Part Two of Alan Dearling’s adventures
This is a little post-Covid adventure story. I was booked to attend the 2020 Uzupis Independence celebrations when the pandemic struck. The events take place around 1st April each year, with a street parade on the 1st and conference (and an extra-ordinary gathering of the Uzupis Ambassadors from around the world the day before). And so it came to pass that I returned to Uzupis for my first post-Covid visit for 25th Birthday celebrations in 2023.
Uzupis started out as an area of edgy, creative poverty. Largely derelict and unloved, abandoned. A place for artists, drinkers, drug-takers, poets, potters, writers. Bohemians. The original inhabitants of the area were in essence ‘squatters’. No-one much else wanted to live or work there. It is often compared with Ruigoord outside of Amsterdam, Nimbin in New South Wales, Christiania in Copenhagen and Montmartre in Paris. But, actually it is pretty much unique. A curiosity.
The area of Uzupis is now much more gentrified even compared with my first trip there in 2016. More cafes, up-market ‘posh’-shops, galleries and eateries. It still has some unusual establishments, like the local bar, ‘Spunka’, but there are more places and spaces geared-up for tourists, such the UMI Arts Incubator complex and post office and the Border Control shop on the main bridge entering the Uzupis area. And I have an ‘official’ role at the Independence celebrations – I have been the Uzupis Ambassador for the Scottish-English borderlands since 2016. And in 2023 my title and role has changed. More about that a little bit later. There is also a recently published, rather lovely book entitled ‘Zymus’ featuring photos by Marius Abramavicius-Neboisia of many significant ‘players’ in the Uzupis’ story.
Here’s what the official Uzupis website says about the place and its history. But first here are links to more about Uzupis on-line:
Uzupis: (not a secure site) http://www.uzupiorespublika.com/en/home/
Alis Film: Short but amazing history of the Republic of Užupis 1997-2018 year (10 min in English)
“In 1998, 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 Thomas Cepaitis, an anthem, and an army (originally numbering approximately 11 men, now disbanded). They celebrate this independence annually on Užupis National Day, which falls on April 1st. Artistic endeavours are the main preoccupation of the Republic; the life-long President of the Republic of Užupis, Romas Lileikis, is himself a poet, musician, and film director.”
“It is unclear whether the statehood of the Republic, recognized by no government, is intended to be serious, tongue-in-cheek, or a combination of both. The decision to place Užupis Day on April 1st (April Fools’ Day) may not be coincidental, emphasizing the importance of humor and non-importance of “serious” political decisions.”
“Copies of the 39 articles of the Republic’s constitution and 3 mottos – “Don’t Fight”, “Don’t Win”, “Don’t Surrender” – in thirty eight languages (as to April 2020), can be found affixed to a wall on Paupio street in the area. Some of these articles would be unremarkable in a constitution; for instance, Article 5 simply reads “Man has the right to individuality”. Others are more idiosyncratic; a typical example can be found in Articles 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 which makes an unusual apportionment of rights. There are a number of paired articles, such as Articles 16 (“People have the right to be happy”) and 17 (“People have the right to be unhappy”) which declare people’s right to either do or not do something, or to be or not to be someone, according to their desire.”
However, Uzupis has become a magnet drawing literally thousands of visitors to the Old Town area throughout the year. Visitors have included the Pope Francis in 2018, who blessed the Uzupis constitution, and the 14th Dalai Lama, who first visited the Republic in 2013. He returned in 2018 to plant a tree in the Republik’s ‘Tibet Square’(which features a rather lovely shrine), which marked 100 years since the Council of Lithuania proclaimed the restoration of an independent state of Lithuania.
A solid silver coin was minted in 2023 to celebrate the 25 years of the Uzupis Republik. And personally I was awarded my second Chevalier Silver Garlic of the Republik from Tomas Cepaitis, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and my new Ambassadorial designation as Captain UFO: Ambassador to Aliens was recognised. I rather like the fact that Tomas got the year date wrong! My new home in Todmorden in the Pennines is the self-proclaimed UFO capital of the UK, with regular alien sightings, and, of course, a fair few abductions including the local policeman, Alan Godfrey. All in a day’s plod-work!
Here’s the announcement:
“ALAN DEARLING will be rotated from ambassadors at England-Scottish border to ambassadors among UFOnauts at 18:00 in “Spunk AL”
Alan to be awarded the 2nd SILVER GARLIC Order.
6pm in Spunk! Everyone is invited.”
The Independence Day parade was colourful (if rather damp). The theme for the 25th year was ‘For the Angels’. There was also a bitterly cold swim in the river by the Mermaid down by the Kavine (which also serves as the parliament building).
On the 1st April, Uz Euros (worth 4 Euros each) were in use in bars and cafes. Musicians and poets performed around the 2.3 square mile area. I stayed in the Downtown Forest Hostel just outside of Uzupis which was a friendly base (and in the past has provided me with lots of lively musical entertainment – but it was too cold outside the hostel on this visit).
In all, Uzupis is and was really quirky, weird and wonderful. Fun, and a rather lovely mix of reality,frolicsome insanity and artistic anarchy.
(And thanks for some of the pics from Billy and Antonio and the Uzupio Respublika Facebook site)