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Minister makes a flying visit from the Republic of Angels

13 February 2012


A dignitary from the Republic of Uzupis in Lithuania has experienced a cultural visit to the North East courtesy of Teesside University and DigitalCity Innovation.

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tomasz Czepaitis, got a snapshot of community engagement and the local culture with the help of another Uzupis ambassador based closer to home at Teesside University. Steve Thompson, Community Engagement Coordinator for DigitalCity Innovation at the University was appointed Ambassador for Digital Inclusions and Teesside by the Republic in 2010 and has continued to help grow the relationship since.

The Republic of Uzupis, also known as the Republic of Angels, is a district of the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, and declared independence on 1st April 1997, which remains uncontested. They have a president, a prime minister and their own national anthem, flag and army. The area is well known for being popular with artists. 'I first met Tomasz at a Grundtvig workshop in Vienna in 2010.' Steve explains, 'At the time, I was working on a film for Animex and I needed some voice artists, so I asked Tomasz, along with other delegates I had met there, to help me out.'

After this initial collaboration, Tomasz recommended Steve be made an ambassador and since has been referred to as ‘His Excellency’ by the people of Uzupis. The role included helping facilitate digital communications between other European countries to strengthen international relations. Steve said: 'The role is more of a cultural and artistic role than a diplomatic one, but either way, I’m very proud to hold this position. Some people might take this with a pinch of salt, however the sentiment to share cultural experiences with each other is very sincere. We intend to continue to work together on future collaborations and projects.'

During his time on Teesside, Tomasz visited the Teesside University campus and also accompanied Steve on the numerous community projects he is working such as Jack Drum Arts in Weardale, Wearhead Primary School and Killhope Lead Mining Museum, specially opened up for Tomasz's visit.

'Tomasz gave a presentation to teach people from Teesside more about the Republic of Uzupis and its cultures. I’ve very much enjoyed his visit and, as I suspected, he was given a typically warm Teesside welcome.'

Also present at the Grundtvig workshop in Vienna in 2010 was Councillor Barry Hunt of Redcar & Cleveland Council where he was appointed as the Ambassador to Motives and Motivation. Barry joined Steve and Tomasz on Teesside campus and a special 'Ministers Reception' on Darlington Campus, as well as hosting a visit around Skinningrove. Tomasz said of his visit: 'Teesside is a very special place to me, with its landscape and the warmth of the people. Middlesbrough has the soul and spirit of a city, which is still to be expressed clearly. The Transporter Bridge, Old Town Hall and other bridges are the beacons for reviving its legend.'

He added: 'I have gained a lot of inspiration during my visit so far, learning about the mining culture here, which moved me when hearing about the life quality of the miners. It has definitely given me ideas for cultural and community co-projects between Uzupis and the North East of England. I hope I get the chance to visit again sometime in the future.'

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