Erstellt am: 28. 5. 2016 - 10:06 Uhr
Mostly Autonomous: Life in a self-declared Republic
FM4 Reality Check: This week's Reality Check Saturday Special takes a tour around Freetown Christiania and the Republic of Užupis. Our tour will become available as a podcast and a "Saturday Special" on today´s Reality Check.
Apparently that's how you pronounce Užupis, the name of a bohemian neighbourhood-turned-independent-Republic based in Vilnius, Lithuania.
I visited there by accident the other day. I was just strolling around on a crisp spring afternoon, when I suddenly found myself standing in front of a sign that announced I was only mere steps away from entering a Republic.
Not entirely sure what I was getting myself into, I nevertheless crossed the small bridge over the canal, underneath which flowed the river Vilnelė.
Right across the river, you find a local bar called the Užupio Kavinė, and that's where you will find some of the local characters drinking and telling stories. It's also where you will find a bartender who doubles as a border guard, albeit a very lax one (I could have easily snuck past him and not received a passport stamp. But, of course I wanted one!).
Johnny Bliss, 2016
* - Later, I would find out that he's also the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and even (on occasion) been King!
Because this Republic is quite tiny (only 7000 or so people are reckoned to live there, 1000 of whom are supposedly artists), it is not difficult to befriend resident people of local importance. Right there at the bar, I met one of two founders of Užupis, a man named Tomas Čepaitis*.
Johnny Bliss, 2016
Apparently, back in 1998, when they decided to form the nation, he and his friend Romas (who later became the President of Užupis, for a period) came together for a couple of hours, and co-wrote the constitution of Užupis. This whimsical text, which also doubles as a Bill of Rights, would come to embody the philosophy and character of the newly-formed nation.
Reading some of the text (copies of the Constitution are available for sale at the bar; it is also displayed on a mirrored wall outside), you realize that you have traveled somewhere very unusual indeed.
Užupis Constitution (just a few examples)
For the full text, go here.
1. Everyone has the right to live by the River Vilnelė, and the River Vilnelė has the right to flow by everyone.
3. Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation.
6. Everyone has the right to love.
7. Everyone has the right not to be loved, but not necessarily.
10. Everyone has the right to love and take care of the cat.
12. A dog has the right to be a dog.
20. No one has the right to violence.
21. Everyone has the right to appreciate their unimportance.
26. Everyone has the right to celebrate or not celebrate their birthday.
33. Everyone has the right to cry.
36. Everyone has the right to be individual.
37. Everyone has the right to have no rights.
I sat down with Tomas, and we spoke about Užupis; first we touched upon its history as a Jewish neighbourhood, and then (following the Holocaust) as a low-income, relatively dodgy neighbourhood, and how it transformed into the culturally significant, tongue-in-cheek artist community that it is today. Naturally, we also spoke about the idea of it as a serious country.
Meanwhile, Užupis is not the only autonomous micro-nation that I'd paid a visit to recently. On a trip to Copenhagen not too long ago, I also made the rounds to the most famous self-proclaimed autonomous village in Europe.
CC BY 2.0 von Kieren Lynam flickr.com/kieranlynam
There are, of course, quite a few differences. The number of people living in Christiania seems to be considerably smaller, officially below 1000. Because Christiania has existed well over forty years now (having been founded in 1971), the original community of long-term residents is getting older, and a new generation of artists and thinkers is rising in their place.
Where Užupis seems to be not only condoned, but even celebrated by members of the Lithuanian Parliament, Freetown Christiania's relationship with Denmark would appear to have been considerably rockier.
CC BY SA 2.0 von Ville Hyvönen flickr.com/villehoo/
Some of this comes down to the decision to have a "green light district" on their so-called Pusher Street, where hashish and marijuana is sold openly, despite being illegal in Denmark- but there's clearly more to it than that.
I spoke to two long-term residents: Pete and Morton, who both moved over to Christiania a lifetime ago, and have seen (and even participated in!) the many changes that have taken place over the years.
CC BY 2.0 von Blondinrikard Fröberg flickr.com/blondinrikard/
We spoke about the decision, some years ago, to create a Foundation that would be recognized by Denmark, and to buy (or rent) all of the land occupied by Christiania from the Danish State.
But how did this change Freetown Christiania? What does the future look like for the community? And: are there any take-home lessons here for the (much younger) Republic of Užupis?
CC BY 2.0 von Fermin Grodira flickr.com/grodira
For answers from Christiania, Užupis, and those who have lived their lives in either of these places, tune in at 12 o'clock midday for an FM4 Reality Check Special, or check back here after the program for the podcast!