Užupis Utopia
Playboy South Africa|December 2022
What’s the true story behind a make-believe republic in Eastern Europe that captures the imagination of everyone who visits? Daisy Alioto searches for meaning in a booming micronation
By Daisy Alioto. Photography by Max Loeffler
Užupis Utopia

Before traveling to Užupis, a self-declared republic within the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, I read the 2009 novel The Republic of Užupis, by Korean author Haïlji. The protagonist, Hal, hopes to return to Užupis to lay to rest his father’s ashes. Upon arriving, he encounters confusion about the republic’s location, first with customs agents at the airport and then with his taxi driver, who circles Vilnius for more than an hour searching for the neighborhood. This is pure magical realism, but the allegory makes its point: Užupis, a micronation founded in 1998, is elusive to outsiders but meaningful to those who want to believe.

Arriving via Stockholm, I begin my journey differently than Hal. I bypass customs at Vilnius Airport and head straight into a cab. The driver easily pulls up my Užupian Airbnb on GPS. We wind through the narrow turns of Vilnius’s Old Town, and Billie Eilish’s familiar vocal fry on “Bad Guy” growls from the speakers as we cross the Bridge of Užupis. Užupis means “beyond the river,” and the republic’s parliament is housed in a watering hole that overlooks the moatlike border. In an alcove in the stone embankment sits a bronze mermaid statue that’s famous among locals; it was created by Romas Vilčiauskas, an unremarkable sculptor by Google standards. Legend has it that if you look into the mermaid’s eyes too long, you’ll never leave.

This story is from the December 2022 edition of Playboy South Africa.

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This story is from the December 2022 edition of Playboy South Africa.

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