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Subject: OTR Civil Society in Kosovo, Issue 8
Date: Tue, 5 Oct 1999 15:35:04 -0400 (EDT)
From: The Advocacy Project <>

ON THE RECORD: //Civil Society in Kosovo//----------------------------
Your Electronic Link to Civil Society in Kosovo
Volume 9, Issue 8 -- October 5, 1999


In this issue:



>From the Editorial Desk:

     Over the last few weeks, subscribers to this series have been
     reading profiles of civil society in Kosovo. During this
     period one of the series editors, Teresa Crawford, has been
     working in Kosovo trying to link these and other
     organizations to the Internet.

     This represents a change of direction for The Advocacy
     Project. The Project was created last year to help community
     activists make better use of information technology. But so
     far, this has involved getting their messages out through our
     on-line newsletter On the Record. We have not offered
     technical support, for three reasons. First, we wanted to
     consolidate On the Record. Second, we did not possess the
     technical capacity. But mainly, it was a question of the
     opportunity not presenting itself.

     That opportunity has occurred in Kosovo. As subscribers will
     know, Teresa traveled to Kosovo in June, soon after the end
     of the bombing, to edit this series of On the Record with
     Peter Lippman. But Teresa wanted to do more than observe. She
     wanted to help some of the activists she had met in Kosovo on
     a previous visit in 1998.

     Once in Kosovo, Teresa linked up with Paul Meyer from the
     International Rescue Committee (IRC). Paul is another web
     enthusiast. During the refugee crisis earlier this year, he
     initiated an imaginative project (the Kosovar Family Finder)
     to download thousands of refugee names from the Internet and
     help reunite families. The third member of the project, Akan,
     is a Kosovar technical expert who formerly managed the
     computer network of the US Information Service (USIS) in
     Prishtina, and the first Email provider in Kosovo (

     Working together, Akan, Paul, and Teresa have spent the last
     two months under the auspices of the International Rescue
     Committee, trying to provide civil society in Kosovo with an
     electronic outlet. After many frustrations, their efforts
     finally paid off on September 20, when they sent out their
     first message from their small office in Prishtina. The next
     three issues tell the story of this experiment, and place it
     in context. *

     In addition to a new departure for The Advocacy Project, this
     is the first time that the Internet has been centrally
     integrated into a major UN peace-building mission.

     It would be irresponsible to exaggerate the importance of
     electronic information to a people that is struggling to cope
     with mass graves, landmines, and the departure of its
     minorities. But Kosovo's unique post-war situation is also
     proving to be an important test case for those who want to
     see the Internet put to a constructive use.

     On the one hand, it is clear that communications have a
     critical role to play in rebuilding war-torn societies like
     Kosovo. On the other hand, Kosovo is another reminder that
     the Internet cannot function in a vacuum. It needs money,
     computers, electricity, and a legal and administrative
     framework. All are in short supply in countries just emerging
     from war.

     It has not been easy for our colleagues in Kosovo to steer
     their project through these shoals. Even when the technical
     obstacles are overcome, there will be larger questions to
     answer: who takes over running the project? Which civic
     associations will be the first to benefit? Can the project be
     made commercially viable -- or will it always depend on

     Such questions face all aid agencies working in Kosovo -- and
     to this extent, the Internet project is merely one more
     aspect of the larger task of reconstruction. It is a reminder
     not just that the Internet is now a part of peace-building,
     but that peace-building has entered the information age.
     (Iain Guest)



- Transcending Ethnic Divisions in Bosnia

Electronic information became an instrument of war and peace
during the collapse of Yugoslavia. When the history of the
information age comes to be written, it will be associated with
some of the worst crimes committed in Europe this century -- but
also with heroic resistance.

The first major experiment in email was launched in June 1992 in
Zagreb and Belgrade, almost exactly a year after Croatia seceded
from Yugoslavia, triggering a brutal response from Serbia. The
violence of the conflict provoked a vigorous response from the
international peace movement. With support from the Soros Open
Society Institute, Eric Bachman -- an American peace activist who
had been living in Europe since 1969 -- established an electronic
network between peace groups in the region. It was named ZaMir
("For Peace") Transnational Net.

The ZaMir network was described by one article in Wired Magazine
as a "tangled fishing line tossed out between cities in the rump
of Yugoslavia, and a server in Germany." By 1995, it had "nodes"
in Belgrade (Serbia), Zagreb (Croatia), Tuzla and Sarajevo
(Bosnia), Ljubljana (Slovenia), and Skopje (Macedonia).

This network allowed beleaguered peace activists in these
countries to talk to each other and also to friends outside the
region. This was crucial in Bosnia, which had been turned into a
patchwork of besieged communities by the war. When ZaMirNet
reached Sarajevo in 1994, the city was still ringed by Serb tanks.
Apart from the UN humanitarian flights (which were restricted to
non-Bosnians) the only physical way in and out of the city was
through a tunnel under the airport. In northern Bosnia, entry into
the ZaMir network was provided by the Forum of Tuzla Citizens
(CTF) set up in 1993 with the goal of promoting inter-ethnic
contact. The Forum was to provide an electronic mailbox for 700
Internet-users in the Bosnian Federation during the war, receiving
and transmitting 70,000 messages. Many of them concerned life and
death issues.

The Bosnian war showed that email could be an instrument of peace
in interethnic conflict, because it could allow people to cross
ethnic frontiers and bypass centralized authorities that were
utterly opposed to free expression and interethnic contact.

This email network was able to vault over a telephone system that
also acted as a barrier to inter-ethnic cooperation. Bosnians who
lived in the Serb and Croat regions of Bosnia could only talk by
phone after passing through Belgrade or Zagreb. In contrast,
subscribers to ZaMirNet would dial up through the server in
Germany, passing through one of the six nodes, and talk to anyone
on the network. As one article noted: "Email has taken root in the
scorched earth of the Balkans."


But ZaMirNet also demonstrated the limitations of electronic
communications. First, it still depended on telephone lines, which
were increasingly degraded by the war. Second, it required
computers and electricity, which could certainly not be guaranteed
in war-time conditions. Third, it required money. When the war
ended in Bosnia, in September 1995, Soros stopped supporting
ZaMirNet. Presumably, the need was felt to be less compelling and
ZaMirNet was expected to become self-supporting. But this was
unlikely, given the desperate economic conditions in the region.
The 800 or so subscribers in Bosnia paid between five and 200
marks to the German server. But this was not enough to cover
costs. Charging commercial rates would mean losing customers.

Peace brought other pressures, including increased government
regulation. This might have been benign if the new Bosnian
government had been committed to inter-ethnic cooperation and free
speech. But Dayton produced a government that reinforced and
legitimized the divisions between the three major ethnic groups.
Added to this, the state-owned Bosnian telephone company was
reluctant to open up lines for Internet use.

This delayed one well-meaning initiative by the University of
Villanova, which collected scores of donated computers in the
United States for the Bosnian Constitutional Court and the Bosnian
Federation's Human Rights Ombudsmen. These two bodies were
obviously dedicated to inter-ethnic cooperation, and by helping
them, the University of Villanova could presumably be assured that
it was also helping to promote peace.

But it proved impossible to get enough phone lines from the
Bosnian PTT (Post and Telecom). Over a year passed before the
project was able to install Netscape and email programs on the
computers. It was a sober reminder than the Internet does not
exist in isolation. Even email requires an administrative, legal,
political, and financial framework.

- Milosevic and His Critics Fight it Out on the Internet

During the late 1990s, electronic information emerged as a key
player in the titanic struggle between the regime of Slobodan
Milosevic and his democratic opponents in Serbia. It was a
dramatic example of the cat and mouse game that was increasingly
being played out on the Internet between repressive regimes and
their critics.

At the heart of the confrontation was B 92, Serbia's renowned
independent radio station. Initially, to aid in them in their
work, B 92 used an Internet service provider (ISP) in Amsterdam.
In November 1995, with help from Soros, B 92 founded Opennet,
Belgrade's first Internet service provider and the only provider
in Serbia until March 1996. In the restricted environment in
Serbia starting Opennet was possible only because it was made
available to Serbia's academic network, and could be justified as
an educational tool.

B 92 thus had a connection to the Internet backbone in 1996, when
protests erupted in Serbia following Milosevic's decision to annul
the results of 18 municipal elections. Via the Internet the
station began to broadcast detailed accounts of the protests to
the outside world, and became a focus for democratic opposition to

In November 1996, the government responded by jamming B 92's radio
signals. B 92 replied by relaying its material through the
Internet, using a computer program called RealAudio, which allows
sound to be carried on the Internet. RealAudio carried B 92's
radio signals over low-speed connections to B 92's Internet
service provider in Amsterdam, where they were uploaded to B 92's
home page. This meant both the outside world and those with an
Internet connection in Serbia could still hear B92's broadcasts.
Even if B92's phone lines had been cut they could have found
another phone connection to Amsterdam. Their re-broadcasting could
only have been prevented by shutting down the entire Serbian
telephone system.

RealAudio's US manufacturer donated more powerful equipment, which
allowed more then 500 Internet users to hear the broadcasts at
once. On December 3, 1996, the Serbian government shut down B 92's
transmitters altogether. But this did not shut down the Internet
to Amsterdam. Round one to democracy.


The next major threat came two years later, on October 20, 1998,
in the form of a draconian information law, which banned all
broadcasts that spread "fear, panic, and defeatism," as well as
the re-broadcasting of foreign news programs. Two radio stations,
three newspapers, and a weekly news magazine were shut down. One
firm was fined US$500,000.

B 92's server, OpenNet, found itself under pressure. It was
difficult to obtain phone lines, which would allow subscribers to
dial in and log on. The Serbian authorities were aware of the
threat created by the Internet by now, and were looking for ways
to discourage its use. At one stage, they thought about taxing
Internet-users, but found it extremely difficult to identify them.
(This has frustrated other regimes. China has created a cyber
police force, dedicated to tracing those who use "subversive"

The Serbian government then placed a filter on web browsers at the
university, blocking sites such as B92's. OpenNet immediately
asked international friends to "mirror" (copy) its information
onto other unblocked sites, and distribute it by Email. Ten sites
responded, and the material began to circulate via distribution
lists, and find its way back into Serbia. Once again, the Serbian
authorities had been thwarted. On December 28, 1998, the filter
was removed. Round two to democracy.

- Supporting the Parallel Society in Kosovo

By the time that Milosevic confronted his critics in Belgrade,
Kosovo's civic organizations were using electronic information to
bolster the parallel society described in this series. One of the
first email systems used in Kosovo, ZanaNet, was run by Koha
Ditore, the largest Albanian-language newspaper distributed in
Kosovo. ZanaNet was established in 1994 and was part of the ZaMir
network described above. The Zana connection allowed subscribers
in Kosovo to communicate with the outside world through the server
in Germany. These were early days in the evolution of the
Internet: it was used almost exclusively for email (as opposed to
websites, downloading files etc).

By March of this year, there were four Internet service providers
in Kosovo - Pronet, Eunet, Co.yu, and the PTT. Of these, only
Pronet was owned and managed by Albanians.

Pronet became operational earlier this year, just before the NATO
intervention. The staff designed and maintained web sites for many
Kosovar organizations including the Mother Teresa Society, but
they were constantly being forced to hide their equipment from
Serbian forces. They also found it difficult to get access to
enough telephone lines. Pronet was operational for about a month
before the bombing, serving several hundred users.

Somewhat ironically, throughout the second half of the 1990s,
Kosovo's parallel society was dependent on three Serbian ISPs for
their connection to the outside world. Both Eunet and the PTT ISP,
based in Belgrade, had offices and equipment in Prishtina. This
meant that subscribers in Kosovo were able to call a local number
and get access to Internet and email, instead of dialing long
distance to Belgrade. This kept the expense down, but the
connection speed was slow and there were very few numbers to dial
in on. As a result, during peak times it was difficult to connect
and the modem would hang up regularly.

However meager, these opportunities were exploited to the full.
Radio 21, the independent Albanian radio station, broadcast
through the World Wide Web and was also able to get most of its
international content from the Web. Koha Ditore also took much
international content from the Web.

Of the groups profiled in this series, ELENA used Email to stay in
contact with friends and supporters abroad, and was sufficiently
connected to send a member to the Human Rights Defenders Summit
that took place in Paris in December 1998. (Editor's note: This
meeting was covered by On the Record - Volume 4). The Center for
the Protection of Women and Children sent out reports via email on
their work with women and appeals for support.

The Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms kept its
sensitive findings hidden in computers. It distributed reports on
Albanews, a distribution list of about a thousand subscribers, and
posted a webpage on


The main focus of electronic activity in Kosovo, as well as
opposition to Serbian rule, was to be found at the parallel
university, with campuses in Prishtina, Peja, and Mitrovica. The
university had 17,000 students and a faculty of 880. Following the
suppression of autonomy in 1989, students were only able to spend
about 15 minutes a week on computers in makeshift labs. Like
students everywhere, they were hungry for more. Those that could
afford computers and access, opened private Internet accounts.

By late 1997 students were impatient with the results of peaceful
opposition, and in October. protests began at the University. They
were organized by the student union and led by Albin Kurti and
Bujar Dugolli. Expressions of solidarity began to spring up on the
Internet. Kosovar websites were hosted on servers outside Kosovo
and exiled Albanians sent messages of support on distribution
lists created to inform the Albanian diaspora.

The following year, 1998, saw the partial implementation of
educational accords that had been negotiated between Milosevic and
Ibrahim Rugova, the Kosovar political leader. These allowed for a
limited return of Albanian students and faculty to the University
buildings. When professors and students returned to study in the
early part of 1999, they set up computer labs with support from

But by now the crisis in Kosovo had passed the point of no return.
In February 1998, Serbian forces attacked the villages of Drenica
with tanks and artillery in an attempt to crush the KLA. The
photos of crushed houses and bodies were put up on the web by Koha
Ditore. This was the first time that the world - and many Kosovars
- had seen what was happening.

Teresa Crawford was at the Council for the Defense of Human Rights
and Freedoms in Prishtina when the photographs first came in. She
recalls how the photographer's hands shook as he passed them
around. Soon afterwards, the photos appeared on the Web - on the
web pages of Koha Ditore and of the students.


Albanians in exile were also learning to exploit the Internet. In
the early 1990s there was relatively little information on the web
about Albanians and no way for Albanians in the diaspora to talk
to each other. A group of young men, two Albanians from Macedonia
and two from Kosovo, started the Albanews email distribution list
and the Albanian discussion list. During the NATO bombing this
year, the Albanews list was to become one of the most important
sources for information about what was happening inside Kosovo and
how the international community was reacting. At the height of the
bombing there were over forty postings a day to the list from
civil society in Kosovo, news outlets, humanitarian agencies and
people from all over the world.

In early 1999, the same group created a website,, and
set up an extensive web presence. This allowed them to post
pictures and history, and post the addresses of agencies that were
working with refugees. They developed and supported websites and
pages for numerous other Albanian civil society groups.


- Serbian Hackers Retaliate

As the parallel society in Kosovo assumed a higher profile in
emails and on the web in the late 1990s, it also attracted the
attention of nationalist Serbs, who also knew how to exploit
electronic information. On October 24, a group of hackers, calling
themselves the Black Hand, declared "electronic war" against
Albanian websites. One called a Belgrade newspaper and issued a
warning that they would "remove Albanian lies from the Internet,"
and attack the NATO site.

The hackers sent a flood of email messages to one of the more
outspoken Albanian sites,, causing it to crash
several times. Hackers also took over the website of Zik, an
Albanian news site published in Switzerland. According to the BBC,
the owners of wanted to take legal action against the
hackers, but decided it would be hard enough to trace the source
of the sabotage, and almost impossible to prosecute. (For details
of this episode consult the International Justice Watch Discussion
List archives at
"Serbian hackers declare computer war on 'anti-Serb' websites",
Friday, 23 Oct 1998.)

After attacking the Albanian sites, the Serbian hackers moved
against Croatia, where they attacked the largest Croatian daily
English pages <>. Croatian hackers retaliated
swiftly by tearing down the pages of Serbian National University
Library (NSB). The cyber war was truly under way.

                           * * *
In the next issue: War in Kosovo, War in Cyberspace
On the Record is a publication of The Advocacy Project
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