Thursday, July 18, 2024

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Ljubljana is a study in contrasts when it comes to factors that measure grassroots crypto enthusiasm and activity. Its opportunities score, based on the rate of per-capita crypto jobs, companies and events, is outstanding, but its crypto adoption score, in the drivers category, was second-lowest of the entire 25-hub sample. The poor performance could be explained by the fact that crypto adoption is measured on a national scale, reflecting all of Slovenia, and not just Ljubljana itself. On its own, Ljubljana had a top-10 quality-of-life score, which enabled it to break into our top 15.

For more on the criteria and how we weighted them, see: How We Ranked CoinDesk’s Crypto Hubs 2023: Our Methodology.

In discussions of cryptocurrency-friendly locales, one city comes up far more than most would guess: Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Americans in particular might have trouble locating this little gem on a map, much less pronouncing it (LEE-ub-LEE-yana, more or less). But it’s hard to think of any global city whose recent ascent has been more subtly remarkable – whether in crypto, or more generally.

Slovenia was part of the Yugoslavia until 1991, when Slovenes played an important role in pushing for the republic’s breakup. The young country is now nestled between Austria to its north, Italy to its west, Croatia to the south and Hungary to the east – not a flawless neighborhood, but nothing to sniff at. The independent Slovenia rates with Poland and the Czech Republic as success stories of economic and civic development – though it’s a far smaller one, with a population of just over two million.

Read Crypto Hubs 2023: Where to Live Freely and Work Smart

Slovenia’s broader vibrancy has fed into significant crypto activity. It may not have the sheer gravitational pull of a finance megahub like Hong Kong or London, but Ljubjana punches well above its weight, particularly in the development of crypto retail payments. As an EU member nation, it enjoys regulation under the promising new MiCA standards, which have been quite positively received by the crypto sector.

The city is home to the nonprofit Blockchain Alliance Europe and has its own Slovenia Bitcoin Association. It’s also home to a number of firms creating crypto infrastructure, particularly Eligma, which largely does business as GoCrypto.

GoCrypto over the past four years has created a checkout system, also known as GoCrypto, that includes both crypto payment options, and more familiar credit card processing. GoCrypto CEO Dejan Roljic told me that making things seamless for retailers was a conscious strategy to grow crypto adoption. That seems to be working: according to one 2022 study, Ljubljana, with a population comparable to Boise, Idaho’s, has hundreds of retail locations, bars and other venues that accept crypto payments.

There’s another serendipitous crypto connection, thanks to the Ljubljana-based firm The BTC Company. Despite the name, they’re not a Bitcoin operation, but a property manager and developer – according to company history, the name dates as far back as 1993. But according to Roljic, the company hasn’t shied away from the association, letting its conveniently-named BTC City shopping complex serve as a testing ground for the GoCrypto point-of-sale system.

Despite his involvement with the global crypto movement, GoCrypto CEO Roljic also told me that he has decided to stay put in his native Slovenia simply because “the quality of life is so good here.” Among other selling points, Roljic told me you can get “to the beach, or to the mountains, either one, it’s two hours” from Ljubljana.

Slovenia is not just physically beautiful, but has a fast-growing reputation as an advanced, sophisticated nation. There are concrete metrics, such as the country’s life expectancy, which is currently higher than that in the United States. Slovenia is also a European Union member of notable standing, having joined in 2004, when it became the first former Yugoslav republic to do so. Close to 70% of Slovenian adults speak English, according to 2011 data.

Good looks, and brains, too

Slovenia’s most notable achievements, though, come in less easily measured arenas: architecture and philosophy.

Photos of Ljubljana look like a real-life Wes Anderson movie, all bright primary colors and wedding cake filigree. And as you walk among those marvels, you might bump into Slovenia’s most famous son: philosopher Slavoj Žižek (pronounced SLAH-voy ZHEE-zhek). Žižek’s unlikely career began with impenetrable tomes interpreting the arcane works of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Jacques Lacan, but has culminated in prominence as a political commentator and the host of a string of neuron-firing and scandalously-titled documentaries. Roljic said he once found himself sitting next to the philosopher in a dentist’s waiting room – it is, indeed, a small city.

Those perks do come at a price. According to data from, the cost of living in central Ljubljana is relatively high, comparable to Western European cities like Berlin, and significantly higher than costs in nearby Belgrade. But, according to the same data, life outside of central Ljubljana is cost-competitive with the likes of Mexico City and even Bangkok – places where, among other tradeoffs, English is spoken less widely.

So if you’re looking for a crypto hub without the furious grind of life in the U.S. or Asia, and perhaps a bit more frontier spirit than you’d expect in France or Germany, Ljubljana may be just right.

Edited by Jeanhee Kim and Daniel Kuhn.

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