I think Chesterton Would Absolutely Love The Republic of Užupis

I think Chesterton Would Absolutely Love The Republic of Užupis November 5, 2013

It a neighborhood in the capital of Lithuania–Vilnius–that seceded on April 1, 1997. Wikipedia gives the scoop. The Republic has…

its own flag, currency, president, cabinet of ministers, a constitution written by Romas Lileikis and Thomas Chepaitis, an anthem, and an army (numbering approximately 11 men). They celebrate this independence annually on Užupis Day, which falls on April 1. Artistic endeavours are the main preoccupation of the Republic; the current President of the Republic of Užupis, Romas Lileikis, is himself a poet, musician, and film director.

Artūras Zuokas, mayor of Vilnius, lives in Užupis and frequently takes part in the Republic’s events. Užupis does not house internet-cafes, kiosks, big malls, or governmental institutions (except Užupian), and there is no embassy to Lithuania.

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 1 (April Fools’ Day) may not be coincidental, emphasizing the importance of humor and non-importance of “serious” political decisions.

Of particularly Chestertonian delight to me is the amazing Constitution of Užupis

Copies of the 39 articles of the Republic’s constitution and 3 mottos – “Don’t Fight”, “Don’t Win”, “Don’t Surrender” – in fifteen languages, 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, according to their desire. The flag of the Republic consist one – a white background with the palm of hand, but each season the palm emblem have another color: Winter – blue, Spring – green, Summer – yellow, Autumn – red

Also, gotta love this: “A cat is not obliged to love its master, but it must help him in difficult times.”

Užupis is a sort of post-Iron Curtain version of what we have here in Seattle in the People’s Democratic Republic of Fremont. Except that the denizens of Fremont, being leftist ninnies, actually shelled out thousands of dollars to pay for a big hunk of slag from the corpse of the Soviet Union, made in the ugly Soviet Realism shape of the mass murderer Lenin (upon which I always pause to hock a good loogie as I pass):

While the Lithuanian free spirits actually seem to appreciate freedom and so tore down their Lenin Statue (since he was, you know, a butcher and tyrant and not at all a free spirit) and put in its place a bust  of Frank Zappa.  No, really.

If you find it hard to believe Chesterton would enjoy all this, I recommend a reading of his classic The Napoleon of Notting Hill.  Not as trippy as The Man Who Was Thursday, but a good look at the Small is Beautiful ethos that Chesterton was espousing decades before anybody ever heard of E.F. Schumacher.

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  • Elaine S.

    Speaking of Small is Beautiful, here’s an alternate history map of what the United States would look like today if every single serious or even half-serious proposal for splitting up or seceding part of a state had succeeded:


    The map shows 124 states, from Absaroka to Yazoo, Nickajack, Forgottonia, the Kingdom of Callaway, Nataqua, Kanawha, Little Egypt, etc.

    • I heartily endorse ejecting Chicagoland from the rest of Illinois. Perhaps then we can elect a governor who won’t spend his retirement in prison.

  • Elaine S.

    In reality only two proposals to split up existing U.S. states have ever been realized: Maine was split off from Massachusetts in 1820 and West Virginia was split off from Virginia in 1863.

  • Caspar

    E. F. Schumacher was going to write about “Chestertonian Economics,” but thought no one would have a clue what it referred to.


  • JJG

    Independence for Cascadia!


  • TheConductor

    The awesomeness of my fellow Lithuanians is something that is not nearly often enough appreciated. Although it’s a little early for Christmas greetings, let me wish all, “Linksmu sveintu kaleidu!”

  • Elmwood

    Awesome! I’m a big fan of Zappa (baptized catholic for what’s worth) who we all know wasn’t a “leftist commie”. In fact, i believe he was well revered in the eastern bloc countries and was for a time ambassador to the Czech Republic.

    Incidentally, he was very critical of public education and big government to his credit. But, he was also an atheist unfortunately.