Vitalik on Building ZUZALU - Exploring Network States and Bridging Online and Offline Community

It revolves around addressing the essential needs of individuals who have left their home country, uncertain about their next steps and lacking trust.

My name is Jazzy, and I was previously an engineer from Matters Lab. I had the privilege to participate in the full Zuzalu cohabitation experience in Montenegro. In fact, Zuzalu is a two-month crypto-city experiment on the topics of longevity, core ethereum themes, network state, and synthetic biotechnology. The topics of interest in this group coexist in different strains; on the one hand the mainstream from the US has started to explore the possibility of combining zero-knowledge proofs with machine learning; the builders from Zimbabwe are still looking for the easiest available infrastructure in Web3, such as a proper crypto wallet.

Zuzalu morning, Lustica Bay

For two months, I felt deeply empowered and overwhelmed with gratitude for the core team's bodhisattva-like commitment. However, after getting through the first month, I started to feel the social pressure and exhaustion that comes with geographic isolation, and my brain was crowded with the desire of all kinds of people bringing all kinds of perspectives to the table. At the same time, I was able to pull back a bit and begin a moment of reflection and contemplation as I, along with K from Uncommons, began interviewing other Zuzalu residents.

In this interview, I had the pleasure of speaking with Vitalik, the main founder of Ethereum, and my impression of him was that of a bodhisattva. During our first day of breakfast, the topic of longevity came up, so I said to him, "There is a Chinese proverb: If you hear the Tao in the morning, you can die in the evening." He was very fluent in Chinese and could even read traditional Chinese characters. When I saw him on many occasions later, I would not bother him voluntarily. I asked him how long he had stayed in one place for the longest time on his own, and he replied four hours, which was the time he spent walking alone. Once at a community dinner, he volunteered to join our table and I noticed he was a little tired and said, "Hey, I can tell you're tired today, you don't need to be stressed to talk, get some rest." After that, whenever we met, he always offered to say hello. I invited him for an interview about the Zuzalu community, and that happened naturally.

First community dinner kitchen
Hiking with Zuzalian

Vitalik on How the Idea of ZUZALU was Formed

I started to think about this six months ago. And I had been thinking about a lot of the very similar ideas for a while. It all began with Balaji's Book: The Network State. I read it, I wrote a blog on it, then thought about Crypto cities. I found myself captivated by the exploration of two intriguing topics: the concept of creating new cities and the endeavor of bridging online communities into the tangible offline realm. In addition, I believe crypto could be more practical and less abstract for all.

Recognizing the real-life struggles individuals faced while seeking new homes in 2022, I became convinced that these ideas had been merely discussed in theoretical terms. Determined to bridge the gap between theory and practice, I initiated an ambitious yet feasible experiment. My objective was to establish connections between the Ethereum community and various other groups across the globe, serving as a reminder that they are part of a larger world. As someone passionate about decentralized governance, crypto technology and philosophy, I yearned to witness the tangible manifestation of these ideas within a physical community. It felt like the logical progression for me to embark on the creation of a new community that serves as a living embodiment of the convergence of these concepts.

Creating Network Effect

Balaji's book, the Network State, aims to bridge online communities and unite them in the physical world, ultimately culminating in the formation of a new country. If things were to progress more pragmatically, I've realized that trying to obtain sovereignty is difficult and there are often simpler solutions. Sometimes all that is needed is autonomy in one sector or a more open immigration policy. Creating network effects in countries that are already favorable to what I want to do will be more practical than trying to start from scratch. Through experimentation, I've discovered that there are simpler and more practical places to start with.

When it comes to the requirements of a network state, particularly in light of events like the Russo-Ukrainian War, the cornerstone is community. It revolves around addressing the essential needs of individuals who have left their home country, uncertain about their next steps and lacking trust. There is immense value in establishing network effects comparable to the ones San Francisco provides for AI professionals.

Zuzalu night, Lustica Bay

Zuzalu Autonomy

In the Zuzalu experiment, our autonomy requests were minimal. Although we aimed to facilitate participation for individuals from non-western countries in terms of visa and other policies, but our efforts were largely ineffective. Achieving success in this aspect would necessitate more comprehensive pre-planning. Apart from this setback, the experiment primarily focused on locating a suitable venue, bringing together a group of 200 individuals, and establishing an intentional community for a duration of two months. I believe in pragmatic approach to problem-solving approach that prioritizes alignment between our work and real-world issues.

IRL Community Experience

There were two communities I learned about with distinct political orientations. One was a capitalist libertarian community known as the Free State Project in New Hampshire, USA. Their goal was to gather 20,000 people with libertarian beliefs to move to New Hampshire and have a significant influence on policy to make it the most free state in the US. I rented an apartment from someone I found on the Bitcoin forum and paid in Bitcoin back in 2013. I interacted with the community and even attended the outdoor camping event called Pork Fest, where there were conferences, restaurants, and vegan food that accepted Bitcoin.

The other community was called Calafou, located in Spain, and was part of the Cooperative Integral Catalan. They had left-anarchist beliefs and aimed to replace essential functions of the existing government. They started running their own schools and hospitals, had houses for people to stay in rural areas, and even manufactured furniture. I stayed at an abandoned factory for about a month and a half, which was split 50-50 between crypto people and traditional agriculture back-to-the-land folks. While there were aspects I was critical of, there were also fascinating things happening there.

Organizing core team and Settling in Montenergro Lustica Bay

The ideas originated from my personal readings and contemplation, but collaborating with the team swiftly filled in the finer details. Unlike the community aspect of Zuzalu, which drew inspiration from personal experiences rather than articles or books, I reached out to acquaintances like Miloš, Nicole, and Vincent to establish the core team. They brought in more people later. Nicole brought in young developers, while Vincent had connections in the longevity space and invited suitable candidates. For logistics, I entrusted Miloš, who proposed Montenegro as the ideal location. Montenegro's openness to embracing cryptocurrency and technology made it an ideal candidate for forging a partnership with the Ethereum and tech communities. Why Lustica Bay? Luxury was not my aim; I would have reduced the price and rating if possible. Exclusivity and benefiting only a select few were not my intentions. However, considering the experimental nature of the project and the constraints we faced, it was crucial to maintain a high level of quality. Lower standards would have led to discomfort and diverted attention from the essential aspects of the experience.

Last comunity dinner

Highlights in Zuzalu

My highlights in Zuzalu include the organic emergence of various events organized independently by community members, and the joy of being in one place for a long time with people I wanted to talk to. In fact, this was the longest time I had been stationary in one place since university, and it was a refreshing change from my usual nomadic lifestyle.

Zuzalu community hiking

I feel like there's lots of problem stemming from the fact that this was a hastily organized one-time experiment, resulting in various issues. Firstly, its cost remained high, necessitating subsidies to ensure its viability. Secondly, the educational component encountered difficulties, as topics were introduced but lacked adequate spaced repetition to reinforce knowledge effectively. Although there were achievements in areas such as exercise and food, the tracking of biomarkers fell short of expectations. Lastly, while the event brought happiness and yielded some positive outcomes, there is a lack of clarity regarding its long-term objectives. Repeating it annually without a clear purpose may not be worthwhile.

Bucket list for the Next Zuzalu

On a scale of 0-10, I'd rate my Zuzalu experience as a 9. There's plenty I hope we can implement in Zuzalu. More crypto payments, stronger artistic elements like banners, logos, and unique artworks scattered around. Additionally, I'd love to introduce more themes such as computer privacy, security, and safe use of devices. On the health side, there are countless things we can explore. A broader objective would be to evolve Zuzalu into a crypto-friendly, bio-friendly, and foreigner-friendly city in Montenegro. Perhaps even extend this concept to other small countries willing to adopt innovative and friendly policies. The last thing I want is to avoid the event becoming a mere annual gathering without meaningful impact.

Advice for next Zuzalu

Zupass, that's a project that could easily continue. Regarding the connection between Zupass and Ethereum, you can already verify your Ethereum wallet from inside your ZuPass. I also envision a future where people can reset their Zupass using their Ethereum wallet. This could make private key management much easier, especially given people's familiarity with wallets where they already have money.

So you guys are asking me to recommend for a vegan dessert recipe to use at a community dinner? There you go:

Vegen diet


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