The Riga cypherpunk reunion convened around the Lightning Network, privacy and a strong anti-CBDC sentiment.
Bitcoin’s spirit animal is the honey badger. Bitcoin evangelist turned Bitcoin Cash promoter Roger Ver first popularized the meme in 2013 when he paid $1,500 a month for a billboard in California to display “Bitcoin is the Honey Badger of Money.”
Since then, the honey badger has been an elusive beast, occasionally appearing in memes and tweets as well as at its annual hunt on the Baltic Coast of Europe.
A Baltic Honeybadger sighting excites even the most hardcore Bitcoiners. Living on a diet of red meat and Latvian beer, lurking near cypherpunk stages and often spotted skulking over a computer screen checking and rewriting lines of code, the Baltic Honeybadger allures cypherpunks and Bitcoin (BTC) advocates alike.
The Baltic Honeybadger conference began in 2017 when speakers Andreas Antonopoulos and Elizabeth Stark graced the stage. As “the most OG Bitcoin conference,” the Riga-based event elevates privacy, anti-surveillance and cypherpunk principles.
Privacy is a human right
These ethics materialized on the Cypherpunk Stage. Frequently packed or with standing room only, the Cypherpunk Stage was strictly off-limits for cameras, recording devices and live streams.
A team of “Bitcoin Bears” (aka, security personnel) watched over the Honeybadger audience. No media, tweets or photos would venture onto the internet — all the action remained in the room.
During the conference opening, Max Keidun, founder of Honeybadger and CEO of Hodl Hodl and Debifi, announced that any guests found recording or photographing the Cypherpunk Stage would be thrown out of the conference and banned from Honeybadger for life. He added:
“We don’t joke in Eastern Europe.”
These principles permeated throughout the conference. Many attendees wore badges stating their desire to avoid photos, the conference goodie bag included a privacy-centric bandana, and it was common to hear people ask one another, “Are you doxed?” — essentially meaning, “Is your identity shared or concealed online?”
Freedom of speech was also important. One of the Cypherpunk Stage talks by Bitcoin activist Rikki compared some aspects of Bitcoin in El Salvador to central bank digital currencies.
Giacomo Zucco, a Bitcoin educator, described how “midwits” can get in the way of Bitcoin. With comedic intentions, he highlighted that lower-intelligence Bitcoin advocates, or “80 IQ plebs,” are a force for good, while “midwits” trip up over nuance and fail to see the bigger picture.
Nonetheless, despite its OG allure, the Honeybadger could be under threat of extinction. Many Bitcoin conferences around the world have been converted into social media moments and selfie opportunities thanks to the growing mainstream glamor of Bitcoin and the propulsion of telegenic Bitcoin advocates such as Michael Saylor, Natalie Brunell and Jack Mallers onto television screens across the United States.
Indeed, Rigel Walshe of Swan Bitcoin said the Bitcoin 2021 conference in Miami felt like a Christian rock festival. Why else would thousands of young people come together to watch crusty old guys talk about esoteric principles such as sound money or salvation, he joked.
If Miami’s Bitcoin conference was a rock festival, Honeybadger was a dive bar, where anything was up for discussion, from nuclear war to Miniscript, from human rights to hamster wheels. (Yes, all of these topics were discussed during talks.)
Furthermore, unlike the large crypto conferences, Bitcoin’s price was seldom spoken of—sparing one panel on the first day. The discussion, “When 100K?,” saw Blockstream CEO Adam Back double down on his claim that Bitcoin would hit all-time highs before the Bitcoin halving in April 2024. The panel eventually evolved into a conversation about macroeconomics.
Lightning strikes Riga
As with all Bitcoin conferences, the side events and offstage shenanigans stole the show. The team from Nostr, a decentralized protocol whose first iteration proposes an alternative to X (formerly Twitter), hosted events and dominated discussion.
A party organized and fundraised via Nostr Zaps — Bitcoin tips over Nostr — closed out the weekend. All funds to support the open bar, buy pizzas and sponsor a live show with rented instruments were crowdfunded and zapped over the Lightning Network in the days leading up to the conference.
Derek Ross, a Nostr developer, explained that “purple-pilling” goes hand in hand with “orange-pilling” during another talk. Being orange-pilled means understanding Bitcoin, while being purple-pilled means understanding Nostr.
Elsewhere, Portuguese programmer Francis set up a Chain Duel tournament. Chain Duel is a social Bitcoin game that combines elements of the 90s classic Snake with satoshis, the smallest denomination of Bitcoin. While the game appears easy, it is addictive and competitive.
Players registered on Chain Duel by sending satoshis to the in-game Lightning Network address with a payment note as their name. The winner of the tournament took home the pot of 1,520,000 satoshis, valued at more than $300.
Lightning-enabled interactions were a prominent feature throughout Honeybadger. All the conference food trucks accepted Bitcoin and Bitcoin Lightning payments, and every merchant who spoke with Cointelegraph commented that it’s easier and faster to pay with Lighting than card payments. Plus, Lightning avoids the fees charged by Mastercard and Visa.
In total, more than 1.1 BTC ($27,600) was paid over Lightning over the course of the conference. BTCPay Server, the team behind the payment terminals, shared the statistics on social media.
Basement Bar, a Latvian bar in the city center, was swarmed with Bitcoin enthusiasts keen to pay in satoshis. As a Bitcoin-friendly location, it became the de facto hang-out spot over the weekend as customers tapped, zapped and scanned Bitcoin as their chosen means of payment.
Indeed, the Bitcoin-critic meme “No one uses Lightning” was undermined by events, discussion and action at Baltic Honeybadger. The word “Lightning” featured in eight of the talks, and discussions ranged from Breez CEO Roy Sheinfeld explaining offline payments to explanations of smart contracts on Lightning and Synota CEO Austin Mitchell explaining that “Lightning is transactive energy.”
Sam Wouters, a Bitcoin research analyst at River, summed up Lightning’s situation with regard to the Bitcoin network:
“Lightning is likely part of the scaling puzzle. Lightning bought us time.”
In all, the Baltic Honeybadger conference replaced headline-grabbing announcements familiar to large Bitcoin conferences with backroom discussions and debates. Privacy took precedence over photo opportunities, while fiat payments were outstripped by Lightning.
Baltic Honeybadger was a call to action for cypherpunk principles. It’s sometimes forgotten that Satoshi Nakamoto, the founder of Bitcoin, was also a cypherpunk. They did not reveal their identity and disappeared the moment Bitcoin made a move into the mainstream.