“We consider art a way of thinking, like a communication protocol. So when you want to talk about change of mindset. When you want to open minds, which is necessary if you want to spread freedom, art is one of the great tools. We’ve proved that.”
Martin is a member of the subversive Czech art collective Ztohoven and co-founder of Paralelni Polis which is one of the collective’s better known projects, also the site of the world’s first bitcoin-only cafe.
This is a conversation about art and the power to influence. Ztohoven are a band of merry pranksters with a desire to provoke emotion and open minds and I talk with Martin about many of their projects and whether it is possible to create parallel social structures that can liberate people.
Martin is a fascinating and inspiring individual, one of many good people I had the pleasure and privilege to meet in Prague for this series and I sincerely hope you enjoyed the discussions as much as I did.
Links for the videos mentioned in the podcast:
Article: The official burning of the red boxer shorts.
Enjoy today’s conversation.
Automatically Generated Transcript
Timothy Allen 0:10
Welcome to the Free Cities Podcast. My name is Timothy Allen and this is the official podcast of the Free Cities foundation.
Hello, Greetings, and welcome to the Free Cities Podcast. You’re listening to episode number 19. And it’s also my final interview from Prague, but no need to feel sad. Next week, the Warsaw series begins and you’re not going to want to miss any of those. Last week, I was lucky enough to be in Poland attending the weekend capitalismo conference alongside the Bitcoin Film Festival, and I managed to find the time as well to sit down with 12 Fascinating individuals who were all very happy to share their stories with me. Anyway, back to today, and I’m talking with a gentleman by the name of Martin Leskovjan. Martin is a member of the subversive Czech art collective Ztohoven. And he’s also the co founder of Paralelni Polis, which is one of the collective’s better known projects, as you will discover shortly. This is a conversation about art and the power to influence stoven are a band of Merry Pranksters with a desire to provoke emotion and open minds. And I talked with Martin about many of their projects and whether or not it is actually possible to create parallel social structures that can liberate people.
Martin’s definitely a fascinating and inspiring individual. For me, one of the many good people I had the pleasure and privilege to meet in Prague for this series. And I sincerely hope you enjoyed all the discussions I had as much as I did. Don’t forget that tickets for Liberty in Our Lifetime this October are now on sale at Liberty in our lifetime.org. And in the meantime, just sit back, relax, and enjoy my conversation with Martin Liskov. You. I said that right. We are in Paralelni Polis, Paralelni Polis. Why is it then that people who aren’t check, they’re allowed to say Paralelni Polis? Is that right? Is that the foreign way of saying it? Yeah, it’s a correct way. And once we got International, we started using this term as well. But the check version refers to the roots to the origin of the organisation. So forgive me them for calling it Paralelni Polis, which is a bit of a strange one, because Polish makes it sound like there’s something to do with the police, which is the complete opposite of what
Martin Leskovjan 3:31
it is. But especially in Turkish, I think it’s exactly like Police in Britain and say same way. But it refers to not to police, but to police in all the Greek term. In ancient times, Polish was a term describing like, basic social structure. It’s very well known as like the police as city state. But even in older times, it was much, much more like a tribe, maybe or our little town. So basically, over over the years. It always marked the basic social structure.
Timothy Allen 4:26
And that that was referred students. It’s a it’s a social structure that is parallel to the official one. Okay, right. And also, Paralelni Polis is also a place in Prague. It’s a three storey building, is it I mean, all story maybe plus the basement. Yeah. Plus, it’s a large building, which correct me if I’m wrong, has served as a meeting point for certainly Bitcoiners hackers,
Martin Leskovjan 5:00
Strange people strange people. Yes, it’s strange people hang out in Prague. And also, I think I heard is it the oldest Bitcoin cafe in the world is? It was the first one basically. The first Bitcoin only cafe? Yes, there were some others before even in Prague, there was one that was accepting Bitcoins before we did. But
we we’ve launched, even, like it was not the intention. But after we launched this project in 214 XAML, mainly international reporters started to refer about the first Bitcoin, only coffee in the world. So even though it was not our intention, we just wanted to be straight in the concept. It was the first one, do you still
Timothy Allen 5:55
get people coming through the door? Who don’t even know what Bitcoin is? They kind of don’t know how to pay with it don’t know, you know, because you can’t you don’t accept anything else out here. You can’t you can’t just even plead with someone unless they’ll sell you some bitcoin over the counter or something.
Martin Leskovjan 6:14
Like, I think this changed into 17 a lot. When when the rise of awareness about Bitcoin, like, yeah, Rose exponentially. And since that time, not many people come with this. This is also a breaking point for the concept itself. Because until 217, we were keen to be more like, inclusive, I would say, we wanted to spread the word and, and spread awareness and make everyone to create a wallet and gain the first experience. Not only knowledge, but also experiences was also always very important for us. And in 217, it changed because only much more people who were just willing to gain the recipe for getting quickly, wealth, wealthy, over coming more and more of these people and start to be started to be annoying to, to the original, I would say inhibitors of this place. And, like, organically, they’ve started to organise a club. That was like membership based, and every newcomer had to be approved by at least two members of the club. And at this point, I think, plus, at least like the like, the core community, I would say start to be more exclusive.
Timothy Allen 8:03
Okay. Might be worth mentioning. For those of you listening, you’re gonna sounds like you’re gonna hear the tube train go past relatively
Martin Leskovjan 8:11
regularly. That’s all we are in the heart of practice.
Timothy Allen 8:15
That’s all part of the ambience, just to let you know.
Martin Leskovjan 8:18
So so I’ve got a couple of questions. What’s the reason for starting a place like this? You’re one of the founders of Paralelni Polis, right? So what what was the what was the reasoning behind it in the beginning, maybe the reasoning might seem funny from today’s point of view, but you have to respect that. It, we have to turn back to 14 when we’ve co founded it. And it was times when our art collective which is behind the behind the whole project is called stoven.
The two of slowik hackers joined the group in two trials. And we started to be amazed by the ball. Like, quote, hackers, culture, and we were attending events of progress bar, which was a hackerspace in Bratislava. And for us, it was very inspiring place where multiple, really strange people gathered, and in the same time, they were very open minded. They were willing to share their quite unique knowledge. They were they were experimenting with different things. And for us is art collective. It was super inspirational. He also did the first experience with bitcoins in one of our projects when we used bitcoins to, to use this technology called SMS proofing. We were using, like an Internet Gateway to To, to spread massive amount of SMS, like spoofed SMS messages across the parliament. So if you are interested you can you can google moral reform that’s to hold on it’s our it was our project at this time, moral reform moral reform, it was the only reform that didn’t happen since the World War Two revolution here. So it was like an absurd theatre play that really happened on the parliament, on the parliament field during, during the hearing of MP that was accused and later Later jailed for corruption. But it’s another story but But what is interesting and important is that it was our first experience real world experience with with a cryptocurrencies. And we wanted to explore it more. And we wanted to have a place like the guys in Bratislava, the progress bar here in Prague.
Timothy Allen 11:11
So can I just stop you there for a second? Why was an art collective interested in cryptocurrency necessarily,
Martin Leskovjan 11:18
because we are, I would say, avant garde art collective, your activist ik art collective. And we felt since the very beginning that if it’s not a bullshit, it might cause like a significant change that it might bring to the new mindsets to totally new approach to how we interact, how we trade and so on. So,
Timothy Allen 11:46
so 2014 What did you think was going to happen? Like, an easy, you know, when you you think okay, well, Bitcoin could potentially or was it was it cryptocurrency in general? Was it 2014 was really just Bitcoin?
Martin Leskovjan 12:02
Yeah. But it was not only about it, we were interested in an anonymous eating and optimization tools in encrypted communications surveillance was a huge topic, you know, Snowden revealed the documents that suddenly showed how far the government’s go in terms of surveillance and all these old stories. Today, everyone knows, and it’s like, it’s like, part of the past and basic awareness. But at this time, it was everything new. And we wanted to explore this simply. So that there was not much expectation, we just wanted to, that’s how we always worked, we just wanted to create a new situation. And with for that creating, like a real space where people can meet and talk about it and enrich each other is like, what idea?
Timothy Allen 12:58
Could you? Is it fair to say that? I mean, you call yourself an art collective. But more, it’s more your freedom? Collective? Would you say or no, it’s
Martin Leskovjan 13:08
an art collective
Timothy Allen 13:09
was an art collective,
Martin Leskovjan 13:10
it still is art collective, like we are still active. It’s one of our project pros policy is just one of our projects.
Timothy Allen 13:18
So tell me about the art side of the collective. Because that’s something I know nothing about. Well, we can come back to all the other stuff. I’m trying to track the back to the origins of this. Yeah, tell me you tell me something about the art side of the collective.
Martin Leskovjan 13:33
So the collective was established exactly 20 years ago, we’ve we’ve now’s a couple of days ago, we’ve celebrated 20 years. So and since then, we’ve done like 1112 projects. Like, in some cases, it’s hard to tell if it’s one or two projects, but let’s say, this is not very powerful. This is one of them. And we work in public space. And we touch I use, I use works of Michael Kimmelman with, with a commenter in in New York Times, who wrote an article about us some time ago, and he said that we open global topics, and we talk about them with local language. That’s like a shortcut. And over the time, like, you know, 20 years ago, the the origin or group was, consisted more like from graffiti makers and students of art, school and so on. So the topics were more like advertisement in the public space and then manipulation of media.
Timothy Allen 14:54
Give me an example of something like one
Martin Leskovjan 14:57
of the quotes what A long project is called Media reality. And it was injecting, injecting our own content into live broadcast of TV. There’s the this time there was like a regular Sunday morning broadcast, like the most boring one where the live webcams were just scanning mountains all around the Czech Republic. National TV, yeah, on a national TV and showing like, there is a snow or people skiing, at some, and so on. And it was always like a panorama. I think it was also the name of the show of the show panorama. And we’ve injected there. Suddenly, there was a atomic bomb explosion inside this,
Timothy Allen 15:57
what is that went out on live. So if you would tune this isn’t in something you did as an art project that you actually hacked into your webcams.
Martin Leskovjan 16:06
Yeah, you can see the video and it really happened and the collective was sued for it, and so on.
Timothy Allen 16:15
How many people saw it? I mean, was it in the news the next day? It was
Martin Leskovjan 16:18
also in the New York Times. At the time. It was quite well known. But it’s two seven, it’s 2007. So it’s already quite a long time ago.
Timothy Allen 16:32
And how did it go down in here at the time? How did it? How was it received by the average person find it funny.
Martin Leskovjan 16:41
Like all of our projects are usually quite controversial. So on one hand, we’ve won a national gallery art prize. And on the other hand, there were rate to the, like, police made rates in 5am in the morning, into the homes of the members and there was a criminal court around it, and so on. So I think it illustrates
Timothy Allen 17:11
divisive, divisive art, which art of should provoke, I presume you believe that the
Martin Leskovjan 17:19
like, like, one of our credos is like conflict is always wanted. And, and yeah, like our projects frequently end up at the court.
Timothy Allen 17:30
Okay. Right. So I’m gonna go back to the question about, it was an art collective. Okay. But the driving force behind behind the art collective was something relatively subversive. Is that correct? Yes. Yeah, exactly. But for the sake of art of because you want it to change? What, what, like, why do you in the most brutal terms, why insert a nuclear explosion into a national broadcast of pretty places? It’s,
Martin Leskovjan 18:01
like, the topic of the project was media reality, and a ability to manipulate with the truth. Of course, like today, in the post truth era, it seems like quite Yeah. Obvious. But this time, you know, it was even before social networks, in today’s term are distributed, and so on. So the TV was still like, the major source of truth. So that’s why at this time, like TV was the topic and yeah,
Timothy Allen 18:39
have you noticed that about a lot of your art that you precede the mainstream? Like you say this? Yeah,
Martin Leskovjan 18:47
like, if that’s exactly like the Come on. Like the academic sphere of art, doesn’t respect us much because they say that we are to activestate we are not artists, but activists and, and that it’s superficial and so on. But if you want to fuck up as much people as possible, which is usually one of the goals also, because when people are fucked up, they are so activated, and that’s what you want. You want to activate them from some passivity. Like, I know it sounds like cliche, but it’s always and so. So when you want to approach like white audience, you have to be mimetic, somehow. You you need to create some meme that is possible to handle. And that is like one of the projects that became like, really, really like meme that that spread all across the country was the rat underpants about the Pratt Castle, which is originally like an advertisement for hackers. Congrats in To 15, but even
Timothy Allen 20:01
someone explained this one read, let me say out loud read underpants above Pratt castle. Prague Castle? Like, what? Hanging off something?
Martin Leskovjan 20:11
Yeah. Explain. In 215 when we were preparing second Congress in pro policies, our social media manager approached us like guys, you should do something, some noise. So people, so we get to the media and people are aware about the, the Congress, so we sell the tickets, we need to sell the tickets. Right? Okay, so okay, like, we’ve got a couple of topics on the table. And we one of the topics was, like the fetish of the national and state symbols. Like, on one hand, you know, when you when you go to the Harold Dix and, and the meaning of the symbolics it’s, it’s like, very deep and tradition goes back to history and so on. But, but when you when you look at the practice, of the, of those who represent the symbols, and should be like, the state nests are how it’s called. It’s usually quite the opposite to the, to the values and into the origin, meaning behind, and even, like, even the become a population usually doesn’t even know what’s behind the symbols, where they come from, and so on. So it gets quite empty. I consider it like a heritage of 19th century when were the national states were born. And I, we in group consider it something that is quite like overcame like, it’s something like, it’s, it’s part of the past that we still live in from some strange reason. And, and the same time, you have times like when the Hockey Championship starts, like everybody paints the same balls on the body and other cars and, and so on and proud, proud to be Czech or German, or I don’t know what, and then the championship ends up. And you and you just erase the symbols and, and don’t care again. So this is what it was for us. Quite strange. And of course, we like the symbolic level of the whole thing. And according to Czech legal system, there is like a head of the state. It’s called the president. It’s a head of the state. It’s also quite strange. We live in democracy, but we have a one hat. It’s like, it’s, it’s a democratic monarchy, or what is it? And the more presidential system you have, the more strange Yes, like the most democratic state in the world is governed by one crazy guy that can tomorrow wake up and do almost whatever you want. So So, so so this is there’s like, it seems quite ambivalent. And, and it’s a topic full of emotions. And what we did in 215, there was a construction on on the on the Pratt castle and there were scaffoldings, around around the walls, and they were not very well secured. So. So we we did like, we surrounded the place where where we saw an entry point, and test, the policeman and so on. So they lose attention. And three of us went up into dresses of chimney guys. And
Timothy Allen 23:55
chimney sweeps chimney sweepers,
Martin Leskovjan 23:57
to the sweepers. And they went up to the roof, and exchange the official presidential flag to the red underpants. red underpants was a customised flag for our presidents because it’s quite well known that is like a quite oriented to the east, and he likes our authoritarian socialist regimes and he has quite dubbed for passed in this term. So so the red underpins were for us, like fitting symbol for him. And the simple act is up to date until today causing greater lots of emotions. Because we touched the symbol we touched the Presidential flag, and it doesn’t belong to the President. It’s it’s the nation. It’s the state SNESs it’s the it’s the values we all stand for. And we dared to touch it. especially nationalists hate us a lot. And
Timothy Allen 25:05
how long did they last up there by out of interest? The patent?
Martin Leskovjan 25:10
How long? A couple of hours, right, of course, but
Timothy Allen 25:13
long enough, did the media report on it?
Martin Leskovjan 25:18
Like, thanks to thanks to the spokesman of the castle, it was in the air for a couple of years. And one of the crazy episodes was when it was in 218. I think, of course, it was a criminal court around it, and we had to pay damages were to pay fine. And, and, and so on, and so on. So like, loads of episodes, we could spend all two hours with this story. But in 218, the president that is recently finishing his mandate, prisons, a man called up press conference on the broadcaster and didn’t say, what’s the agenda? So so all the reporters gathered, and he did like a ceremonial burn of the red underpants? I didn’t really happened like that. He’s really Yeah. We have also claimed that the spokesman is one of our members and recovered because because they they did for for the popularity of the project much more than we did last summer. I mean, like that, they had beautiful statements, like, the only nicest in in 1938 doing this thing last time. And now these artists were using really did it did it vores? Like, did it
Timothy Allen 26:55
not occur to them that that what they were doing? I mean, already? I’m not I didn’t see it, but it sounds incredibly funny to me. Yeah. But did that not cross anyone’s mind in? In the government that might come across as quite funny. Bernita underpants? Yeah.
Martin Leskovjan 27:13
Like, like, I think nobody couldn’t believe their eyes. I strongly recommend you to define the recording of it. On YouTube. It’s really,
Timothy Allen 27:24
I mean, was, I mean, did you expect when when the original idea for the project was dreamed up the president? But you couldn’t have imagined? Surely he did? I mean, how do you dream up an idea like that? Is it literally a bunch of guys sitting around a table going, Hey, this would be really cool if we could, blah, blah, blah, you know, yeah, yeah, pretty much.
Martin Leskovjan 27:46
Yeah. But But what we’ve learned over the years is that we never press you what will happen, because once you presume you will put yourself some limits that are usually imaginary, because you can usually hardly imagine what really will happen. Our ideas never met the reality.
Timothy Allen 28:05
I mean, as someone who, you know, I make a lot of films for fun of my job. When you have a narrative that falls into place like that, you it’s a real treat. Because normally you have things like that don’t happen, you know, that’s a great story from start to finish. And with the ceremonial burning, you’ve just finished it off. Perfect. Yeah, I mean, the art, like I say, the art is there, right? happening right in front of you, and we have no control over
Martin Leskovjan 28:31
it. Exactly. And that’s, that’s our we also how we called our art pieces. It’s not a painting or sculpture, or something like this. We call it media objects. And it’s like analogy to so called media image. Media image is how, you know, the big at the beginning, there is some some something happened, like someone went to the roof and exchanged one flag to another simple act on one place one time, something happened. Then you have media image of this event, like how the quick news media understood it, and that creates, like the first media image, some guys went up to broadcast and exchanged presidential flag to read underpants. Wow. And, and now it freaks out and, and as it spreads around the media and social networks and so on, the media image starts to get the third dimension over the time. And that’s, that’s like this object. Meaning and basically, none of these projects that we’ve done has, has been finished. Because whenever someone gets back to it, you know about some projects, there are some some risks. searchers put it to their to their research works and it prints in memories and books and so on. So it still lifts you know, it still gains another and another layers of the meaning. So this beautiful on the artwork that that it’s not touchable you know, but you can explore what the object is across multiple channels as I
Timothy Allen 30:26
think about it. What makes me laugh even more is the fact that they they kept the pants originally how long for like before they burned them? Would you say two years? Yeah, it looks like someone’s stored almost three years in a drawer somewhere probably Yeah, that’s hilarious like it itself. Do you know what though? It’s got a lot in common with I mean, shitposting on the internet, basically like troll trolling, you know, it’s like, there’s obviously a an overlap there. Is that fair to say?
Martin Leskovjan 30:54
Yeah, but trawling you know, when, like trolling or we call it appeared a couple of years ago, you have to always respect that already. Quick law old guys. And yes, it was kind of trolling, but we didn’t call it
Timothy Allen 31:08
Did you see like, something that sprung to mind that had kind of similar situation was, and I’ve forgotten the guy’s name, but there’s a Hollywood actor who when Trump became president, he did a we will not be divided. Do you remember? He Will Not Divide Us sorry that Do you know that guy? Sorry. You’ve got to look into this because it has similar qualities. He basically created an art installation on basically chanting He Will Not Divide Us and he was there was supposed to charge it for a year. I think in the end, the whole thing got shut down. Because so many people went down there to some troll it. And he ended up writing, He Will Not Divide Us on a flag. And plant who was it? Shout Shaila booth. That’s it. Oh, he planted a flag in the middle of nowhere, and put a fill of a camera on it, and record it so and it was on a live feed. And that was his new art installation because it couldn’t be touched because when he did the art installation in New York with the chanting of all the ship posters came down and screwed it up for him. Anyway, for a bunch of 4chan artists managed to locate the flag from like, the planes going across the sky. And this whole thing went on for years or sorry, went on for years. But it’s the most incredible battle between worthy art and and ship posters. You know, it’s like incredible it really look into it look up Google edge that I think someone ended up making a four part film out of it on YouTube just to share labour like the, the taking down of Sheila birth or something it’s called it’s very, very, very funny. But it reminds me of this, because when it started, it was one thing. And by the time it had finished, it had morphed into this incredibly funny, artistic nonsense that did they actually did have a message. And the message was pretty much the absurdity of it. And, you know, I’m thinking about the ceremonial burning of cans, which I literally can’t wait to look at after this. But I can imagine this this sombre moment, you know, and, and everything that goes along with it. So So if if, if you are when I noticed what you’re saying that you seem to, for forecasts certain you’re there before other people with with your memes seem to precede the mainstream, let’s say yeah, like,
Martin Leskovjan 33:45
sometimes it happens, that becomes mainstream, because for example, the red underpants since that time have been used for any demonstrations against the president and, and people varied as a symbol of Rage Against The presidential politics, and so on, and so on. So, so this really caught up. And when we want to connect it to this place, I would like to mention, like a second part of this project, because we were heading to the criminal court, and we had the origin of like, so what would you do with that, and we wanted to move it forward.
Timothy Allen 34:25
So you took it, you took it? Yeah. And they didn’t. They didn’t take it back. You
Martin Leskovjan 34:29
know, we had we had a flag. We kept chartered
Timothy Allen 34:31
did that presumably they tried to get it back the police.
Martin Leskovjan 34:35
They didn’t. They didn’t happen. We didn’t give them opportunity. Right. It was hidden. And there was like the first criminal court hearing planned. And two days before it started. We’ve cropped the whole flag to 1152 pieces because They stated that the value of the flag is 33,000 crowns. I mean, like 1200 euros? And
Timothy Allen 35:08
how did they work that out? Oh,
Martin Leskovjan 35:10
that’s like a price stick, I guess. Like, so. So they claim that we have caused this damage. And like, we were asking like, whoo, whoo, did we cause the damage to like, yeah, the, you know, the citizens paid for it. So we did like a symbolic act that we cropped the flag to this number of pieces. And connected it were the same number of Bitcoin addresses. And on each of the address, there was like a small part of the amount that we stolen to the citizens. And we went to the streets and gave it to random people.
Timothy Allen 35:57
So what do you mean, the seed was on the?
Martin Leskovjan 36:00
Yeah, there was like, there was like, yeah, some little bit of Bitcoins. And together, it made these 330 3000 crowns like this damaged that we literally, like cost, as the site said, and, and we wanted to symbolically return it to those who were the one who were really robbed, as they said, so So and we also wanted to somehow state our own approach to the state symbol, and it was called decentralisation of power. This kind of this part of project. So this is where it overlaps with the parallel politics because because we wanted to use the real money to return the value to the people and what is interesting, like the pieces over time, they became like a collector’s interest. And one of them was recently auctioned, and the final price was something like 10,000 the Euros for one piece
Timothy Allen 37:10
like a spacious coins on the you know, the because he has Bitcoins, physical Bitcoins. Yeah.
Martin Leskovjan 37:18
There was there was like a page or a sheet with with with with a piece of the flag. And there was there were basically two QR codes, one with private key and one with a public key.
Timothy Allen 37:32
There you go. So that really, and then that really is up. So what’s in that case, what’s your latest project, which we may be seeing in the main one a half
Martin Leskovjan 37:44
year ago, we did PacMan, it was called exit the game. And it symbolises PAC man’s around us, those are the yellow bastards that needs to eat the whole playground. And we did huge. It was eight hectares vache. Like an image in the, in the rapeseed field, rapeseed. The reason for rapeseed is that it’s the colour of, of pigment yellow. And rapeseed also symbolises this business of our ex Prime Minister and now candidate for the President, Mr. Babish. It’s a it’s an I can find, like some other than swear words, but but a man let’s say a man, who is like an oligarch here because he owns like, most of the like, the biggest, biggest companies doing this notation business. So he, like Pac Man eats all EU that nations and the same time he’s the biggest critic of, of EU, and he he destroys a quality of the fields by by simply how harvesting and I think that that’s why we chose this symbol of Pac Man because those are these people represented by politicians, oligarchs, the rotation consumers and so on who just eat on behalf of others for the sake of others like like and and he’s one of the biggest pigments Babish is one of the biggest pigments so we that’s why we chose his field. So fields were company of his holding is operating. So you
Timothy Allen 39:48
you press down the you You made this the shape of a Batman in a field. Yeah, presumably then had a drone to take a photo
Martin Leskovjan 39:56
from the aeroplane, even drones don’t get that high because it was eight hectares. This was an we don’t have we don’t have a proof, but we think that it’s the biggest, biggest image in the field that was ever created. Okay. crops.
Timothy Allen 40:19
Bottom of crop circles did yeah. So So presumably you’ve been, like, criminally? Yeah.
Martin Leskovjan 40:27
Not like we’ve caused quite significant damage. And we were looking for that for the criminal courts that it could be quite nice show. But the Polly’s from quite unbelievable reasons stopped the investigation, stating that they are not able to identify those who made it. But even though we’ve went to TV and so on, we claimed like we did, we did it like stolen, our collective is behind. They investigated only members that were members like 10 years ago, like people that had already, for many years, nothing in common with the group.
But they didn’t approach us like even though we are like, you know, even by the commercial register, because our association is incorporated. Even though it’s nonprofit, it’s it’s in the commercial register. So they can see like Ztohoven, Paralelni Polis, we are like, I’m the chairman. So they could easily approach me that maybe they never did, from some reason.
So of course, we want it to be like concentrative, we would say like, a probably did not match the communication strategy of Mr. Babish. But I don’t have a proof for it. So I don’t I won’t go to this. But at least it’s quite strange that even though it was quite easy to identify us, they did not. And they close the case.
Timothy Allen 41:59
So the the art collective? Like, is it? Is it the same group of people from back in the day? Or is it is it
Martin Leskovjan 42:08
that the group differs? Each project, it’s changes a little bit, there is like a core of the group. And but even me, like I’ve joined the group in 211, I’m not there since the very beginning.
Timothy Allen 42:22
When did it start? Then?
Martin Leskovjan 42:26
2003 was the first project.
Timothy Allen 42:29
And so prior to 2003. Cryptography wasn’t a huge part of it. That was something that just became interesting as later on,
Martin Leskovjan 42:40
of course, yeah. Like it was exactly 2011. When we,
Timothy Allen 42:47
what was the first thing that they did back in 2003, then it was give me an idea
Martin Leskovjan 42:52
of what it’s quite funny because it was also connected to the Pratt castle. And it was the year when the President Vaslav Havel was finishing his mandate. And, you know, he was like an embodiment of the change after communism and so on. And there was one famous Czech artist who created like a huge neon heart above the Prague Castle. It was above the roof like huge neon heart. And then members at this time, like simply climbed up to the to the heart and covered power of it, and made a question mark of it. So from heart, it was a question mark. Yeah.
Timothy Allen 43:40
As in, they covered up enough of it. Yeah. So that it looks like a question mark? Yes. As a cool.
Martin Leskovjan 43:45
So that was the first project.
Timothy Allen 43:47
Right. So, so All right, let’s go back to the modern. I mean, we’re, I’d love to talk about art, but it’s probably a little bit off topic for Free Cities. I don’t know. I think they’re probably all connected. But certainly, the aspect of the subversive aspect of it is something that is very relevant, I think and can you speak a little bit about the notion of parallel realities parallel polis that’s essentially the the meaning of it is
Martin Leskovjan 44:24
why I think the art is relevant is because we consider art as a way of thinking way of work and like communication protocol is simply a different communication protocol. It’s it’s a way to communicate but it’s different from words different from other means. We use it simply a different kind of communication and it enables you to communicate on different levels, on a symbolic levels. On on, it enables you To understand one thing in different ways. So that’s why I think when you want to talk about change of mindset, when you want to open minds, that is necessary, if you want to spread freedom, art is one of the great tools we’ve approved, I think. And that’s why also the triangle of pearl poly symbolises the three areas, or three areas, and or disciplines, and we try to move at the intersections of them. And that’s art, technology and science. Where these three approaches meet there, something interesting comes up. So the interdisciplinarity, and ability to look at results of work of these three fields from the other points of view, like understand scientific, scientific inventions, or whatever comes from science, from a technological and artistic point of view, is always it always makes you to, to, to open the eyes, and think a little bit out of the box, I guess. And that’s, that’s what we need when we want to make people like, think and like understand the value of freedom, when when their mind is only closed in the box, then. So hard to achieve something.
Timothy Allen 46:41
So by using this language, then this this meme language of art, your primary objective? Is what? Just to rattle people and to sort of shake them around and or do you have a an actual, I would like this to transpire from this art, etc.
Martin Leskovjan 47:03
I think the reaction to our projects to the situations we create always reveals something new about the society we live in. It tells story about the environment you live in. That’s, that’s I think the main and because you can also understand that we somehow ask questions with the with the situations and the response is the answer. Like, and it helps you to better Orient. And that’s exactly like, the purpose, of course, is a little bit exceptional, because it’s organisation is ongoing, it’s lasting for eight years. It’s a nonprofit formula established and so on. And so is it. So it has many attributes very different from other projects we did. But it’s also also creates a different value. And that’s also why it’s very rich source of, of knowledge, even our our interview now is part of the story, of course, and it helps us but but I hope the listeners as well to understand better, what’s what’s behind what we want to say with this, and so on. So the media object is a little bit bigger again.
Timothy Allen 48:30
So let’s talk about parallel Polish then as well. I mean, you can speak to it is a piece of art that are media object, a media object, but also real object, right? Yeah. Okay, so, so describe then the intention behind the creation of the media object of parallel polis.
Martin Leskovjan 48:49
Do you want to be honest? Yeah. So yeah, as I said, we saw how guys in Bratislava have their hackerspace called progress bar, and we were jealous. You just wanted to have something like this in Prague as well. So yeah, we were jealous. But that was not the point when we thought that it’s it could be like next project, but we were searching for similar space like they had like something in a centre, some bigger flat, where like 100 120 square metres, some people where we can have comfortable sofas and have dialogues and sometimes some small lecture for 50 people and so on, like they did. But I remember one day I was in work. And suddenly one guy from store and romantics wrote me a message like immediately stop doing something everything you do and come here to polish up it’s now Yeah, and he’s like, Why, what’s up and he’s he sent me a picture of this this house. Because of this, like, you’re like, you get freaked or like, what’s up? Like it’s huge building we are searching for flat is a no, no, no, no, you have to come you have to see it. So I give everything and and I came here, I was looking at the huge building I said like, You’re really crazy but okay, let’s at least explore who’s the owner. And I realised that I have a friend of in the in the theatre that is sitting next door, says let’s go to ask her. Maybe she knows who’s the owner. So we went to the office and I said, Hey, hello. Like we saw this building because there was a sign for rent. That’s why he approached me. And, and I said, like that there is like, behind the curtain and there is building for rent and you know, who’s owner and she’s the owner of our theatre. It’s the same owner. So you can talk to him if you want. I said, Okay, so can you earn some meeting? Yeah, like he’s next door so you can go to him. So we came to the Mr. Bellows. And he’s just like, Oh, Hello, we are starving. Yeah, I know you. Like, we provoke you music. Now. We would like to use your, your some of your houses to Pro. Okay, let’s do it. Like I like it. It was really great. And he gave us the keys. And we entered the house. And I remember like, we entered this floor. And and yes, it was like, wow, it was it could be like a nice coffee. And then we went to the first floor and I said, ah, there is no this fashion of coverings, we could we could do like a co working so people can meet and hang out and work here and do projects. And then we went to the top place. And this like Wow, here it would be great place for lectures and events and congresses and so on. And then we went out downstairs where we are now. Wow. This is like a place for hackers underground. And, and without windows. So that’s that’s a place for hackers. And, and basically the concept was done. That’s how we started and you know, it’s changed over the years. But but but basically that’s how it’s most of the time worked.
Timothy Allen 52:22
Can I just ask you one thing where you said when you went to visit the guy who you
and you just mentioned you are from? Is it still joven? Stop joven? Once the general populations opinion of Ztohoven Is it?
Does everyone know who stoven is in general? Not everyone?
Martin Leskovjan 52:46
Not everyone but but in general. Most of the people know us I think if he went to the streets, most of the people would respond that Oh these motherfuckers that stole the flag or these motherfuckers that do that midges are these motherfuckers that do something that the danger of anarchy is like, like, Yeah, something like this,
Timothy Allen 53:08
that the owner unfortunately was a founding you know, he’s,
Martin Leskovjan 53:12
he’s, he’s, he’s a theatre operator. He is in art. So he respects us as art collective so so he’s open minded fortunately.
Timothy Allen 53:23
Right? So you you was the was in good shape, the building did you have to
Martin Leskovjan 53:29
do was completely empty, but it didn’t need any repair. So it was in quite good shape, ready to just move in. And so we said okay, keep the keys and, and tell me when you want to start. So we said okay, we need couple of months to find ideas. So he was quite open to this. So he said, Okay, keep the keep the keys for a couple of months, and then you start to pay rent. And then we spent a couple of months in empty house, developing the concept
Timothy Allen 54:01
was born and the concept is like you say coffee shop downstairs. Like co working spaces, the hackers, the hackers Congress was already happening. Was it or did you organise that
Martin Leskovjan 54:12
that was that was the first thing we developed. Like we said, there are two ways hackers organised first is hacker space and second is hackers Congress. So we said okay, hacker space is the thing but how to launch it. Okay, let’s do the hackers Congress. So the first thing we done was we started to organise the hacker’s Congress and invited the first guests like already for the first time for the first congress, Durkin Frank Brown smuggler. I think even even Paul Rosenberg attended or the first Congress so there are a couple of names that attend every Congress since the very beginning, was
Timothy Allen 54:55
as to joven. In its current incarnation, is it Is it very tech savvy people always? Is it very Is it the art collective is particularly leaning towards the technology side and hackers and
Martin Leskovjan 55:12
a bunch of fathers.
Timothy Allen 55:14
A bunch of what fathers. But the reason I’m asked,
Martin Leskovjan 55:20
Timothy Allen 55:21
okay, but the reason I’m asking is because
as a as a project of Ztohoven This is a very technology focused project is that is it just that or is the whole of Ztohoven? Now, thinking in terms of how can we be subversive using technology? Or are is is is about nail polish that arm that the one project, which is the very tech focused?
Martin Leskovjan 55:47
I think for us, it was also like, selfishly, it was way how to educate ourselves. We’re lazy to ask someone else to educate us, we created educational centre. And and we’ve created space where you can do your own experience. So so so that’s the answer, I think for four. That’s the That’s how, where we gained the knowledge and experience just by doing it.
Timothy Allen 56:21
Okay. And the and the main education of push of this place is the hack. Well know, what is it like?
Martin Leskovjan 56:32
The good point was that already, you re Bodnar and follow lopatok like well known names, were part of the group. So they they were networked. They knew a lot of interesting people who could we invite, and so on. And they had some reputation on the scene. So. So this helped us a lot to withdraw attention and to connect to the communities around not only Czech Republic, but also internationally.
Timothy Allen 57:05
Do you get visits from the police? Because you’re asked to joven and things like that? I mean, it’s a bit obvious that this is a kind of physical pain point or to joven is it like is that a that works here? I did they leave you alone now? No, I
Martin Leskovjan 57:21
think they are living afraid of us. Because, of course, there were some visits but usually end up quite, quite funny or strange. I can say a couple of stories like one day there came like a drying lawyer inside a drunk lawyer. Yeah, drunk lawyer and he wanted the wine. So he got the wine. And then he said, I am I have a right to pay with the Czech crowns. So I will pay with the Czech crowns. And there was one one of the guys here from from our collective and and he said, no you want because we set the rules here and our rule is that we only pay with cryptocurrency so fuck off and go to the ATM and exchange your Fiat to the cryptocurrency there’s
Timothy Allen 58:13
a there’s a there’s a Bitcoin ATM inside the bill since
Martin Leskovjan 58:17
the very first day. And he said no, I have a right to pay in local currency. So here is banknotes of 200 crowns. And what he did, he just took the banknote and stretch it to pieces like
Timothy Allen 58:36
the guy in the
Martin Leskovjan 58:39
hour, my colleague from stoven. Right. And he and the lawyer called police. They destroyed the bank. No.
Timothy Allen 58:48
Well, that is actually a legal
Martin Leskovjan 58:51
imaging, you’re a policeman called to a place where some artists, like destroy the bank note to some drunk lawyer. I think that’s a situation in which you don’t want to
Timothy Allen 59:02
be a policeman. So they came. Yeah.
Martin Leskovjan 59:06
But they just wrote a protocol about this. And that was it then then National Bank was was figuring in this cause. And their statement was that the value of the banknote is like, like, like something of a couple of cents. They just they just said that piece in the piece of the of the paper has so low value that they don’t recommend to go further in this cost, which
Timothy Allen 59:40
is, which is an ironic thing in itself because it’s literally them admitting that there
Martin Leskovjan 59:46
is another another case like this. Mr. Bublish, as I mentioned earlier when he was a prime minister, one of his projects was this electronic evidence of any payments and then Unlike all businesses, except of coffees and everything became subject of obligation to electronically evidence, any payments, everything except coffee shops, and even like everything. And so so we wrote a statement and we made the stickers that we will never accept this, that we will never do evidence of your payments inside Pearl policy. So of course, like there were a couple of businesses that also raged but all of them got fined and, and withdraw and capitulated and started to do the electronic evidence. But we’ve never we’ve never withdraw. We’ve never capitulated and there came some financial control. Here, we were quite well known, like the news were referred like all these rebels in borough, police do not accept evidence and so on. And then then the control came, they did a protocol and he never received fine. He never we were never punished for not is for I don’t know, like,
Timothy Allen 1:01:11
maybe they couldn’t because you only receive Bitcoin, maybe they couldn’t discover a way to track it. I mean,
Martin Leskovjan 1:01:19
that was like a like legally established system that you had to respect but we never respected it, but never got punished. Still in the works. How long ago was that? Now it’s they’ve already cancelled the whole law. And it’s not obligation anymore because it was bullshit. But but
Timothy Allen 1:01:36
that’s interesting. I mean, there is a theory of course, that there is a point beyond which you are ungovernable in a way, there’s a there’s a there’s a there’s a price for being governable isn’t there, of course, and very close, if you push yourself to the edge, then the powers that be go well, it’s actually not worth our time to do that. I mean, I want I know that’s true in many senses. That’s why they say, You shouldn’t live in a city you should live away away, make yourself ungovernable was too expensive to impose a rule on you or whatever. But that that may be it actually, in real life transpiring in a city that’s very interesting. Is that have you experienced that in any other shape or form? Where you where they just leave you alone? To get away with whatever you want? You know? I mean, all the art that’s caused, like, for example, criminal damage has been taken to criminal court, I take it.
Martin Leskovjan 1:02:34
Yeah, like we’ve been facing to this, but but I think like stoven becomes more and more institution itself. And for for the administration, and for officials, for the bureaucrats, it’s much easier to simply put it under the table than to face because, you know, as an institution, we always have good access to media. So whenever someone says to joven, the media like, like, it’s because it’s a clickbait. So, so I think they don’t want to be exposed to this unpopular. Visibility, you know, took compete with artists, it’s quite, it’s quite strange, because when you when you are activists, you have an agent, you have an you have a goal, like, what do you want to achieve? And that’s understandable, because they fight for something and you can fight back, but fight with it artists that only make fun or critical or move or work on symbolic level. It’s much tougher, because you always, you always come up as a bad guy.
Timothy Allen 1:03:51
Well, also, you run the risk always of showing the absurdity of what you are. Yeah. Which is presumably, the point of it all. I mean, this is, this is going back to your original conversation about art, the the art is what happens after the initial action. And if the media are reporting on you in an absurd way, which I’m sure they do. Every time something happens. I would imagine you look through the press and laugh at the way it’s being reported it of course, that’s the art and presumably they don’t get that or they do.
Martin Leskovjan 1:04:36
Yeah, like, of course, like, mostly they do they understand what’s up and most of the journalists usually play the game with us somehow, and make fun of it as well. Like we have quite lots of lots of allies
Timothy Allen 1:04:52
in the music completely apolitical though. There is no political edge or is there
Martin Leskovjan 1:04:59
some bullshit like you cannot be a political well
Timothy Allen 1:05:02
then what I mean is you don’t have a political alignment. Like
Martin Leskovjan 1:05:09
yes like you can be against
Timothy Allen 1:05:10
anything political Yes, we
Martin Leskovjan 1:05:12
can be anything okay? But we but we it’s not our approach to be apolitical it’s a bullshit like it’s all the artists out there that claim that activist artists they originally left artists they they fight against, you know inequality against capitalism against climate change I don’t know like, but they’re readable that they are they are leftist and that’s also why we are hardly acceptable for the academic sphere because usually artists are like left oriented we are definitely not we are like making fun of socialism and and and we are quite an anti I would say socialism. So so they understand us as those like who were married with the capitalists because one of our principal is that we don’t accept any public money any public funding. So of course, we would ship to our month most so so so we had always this like membership based funding and some of our members are always have been successful businessman and and academic and arts fear sees it as engagement with with evil capitalists you know, like those who exhaust the people and mine them these evil capitalists and they support this movement so
Timothy Allen 1:06:55
when you say starving is funded by members is to joven not starving bro Paul is powerful polis
Martin Leskovjan 1:07:05
just Vvvf always found it our projects from our pockets on the when we when we had to pay the damages like by the decision of the court, and in one case we used the money they received from the National Gallery is the art price. So we used the money to cover that
Timothy Allen 1:07:29
for by the way, what was the price?
Martin Leskovjan 1:07:31
It was the atomic bomb in the TV so we received like a prize money and we use it to cover the the costs and the fines
Timothy Allen 1:07:42
does the art world still does that art world the traditional like award giving up well, do they still like you now?
Martin Leskovjan 1:07:49
Not but there was there it was time when in the head of the National Gallery was 111 a guy artist who is also hardly acceptable by the rest of this scene. So so that’s that’s not a quite complicated story. But But yes, it’s it was never recognised. We are hardly recognised as artists by most of the same basic like are they are like bunch of capitalist or the Libertarians motherfuckers who just engage with the capitalists and doo doo doo activists think superficial art activists think and just write on the media, attention waves? I would say
Timothy Allen 1:08:44
yes, there must be some aspect of the art world that does acknowledge you on.
Martin Leskovjan 1:08:53
Like, I think abroad, we are more acknowledged than locally. Like we were, for example, invited into Tate Modern in London, when there was a panel or conference about political art. So so we were we were we were there present in our work. And it’s also there was time when we developed this term media object because we don’t have any theoretician who would in Czech Republic or at that time, we didn’t have an interpretation that would write about us about what we do. So we had to become our own theoreticians.
Timothy Allen 1:09:31
Are there any other media objects apart from parallel bullet?
Martin Leskovjan 1:09:35
Yeah, as I said, we did like 1112 Pro Oh, yeah. Your them?
Timothy Allen 1:09:39
Sorry. I thought that was just so even the pants that was a media audio of course,
Martin Leskovjan 1:09:45
that’s that’s generally term how we mark our artwork, right?
Timothy Allen 1:09:50
So not art. or Yes, like, Would you like a media object? Fair enough? Yeah. It’s a it’s a it’s a good descriptive term for what it is. Because you know, if you tell ask anyone, what is art? Do you get about 5000? different answers? Don’t you believe that that is pretty, you know, it’s less tenuous, that word.
Martin Leskovjan 1:10:14
But at the end art is just a tool. It’s just a way to wait to communicate is a tool, just a tool, you use a language? Yeah, your tool or tool is to gain from people some knowledge and so on via podcasting, were interviewing so you have your tool, every one of us use some some bunch of tools. And that’s how we consider art is not some superpower isn’t anything else. It’s not more or less. It’s one of the tools we have.
Timothy Allen 1:10:48
What do you think about meme culture then? Because that’s an that’s a relatively new language is a fascinating language question. Me, I come from a visual background photography. And so I I’m, I’m a FAE with visual languages, but what’s what’s your take on meme culture in because it’s, I mean, it’s very mainstream now. It’s a it’s a real I mean, your your average most people on their phone or will easily communicate with them with a meme.
Martin Leskovjan 1:11:25
Like, like the I would say, understanding of meme the first like, one hand is like this, like couple of images with a couple of words, and creating some funny feeling, understanding whatever, but the wider understanding of meme is something that is easy to repeat. And, and it also have some symbolic meaning. And I think we work in this wider sense, a lot. Exactly. The red underpants is very easy to understand, very easy to repeat, very easy to remember symbol that can spread quickly. And, for example, the PacMan for us was also like, we were very developing the mean for a long time like yours, you know, looking back, it seems like obvious, like, what else in Hollywood is but when you have these motherfuckers that only mine from a Saturday is that I really hate the principle that there are some people or companies or organisations that have the access to the source of money that was that was involuntarily gain from crowd sourced, involuntary involuntarily from the citizens without their will. And they have they have access to gain the money and use them for for their own business for their and how they want. And there’s like when we talk about the the, like, public funding and so on, but but in wider sense, is the vol state system is like one big Pac Man, like the value of olevia tonne that only grows and grows and eat and eat and more and more. And so, so we were developing this meme for a long time, like what? What kind of symbol could could that be like something very simple, very easy to repeat. And when we’ve when we’ve when we figured out that the PacMan is like, example is like, wow, that’s, that’s finally this, like, the red underpants also had like 1000s of or at least hundreds of variants. We were thinking like what you can Hank, on the podcast, or instead of though, instead of the official flag. They were also I remember, like, I was super enthusiastic about one crazy idea, but I think we would be already dead. If we hang in there. I can disclose it, just for fun. One of the variants, one of the main we wanted to do was, you know, in 215, there was this Islamic State wars and all around the world, like the Islamic State was great meme. They were perfect in memes, because they are spreading fear all around the globe. Bunch of terrorists in the middle of the desert, but they are able to spread fear globally. Interesting. And we were thinking that it could be quite funny to hang there. This black flag with Arabic For the Arabic awards saying this, because there is like, this symbolic sentence in the presidential flag that truth always prevails, or Truth always wins. And you want it to hang there, like this Islamic State like looking flag saying this in the Arabic in the Arabic but but I think we will be already that we did so. But then, you know,
Timothy Allen 1:15:36
let’s talk about that because that’s, that’s interesting because I’m my, I like pushing the boundaries, you know, I like that, you know, like, I don’t think there should be for example any, there’s nothing I wouldn’t you can’t joke about. Obviously there are things that people don’t want to joke about, but me personally, if, if I was with on my own, I think yeah, there’s nothing I shouldn’t joke about, there’s nothing you shouldn’t do, there’s nothing offensive that you shouldn’t be able to do etcetera, etcetera. So, so why stop yourselves doing that? I mean, that is basically something telling, because
Martin Leskovjan 1:16:11
did you negative, I was wondering, I think, what, what I think, you know, when you are lone creator, and that’s a big difference between artists and art collective, because creating art is essentially, individual work. And, and doing art in a group is like raping each other, it’s very hard, because artists are our strong personalities. And they always know the best way. And suddenly you have on one place a couple of people that know the best, each of them knows the best how it is how it should come up. So it’s very tough and we usually strongly argue sometimes we fight even and so on, it’s like really tough, but we are used to this kind of work we are we are conflict is our way we create and but But what arises from the group work is that the others regulate crazy ideas or destructive ideas or negative ideas. And I think that, that thanks to the collective artwork, we were always able to develop something that is behind the edge criticising and so on but in the in the in the same way you can perceive it somehow positively it can, it always is possible to to see it in that it can bring you also some hope that there is someone who dares to cross the borders and to criticise. And that is not that hard to do. So you don’t need any any cosmic science technology to do the thing you could
Timothy Allen 1:18:07
say, though, that, like many opinions is diluting the, the essence of a great piece of art. And you’ve kind of proven it there in a way, you know, the most cutting the most untouchable, the thing that you should never do would be to put an ISIS flag with all that. But it got it got stopped by the collective who decided
Martin Leskovjan 1:18:32
because we considered like great, it could really fuck up everyone, which is always nice to make angry, everyone because it brings emotions to the table and, and it accelerates things. Moving on. But, but it was too negative. For us. It was too the connotations at this time were too it was too thin and red line. This like today, they already like you know, it’s past like Islamic States behind us. But at this time when when they were executing people every day and all the all the root of evil around this. It created connotations that we finally decided we want to go that dark.
Timothy Allen 1:19:22
I know I understand what you’re saying. I just know that inside me if there’s a part of me saying, Oh, you shouldn’t do that. I was compelled to want to do that. Because it’s I know something’s trying to stop me doing something. It’s part of my makeup as a human being. I don’t know why it’s there. But it definitely is there is like, I know anybody saying it’s not the effect that you may have with that piece of art may not be as important or
Martin Leskovjan 1:19:49
it’s always in place. Like you always have to realise that you always have to fight this. It shouldn’t do it. It’s always there. And it’s our biggest enemy This I shouldn’t do it because it it breaks you from doing things that
Timothy Allen 1:20:05
are Yeah, well, you did break it did break this thing.
Martin Leskovjan 1:20:09
That’s exactly the equilibration like that like the find the the right point and that’s much easier to achieve when you when you have a lot of people around you then when you are alone,
Timothy Allen 1:20:21
tell me this then when you are deciding on the PacMan meme. Did anyone point out that PAC man’s quite a positive image as well? We’re in the game. Pac man’s the protagonist. He’s that he’s the he’s the he’s the Yeah, he’s the good guy. And the ghosts are actually the bad guys.
Martin Leskovjan 1:20:40
Yeah, he turned it vice versa. But, but the title of the project was exit the game that that you can share the you can share the playground with the with a PacMan A, B and B, one of the coins that he eats? Or you can exit the game, right? You don’t have to play the game. That was like the the main message we want to do we wanted to say like you don’t have to play the game.
Timothy Allen 1:21:13
Okay, we how are you doing for time, we’ve been almost an hour and a half have you got something to do? Now, I’m enjoying this immensely. I’m I’m very cognizant that we’re not really talking much about Free Cities, but I’m looking for a Free Cities angle here. Maybe you could help me, you know, like from your, your, you know, the ideas behind our movement. And they’re obviously aligned. I know that because they share a similar desire for freeing people individuals get, you know, have you got any particular interest in Free Cities or the notion of opting into systems parallel systems, obviously, you know, in that you can say to that,
Martin Leskovjan 1:22:00
yeah, like we are exploring the ways, we’ve been exploring the ways for eight years with this project. And one, one observation I would like to share is that a couple of years ago, we were really excited from a number of projects that was rising around us, I was like this bit nation, for example, like cloud cloud platform for cloud nation, there are these, like open bazaars and particles, and many, many projects that promised like, this will be the decentralised way where we all move from the traditional platforms one day, and we will use cryptocurrencies and liberate and think is not happening. Like all of these projects, that seems to be totally logic that they will prevail one day that they will become the Google for freedom, I would, I would say,
Timothy Allen 1:22:59
platforms, not physical places,
Martin Leskovjan 1:23:01
that forms but that’s like when you know, the upper upper floor is called Institute of crypto anarchy. So we were always exploring the tools of crypto anarchy, it means the tools that enablers enable you to an anonymously, exchange free of values or information, or that’s basically what you need. And so we were very excited about all of these projects, most of the most of them were present somehow on our congresses and so on. And we were just waiting when it comes when they gain the network effect and they will grow enough so even my grandmother will start to use it because it will be worth to us.
Timothy Allen 1:23:58
Give me an idea of one of those things I’m not sure what I know what you’re talking about. Are you talking about like operating systems, new forms of the
Martin Leskovjan 1:24:07
internet like the things I mentioned for example, bit nation was a project that plans to create IDs that plan to create insurance system so simply do like an alternative to the state centralised services that are used to gain from or get from states
Timothy Allen 1:24:25
where they anonymous IDs as in the
Martin Leskovjan 1:24:29
crypto market Krypton anarchy project, and they really worked on it for many years they had the communities and so on. It seemed um stamp unstoppable, but at some times suddenly, it like disappeared like was torn apart and, and it happened to many projects like open bazaar was was meant to be, like an decentralised amazing or eBay decentralised market place. It also seems to be very promising technological perfect everything like seems like yes, these guys are rolling and they will prevail. But same, and there are many examples that all these promising tools that we believed will spread did not. For me, it’s interesting to search for reasons like why it was too early. Or you know what?
Timothy Allen 1:25:29
Well look at the two you talked about open bazaar possibly open the reason open bazaar didn’t evolve was because not enough people are faced with using cryptocurrency network effects. Exactly. And that, but that’s something we all know. I mean, if underlying open bazaar is is the Bitcoin network, right? Yeah, so if a Bitcoin network is enabled, then then nor is that, and there’s no doubt we’re early on that. That’s obvious. You know, once you’ve used Bitcoin, and you realise how easy it is, and you realise how powerful it is, you don’t stop using Bitcoin. And there’s still not that many people using it. So yeah, so
Martin Leskovjan 1:26:12
listening. But what I wanted to say with this was that we were much more optimistic about how quickly it was Brett. And this, this appears to be that. And that’s, like, basic knowledge that people don’t want to be free. No, like most other people somehow simply don’t want to be free.
Timothy Allen 1:26:34
Because surprise after surprise, you haven’t worked that one out from from the art collective? I mean, it’s a bit obvious, isn’t it? That people, most people really dislike convenience. They’ll use cryptographic technology if it’s convenient for them. And people are like, you know, I like for example, my family, you know, I use we use wire to talk, but only because someone said, oh, you should use wire. So I know that like yeah, I want to use why? Because it’s it’s it’s a good technology, and it keeps me sane, then my wife uses it. She doesn’t care. But I’m just contacting her on why now. So
Martin Leskovjan 1:27:15
yeah, but we are somehow pushing it and forcing but um, yeah, she’s not though now. She doesn’t? Yeah, it doesn’t care. And that’s exactly what happens to the majority, they just use what is most convenient and what others use? Yeah. So that’s why from some unknown reason, everybody uses WhatsApp. And there’s not many people use signal even though it’s the same, you know, the signal that is just backdoored or backdoored. But But yeah. Facebook took signal and edit analytics, and AdWords on WhatsApp. So there is no logic reason why to use whatsapp when you have signal. But everybody uses WhatsApp, so so people, people really don’t care about the privacy, unfortunately, and I and I, we were not able to find a way how to communicate, or persuade to persuade people that it really matters.
Timothy Allen 1:28:13
We ever What about here’s my theory, because it’s one number one, I’m not surprised what you’re saying. It’s like, I mean, like, for example, you know, go, the same thing happened with Bitcoin adoption in El Salvador. You know, they announced Bitcoin adoption, and everyone was like, Oh, my God, this is incredible. Everyone went there. I’ve been a few times now. And then a lot of people saying, Well, hell, I went to this shop, and I tried to pay for something in Bitcoin. And then the guy said, You didn’t accept Bitcoin? And it’s like, yeah, cool. But like, what did you expect that overnight? Everyone was going to start using Bitcoin? Because they’re not. This has always been a long term play. And I think, I think probably as well, it’s advisable that this thing doesn’t happen too fast. I think it’s advisable that there’s a bit of a transition because we’re coming from a very entrenched, centralised network that aren’t we there’s no question about that. We’re, I wouldn’t say we’re at peak centralization. But as far as the spectrum goes, we’re, we’re at a pretty centralised, sort of, like, end of the scale. And you would argue that you want it to sort of like kind of like swing back slowly to the decentralised side, which seems to be happening. There seems to be like things seem to be emerging like now the fact that they’re even up there discussing the OpenBazaar and trying to make it and trying to do is proof that someone somewhere has gone. Amazon is good, but actually it’s not good because of these reasons. We need a decentralised one. So
Martin Leskovjan 1:29:48
I agreed in when you when you look at the history that we’re always moving at a scale like from more centralised or totally centralised systems to more decentral Light systems, but my question is, did it really happen like fluently and naturally or was it more like, you know, always some, some, for example, like this transition from heavily centralised, Asian Rome, Empire, to this dark, mediaeval, which was, in fact, quite peaceful era, when, when the whole Europe was was like fragmented to 1000s, of small, small kingdoms, or not even kingdoms, like just just places where nobody governed, and it was quite peaceful time, but it didn’t happen naturally, like the didn’t the Roman Empire imploded somehow get to brute quizzes. So
Timothy Allen 1:30:59
that was a natural,
Martin Leskovjan 1:31:00
I’m just asking myself, if it’s not just, you know, something we say to ourselves to, like heal the pain that it’s not happening that we don’t see the world world liberate, liberating, isn’t it that we need more time, we need more time. It’s it requires, you know, people to adopt and so on. But but then I look at the reality, we are driving through too heavily centralised systems all across the globe, like, show me country where you could say, like, oh, this country, there, the liberties rising, doesn’t happen anywhere in the world. Well,
Timothy Allen 1:31:41
I agreed, arguably, it is happening El Salvador, funnily enough, in a strange way. No, but I mean, if you’re talking about a short five year period, it is. I agree with you there. However,
Martin Leskovjan 1:31:55
it’s quite a niche example. I
Timothy Allen 1:31:57
would say it isn’t example. But but it might I mean, don’t you even I mean, I think the fact that even that Bitcoin, the technological discovery of Bitcoin happened at this point in history is is proof that whenever things whenever necessity breeds ingenuity, which is what’s happening, I would argue, now, you know, Bitcoin wasn’t necessary. Until now, it’s really necessary. And everyone who analyses the system that we live in now knows full well that if we didn’t have Bitcoin, now, we things will be very dark. I mean, things are pretty dark, and the trajectory we’re on is dark. And you can see that, but at least there is something which is the complete antithesis of that thing. And it appeared miraculously, just at the right time, which is an interesting concept in itself, I think. And I think that’s what happens. I think that’s what happens with anything when it gets so far out of equilibrium. That in the reaction is for things to spring up, because they’re being forced to people deliberately, like cryptographic cryptography wouldn’t have probably existed unless it needed to. People needed to sort of, you know, so and I don’t know, talking about Rome, I was gonna say, I think Rome, I think read the fall of Rome was natural. I think Rome just was a centralised entity that extended so far that it couldn’t, it couldn’t hold the weight of its own.
Martin Leskovjan 1:33:28
But look at the pearl Palace inside the room in what do you think was the pearl policy inside the Roman Empire?
Timothy Allen 1:33:36
I don’t know enough about it. I can’t tell I’m sorry, I didn’t want to know, I’m really uneducated on,
Martin Leskovjan 1:33:43
as I understand it, it was the Christians. There is there even in the room, there were the Christian catacombs, it was really very low. Because the Christianity for most of the late Ancient Rome was prohibited. It was not the official religion at these times. And so so when the Christians wanted to, to freely practice their belief, they had to hide and they created catacombs, where they practised and where they even were hiding when the river when there were hunts for the Christians. There were quite brutal hunts, organised from time to time. And at this point, it was really just a strange sect, you know, a bunch of crazy people that wanted to practice freely somehow. And what happened a couple of couple of centuries later was that from from this parallel structure, they evolved the primary structure somehow. So so
Timothy Allen 1:34:58
that that that’s proves that it’s proven. According to me, that’s proving my point that
Martin Leskovjan 1:35:04
I’m trying to argue with you. And I know I’m just asking myself this question like, where it comes from how to treat with this situation? And aren’t we just? Yeah.
Timothy Allen 1:35:17
But what I’d say what I’d say is that in a very entrenched, centralised system, like Rome, if there is something that is being held back by that system, if it was allowed to be, there will be no problem. But petencies being held back, it has to push back, and that is the natural degradation of the, the the parallel Vollis is the important part of the process. And I’d say it’s natural, I’d say parallel process wouldn’t exist unless there was something to push back on, of course, so so. I do. I do see it as an ebb and flow. It’s like a heartbeat of, of social norms, the cult, the cultural heartbeat is centralised until this thing implodes and becomes decentralised, but it and it always seems to, you know, I’m sure if you tracked it over history, you’ll see that, you know, this kind of stuff, which gives me hope, I don’t know. Are you hopeful? Yeah, the way you were describing, you know, this, this technology, maybe you
Martin Leskovjan 1:36:20
wouldn’t say it like this, I have been more hopeful. And I’m now but at the same time, I also what I think, what are what I think a lot about are these moments of implosion. Like what are the triggers? Because I really think that the major changes have does not happen frequently. That those are some critical moments when the things break up. And, you know, for us, it’s hard to track it back 2000 years, or 1600 years back, like how it really was because we have just fragments of the knowledge. But But looking at recent history, these things didn’t happen fluently. There were always some breaking point happening triggered frequently by some some Yes, this is like butterfly wing effect. Somehow stars in these trigger points is something that fascinates me and what what I think also stoven works on the viscous we understand our work as kind of as, as a catalyst nature, for for emotions or discussions about things that other than discuss much. Also Paralelni Polis was way how to how to bring discussion about crypto technologies, we wanted to write the discussion because in 214, nobody cared about Bitcoin and peer to peer networks and privacy and our internet here. So this was our way to speed up the discussion to bring it to the table. And that’s also why we named the hackerspace not progress bar or, or or Hackerspace. Prague Hackerspace. We named the Institute of crypto anarchy because we wanted to provoke like, what the fuck in series of crypto anarchy, what is it? Even like in an outside but also inside the community? It was like Institute of crypto anarchy, isn’t it opposite like, like, it always have provoked and it’s one of the most valuable brands we have here. People love it. Even those people who have never been here from the crypto community they want to have the city of Krypton like a T shirt because they just like the brand. I know lots of stories from from this from from the eight years when people might I don’t know in Japan. Oh you have is you’d have crypto like a T shirt. Me too. And they started to chat. Just because of the shirt. This meme is also kind of a meme this brand.
Timothy Allen 1:39:11
So yeah, it’s okay. It’s I think probably Yeah, we’re on one hour. I was supposed to only do an hour but we’re at 141. And then I was I was thinking of something else to say then there was limit. Let me look at my notes here. I was thinking about your your remit from stir joven which was to provoke change. Is that fair to say? The I’m kind of summing it up,
Martin Leskovjan 1:39:44
I think provoke
Timothy Allen 1:39:46
Well, you did you did mention it in those terms. Just I think it was just now you sort of, you know, you want to provoke
Martin Leskovjan 1:39:55
to action, I would say to do think to talk to others, right? To action we were talking
Timothy Allen 1:40:01
Martin Leskovjan 1:40:02
So that’s why it’s activist art. It’s a it’s a discipline, officially, like, generally recognised, and I think activists are because it’s the approach is to activate people to activate, for example, sense of freedom or to activate. Like, I’m not alone in this in this feeling that I’m did some peckmon eats my es, or something like this. So so
Timothy Allen 1:40:34
but so going back to whether you’re positive or not. And you’re saying, well, things aren’t happening as fast as I thought and inflection points. And if your role is to activate people, presumably you see a relatively long term prospect of activation here. So, so I don’t think you will give me the impression you’re not that.
Martin Leskovjan 1:41:00
Because, because I think we failed somehow, you know, if our role is I said, is to activate people, we somehow failed, and I try to
Timothy Allen 1:41:09
work in progress. I mean, how long do you? How do you decide how long do you decide how long this work in progress is? I mean, take the pants, for example, initially, you probably thought this was a one or two day thing. And then three years later, it’s still happening. And in fact, it didn’t even crescendo until literally three years later, I mean, the main piece of beauty flower, the flower, the rose flowers, three years later, you’re never sitting on this, this thing, you know, and saying, Come on, do something. And then, but But you could not have known that House who’s to say that this isn’t a 200 year process, which I probably imagined it probably is. And I, like I say, you know, having, having initially like having spent a fair bit of time in El Salvador, because you know, Bitcoin. And that has taught me a lot about the process of Bitcoin ideation. And before El Salvador, I thought it would last I thought it would be possibly 10 years after El Salvador, I don’t even care now, I just think it’s a process. But it’s probably is a much longer timeline than I ever, ever suspected. But it doesn’t matter beyond that point, I think. And you’ve got to think that the world is there’s a pretty dark place in many places when you look at the state of freedom throughout the world. But but but history has taught us that this ebb and flow always does happen. And I know it’s easy to say, Well, this time is gonna be different because the technology is scaling this whole disaster very well. And the authoritarian isms are in power and Von D’s are empowered massively and stuff. But I still go with the trend from the past, which is, you know, ebb and flow. The more this thing happens, the more likely the pushback happens, the more the parallel policy at this
Martin Leskovjan 1:43:01
point, maybe I’m too impatient. Because I’m the kid of internet and I’m 36 years old, and most of my life, I’ve lived with internet. So maybe I get these two quick, evolve men and quick changes too much. But I hope and I guess the younger generations, and I’m and lots of demand, I’m 36 years old, so I’m not that young. anymore, but I think the younger generations expand expect even more rapid change. And we see it like the climate activism is spreading very quickly. And the young generations, they take it really seriously. Like we can laugh to them, you can say they are naive, and so on. But they expect that we will start doing something with it now. And I think we should take it seriously. Like we shouldn’t only make fun of it, like they are the future generation that will that will replace us. And I think we should find ways how to how to lead the dialogue. And and I think this expectation of the of the speed of change is very, very cool, and will be even more important topic. I think this will be one of the cause of the intergeneration misunderstanding.
Timothy Allen 1:44:26
But my I mean, my experience, I’m 52 now so I’ve watched myself change over the years, I would say it’s very normal to expect things quickly when you’re younger. As as you know, and when you’re my age now you you are somewhat pragmatic about change. Because especially when you look at the world and when you see how entrenched the world is, you know when when it takes that long to ossify it does take pretty long time to de ossify. You know, it’s
Martin Leskovjan 1:45:03
but but explain it to the kid that glues himself or herself to the Monat picture expecting then that after you take it draw draw the person out, you will do the change.
Timothy Allen 1:45:17
Yeah, going through living a less I think. I think the gap
Martin Leskovjan 1:45:21
is increasing. And that’s that’s, I think, a big topic for us.
Timothy Allen 1:45:25
I don’t know, I think I think youngsters always thought like that. I think they just never got to express it. I mean, when I see people doing things like that, I think yard Yeah, I’m so glad that I didn’t do things publicly when I was a kid. Because I’d have done something like that. And I’d be sitting here cringing now going, oh my god, what? What an idiot, you know, you know, the, when I like 50 years ago, or 40 years ago, when I was young, you know, there was no way for a youngster to broadcast their ideas to millions of people, you know, and the kind of activism in this sense wasn’t really a thing. You know, I suppose it was it was more of an older person’s thought I suppose like, you know, suffered yet so I don’t know, you know, but but now everywhere I think the modern world has has shone a light on everyone. Everyone’s sort of like got a spotlight on themselves now, haven’t they? And then Freeman says to me, like I can do something, I can create this thing. And as a result, someone can sit in their bedroom and go to you know, I could glue myself to a to a painting and it would really affect change. And if they spoke to their father or mother about it, they go Don’t be ridiculous, then they wouldn’t do it but they do they actually go out and do it and and then they get annihilated on the internet by everyone going where you’re using glue made out of oil. It’s yeah, I think it’s a sign of the times. And I think it’s I think all this stuff is a, you know, a sign of the times we live in. I think it’s all important. I think it’s all I mean, you know, you could you could argue that what they’re doing when they glue themselves to a Manet is not that dissimilar from hanging some pants on a on a flag is still an outward expression of of a desire for for eliciting. It’s a you know, who knows? Maybe Maybe these are all them tiny parallel Polly’s nodes.
Martin Leskovjan 1:47:23
Yeah, that’s why I try not to judge
Timothy Allen 1:47:27
to judge. Yeah. Anyway, look, I I’m gonna make an end to this conversation. I’ve got one last question. We ask everyone. On the podcast, you is the hypothetical situation you have a sabbatical from your life that you paid for you have you have wealth at your fingertips to do whatever you want in that one year. What would you devote your year to?
Martin Leskovjan 1:47:58
I have to think one year where I can do everything,
Timothy Allen 1:48:04
your expenses are covered. You have access to money, you can do stuff.
Martin Leskovjan 1:48:13
I hope it doesn’t sound much pathetic, but I would, I would go to volunteer somewhere I would go to help or no family go to Carry. Carry I would probably go to doctors without limits or verbal orders. Without Borders and, and engage. I really have like my biggest. I’m impressed from what they do. And I would like to be able to, to do things like this, because they’re you. It’s strong. It’s hard, but it gives you the sense of meaning. And you have probably search for sense of meaning.
Timothy Allen 1:49:10
Wow, I am surprised you don’t have a sense of meaning in this life. I mean, I think I see a pretty meaningful life. I hate to say it, I hate to burst your bubble, but I see a very meaningful life here and in what you’re doing, and I you know, if if you’ll give me an impression that you would look for something meaningful, I could understand the medicines on frontier for example, do actual Yeah, does they solve problems?
Martin Leskovjan 1:49:40
Because you have the the closed feedback loop like the feedback loop with how many like how many people we’ve like, how many Bitcoin wallets work great how many people attended our events like or it might work how many companies I secured like, the feedback loop is not closed because either and see the direct effect. And you know, so as you asked, as you asked my emotion is that I would like to enjoy this moment of direct feedback from what you’re doing. And I have enjoyed it when I was building a cottage or something, but that’s was something that I did for myself and my family. And what I would like to be able is not like in the next level, I would, as you said, like if I wouldn’t have to care about anything else. I would search for this direct feedback when you can when you can help others because they’re, I see the biggest payback.
Timothy Allen 1:50:48
I hope all the naysayers are listening that Mr. Hoeven, Mr. Hoeven are wonderful caring people. They’re not they’re not ogos capitalist. Well, Martin, thanks. I mean, a fascinating conversation. I, I really did start this conversation knowing very little about parallel policy other than what I’ve heard from everyone in Prague, which wasn’t much really especially stover and I think this is something I’m gonna go away and look deeply into, because I think it’s fascinating. So, thanks for coming on. And good luck with it. Thank you