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HomeAnonymousPrague Institute of Crypto Anarchy — plotting to bring dow…

Prague Institute of Crypto Anarchy — plotting to bring dow…


ETHPrague 2023 was held at Paralelní Polis in the Czech Republic

Pavel Sinagl

PRAGUE — In 2007, a group of Czech guerrilla artists scaled a transmitter tower belonging to the country's national television station and hacked into a live webcam of the Krkonoše mountain range typically used during the weather segment. In the midst of a live broadcast on June 17 of that year, the rebel collective — dubbed Ztohoven — faked a nuclear bomb detonation. Viewers watched as a camera shot panning across the landscape flashed white and revealed a mushroom cloud in the distance, reminiscent of a war-era newsreel threatening Armageddon.

The stunt was a signature move for the consortium of Bohemian subversives, one among many disruptive pranks over the course of decades designed to provoke onlookers and foster a sense of resistance and revolt against prescribed societal norms. Ztohoven has since added the banner of crypto anarchy to its mantle, embracing the hackers and provocateurs who helped mobilize the movement since its inception.

Today, that union of minds finds refuge in Prague in a retrofitted factory building called Paralelní Polis, or "parallel world." The name pays homage to Czech philosopher and dissident, Václav Benda, who coined the phrase in the 1970s as a way to describe an emerging underground counterculture quietly subverting the ruling communist regime.

Ztohoven's parallel world offers a different kind of anarchy. The space functions as a living example of how the world could look — a crucible for decentralized and defiant technologies designed to operate beyond the reach of governments, laws, and central banks.

It's a place where cryptography replaces control, cryptocurrency supplants fiat, and controversial concepts aren't just discussed, but are lived ideologies binding people together.

For more than two years, Dan Ligocký has been working from Polis three to five days a week. Ligocký, who is an event producer with deep ties to the ethereum community, tells CNBC that the space has served as a catalyst for innovation and the exploration of decentralized technologies.

"Its commitment to privacy, freedom, and self-sovereignty aligns with the core principles of the Web3 movement," continued Ligocký. "We're here to support the ecosystem and are open to collaborating with anyone whose ethos aligns with ours."

Indeed, the vast factory-turned-forum pulses with the collective energy of digital rights activists, privacy-obsessed cypherpunks, and crypto-faithful ideologues. Its diverse denizens ranging from transient visitors like the Czech prince William Lobkowicz, to ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin.

Polis is a place where technology, philosophy, and activism converge.

Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin speaks at ETHPrague 2023

Pavel Sinagl

A tale of two castles

The Czech Republic's den of crypto anarchy sits in the heart of Holešovice — a district bound by the left bank of the Vltava River to the east and Letná Hill to the west. The neighborhood was once the epicenter of industrial Prague, synonymous with slaughterhouses and steam mills, but today is home to art galleries and ateliers.

At the opposite end of the city in a district called Hradčany — about three-and-a-half miles south-west of Polis — is a 750,000 square foot castle complex that appears frozen in a Renaissance-era alternate dimension. Its imposing Gothic spires loom over the Czech capital — a vestige of a time when inherited nobility meant something quite different to the people of Prague.

Private dinner held with coders and crypto enthusiasts at the Lobkowicz Palace in Prague

MacKenzie Sigalos | CNBC

Once the seat of Bohemian kings and Holy Roman emperors, Czech presidents now occupy the castle complex — a sprawling mass of palaces, churches, towers, hidden passageways, and gardens.

Two young nobles, William and Ileana Lobkowicz, sometimes hold crypto-centric events there. Neither live at the palace, but they use the stately halls and manors once inhabited by their ancestors for industry working groups on digital assets.

A multi-day annual conference called Non-Fungible Castle is their banner event, and the siblings have also spent the last few years tinkering with using NFTs as a way to fund restoration projects — an ambition that appears to have faded during the bear market as NFT sales and prices plummet.

This summer, however, the Lobkowicz family expanded their crypto outreach efforts by hosting some of the most established coders in the ethereum ecosystem for a one-day working session. The workshops were followed by a private tour of the castle and a multi-course gala dinner in the Imperial Hall at Lobkowicz Palace — an event where the conversation effortlessly shifted from Europe's groundbreaking new crypto law to the convergence of generative AI and blockchain tech.

Crypto fans descend on Prague

Ancillary events complementing the dual crypto conferences took place across the city.

One was hosted in the private dining room of a steakhouse in Old Town where the merits of bitcoin — and its imminent threats — were debated until midnight. One point in contention: Whether Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Gary Gensler is a closeted bitcoin maximalist, given it is the one digital asset that he has explicitly omitted from his concerted campaign to police and dismantle the ecosystem.

Meanwhile, ethereum enthusiasts descended on a modern houseboat in Holešovice for a beer tasting by the Czech Craft brewery Václav, where the Czech classic 12° Pils Vaclav and the buttery IPA 17° Sexy Hafanana were both on tap.

Another side event took place one morning at Trezor's office, a modest space in the SatoshiLabs building located in a remote, residential suburb two miles north-east of Polis. The session included some of Prague's top bitcoin founders — Matěj Žák, the CEO of Trezor; Jan Čapek, co-founder of Braiins, which proclaims to be the first company to introduce the concept of bitcoin mining pools; Christoph Kassas of General Bytes; and prominent Bitcoin YouTuber Jakub Vejmola. The discussion was more of a lecture-style format, with each of the leaders talking about current expansion efforts during the bear market.

The Braiins team also spoke about how they are bracing for imminent regulation in the space. The team described a protocol in development now that would make it so that pools are not capable of choosing the transactions that comprise each block — that way, they would avoid being blamed for violating any impending rules from the U.S. Treasury restricting the exchange of cryptocurrency.

"This extension to the protocol is essentially managed so that miners can choose their own work templates being approved by the pool, but then basically, the pool as a legal entity is out of the game, in terms of not being responsible for selecting the transaction," explained Čapek.

A look around the room revealed an audience of a couple dozen people, filled with some of today's most influential bitcoiners, including technologist and software engineer Jameson Lopp, a cypherpunk and co-founder of bitcoin security provider Casa, as well as the popular podcast hosts Stephan Livera and hedge fund manager-turned-bitcoiner Robert Breedlove.

Across town at Polis, Duct Tape Production put on ETHPrague, in coordination with the Ethereum Foundation.

The multi-day conference drew in the most influential thinkers in the space — including Buterin, one of the most prominent coders on the planet, and Stani Kulechov, founder and CEO of Aave and Lens.

Programming consisted of a mix of lectures and panels on everything from MiCA and self-regulation within decentralized finance, to the nuances of layer two protocols being built on top of ethereum. These working sessions brought together technologists, lawyers, and politicians from across the continent to discuss next steps for the industry.

"I was genuinely surprised at how helpful and friendly the participants were, how much altruism and reciprocity could be felt in their views and presentations, and the fact that they are close to the 'build homes, not empires' vision," said Ondrej Polak, executive director of the newly-founded Czech Blockchain Association, who also describes himself as a practicing technology optimist and AI advocate.

ETHPrague 2023 was held at Paralelní Polis in the Czech Republic

Pavel Sinagl

Ligocky had a similar reaction to ETHPrague, saying it reaffirmed his belief that "the future of the internet is being reshaped by a vibrant global community of visionaries, developers, and entrepreneurs."

"The sense of community and shared purpose was truly inspiring, as we collectively strive to unlock the limitless possibilities that lie ahead in this decentralized frontier," continued Ligocky.

"ETHPrague is just the beginning," he said, adding that they're working on more events across Europe for teams that share the same vision.

Ethereum, Bitcoin communities descend on Prague as U.S. crackdown grips crypto market

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