The country that lives for a day

  • 2005-03-30
  • By Milda Seputyte
VILNIUS - In general, the sovereign Republic of Uzupis is a quiet state. It won't be found on globes or in the World Atlas, yet this tiny republic within Vilnius central territory has its own president, constitution, anthem, its own bishop, two churches and no fewer than four official flags - one for each season. Yet once a year, this country makes some noise.

Each year on April Fool's day, Uzupis is overwhelmed with concerts, parades and guests - all in celebration of Uzupian Independence Day. On top of that, a small creak with seven bridges turns into a safeguarded state border. And in accordance with all state border laws, those who wish to enter must show a passport.

Uzupis, or the Republic of Angels as it is frequently nick named, comprises only 148 acres. The name Uzupis means "the other side of the river," and the waterway has long served as a natural border from the rest of Vilnius. The state has one main street, surrounded by lanes of secluded art galleries and courtyard dwellings.

When Lithuania broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991, the bohemian residents of Uzupis didn't stop there. Living up to its unique spirit, the neighborhood declared independence from Lithuania. Since then, the Uzupis community has celebrated its most essential value on Apr. 1's liberty.

The festivities begin at daybreak. Uzupian authorities assign uniformed border guards to check and stamp everyone's passport when they cross a state bridge. But the guards are somewhat lenient. Those who don't hold a passport are not deported, they just have to show an interest in the celebration and the gates are open. However, it is wise to exchange currency while at the checkpoint, as only local Uzupian money is legal that day.

The national ceremonies usually kick off by mid-day in the central square around the Angel, where President of Uzupis Romas Lileikis addresses his citizens. Yet the people of Uzupis are nationally inclusive. Everyone who is fond of the republic's spirit is taken for a Uzupian, as Lileikis said in one of his previous speeches. Also, each year a new person is dubbed honorary citizen. One of those, for instance, was the Tibetan Dalai Lama who paid a visit to the republic several years ago. As a sign of gratitude, the Dalai Lama bestowed Uzupis with a white scarf. The Uzupians unexpectedly returned the gesture by letting the scarf fly off into the sky - a free-spirited symbol of honor to the esteemed monk. Later the citizens explained that, since they desire no possessions, they chose to share the scarf with Vilnius and the rest of Lithuania.

The feasting and celebration continues throughout the day, with parades from one bridge to another, one concert to the next. After sunset, the party is swept off the streets and into the republic's bars and cafes. Uzupio Kavine, for one, is traditionally the most packed. Yet every neighborhood cafe is sure to be roaring until daybreak. One things for sure; the small Republic of Uzupis will be heard.