How Bitcoin Found Its Purpose At Oslo Freedom Forum
This is an opinion editorial by Josef Tětek, the Trezor brand ambassador for SatoshiLabs.
At this year’s Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF), a financial freedom content track gave freedom fighters from around the world the chance to learn about Bitcoin, and Bitcoiners the chance to learn the true extent of fiat slavery. As Matt Odell recently put it, “The most important thing is perspective.” And the event demonstrated that considering Bitcoin from the perspective of the unprivileged is worth every sat.
Even though this year’s OFF was the 14th instance of the annual conference, I only first learned about it in April at Bitcoin 2022. I was lucky enough to bump into Alex Gladstein, with the intention to have my copy of “Check Your Financial Privilege” signed. I got the signature, and an invitation to Oslo on top of that. When I learned that many of the Bitcoiners mentioned in Gladstein’s book were going to be present at the event, it was clear to me that I had to take part.
At the entrance to the conference venue, participants were reminded of the current state of the world: More than four billion people live under authoritarian rule. Authoritarianism is the leading cause behind refugee crises, keeps billions locked in poverty and water insecurity, and crushes all dissent. No less humbling were the statistics on the event speakers: OFF hosted 365 speakers representing 107 countries, 89 of them exiled from their homelands, and they earned a combined total of 252 years spent behind bars.
The main themes of the conference were human rights and the struggle against despotism in all its forms. This year, however, the activists were presented with a powerful aid: Bitcoin and its permissionless payments, its individual empowerment, its ability to help raise funds for any cause, anywhere in the world.
What struck me as very refreshing compared to most Bitcoin (or, God forbid, “crypto”) conferences was the down-to-earth nature of discussions. There was urgency in some of the Bitcoin talks, yes, but it never revolved around price; rather the urgency addressed the pressing needs of millions to access a neutral monetary system that could save lives right now. There were no price predictions, no shitcoin talk, no KYC-exchanges’ siren songs. The terms that moved the crowd were “open,” “permissionless,” “unstoppable,” and “borderless.” They were quite ready to be orange pilled since few participants needed any convincing that their money sucked; they knew it for a fact from lifelong experience, and now they were being presented with a workable solution.
A session that was representative of this meeting of minds was the “Integrating Bitcoin Into Your NGO” panel, led by Gladstein, with Wolf von Laer (from Students For Liberty) and Meron Estefanos (from the International Commission on Eritrean Refugees). Meron described how she has been able to help Eritrean refugees more effectively in recent years with Bitcoin, whereas before, the only option was using the 1,000-year-old system of Hawala. Gladstein ended the session with a memorable quote:
“Maybe Bitcoin isn’t for everybody, but it’s certainly for activists,” he said.
Orange Pills For The Underprivileged
The Bitcoin talks and panels at OFF were quite unique from what I’ve seen at other conferences. The main reason was that the speakers had no other agenda than to clearly explain to the uninitiated why they should take a serious look into this neutral monetary system, and how it could work as one of their most powerful allies.
For instance, Fodé Diop and Jack Mallers discussed the CFA franc regime, and how it has kept dictators in charge in Central and Western Africa for decades. Diop stressed that the nature of money can either enable or suppress human rights. Mallers pointed out that bitcoin as a permissionless payment system works no matter the price, and explained why that feature is so revolutionary: anyone in the world, no matter their nationality, political affiliation, religion or race can transfer value to anyone else, with little more than just a phone and a low-bandwidth connection. This is something simply unheard of, especially for the unprivileged majority of the world population.
Another great session was the discussion of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) between Odell, Matthew Mezinskis, Lisa Neigut and Janine Roem.
Mezinskis, from Porkopolis Economics, kicked the discussion off with his quarterly update on the global monetary base, a thorough analysis of the monetary inflation of dozens of fiat currencies that constitute 97% of world GDP, which I highly recommend reading (see the embedded tweet below). The panelists also stressed the importance of cash for private transactions; and along with it the high probability that cash will be phased out in the coming years, to be replaced with CBDCs, which were dubbed part of an unconventional warfare that the state is waging on its citizens.
The key difference between CBDCs and bitcoin, according to the session participants, is the aspect of permission. While CBDCs will be fully under control of the central bank and the State and will open up new forms of oppression and surveillance, bitcoin is the very opposite — open for everyone, always and everywhere.
A highlight from the panel was the conclusion that a free society needs cash, which can be either physical (fiat cash), or digital (bitcoin).
Most of the bitcoin content was scheduled for the afternoon of the last conference day, when the Bitcoin Academy took place. The academy was comprised of panel discussions (like the one on CBDCs mentioned above) and workshops. Many high-profile Bitcoiners took part in the academy and it felt like an all-star bitcoin meetup, with folks like Odell, Stephan Livera, BTC Sessions, Jimmy Song and Uncle Rockstar taking turns explaining how Bitcoin works in understandable terms.
Paradoxically, the problem of the Bitcoin Academy was that there were too many Bitcoiners taking part, so the ratio of Bitcoiners to activists was around 80 to 20. While it was fun and each activist had several teachers at once, it was a pity that the academy failed to attract more of those who might benefit the most from the sessions. Perhaps next time the activists should have preferential seating, so that Bitcoiners in the audience wouldn’t take up all the spots.
The Beginning Of A Beautiful Friendship
As Sergej Kotliar beautifully put it, the first OFF with a broader representation of Bitcoiners was perhaps not so much about orange pilling the freedom fighters, but rather about freedom pilling the Bitcoiners.
New friendships that transcend social bubbles were formed, and bitcoiners were strongly reminded why their work matters. Open-source tools like Muun, Trezor and BTCPay Server can save lives and help individuals escape oppression and poverty. We must not fail those who rely on us with everything they have.
This is a guest post by Josef Tětek. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.