Juraj Bednar is an ethical hacker, programmer, biohacker, startup founder, Bitcoin and crypto enthusiast and co-founder of Parallel Polis in Prague. These days he is putting his efforts into a new project.
After Prague, Bratislava is building its own Parallel Polis, an institution where you can learn more about the ideas of freedom and ways to live independently. “Our vision is the world that enables us to detach ourselves from any hierarchic state structures. There must be a way out and we’re looking for it in education, technology development, and other means,” explains Juraj in the interview.
Juraj, why Parallel Polis in Bratislava?
Right now, cryptocurrencies are very popular, it’s similar to when the internet started and in five years we’ll all understand the process and it will get boring. As a person who’s interested in the whole concept, I want to be here when things are happening. I want to work with it.
We were sitting together with Pavol Lupták (Polis co-founder) and wondering: we both live in Bratislava, we are both involved in cryptocurrencies and we want to do more business in this field, why don’t we start a new startup? When we’ve already drawn plans for five startups, we just looked at each other and agreed that it’s not physically possible for the two of us to do this. We’ve realized that a startup isn’t really about having an idea, the idea alone is worth nothing.
The idea is like 5% of the success, the main part is the execution.
Exactly. What we needed was some capital and more people. From our experience, money is never an issue. Therefore, we needed lawyers, accountants, programmers who can create smart contracts or blockchain applications and marketers who are able to sell it. We’ve realized that what we need is an institution that is able to educate all these people. I can’t teach anyone how to do accounting but I can explain how the cryptocurrencies work so an accountant can implement it into her/his work.
The other thing is that people need to have certain passion for this topic, they need to be eager to want to know more and be more educated. As we were going through all the ideas we came to a point where we knew we need Parallel Polis. A café where you get people interested, an educational institute where they learn and an accelerator where we can work on the startups.
You’ve co-founded the Parallel Polis in Prague, can you tell how the idea about a space like this started?
I was a member of an artistic group called “Ztohoven”, which created several projects in the public space. One of them that people might know about were hanged red boxers as a flag on the Prague castle. In 15 years, the group has done over 10 projects like this. However, the group was more perceived as a closed group exclusively for artists and we wanted to open it for public as well.
When people from Ztohoven visited a ProgressBar HackerSpace in Bratislava, they liked the concept. At the beginning, our idea was to rent a small office where we could exhibit our projects and hold different discussions, but then they found a three story building and if I put it simple, they loved it and signed the contract. At that time, I wasn’t in Prague but when I came back, I just saw the three story building and knew we needed to decide what to do with it.
What was next? How did you manage to fill the whole building up?
This was four years ago and at that time we were fascinated by cryptocurrencies and freedom, and we were wondering how to connect these two concepts and introduce the idea of crypto-freedom to the public.
We came across an idea of Václav Benda. To put it simple, his theory claims that to change things, a revolution is expensive, armoury is involved, people are killed. So, how do we do this differently? One of the examples he used involves compulsory education. How to react on communist ideology taught at school? Well, you need to send kids to school during the day because that’s mandatory and you don’t want to break the law and go to prison. But no one can prevent you from creating “home schooling institutions” where you can teach the kids whatever you want in the evening. Benda characterized several different areas that he wanted to solve this parallel structure with.
This is not a completely new idea. The principle is called “temporary autonomous zone” and as such is used by the American philosopher Hakim Bey. There was also the cryptocurrency that was still on our mind and that presented such parallel zone on the internet. But we are people living in a physical world and as such we like to meet with each other and feel integrated. So we created Parallel Polis and the Institute of Cryptoanarchy as an educational institution.
And Bitcoin Café, the first café where you can pay only using cryptocurrencies.
Yes. Our intention was to spread the information about cryptocurrencies, at that time mainly Bitcoin, by serving the best coffee in Prague. That could motivate people enough to go through all the torture with exchanging fiat money to cryptocurrency. Of course, “the best coffee” is a relative term because everyone likes something else. But the point was, we wanted to try out something that can touch wide number of people. From our experience everyone likes coffee, if it’s young people or an 80-year-old lady. (Yes, they come and pay with Bitcoin too:)
It’s quite a difference whether you have one lecture about Bitcoin or you actually exchange your money, install a wallet and pay with it. In Parallel Polis, we pay everything using cryptocurrencies, except of contribution of the Board which is used to pay rent.
Is Bratislava big enough for a ProgressBar HackerSpace and a Parallel Polis? Isn’t this more of a competition?
I don’t see it as a competition at all. Many of us are part of both institutions. What ProgressBar wasn’t able to achieve was to get the attention of regular public. ProgressBar can exist on its own as a hackerspace and we will try to get people interested in and passionate about the crypto.
The Polis in Bratislava will stick to the same concept as in Prague then, a Bitcoin Café, an Institute of Cryptoanarchy and a Paper-hub co-working space?
The Paper-hub will be different. We won’t have furniture made out of cardboard:) In Bratislava, we will have a Crypto Hub, it’s not going to be a co-working space, but an incubator only for people working on projects that we’d like to incubate. You won’t be able to rent a desk there.
I suppose you don’t have a three story building rented in Bratislava. Can you tell me more about its location and when do you plan to open?
We already have a rent contract for one of the buildings on Kominárska street, between Račianske Mýto and Trnavské Mýto. It’s a ground, unstructured building. The working place will be transformable into a lecture room with fold-down tables. This space will be separated from the café area, so no one is disturbed. If everything goes well, we plan to open it this May.
What kind of events do you plan to hold there?
Before the opening, we plan to organize Bitcoin meetups in Progressbar or Nu Spirit. We would also like to hold a so-called “Crypto-flea market” – after the spring cleaning, people can bring their stuff there and sell it directly. There’s only one rule: no cash, only cryptocurrencies. Our team will be there helping with the set-up, giving information about how to accept or send a payment and there will also be lectures. Hopefully we’ll have the Bitcoin ATM there as well.
We will also focus on companies that already accept cryptocurrencies or they would like to do that in the near future. Together with an accounting company we cooperate with, we can give them more insights about new technologies, or how to reduce transaction fees. I think there are many companies that haven’t noticed how the transaction fees got higher, they just see that there is less people paying with Bitcoin now and they don’t know why. We’d like to explain the situation and show them what can be done, how to use other cryptocurrencies that have lower fees or the Lightning network.
How much will the new Polis cost you?
The construction is estimated for EUR 50.000 and I think in total we’ll need EUR 100.00 including furniture and things like that. It’s not too much money, but it’s not a cheap project either. Inspired by American NGOs, we’ve managed to create an Advisory Board where the members pay a fee. These are mostly entrepreneurs who can help us in different situations.
Except the Polis itself, you will probably need also money for the incubator.
The funding of the incubator should be set from the first day, so we can create crypto-startups from the day one. We want the incubator to be built by those board members who are personally interested. We are already in contact with several of them, so we’ll see how it goes. So far so good.
It’s also beneficial for them to support the incubator from the economical point of view because if we generate 50 crypto-programmers able to create smart contracts, they will hire their employees for less money in the future. Currently, there are four of us who can actually do the smart contracts and the price is now around EUR 2.500 per man-day.
Can we name some of the people from your Advisory Board?
It’s me and Pavol Lupták, then for example Peter Nemčok, the founder of Webikon, a company working on a free decentralised approach for a long time now, inspired by Ricardo Semler.
Then there is Jano Gordulič, whom people know as a comedian, but he can explain cryptocurrencies to regular people in a way no one from us as, the IT guys, can. He is kind of a bridge between the tech community and public. He can show us how to communicate better with other people. Another member is Dušky Matuška, the founder of Octago and a huge crypto-enthusiast. Then there are others.
Are you currently hiring new people for open positions in Parallel Polis?
We look for anyone who shares our ideas of freedom. We’re not hiring for specific positions like lawyers, accountants and so on, we can cooperate with anyone but they need to be willing to work within a free community. And that’s easier to be said than done.
Can you elaborate?
When we talk about it, everyone likes the idea of freedom, everyone wants to go for it right away. But it is not that easy in real life. It gives people the opportunity to work of their own accord. There’s no one telling them what they should do and this is what people really appreciate. However, that’s only the first step.
And the second step would be…?
The second step would be that they are able to actually function in such a community and to do things they come up by themselves. And that’s very difficult. Even us, we are still learning all these things but luckily there are many people who are willing to help. For example, I say we need a new logo and someone creates the logo by himself as his own initiative. However, there are only a few people who would then come and say that we need to also create a promo video and they even do it on their own.
In hackerspace, there is no democracy, there is something we call actocracy or do-ocracy. If I say we need to paint this wall, people who decide on the colour would be the same ones who go to the store to buy it and who actually stand up and paint it. No voting processes.
Such an autonomy is composed of two parts: first, my life and my work are no one else’s business. On the other hand I understand that freedom means that I also do something, that I create. So, if anyone can relate to this idea or they would like to learn more about it, join us.
Still, there must be some kind of limits or guidance even in such environment or you really don’t have any?
We have our vision, our mission, but this is only some kind of a guide. Our vision is the world that enables us to detach ourselves from any hierarchic state structures. There must be a way out and we’re looking for it in education, technology development, and other means.
Thank you very much for the interview, Juraj. To sum it up, we can look forward to the opening of the new Parallel Polis in Bratislava this May.
Sure, you’re welcome and I’m looking forward to meet you on our other meetings even before May 🙂
Photo: Martin Haburaj