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Ester Dobiášová

What Goes Around, Comes Around: Trading Cash-Free Treasures in Czechia

A hand-crafted piece of art becomes a book of anecdotes, a broken gramophone is traded for homemade plum fritters, and a landscape photography class is bartered for a lecture on traveling in Asia. Every object, skill, and experience carries its own special value that cannot be measured in Koruna alone. That is why activists in Brno decided to turn Hall Malá into an exchange market for trading goods and services entirely cash-free.

Meigo, a black dog in a red collar, offered his own Services at the event, called Moneyless Space.“Free dog therapy. P.S.: Just talk to me or pet me,” read the cardboard sign. Boxes of vinyl records, carvings, and books were also laid out on tables and palettes in the massive Hall Malá Amerika. A cord was fastened between two columns at the entrance of the venue, holding old jewelry and clothes. The booth operators waited for their customers to bring objects to barter – not bills. One man, for example, traded in a woven bag for a photo-portrait. Others paid in homemade Cookies.

Experiences and skills were also on offer. “At the last Moneyless Space, I didn’t have time to trade, so I just laid out a few things people could take with them for free,” one of the organizers, Jana Hrušková recalled. “A woman offered to cook me a vegetarian lunch in exchange for a book. I would have never gotten to know her without this event!”

Moneyless Space in Brno

The Moneyless Space event is a place where the worth of goods, services, and experiences is not measured in hard cash. Everyone can take part by either offering something for free or in exchange for something else. Moneyless Spaces, or “zones,” can already be found in several Czech and Slovakian cities. The motivation to create such a space in Brno came from Ivan Prouza und Adriana Gálová, who had already participated in similar events in the Slovakian town of Piešťany. During the event in November, the two were enthralled by the large number of visitors, as well as the pleasant atmosphere.

“Everyone has a lot of stuff at home that they don’t need anymore. For someone else, these things can have real value. That’s why vendors and visitors have no problem agreeing on trades and donations on the spot. Among other things, the Moneyless Space is an effective and sustainable way to circumvent mass production and the ensuing process of buying and discarding goods, only to replace them with newer versions,”Jana describes her trading philosophy. She’s also a member of Food not Bombs, a group of activists that distributes free food every Saturday at 4pm at Brno’s Moravské náměstí. At the Moneyless Space, Food not Bombs offered “freeganically-sourced” goulash alongside of information about their activities.

The Moneyless Space is not only about trading, but also about learning.

In November, for example, participants offered lectures about waste removal, activism, and workshops on making collages, jewelry, and Tetra Pak wallets, also known as “recy-wallets.” There were also introductory courses on vegan cooking.

Moneyless Space in Hala Malá Amerika in Brno. Author: Ester Dobiášová ©

Moneyless Space in Hala Malá Amerika in Brno. Author: Ester Dobiášová ©

The Social Aspect

Even though the Moneyless Space only occurs at a specific time and place in November and May, its organizers aim to inspire people to proactively integrate moneyless trading into their everyday lives, as well. “Compared to other cities, maybe there’s a stronger focus here in Brno to make Moneyless Spaces more than just a sub-culture. For example, we’ve tried to actively approach and invite people who are homeless, or who live in unstable conditions,” explains Jana. However, she emphasizes that the Moneyless Space is not meant to become an extension of or replacement for Social Services.

“Everyone is helping in their own way. Jana works with homeless people and I focus on immigrants,” co-organizer Ivan Prouza adds. “I remember an African family last year conversing with a trader in English, which added a multi-cultural touch to the event.” The family hopes to receive asylum in the Czech Republic, Ivan tells me. “They don’t know how to raise money. They only receive minimal financial support from the state, which at the same time prohibits them from working during their first year of application for asylum. The system hinders them from realizing their own potential,” Ivan describes a pervasive problem affecting other immigrants as well.

Homeless people are in a similar dilemma, since without a place of permanent residence, it is difficult to get a job. Ideally, the Moneyless Space can provide a platform for these people to boost their self-confidence by allowing them to help others who value their support – without waiting for someone to employ them first. The Moneyless Space thus offers a concrete time and place for individuals with fewer opportunities to go and apply themselves.

Scaling Up Values

Of course, the idea of exchange is not new. On a European level, the LETS (Local Exchange Trading System) operates in Brno as well. The website (translation from Czech: don’t throw it away!), for instance, presents another alternative to mass consumption, offering people a platform to donate or trade their goods and services. Moreover, there is also freemarket and other, smaller exchange markets. Unlike these platforms, however, the Moneyless Space’s primary goal is to help people meet and connect in person, outside of the traditional working or commercial environment. In doing so, they strengthen their awareness of values beyond financial incentives.

Felix Novák, who primarily looks after the space’s technical equipment, adds, “We know that it’s not easy to scale up this event. Still, we want to show that there are alternative economic systems and ways of exchange. We focus on inspiring people and showing them that there are other ways of doing things.”
This article first appeared on jádu, the Young German-Czech Online Magazine, a project by Goethe-Institut Prague. You can find the original article(“What Goes Around, Comes Around: Trading Cash-Free Treasures in Brno”) here.

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Ester Dobiášová
Cultural activist

    Ester is a cultural enthusiast. If she is not reading, she probably writes a story, watches a movie or explores her surroundings – close by and far away – with her camera. She is interested in art, theatre and is really into geocaching giving her the opportunity to get to know many interesting places.

    Themes: Economy, Reportage,
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