ZaMir:Peace work in the Warzone

PART II
Enters Internet. Early in 1991, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) proposed a "Trust Link" between the conflicting sides in ex-Yugoslav war. When the anti-war and human rights groups of former Yugoslavia began to organise, they had found it impossible to coordinate their activities due to immense communication difficulties. In October, several peace groups (War Resisters International – WRI, International Forum On Reconciliation -IFOR, etc…) from countries that still had good telephone connections to both Zagreb and Belgrade agreed to relay FAXes received from one peace group on to the other group across the militrarized border. In early 1992 the COMMUNICATIONS AID project for the people in former Yugoslavia was launched by the foreign peace groups together with the Center for the Culture of Peace and Nonviolence (Ljubljana), the Anti-War Campaign (Zagreb) and the Center for Anti-war Action (Belgrade). Modems were given to peace and anti-war groups in Ljubljana, Zagreb, Belgrade and Sarajevo. A Vietnam War-era conscientious objector from rural Pensylvania, Eric Bachman, came to former Yugoslavia to install those modems and set up the network. Eric was invited in September 1991 by the Antiwar Campaign in Zagreb for a seminar on nonviolent conflict resolution – the field in which he has been working for over 20 years as a peace activist in Bielefeld (near Hannover), Germany.

Because the telephone lines were not completely destroyed but the remaining ones were overloaded, it was suggested that they could be used at night for communication by computers using electronic mail. Until the Spring of 1992, it was generally possible to make telephone connections between Belgrade and Zagreb or Ljubljana or even more distant cities after midnight. This meant that electronic mail – a BBS (Bulletin Board System) using computers, modems and the telephone lines – would work.

Spring 1992 was marked both by world recognition of Croatian sovereignty and by the beginning of the incredibly cruel war in Bosnia. After spring 1992 it was not possible to connect directly across borders in the former Yugoslavia, so connections were made indirectly through Austria, Germany or Britain. Because the server in Belgrade (ZAMIR-BG) and the server in Zagreb (ZAMIR-ZG) could not connect directly (direct telephone lines were destroyed in the war), they had to exchange their messages via another server as a stepping stone to forward messages to each other. This also enabled a connection with the world-wide networks of BBS's. Self-imposed nationalist dictators lost their power to prevent communication of their people beyond the borders of their police-states.

This is the first time such a situation arise since the construction of Arpanet in 1969, and Arpanet was commissioned by the US Defense Department to sustain communications in a hypothesized similar communications breakdown due to nuclear warfare. Since nuclear war never happened, former Yugoslavia has proved an oportunity to test the Internet for its orginal purpose as Arpanet.

Some of the existing BBS's in Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia were willing to support the development of a larger network. The existing AdriaNet (in Slovenia and Croatia) had to be supported and enlarged. The connections between the AdiraNet and GreenNet were started. A BBS in Belgrade was connected into the AdriaNet. The AdriaNet introduced two new topic areas for the use of the peace groups.

However, AdriaNet worked poorly due to unavailability of sysops, a failing BBS in Belgrade, poor quality of phone lines and bad luck in general. In the meantime, a foreign volunteer experienced in e-mail, Wam Kat of the netherlands joined the Antiwar Campaign in Zagreb and connected into the world-wide e-mail network by directly telephoning to the London-based GreenNet. This step provided excellent and speedy communications to and from the Zagreb Antiwar Campaign, but it was very expensive. Also, it was no help for other antiwar and peace groups, especially those in Serbia. Wam later became known to the Internet community interested in former Yugoslavia for his Zagreb Diaries.

The Antiwar Campaign in Zagreb and the Center for Antiwar Action in Belgrade decided to set up their own BBS network. In July, 1992 Eric helped install a BBS system in Zagreb and one in Belgrade. In both cities, the BBS was installed in a computer which was in use for other purposes during the day and also had to use a telephone line which was normally used for voice communication. The new BBS's "ZaMir-ZG" (For Peace – Zagreb) and "ZaMir-BG" (For Peace – Belgrade) which exchanged mail by way of Austria were now connected with each other and the rest of the world. Leters could be sent overnight from Zagreb to Belgrade and from Belgrade to Zagreb. Within 12-to-24 hours letters could be sent and received to and from any other BBS in the APC (Association for Progressive Communications) Network and associated networks. Gateways to other e-mail networks are also available. Users can send and recieve messages from anyone with a valid Internet e-mail address. By the end of 1992 both BBS got their own phone lines and computers (a 386 40 MHz, 200 MB Harddisk in Zagreb and a 386 40 MHz with a 170 MB Harddisk in Belgrade) with Trailblazer PEP modems, which work even on very bad telephone lines. It was also possible to set up very reliable communications with the relay BBS in Vienna, LINK-ATU. Za-mir Transnational Network (ZTN) was born.

The International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA), an NGO that has a task force for aid to former Yugoslavia, has set up its own BBS in Geneva (ICVAGE). Since April 1993, it uses the ZTN to have better contact with it's member orgnisations working in Serbia and Croatia. An overlay network of ICVA conferences is now available on ZAMIR-ZG and ZAMIR-BG. International financial mogul George Soros' Open Society Institute, which is one of the main sponsors of the network, uses the ZTN too.

By the summer of 1993, there were a total of 375 users in Belgrade, of which only 7 were groups. In Zagreb there were about 125 users including 27 groups. The large amount of individual users in the Belgrade BBS was due to the fact that other channels of electronic communication from Serbia to the outside world were still very difficult, if not imposible.

In June 1994 two women, Cecilia Hansen-Poulsen and Kathryn Turnipseed, started Electronic Witches. They co-authored a user's guide to the communications software of ZTN (Cross Point) which made it more user-friendly and resulted in more users. They trained seventy-two women who represent twenty-eight organizations: Women War Victims, B.a.B.e., Women in Black, Anti-War Campaign in Croatia, etc. Electronic Witches affords the opportunity for women from divergent backgrounds who are pursuing a diversity of life and work ambitions and living under widely varying levels of state violence to communicate with each other. This provides a rich view into gender relations, which cut across ethnic, class, and urban/rural divisions. Universally, women involved in ZaMir's Electronic Witches conference expressed frustration with the habit of the local and foreign media of making women visible only as symbols or victims of the war's horrors.

According to Eric, today there are more than 1700 users (Wam believes there are more), ranging in age from 12 to 68, in 5 different BBSs (Zagreb, Beograd, Ljubljana, Sarajevo and Pristina). The oldest user is a woman of 68 who often jokes: "Statistically I am too old to do this." ZaMir recently began offering walk-in service, too. ZTN only offers e-mail and conferences/newsgroups. The ZTN has its own conferences which are exchanged betwen the 5 BBSs. Additionally the ZTN offers more than 150 international conferences (from the APC, ComLink, Z-Netz, T, UseNet, HRNet, etc.) which can be read and written to by the users. (see list in the appendix). As ZTN is not directly connected to the Internet it cannot offer the services like gopher, ftp, telnet, archie, veronica, web.

Very limited services are available in Belgrade, Sarajevo and Pristina. Zagreb has the most developed system, with technical support and a "hot-line" for users and connection to srce.hr via carnet, a Croatian network with 13 ftp and url sites, but a slow 68 kbps connection to Internet. Belgrade is often down and has a lot of technical problems. Soon, however, there is hope to have the Zagreb and Ljubljana systems fully on Internet. Eric believes Ljubljana to be the first. That is, ZTN will use the Internet data transfer. ZTN will still not offer any internet services for the simple reason that there is not enough copper wire. The few telephone lines in use are fully occupied with the transfer of public and private mail and newsgroups. There is no timespace avaiable for offering the ohter services. Of course users can use e-mail-ftp, e-mail-archie, e-mail-gopher, e-mail-www, etc… ZTN uses the cheaper (but slower) store and forward method than Internet does. Messages are stored in the computer until it makes its regular connection to another server. This happens at least 4 times a day and sometimes even every hour. The easiest way to check upon ZTN developments is to contact Eric, Wam, or the coordinating center in Ljubljana: balkanmedia@zamir-lj.ztn.zer.de -> ask for Willem Houwen, Bojana Humar or Sanja.

Most of the BBS's send and/or receive approximately 500 kilobytes a day. this includes public and private messages. This costs approximately 400 DM a month for each system. Zagreb BBS produces approximately 2 MB a day in newsgroups and sends/receives about 2 MB a day. Most users of the ZTN are still not charged for the communication services. The local running costs (telephone, electricity) have been covered by the Centre for Antiwar Action in Belgrade and the Antiwar Campaign and Suncokret (The Sunflower – Anti- War Campaign's branch for work with refugees) in Zagreb.Nevertheless, regular support for the costs of running the system are still needed. Although the internatonal networks to which the ZTN is connected (many thanks to APC, CL, Z-Netz) have waived most of the costs for the time being (they also run on a nonprofit basis and do not have excess funds), there are regular expenditures which have to be covered.

BBSs in Zagreb and Belgrade were set up only with the support of peace groups from Western Europe. At the beginning they also supported the costs for transferring the data. In late 1993, the National Endowment for Democracy began to cover the telephone costs (now DM 3,000 a month, approx US$2,000 a month), and Soros began to fund some of the work. Soros funded most of the Ljubljana system (ZAMIR-LJ; set up in February 1994), and all of the Sarajevo system (ZAMIR-SA; set up in March 1994). The Pristine system (ZANA-PR), set up in October 1994, was funded by groups from the Netherlands. Soros also has financed Eric's work on the system since latter part of 1993. Since January 1995, ZTN is asking for fees its users in Croatia.

The Sarajevo's node has about 700 users. Zagreb ZaMir serves as a hub for Sarajevo. Zagreb calls Sarajevo 4 times a day through a satellite connection and connects it to the ICVAGE system in Geneva and then to BIONIC in Bielefield, Germany, and *then* to the other ZTN systems and the rest of the world. For Sarajevo, this is the only link to the outside world, and it is used by the UN too. BIONIC became the central server in the ZTN connecting Belgrade, Zagreb, Ljubljana, Sarajevo and the rest of the world. BIONIC is also connected through OLN (a ComLink node in Hannover) to the GreenNet in London, which provides the APC and Internet feed. ZTN is now, together with HISTRIA, full member of the Association for Progressive Communication (APC) world wide network. The APC includes e-mail systems or servers in Africa, Asia, Austrailia, South America, Europe and North America. Histria will probably soon become the commercial Internet provider in the area.

With the help of this e-mail network it has been possible to find and coordinate humanitarian aid for some of the many refugees of the war. It has become an important means of communication for humanitarian organisations working in the war region and sister organisation from other countries. It helps to coordinate work of activists from diferent countries of former Yugoslavia, and it also helps to coordinate the search for volunteers to aid in war reconstruction. Wam Kat, a volunteer who came for a one-month stint in Croatia, ended up staying for for over two years. He began to write a daily dairy so that his two young sons would later know what their father was doing. This "Zagreb Diary" is posted regularrly in the public conference called "/APC/YUGO/ANTIWAR".

The conference "/APC/YUGO/ANTIWAR", started by Nenad Milivojevic from the youth chapter of the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society in 1991, was the first interational e-mail conference which was opened to deal with working to stop the war in ex-Yugolsavia. It now contains the equivalent of 5,000 pages of messages, ideas, opinions, suggestions, actions and discussion about the subject.

ZTN helped facilitate exchange of information undistorted by goverment propaganda between Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia. "The media [in former Yugoslavia] were used to turn people against each other," Eric Bachman told Germany's Die Zeit newspaper. "We are building up a medium that brings people together." Now independent magazines like Arkzin (Croatia) and Vreme (Serbia) publish their electronic editions on ZTN and are being read by the "other side". In fact, many people read ZTN-produced information, the U.S. government included. Through ZaMir, Bosnian refugees in San Francisco have e-mailed contacts back home and traced lost relatives. Some American entrepreneurs once sent a query asking whether raspberries were still being planted in former Yugoslavia because they wanted to get back into business. And a Sarajevan who pleaded, “Please send Doom,'' was bombarded with software from around the world.

When Serbian authorities imposed their own directors on the Belgrade newspaper Borba in December, ousted journalists gave the world their side of the story using ZTN. In desperate need of antibiotics last year, Kosevo Hospital in Sarajevo issued an appeal via the network. Operation Rescue (which has nothing to do with the Operation Rescue in the U.S.) got medicine through. When 10 opposition activists from Split were arrested by Croatian authorities and beaten in prison in 1993, supporters sent out daily reports via the net. The beatings stopped. In 1992 a group of young people barricaded themselves in the Hungarian Cultural Center in a small village of Tresnjevac (Oromhegyes) in Northern Serbia refusing to be drafted for the war Serbia waged against Croatia and Bosnia. They declared independence and sovereignty. They assumed a name Zitser Spiritual Republic (Zitser is a term used in a game of pool there, when you get a ball in the pocket in one clean shot). Their antem was Ravel's Bolero and their coat of arms became a Pizza pie surrounded with three billiard balls. War Resisters League from Hungary (Alba Kor) helped spread the word using Internet. In the effort for them to be able to keep in touch they needed a computer with modem. A New York based group of artists and activists, Neither East Nor West organized a benefit rock concert in CBGB's in November 1993 to raise funds for that purpose. New Yorker later wrote about the event. Today ZSR is on-line: zsr@zamir-bg.ztn.zer.de

Messages from Sarajevo may be terse: "Sejo Alimanovic has died from the grenade that landed near our electric station a few days after New Year's," but more often they are cynical: "So much support for Sarajevo," says ZaMir operator Mladen Rifelj with a sigh in his office with bullet-cracked and taped windows, responding to a Miami hacker Banzai Runner, who wrote "No, you are not forgotten!." Mladen said in response: "We have so much emotional and moral support we should be in the Guinness Book of Records."

Recently renewed conflict between Croatian Army and Serbian insurgents around Pakrac has harmed three years of international volunteers' struggle on rebuilding and reconciliation between Serbs and Croats in Pakrac area. Pakrac was divided in two – on East Pakrac (Serb) and West Pakrac (Croat) – before the latest Croatian offensive this May. Now, Pakrac is fully under control of Croatian government. Nevertheless, a lot of Serbs fled the area seeking refuge in the Serb held areas of Bosnia. (You can check on the latest news with the coordinator Goran Bozicevic at pakrac_da@zamir- zg.ztn.zer.de).

The next steps for the ZTN is to help set up systems in other cities in the post-Yugoslav countries, especially in regions of Bosnia & Herzegovina that have difficulty connecting to the rest of the world. Eric just finished setting up Tuzla (25 fresh new users; try it: cosysop@zamir-tz.ztn.zer.de) and Conflict Resolution Catalysts (Montpelier,VT) have in mind setting up Banja Luka soon. Two Bielefeld artists, Rena Tangens and her partner, who calls himself Padeluun, who are the programmers of the ZTN-BBS software "ZERBERUS", and who tend the 2.6 gigabytes of BIONIC computer mailbox power which provides a gateway for the ZTN to the rest of the world, helped organize the Sarajevo On-Line ten-day event this April out of their dimly-lit basement. It was an effort to set up e-mail to paper mail interfaces to help refugees, families and friends that are separated. In plain English: messages were e-mailed to anybody who had both access to a computer and to some other means of communication (mail, telephone), and then forwarded to the inteneded recipient who might not have the necessary access to a computer.

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