Although governments worldwide have been slow to pick up on the advantages afforded by bitcoin, Russia’s regulators have been among the most visibly reluctant to acknowledge the technology’s potential to enable financial innovation.
Proposed domestic legislation that would seek to bar consumers and businesses from using digital currencies, and even impose fines for such activities, is still in its early stages, but fear regarding such measures remains a powerful deterrent to the local ecosystem.
The one-day conference will see talks on range of topics, from how new users can buy and sell bitcoin, to larger, as-yet-unanswered legal questions.
Despite the uncertain backdrop, conference coordinator Natalie Gavrilenko is optimistic about today’s conference, even as the company actively seeks to dispel rumours that have threatened attendance.
Gavrilenko told CoinDesk:
“We have a lot of worries and fears from our potential visitors and attendees about the possibility they will be added to a ‘blacklist’ by government. That’s why we are trying to educate the public, posting articles, press releases about the legislative status of bitcoin in Russia and publishing interviews from famous lawyers with their opinions.”
Gavrilenko would not comment as to whether attendance figures were affected by recent news, but did suggest the conference has faced difficulties enlisting speakers due to the fact that much of the industry has sought to relocate abroad.
Speakers will include BTCsec founder Ivan Tikhonov, Pvael Rassudov of the Russian Pirate Party, and representatives from local law firm Tolkachev & Partners.
Notably, Smile Expo’s first bitcoin conference was scheduled to take place in March, but was rescheduled to April amid concerns that government action would be taken against the technology.
Gavrilenko acknowledged that the event may be the last bitcoin conference held in Russia, but stressed that in the meantime, participants face no legal repercussions for attending.
“Bitcoin Conference St Petersburg is an information and educational event, and attending this event cannot cause any legal consequences,” she said. “Attending a conference aimed at providing information is not evidence of any dishonest intent.”
Despite her conviction on this point, the conference itself is allowing attendees to register, participate and pay for the conference without providing any personal information. Rather, Gavrilenko explained, attendees can select and use nicknames for the event.
Smile Expo holds a number of conferences annually that center on all manner of subjects, from 3D printing to robotics and gaming.
Gavrilenko further affirmed Smile Expo’s desire to hold additional digital currency conferences, noting that these could take place outside of Russia. The company has already organised a bitcoin conference in Kiev, Ukraine, this September.
“In case of a full legislative ban of cryptocurrencies and bitcoin in Russia, we have some ideas about where we can go to told bitcoin expos and conferences,” she said. “But we hope that Russian government will not be very fast in their intentions.”
Gavrilenko indicated that Smile Expo is already planning bitcoin conferences in Russia in 2015, with the goal of holding the events in Moscow and St Petersburg.
Gavrilenko also voiced her optimism that this week’s event would run smoothly, concluding:
“For today, there is no active ban, and we have some more time to be free in our bitcoin space and not be punished.”
St Petersburg image via Shutterstock
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