Užupis: How 12 Lithuanian Artists Created an Independent Republic in Vilnius

Vilnius city lights at night
Vilnius city lights at night | © Mantas Volungevicius
Jon Crabb

In 1995, a group of Lithuanian artists and intellectuals erected a statue of Frank Zappa in the nation’s capital Vilnius. Two years later on April Fool’s Day, the city’s bohemian quarter declared itself an independent Republic, replete with a 12-man army.

Loved by over 40s
Entering the Republic of Užupis

Shortly afterward, four national flags were designed (one for each season), and a constitution was drawn up, which included the articles, ‘People have the right to be happy’ and ‘People have the right to be unhappy.’ Fifteen years later, the state has yet to be invaded and remains a glorious vindication of the absurd.
The story of Užupis is a bizarre, yet strangely encouraging tale of what can happen when a bunch of eccentrics are left to their own devices. When Lithuania broke free of the Soviet Union, Lenin’s statues were torn down, and a lot of plinths were left empty. At a time when the country was trying to rediscover its national identity and escape the shadow of communism, local photographer and civil servant Saulius Paukstys spotted an opportunity. ‘We were desperate to find a symbol that would mark the end of communism, but at the same time express that it wasn’t always doom and gloom,’ Paukstys told The Guardian. He chose Zappa’s work to accomplish this and began to collect signatures and, despite Zappa’s total irrelevance to Lithuania, people got behind the idea and gave a huge show of support to the bemused authorities. It may have been the absurdity of the proposition that struck a chord with the artistic community.

‘Okay, so Zappa never visited Lithuania and had no connection with the country, but as far as I was concerned, this was a test of our new-found freedom,’ Paukstys said. ‘Lithuania had just proclaimed itself to be a democratic country. I wanted to test it and see if I would be able to realize my ideas.’

Ironically, the man employed to create the bust of Zappa was an elderly local sculptor previously known for his depictions of communist leaders. The mayor of Vilnius unveiled the statue in a square in the city center, accompanied by a brass band playing Zappa songs and followed by a fireworks show. The local Zappa fan club exploded in numbers, and a local radio station instituted a weekly Zappa broadcast, which played his songs and snippets of his philosophy. It is at this point that the story gets particularly strange. The city’s neighborhood of Užupis had suffered neglect at the hands of the communists and in 1990, at the time of independence, was a small, rundown collection of buildings lacking basic utilities, inhabited by prostitutes, the homeless and a foundering artistic community. When that community began to campaign for the area’s improvement in the mid-90s, Zappa was chosen as a patron saint to rally behind.
‘The spirit of Zappa made us see that independence from Moscow was not enough and persuaded us to declare independence from the rest of Vilnius,’ Paukstys said.

The Republic of Užupis might be a tongue-in-cheek joke, but it is certainly a long-lasting and successful joke. The constitution enshrines such rights as:
Everyone has the right to love and take care of a cat.

Everyone has the right to cry.

A dog has the right to be a dog.
Among the surrealism of many of the Articles, the wording of Articles 32 and 33 strike a more serious note and hint at the history of Lithuania, Vilnius and Užupis that led to this Republic:
Everyone is capable of independence.

Everyone is responsible for his freedom.
Užupis has been an independent republic revolving around art and culture since. It holds feasts, fireworks shows and open-air art exhibitions. The current mayor of Vilnius not only tolerates but supports the Republic and even takes part in their events. Užupis currently has four honorary citizens – Jonas Mekas, Dalai Lama, Ugnė Karvelis and Zenonas Šteinys.

culture trip left arrow
 culture trip brand logo

Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip

meet our Local Insider


women sitting on iceberg


2 years.


It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.


I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!

culture trip logo letter c
group posing for picture on iceberg
group posing for picture on iceberg

Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.

map of volcanic iceland trip destination points
culture trip brand logo
culture trip right arrow
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.