«Everyone Shall Be Responsible for Their Freedom», – article 32 of the Constitution of the Republic of Užupis states. Užupis is a social and artistic enclave in the territory of Vilnius.
Užupis (Zarichchia in Ukrainian) used to be a depressive neighbourhood of the capital of the Republic of Lithuania. In the 1990s it became popular with the creative community of artists, film directors, actors, musicians and writers. In 1996 the Alternative Art Centre was founded there. And in 1997 a group of artists declared the establishment of a conceptual state there. The new republic was to have its president and government, coat of arms and flag, Constitution and postal stamps. The bohemian society transformed the district. It became the embodiment of natural non-aggressive gentrification in the post-Soviet space. This experience is indisputably relevant for Kyiv and Ukraine. And so is the heritage of the Lithuanian cultural policy in general.
The bohemian lifestyle has some fixed connotations: lack of obligations, relaxed attitude, certain messiness. This aura lives on in Užupis: some of its galleries or shops do not have the fixed opening hours, instead the owners open them whenever they wish. The residents and guest of the district enjoy the carnivals, open air performances of the artists who cherish it – the traveling theatrical companies, wandering poets, the 14th Dalai Lama or Boris Grebenshchikov. The life here is ordered, peaceful and safe, though. Largely because the Lithuanian temperament and dramatic history are interwoven with the correlation between freedom and responsibility.
The responsibility is both a consequence of freedom and its condition. Therefore, those unwilling to bear the responsibility found themselves under dictatorship. The artists are responsible for their talent, vision and creative drive. And this kind of responsibility is one of the hardest to bear. Because one cannot lie to oneself and the suppression of a creative impulse will transform into suffering and depression. Expressing oneself creatively requires much effort because an artist appeals not to the vacuum. Any kind of creative work is social and based on a dialogue, and it does not matter whether one’s respondent is God or Beatrice.
«The weak individuals perceive freedom as standing naked and exposed in front of the dark and hostile world. Therefore, suppressing somebody else's spirit or one's own personality comes as the only possible salvation,» – thinks Lithuanian philosopher and historian Leonidas Donskis, criticising the tough rotation of violence in the post-Soviet mass media, including the social media. Freedom without ressentiment, built on the study of oneself and celebration of one’s dignity, makes ones abandon the Manichaeism and invites to join a creative play with the diversity of the world.
As opposed to the vast uniform steppe, the European landscape is premised on the numerous national, confessional, cultural and intellectual traditions mixed on rather small territories. For instance, Užupis unites such ideological antipodes like Jozef Pilsudski and Felix Dzerzhinsky. It used to have a considerable Jewish community that suffered from the Tzarist pogroms and was almost completely exterminated during the Holocaust. The intellectuals of Užupis study the Jewish cultural heritage because they understand the unique relevance of each note in a cultural symphony of the place and the city.
We appreciate the fantasy of those who created Užupis as a virtual world, the game space in the landscape of Lithuanian reality. However, we do not build a copy, a decoration or an illustration. In the end, Užupis, like Disneyland, is a simulacrum. However, this simulacrum is unique – it is not nourished by consumerism. It does not propose a good, the solipsim or escapism. It invites us to face the feeling of freedom. The individual freedom – that has its limits and requires responsibility.
The project is dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the restoration of Lithuania as a state. It brings together the pieces by different generations of Lithuanian and Ukrainian artists working in different genres. Within the project, Thomas Chepaitis, a publicist and the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Užupis, will deliver a lecture.