As the Greek Parliament readies to vote on a third bailout agreement today – which would inevitably seal the country’s fate within the eurozone – there’s still a steady stream of media reports suggesting bitcoin could prove useful to Greek citizens.
Although it’s difficult to quantify whether the economic crisis has driven Greeks to purchase the digital currency, perhaps the more important question to ask is this: Have recent events even increased awareness of bitcoin in Greece?
One man’s wish
Nikos Houtas owns Tavern Agelos – a traditional Greek restaurant opened by his father 20 years ago – and thinks “virtual currencies are the future”.
Bitcoin is not new to him. His restaurant has been accepting payments in the digital currency for three years, after Houtas was introduced to bitcoin by an American friend.
Payments in the cryptocurrency, Houtas said, are still few and far between, but he hopes this will soon change.
Currently offering customers paying with bitcoin a 20% discount, Houtas told CoinDesk:
“No one in Greece has asked me whether I accept bitcoin, but I hope that this will change due to the capital controls. Bitcoin has the potential to be successful in Greece, we need more stores to accept bitcoin and to offer a discount for bitcoin payments.”
The few bitcoin payments he has received have mainly come from European tourists, with the average transaction amounting to €10.
— Alyson Margaret (@alylovesbitcoin) July 10, 2015
Cracking the market
A recent Ask Me Anything (AMA) session Houtas took part in on reddit was well received by the bitcoin community. Inundated with offers from fellow bitcoin enthusiasts, Houtas was particularly taken with a proposal from a bitcoin ATM operator.
Commenting on reddit, Eric Grill, CEO of Coinoutlet, offered to meet with Houtas and discuss the possibility of installing a bitcoin ATM machine in his restaurant. Although the two have yet to meet, Grill told CoinDesk:
“I do think bitcoin ATMs will be successful even if capital controls are lifted. The Greek people are now aware that the money they relied on is not under their control and can be used against them.”
Coinoutlet, however, is not the first company in the space to focus on the Greek market during the country’s economic turmoil. Amid increasing speculation that people within Greece – fearing their country would crash out of the euro – had been buying bitcoin and inadvertently driving the the digital currency’s price, some bitcoin exchanges waived fees for EUR/BTC transactions.
Other bitcoin ATM operators, such as Bitchain, are also attempting to crack the Greek market. Having installed a bitcoin ATM last weekend, J. Fenoy, CTO and co-founder of Bitchain, said he witnessed reasonable demand for bitcoin it the first couple of days since the machine’s launch.
“We have been pleasantly surprised by peoples’ response. In the last two days, the working ATM machine has completed over 70 transactions and the support from the bitcoin community has been overwhelming.”
Bitchain has also temporarily waived commission fees.
Meeting the Greek bitcoin community
Miriam Liapi, a founding member of Bitcoin Community Greece – represented by Anthony A.Tsakoumis, founder of Bitcoinx.gr, at the first ever bitcoin meetup held in Athens yesterday – said incoming information requests on the group’s Facebook page had soared by 423% in recent times.
Some of these requests portray concerns over the safety of bitcoin transactions and generally seek more information about the different ways in which the digital currency can be purchased. Exploratory enquiries, she added, are also flooding in from companies curious about how Greeks are surviving in the wake of the capital controls.
While it seems awareness of bitcoin has increased in the country, Liapi isn’t convinced this is behind the recent increase in the price of bitcoin.
“I am convinced that we are experiencing a new kind of war, a noiseless financial war … I think the Greek crisis, amid other financial crises during this period, awakened citizens’ fears about who is going to be next … The citizens around the world have every reason to fear that their country might be next. This is where I attribute the rise of bitcoin’s price. Not to the Greeks who, according to academic research, are late adopters,” she said.
Spreading the word
Liapi believes more education is needed in order for bitcoin to reach mainstream adoption, a sentiment shared by Felix Weiss, a freelance programmer originally from Luxembourg, who is currently on a mission to raise bitcoin awareness in Greece.
“There’s still a lot of scepticism towards new technology in general,” Weiss said.
He has devoted time recently to handing out bitcoin flyers to people protesting outside the Greek Parliament in Athens. What he learned during the exercise is there is a burgeoning interest in the digital currency.
“Lots of questions were asked … [but] unfortunately it’s not easy to explain bitcoin in five minutes,” he said.
Nevertheless, he still has still hope, explaining:
“Bitcoin can now show people that they don’t have to fight the old system. The solution is to stop using central bank issued paper bills and start using free, open source money: bitcoin.”
It’s safe to say bitcoin has entered the spotlight once again, with numerous news headlines suggesting the people of Greece are turning to it in their droves.
In reality, there are few hard facts to indicate that understanding, acceptance and adoption of bitcoin have significantly increased in the country over the past month. The country’s existing advocates are trying their best to push the agenda, but it seems there is still a long way to go.
Athens image via Shutterstock.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Bitcoin Community Greece had organised the first ever bitcoin meetup held in Athens yesterday. This has now been rectified to state that Bitcoin Community Greece was represented at the event.