Source: The Columbia Star / www.thecolumbiastar.com / By Warner M. Montgomery, Ph.D. /
According to Lithuanian government figures, unemployment in Uzupio is 13 percent, 80 percent of the people are ethnic Lithuanian, the average age of the citizens is 65, 75 percent of the homes are privately owned, and 2,900 cars pass through Uzupio each day. However, the footnote says, “These statistics are not exact due to the very dynamic change in the area over the past five years.”
Another inexact fact I heard while touring Uzupio was that Frank Zappa was the inspiration of the independent republic in the middle of Vilnius. It seems that in 1992 when the citizens of Vilnius were seeking to replace statues of destroyed Soviet idols, bohemian artists from what would become Uzupio wanted a symbol that would mark the end of communism but not be too doomy or gloomy. They came up with the likeness of Frank Zappa.
Why Zappa!? He had nothing to do with Lithuania, but someone thought his Jewish features would highlight the rich Jewish history in Vilnius before the Nazi and Soviet exterminations. So…why not?
At the dedication ceremony of the Zappa statue in Vilnius in 1995, Czech President Vaclav Havel spoke, a military brass band played Zappa hits, radio stations aired hours of Zappa quotes, and a Zappa Love Letter Club was established. Hence, Frank Zappa, American rock star and pot head became patron saint of Uzupio.
Everything else about Uzupio is equally irrational.
A few years ago Uzupio erected its own Eiffel Tower, its own Statue of Liberty, its own Statue of David. A bronze sculpture of an angel (Uzupio supposedly means Republic of Angels) was raised on the plinth of a former Soviet hero in the town square. It was dedicated to a beloved local painter who died in 1998. At the moment of dedication the 12–member Uzupian army waved their paintbrushes and chanted, “Do not defeat. Do not fight back. Do not surrender,” words from the Uzupio Constitution.
April Fool’s Day was declared National Feast Day. On April 1, all the citizens of Uzupio gather in the town square for a medieval carnival. The drinking fountain next to the Angel Statue is connected to an unending supply of Lithuanian beer, and everyone takes turns filling their steins. Bands play, mimes slip silently through the crowd, vendors sell Uzupio flags and Frank Zappa T–shirts, and artists display their latest works.
I was there in September. The Baltic weather was dismal. There were no crowds in the town square. Nevertheless, Jim, Andrius, and I filled our cupped hands from the fountain and toasted Uzupio with crystal clear, freezing water with words from the Uzupio
Constitution, “Everyone has the right to be happy…A dog has the right to be a dog.”