in Vilnius, largely located in Vilnius old town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Užupis means "on the other side of the river" and refers to the River Vilnia. This is where the name ‘’Vilnius’’ is derived from. Užupis has been known as an artistic district, and has been even compared to Montmartre in Paris or to Freetown Christiania in Copenhagen, mainly for its bohemic and never-mind atmosphere. On the 1st April in 1997, the district declared itself as an independent republic (The Republic of Užupis).

Geography

Užupis is a relatively small and isolated district, having only about 148 ares in size and being home for around 7,000 inhabitants, nearly 1,000 of them considered artists. On one side area is separated from the Old Town by River Vilnia, on the other, is met by steep hills, and on the third, it has a border with an industrial area built under soviet rule, which is now being rebuilt into a fashionable district. The first bridges across the river were built in the 16th century, time when the largest proportion of the area’s population was Jewish.

History

The district contains the Bernardine Cemetery, one of the oldest cemeteries in the city. Most of the Jewish population of the district was killed during the Holocaust, and later the old Jewish Cemetery uphill would be destroyed by the Soviets. The abandoned houses were later occupied by ‘’marginals’’, mainly homeless people and prostitutes. Until Lithuania's declaration of independence in 1990, it was one of the most neglected areas in the city, containing many run-down houses, many of them without utilities. The district has been a common haunt for artists and bohemia since Soviet times, and even today many young artists are squatting in abandoned buildings close to the River Vilnia. In 2013 the inauguration of two big art centres took place in the area, one by the river and the other by the gymnasium.

The Republic of Užupis

On the April 1st 1997, the residents of the area declared the Republic of Užupis, along with its own flag, currency, president, cabinet of ministers, a constitution written by Romas Lileikis and Tomas Čepaitis, an anthem, and an army (numbering approximately 11 men). The annual celebration takes place to note the independence. Artistic endeavours are the main pre-occupation of the Republic. The current President of the Republic of Užupis is Romas Lileikis, who is a poet, a musician, and a film director. Artūras Zuokas, mayor of Vilnius, lives in Užupis and frequently takes part in the Republic's events. Užupis does not have any internet-cafes, kiosks, big malls or governmental institutions (except Užupian), and there is no embassy either. It is unclear whether the statehood of the Republic, recognized by no government, is intended to be serious, or tongue-in-cheek, or a combination of both. The decision to hold Užupis Independence Day on April 1st (April Fools' Day) may not be coincidental, emphasising the importance of humour and non-importance of "serious" political decisions.

Constitution of Užupis

The Copy of the Republic's constitution, its 39 articles and 3 mottos - "Don't Fight", "Don't Win", "Don't Surrender" – translated in fifteen languages, can be found affixed to a wall on Paupio street in the area. Some of these articles would be common to any constitution. For instance, Article 5 simply reads "Man has the right to individuality". Others are more idiosyncratic. A typical example can be found in Article 1 ("People have the right to live by the River Vilnelė, while the River Vilnelė has the right to flow past people."), 12 ("A dog has the right to be a dog.") and 37 ("People have the right to have no rights."), each of them making an unusual apportionment of rights. There is a number of articles in opposition to each other, such as Articles 16 ("People have the right to be happy.") and 17 ("People have the right to be unhappy."), which declare the right to either do or not to do something, according to the desire.

Angel of Užupis

On April 1st 2002, a statue of the archangel Gabriel blowing a trumpet was unveiled in the main square. It was intended to symbolise the revival and artistic freedom of Eastern Europe. The sculptor, Romas Vilčiauskas, is also the creator of the Užupis Mermaid. Previously, a temporal sculpture of an egg stood where now the angel is. The egg itself became the subject of various anecdotes. After being replaced by the larger statue of Gabriel, the egg was sold at an auction for 10,200 litas (around 2952 euros) and now stands on Pylimo Street.

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