With the cryptocurrency becoming increasingly popular in Estonia, a bitcoin focus week has kicked off in the country's capital, Tallinn.
The event was organized to boost popularity of the digital currency in the Baltic state, which has seen a tough stance from its authorities in past months.
The week-long series of events was launched on 18th May by a number of Estonia-based bitcoin advocates that include Silver Meikar, former Estonian MP who is currently running for the European Parliament, and Finnish businessman Risto Pietilä.
Notably, Meikar and Pietilä recently proposed a plan to open an educational and thematic centre to promote increased use of bitcoin in the Estonian economy, according to Otto de Voogd, one of the country’s leading bitcoin entrepreneurs, who was speaking to local broadcaster ERR.
The new bitcoin centre is planned to be sited in a manor purchased by Pietilä in northern Estonia earlier this year.
Meikar is a self-described human rights and digital rights activist, who served as an Estonian MP in the years 2003-2004 and 2006-2011.
He famously criticized the financing practices of the country’s Reform Party (RE) in 2012, and since then has been independent of party affiliation. In the run up to this month’s European Parliament elections, Meikar is campaigning to represent his country at the European level.
Kicking off the bitcoin week on 18th May, Meikar met for a lunch and press brief with local journalists at Sushi Cat, a Japanese restaurant and also one of the first places to accept payment in bitcoin in Tallinn.
The politician paid €78.5 ($107.50) for food and drinks in bitcoin with the use of an app on his cellphone, and uploaded a photo of the bill to his twitter account.
Conference and workshops
Meanwhile, with a rising number of Estonia-based businesses interested in enabling payments in the cryptocurrency, the bitcoin focus week includes a wide range of events designed to bring together bitcoin enthusiasts and those who want to find out more about how digital currencies work.
On Monday, a number of bitcoin-related workshops were hosted by Estonia’s National Library, and on Wednesday, Tallinn University hosted a conference titled 'Has Bitcoin Come to Stay?' with presentations by Voogd and both local and foreign digital currency experts.
The conference was concluded with a panel discussion by the featured speakers.
In addition, the conference’s organizers presented the first bitcoin ATM in Estonia, which was supplied by Lamassu.
Tickets for the conference were available online, with payment in digital currency as one of the available options. The price was set by the organizers at 0.03 BTC ($15.30).
In addition to being one of the leading forces behind the ongoing bitcoin focus week, de Voogd was also one of the first bitcoin investors to be targeted by the Estonian police, as reported by CoinDesk in February.
At the same time, local bitcoin trading site BTC.ee announced via its website that it had “temporarily stopped trading due to threats issued by the Estonian police”.
The move followed a warning about bitcoin and other digital currencies issued by a member of Estonia’s central bank earlier this year, in which he called bitcoin a “Ponzi scheme” and said it deserves “some caution”.
The site’s owner said he had received emails from the Estonian Financial Intelligence Unit and Border Guard Board stating that he was required to provide personal information on the platform’s users and proof that BTC.ee was operating in compliance with the Estonian regulation.
Should he fail to do so, he could be sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of up to €32,000 ($44,000), under Estonian law, they reportedly said.
"Due to threats issued by the Estonian police, I have personally stopped trading bitcoins. I am now engaged in a court battle against the Estonian police,” de Voogd told ERR.
The country's tough stance on bitcoin is rather at odds with Estonia’s notable achievements in the field of e-democracy.
The country was one of the first to introduce a number of IT solutions into its political system, enabling the government to hold meetings online. Additionally it held the first legally-binding general vote via the Internet in 2005.
Estonia is also a pioneer in the field of reducing administrative costs and red tape through the use of IT.
The first version of the country’s flagship E-Business Register was launched in 1999, and by 2009, 70% of all company submissions were made over the Internet via the system. An Estonian government website claims that, in its latest version, the register allows the creation of a new legal entity within 18 minutes.
The state-run Centre of Registries and Information Systems has said that, in the near future, foreigners will have an opportunity to apply for an Estonian e-resident ID card allowing them to use Estonian online services, open bank accounts, and start companies without having to be present in the country.
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