Foreign Agencies on December 8th, 1996
Sunday, December 8, 1996
Safe in Cyberspace, Serbian Protests Flourish on the Net
By TRACY WILKINSON, Times Staff Writer
Students from the University of Belgrade opened a Web site on the Internet a few days after Milosevic annulled opposition victories in Nov. 17 municipal elections and as demonstrators marched through the streets in what has become a daily ritual.
Use of the Net allows the demonstrators to extend their 3-week-old protest beyond the borders of Serbia--and beyond the grasp of government censors.
"The idea was to get around the information blockade," said Predrag Cvetkovic, 21, a computer major and one of the minds behind the "Protest of '96" home page.
In the first few days of the students' new site, more than 10,000 hits were registered. Every day, the students put out press releases, petitions, photographs and other information that bounce the world over.
And then there's the e-mail. Hundreds of messages of praise and encouragement have come pouring in on the computer link.
"You have a lot of support from me in your defense of democracy," wrote Vlade Divac, a native of Yugoslavia who was a star center with the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team and now plays for the Charlotte hornets.
Ordinary Yugoslavs were unable to access computer networks until last
year because of U.N. economic sanctions imposed to punish Milosevic for
his role in promoting the war in neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Cyberspace began to open up late last year as the sanctions were
the students have linked to a number of "mirror sites" for protection against possible interference.
The students and other proponents of revolution-by-computer realize they are, in a sense, preaching to the choir. Anyone who can afford a computer or is savvy enough to be online is probably already aware of what is happening in Serbia and is likely to be supportive of the opposition movement.
The key to the success of Milosevic and Balkan strongmen like him has always been to play on people's ignorance and isolation. In rural areas where Milosevic's support remains strong, no independent media are available, much less computers.
But in several cities that were once strongholds of Milosevic's Socialist Party, like Nis in southern Serbia, local telephone numbers now enable computer hackers to sign on to providers and gain access to networks.
Moreover, it is the international solidarity that the students and Radio B-92 are counting on for their survival. The students, especially, are mindful of how easily Milosevic crushed the last major street protest against his regime, in 1991, and they are hoping that the Internet link and the publicity it brings will prevent history from repeating itself.
"When this [the protests] started, we were very big news," said Mihailo Tasic, 26, a psychology graduate student. "Time will come when we are not big news anymore. But as long as this goes on, we will be on the Net."
There is a bit of the underground involved too. Pantic and other hackers believe that the government still does not quite understand the Internet, although the ruling party recently opened its own Web site. It still seems to be the one flow of information the regime cannot stifle.
In one of the more mischievous uses of the Net, users can learn the e-mail address of Politika, the mouthpiece newspaper of the regime, and of the Yugoslav United Left, the Marxist political party of Milosevic's powerful wife, Mirjana Markovic. With a few clicks of the mouse, a user can send an electronic picture of an egg--the symbol of this protest movement--to Politika editors or to Markovic.
Especially among the huge Yugoslav expatriate community, the Web sites appear to have an enormous following.
Dusan Knezevic, a doctor from Belgrade who, like many in his generation, left Yugoslavia, signs on daily in his new home in New York to check the news and participate.
"It means there is a possibility of being involved in the events in Serbia and of supporting the opposition even though I am thousands of miles away," Knezevic, 31, said by telephone. "I can throw eggs at the regime and, even though I left, on the Internet I can demonstrate. I wish I could be there, but this is the next best thing."
"Protest of '96" Web site address is http://galeb.etf.bg.ac.yu/~protest96/
Copyright Los Angeles Times
Published Sunday, December 8, 1996, in the Miami Herald
Serbian students leave classroom to help shape history
Daily marches staged against leader Milosevic
By INGA SAFFRON
Knight-Ridder News Service
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- The most popular civics lesson that Belgrade University has ever seen now begins every day at high noon on the streets around Student Square.
That's when thousands of angry college students abandon their classrooms to join the growing protest against the government of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. There were nearly 25,000 of them in attendance Wednesday, a vast sea of plaid shirts and parkas and backward New York Yankees baseball caps. They sounded horns, blew whistles or simply shouted at the top of their lungs before marching to the Parliament Building.
Those twentysomethings represent Serbia's lost generation, the domestic victims of the failed war aimed at creating a Greater Serbia. In what has become a daily ritual of anti-government protests in the last 16 days, Serbia's disaffected youth have played an important role.
``Students are the only force outside the system,'' explained Dejan Devic, 22, a law student, who was preparing to march. ``We're the only ones who can start something.''
What they intend to start, however, isn't yet clear.
The opening act
The students' daily march through the city's center is only the opening act for a larger afternoon protest organized by a coalition of opposition parties known as Zajedno, or Together, a mixed group that includes ardent democrats as well as fervant nationalists. They began their protest on Nov. 18 after Milosevic's government moved to invalidate municipal elections that the opposition had won by a substantial margin.
When their ranks swelled to more than 100,000 people a day in Belgrade
and the demonstrations spread to other cities, the students begain
advocating a broader agenda. They now see a chance to overthrow
Milosevic and institute the kind of democratic changes other Eastern
European countries started more than five years ago.
``It might take 10 years to create a democracy, but these protests are a start,'' said Biljana Ratkovic, a medical student. ``If we don't try to change things now they'll be no future for us.'' Like many students interviewed, she expects that she will have to emigrate to find work after she graduates. ``People don't want to have to leave the country to live a normal life,'' she complained.
In the words of Vladimir Arsenejevic, who chronicles Yugoslavia's crisis in his novel In the Hold, ``These students are the ones who have `nothing left but to swear.' ''
Economy in ruins
Although Serbia was spared the fighting that devastated Bosnia and parts of Croatia during the Yugoslav war, its economy is in ruins. Thousands of young people have emigrated -- some because they wanted to avoid having to fight in Bosnia, others simply because there were no prospects at home. Thousands more who escaped the fighting elsewhere in Yugoslavia are now refugees in Serbia.
Now, having lost the hope of creating a Greater Serbia, the younger generation faces the daunting task of living in a much-diminished one.
``Milosevic destroyed this country,'' complained Alecsandra, a pharmacology student who said she was afraid to give her last name. ``He tortured this country for five years, all for nothing.''
Although many in Serbia objected to its support of the war in Bosnia, most people were too afraid during that period to challenge Milosevic. But now that the fighting has stopped, students say they feel freer to challenge his authoritarian rule.
Once the most prosperous
Before the start of the war in 1991, Yugoslavia was considered the most prosperous of the former communist countries in Eastern Europe. ``We lived better than everyone else,'' Alecsandra said, ``and now we live worse. We are guilty for that because we didn't do anything to change the situation.''
The feeling that they failed to create a democracy when they had the chance was brought home by the recent victories of democratic candidates in Bulgaria and Romania. ``If they could succeed, why can't we,'' asked Ratkovic, the medical student.
At the same time, many students are aware that the continuing protests could cause Milosevic to become even more authoritarian. Although he has refrained from using force against the demonstators so far, his government has cracked down on the independent media.
Besides shutting the two independent radio stations, his government has made it difficult for independent newspapers to distribute outside of Belgrade.
Until Wednesday, the state-controlled television and radio had ignored the protests except for mentions of ``hooligan violence'' on the streets of Belgrade. ``People who live 100 kilometers from Belgrade don't even know what's happening,'' Ratkovic said.
Blackout enrages students
This news blackout has enraged the students, who say that their actions
have been misrepresented. After oblique news reports complained that
Serbian ``children'' were being manipulated by ``fascists,'' the
students began carrying their red grade books during the marches to show
they were of university age.
For the first time Wednesday in Belgrade, one state-controlled television station gave a brief factual report of the demonstrations. The protesters say, however, that they will continue their demonstrations for at least 21 more days, vowing to equal the 37-day democracy protest that brought down the Czechoslovak communist government in 1989.
But many here believe Milosevic has time on his side. Winter and weariness may do more to end the protest than tanks.
Copyright (c) 1996 The Miami Herald
December 8, 1996
By CHRIS HEDGES
BELGRADE, Serbia -- When President Slobodan Milosevic, faced with large anti-government demonstrations, tried to shut down the last vestiges of an independent news media last week he unwittingly spawned a technological revolt he may soon regret.
Tens of thousands of students, professors, professionals and journalists
immediately connected their computers to Internet web sites across the
Many students, professors and professionals here have computers, and most people who don't seem to know someone who does have one. And the ties to the Internet are expected to take a huge leap forward within the next few days. B-92, which has had a site on the web for a year, is in the process of concluding a deal with supporters in the Amsterdam-based access service XS4ALL to record all its programming digitally and broadcast it over the Internet 24 hours a day. That would mean anyone in Serbia with access to a computer could hear the news over Internet audio links.
Government officials on Thursday ordered the deans of the Belgrade University departments to stop students from using university computers to send messages and receive information over the Internet. But with nearly all the professors in the universities behind the student protests, the order has been ignored. And university computer centers remain jammed with students. "We have taken over all the computers in the foreign language department and use them for the student's movement," said Natasa Milinkovic, 21.
Serbian Internet users have even drawn up plans in case the government attempts to cut the Internet lines. Thousands of faxes of eggs, sent over the Internet, will flood government fax machines. Eggs are often thrown during street protests.
Saturday, a three-minute news broadcast in English and Serbo-Croatian was available. "Lord David Owen contacted the Students' Protest 96 today via Internet and said that if there was anything that he could do in this private capacity to help them he would," said the announcer, Julia Glyn-Pickett, a Briton who teaches English at the university and works for the radio station.
Rasa Karapandea, an 18-year-old physics student at Belgrade University, sees the Internet as the tool by which a modern dictatorship will control its citizens. He and nine friends, though they say they do not support President Milosevic, have formed a group to sabotage the nascent Internet.
"The Internet is a dehumanizing addiction and the greatest single threat to human civilization," said Karapandea. "Fortunately the people who rule Serbia don't understand its danger, otherwise they would help it to grow. We are working on making viruses for Unix, the system the Internet uses, but it is well protected."
" We know how to destroy the DOS system, that is easy" he continued. "If we can't make a virus for Unix we can always cut the optical cable. This is my mission in life, to save the world from the Internet."