The Baltic Course  

Under the wing of an angel

By Olga Pavuk

The Streets of Death was the name of one of the most abandoned areas in the centre of Vilnius some years ago, called Uzupis on the map. Today this last bastion of romance has its own coat of arms, four flags and its own president. The BC met the president of Uzupis, Romas Lileikis, in one of the pubs on the border of this small country in Lithuania’s capital

Photo: P.Lileikis, Lietuvos rytas

The area is situated in the very centre of Vilnius, surrounded from three sides by the River Uzupe with its seven bridges. Populated soon after the war, up to recent times Uzupis was considered the most criminal part of the city. No hot water, utilities in the yard: these were and still are the characteristics of this God’s abandoned corner of the world.


Minus to plus

Ten years ago, people from the high-rise dwelling areas of the Lithuanian capital city – painters, poets and romance-oriented businessmen – started moving to Uzupis. Five years ago, on the 1st of April, its own “state” was established with its own coat of arms, four flags, each for every season, and with its own borders. It has its own slogan – “Don’t win. Don’t defend. Don’t give up.” By the way, a picture on the coat of arms, “a hole in the arm”, is a symbol of overtness.

The president here is neither appointed, nor elected. It just happened that one morning Romas Lileikis “woke up and felt himself as president”. Currently, 7 thousand people are permanent residents of Uzupis. According to the president, “over the past five years the minus of his state has transformed into a plus”. He also says: “Uzupis is not a self-governing, but a self-reserved authority”. Romas himself is a film director, who has shot four films and recently has released his third CD.

Romas Lileikis

Photo: P.Lileikis, Lietuvos rytas

One of the paradoxes of the small Uzupis suburb: “There’s enough place for everybody.” Not only residents of the district can become citizens of Uzupis, but also the ones who share its spirit and traditions, no matter where in the world they are. There are 70 ambassadors of Uzupis in various countries. A ritual of becoming a citizen involves receiving a hat and a whistle. Among the honorary citizens are Jonas Makas – a Lithuanian film director, living in the USA, a former Mayor of Vilnius, Arturas Zuokas, who simply lives in one of houses in Uzupis, and not forgetting the Dalailama.



They also have their own traditions. One of them is their own calendar.  New Year’s Eve here is celebrated on the 21st of March, the day of the spring solstice. Residents of Uzupis call this a Day of mousetraps or snares, people burn their old diaries on this day and rid themselves of all prejudices. Another tradition is the celebration of the White Tablecloth Day, when on the second day of Easter, people bring everything left from the festive feast. And, of course, a national holiday, Constitution Day, on the 1st of April. On Midsummer’s Eve in June, there are bonfires on the river. On the 2nd of November, is the Day of the blackbirds’ coops, when in the old cemetery, there is a commemoration for the dead.



The constitution of Uzupis is conspicuous for humanitarianism, love to our small brothers, the animals, and freedom of spirit. Here are some of its 40 articles. A man has the right to live near the river, and the river has the right to flow near a man. A man has the right to hot water and a roof overhead. A man has the right to love. And to be unloved. To be insufficient. To be lazy or to do nothing. To have a cat. But a cat is not supposed to love its owner. To take care of a dog till one of them dies. Or to be unhappy. Not to threaten eternity. To celebrate or not to celebrate one’s birthday. To share with something that one has got. To be a personality. And so on and so forth.


Money and ideas

Uzupis lives its own life, but it is not an island of hippie-like citizens. According to the president Lileikis, money plays an important role: “But it would be better if money and ideas find each other. We have no patrons, but during these years, five-six art galleries and centres have emerged.” There are more and more small cafes and restaurants in the district.

Today nobody is leaving this favourite place of dwelling, therefore the president Lileikis couldn’t tell us the current cost of property, but five years ago, one could purchase a four-room apartment for 10 thousand US dollars.

Residents of Uzupis once collected money for building a statue of a Guardian angel in the centre of the suburb – a guarantee of life for the smallest state in the world.

Despite Uzupis being surrounded by the big city of Vilnius, people here still great each other all the time.

Photo: P.Lileikis, Lietuvos rytas