Tallinn University hosted a symposium Wednesday designed to answer the question, "Is Bitcoin Here to Stay?", as part of a week of events to raise awareness of the cryptocurrency.
A wide range of experts on Bitcoin, which works through peer-to-peer transfer and avoids the need for handling by banks, convened to give their thoughts with a rounded introduction to the topic, but also delved deeper for those who wished to invest. A white Bitcoin machine, which converted euros into the virtual money, was operational outside the lecture theater, looking similar to an early Apple iMac.
During a closing round-table forum, assembled spectators and media were able to ask questions of the panel. Joonas Trussmann of Applaud, who had earlier given a rousing talk on Bitcoin mining, said, in response to a question about the relatively slow adoption of the currency in Estonia that in his view the mass adoption of Bitcoin was being hampered by strict legal interpretations.
"While you have these laws and the need to show ID in person, these things are stopping us from moving on, and there are not too many opportunities for retailers to adopt it," Trussmann said. "What's stopping us is these interpretations of the laws."
Moderator Henrik Aavik was of the opinion that Bitcoin was not linked in with notions of internet freedom, something with which Estonia has long been associated - rather, it was a separate case, and a victim of a blurred bureaucracy.
"The problem as I see it is different bureaucratic systems don't know what each other does," Aavik said. "Anything they say makes it clearer, like when the tax department said [Bitcoin] has to have VAT. I think there is a reluctance to discuss the issue. A year ago, I tried to make a radio program on the subject, but as soon as people heard it was about Bitcoin, they didn't want to get involved."
Lawyer Priit Lätt, who was addressing the legal side of Bitcoin trading in his talk, added, "I think the most problematic thing is public opinion. If you look at Estonian media, it's full of bad things related to Bitcoin - bankruptcies, criminal activities ... that's why businesses are taking a negative approach to Bitcoin."
Otto de Voogd, a leading Bitcoin campaigner and owner of the currency exchange website btc.ee, who is currently contesting in court an order requiring him to name all participants in that exchange, said, "it seems to me the state is scared of change - scared people might do something. Take this new law where people have to declare any expense above €1,000. They're scared, and so we've got all kinds of laws that affect innocent people. I would even say that of all the democratic countries in the world, this is the [country with] the worst possible situation. On the one hand, VAT is charged as if it's a product, but on the other hand it's treated as a financial service, in absolutely the most stringent way possible."