COMMUNICATIONS AID in the post Yugoslavia countries

REPORT - September 1991 - January 1995


Since the summer of 1991, when the anit-war and human rights groups of former Yugoslavia increasingly began to organise themselves and coordinate activities, they have encountered immense communication difficulties. With the start of open warfare in Croatia normal communications were disrupted. Not only did travel by train or road between Croatia and Serbia become impossible but the destruction of many telephone connections caused an overload of the existing lines. Telephone calls between Zagreb and Belgrad, for example, became almost impossible. The few telephone lines which exist to Bosnia-Herzegovina are being increasingly destroyed by the war. The disruption of the postal system meant an almost total breakdown of communication, especially those working on opposite sides of the fighting.

GOAL OF THE PROJECT -- 1991-1992

The purpose of this project is to help the anti-war, peace, human rights, NGO and media groups in the various countries and regions of former Yugoslavia to be able to communicate better with each other. Additionally, it should help them to communicate with people and groups in the rest of the world.

In a situation where prejudice, hate and fear between people of different ethnic bacgrounds has grown almost unchallenged, it is necessary to start with building up communication links. Helping people to reach out to each other, to begin a new relationships, to revive old friendships is of utmost importance.

The COMMUNICATIONS AID is not only for an exchange of letters, messages, news and ideas among the peace groups, but it it is helping people from both sides of the conflict begin to communicate again with each other. (This idea was first expressed in a proposal of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) in former Yugoslavia for a "Trust Link" between the conflicting sides.) It is being enlarged to enable humanitarian aid groups, NGO's (non-governmental organisations), educationational institutions and others to use the network. Additionally it can, for example, provida the basis of a communication network to help refugees and displaced persons to find each other. How far it could be developed is dependent largely upon the amount of financial support the project receives.

This project for COMMUNICATIONS AID for the people in former Yugoslavia has been developed together with the Center for the Culture of Peace and Nonviolence (Ljubljana), the Antiwar Campaign (Zagreb) and the Center for Antiwar Action (Belgrad). Of course it is planned to include any peace groups in former Yugoslavia that may want to join it.

FAXHELP - the first step

In October 1991 several peace groups (WRI, IFOR, etc...) from countries that still had good telephone connections to Zagreb and Belgrad agreed to relay FAXes received from one peace group on to the other group. This was a big help for the groups in former Yugoslavia and also for groups from countries, like Germany, that had great difficulties reaching Belgrad directly, but better communications was needed.

ELECTRONIC MAIL - the next step

Because the telephone lines were not completely destroyed but the remaining ones were just overloaded, it was suggested that they could be used at night for communication by computers using electronic mail. I found out that even until the Spring of 1992 it was generally possible to make telephone connections between Belgrad and Zagreb or Ljublana or even more distant cities, if it was done during the night (after midnight). This meant that electronic mail --a BBS (Bulletin Board System) using computers, modems and the telephone lines-- would work. And even if it would later not be possqible to connect directly with another city from former Yugoslavia, then we would connect indirectly through Austria, Germany or Britain. This would also enable a connection with the world-wide networks of BBS's.

Some of the existing BBS's in Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia were willing to support the development of a larger network. The existing AdriaNet was to be supported and enlarged.

Phase I

The first phase begann in December 1991 and January 1992. Modems were given to peace and anti-war groups in Ljubljana, Zagreb, Belgrad and Sarajevo. The connections between the AdiraNet and GreenNet were started. I installed these modems and gave preliminary training to people from different peace groups. The first steps taken to connect a BBS in Belgrade into the AdriaNet. The AdriaNet introduced two new topic areas for the use of the peace groups.

Unfortunately the system operator (sysop) of the AdriaNet BBS in Zagreb was not able to keep his system running on a regular basis. The email exchange with other BBS's in the AdriaNet did not always work. The BBS in Belgrad was also not able to carry out a regular exchange with other BBS's in the AdriaNet. The cause of these difficulties were overwork and or inavailability of the sysop and also the very poor quality of the telephone lines. The help which was given in phase I was not enough to get the communication going. Several peace goups now had the means to communicate by email, but the local BBS's were not able to fullfill their role to pass on the messages.

In the mean-time a foreign volunteer experienced in email (Wam Kat) joined the Antiwar Campaign in Zagreb and connected directly into the world-wide email network by directly telephoning to the London-based GreenNet. This step provided excellent and speedy communications to and from the Zagreb Antiwar Campaign, but was very expensive. Also it was no help for other antiwar and peace groups, especially those in Serbia. Therefore it was necessary to begin the next phase of the project.

Phase II - one BBS in Zagreb and one in Belgrade

The Antiwar Campaign in Zagreb and the Center for Antiwar Action in Belgrad decided to set-up their own BBS network. In July, 1992 I helped install a BBS system in Zagreb and one in Belgrad. 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 12-24 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 (connections) to other email networks are also available. Users could send and recieve messages from anyone with a valid Internet email address.

Belgrade -- ZAMIR-BG in the Center for Antiwar Action

Unfortunately, the ZaMir Network was not able to run as well as was planned. The computer in Belgrad (a old laptop with a small harddik) was not adequate for the task of a BBS. The limited hardware caused problems. Also the single telephone line which had to be shared between voice, fax and computer communications was completely overloaded. Training for a system operator was also needed.

Zagreb -- ZAMIR-ZG in the Antiwar Campaign

In Zagreb they also needed a computer dedicated to the BBS. And a dedicated telephone line was necessary as well. Within the limits of the hardware (limited number of hours online each day) it was working well. In spite fo the difficulties the international e-mail exchange began to work.The telephone costs were reduced. The BBS "ZaMir-ZG" is being used by people from the peace groups there and has attracted an increasing number number of other users. It is also possible to use the BBS to send faxes.

Zamir Transnational Net (ZTN) begins to work

The connection between Zagreb and Belgrade was working, albeit with great difficulty. To seriously implement this phase of the COMMUNICATION HELP there was a need for additional equipment and software. The most important item is a dedicated computer system and telephone line in both Zagreb and Belgrade. A special modem to compensate for the very bad telephone lines in Belgrade was also needed. Regular support for the costs of running the system were and 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.

In September 1992 I installed a new computer (a 386 40 MHz with a 170 MB Harddisk) in Belgrade. It is dedicated solely to the ZAMIR-BG BBS. Together with a new modem (Trailblazer PEP) which works even on very bad telephone lines and a dedicated telephone line it was possible so set up very reliable communications with the relay BBS in Vienna, LINK-ATU.

I found an organisation (Brethren Volunteer Service) that was willing to send a volunteer to the Centre for Antiwar Action to support the COMMUNICATION AID project. In October I trained the volunteer (Patrick Morgan) to use the email programmes and in November he joined the staff of the Center for Anti-War Action in Belgrade for one year. His responsible was to keep the email system running to facilitate communication.

During December 1992 the computer system in Zagreb was causing big problems. We were still using a borrowed computer and shared telphone lines (on a two-party line). The system operator was traveling for several weeks and during that time the harddisk crashed and the email program went offline. No one there knew how to get the system running again. The result was that ZAMIR-ZG was off line for about 4 weeks. By this time there were a number of users who were actively using the email system and were upset about the unreliability of the system.

As a result of this problem, funds were found and a new computer was bought (a 386 40 MHz, 200 MB Harddisk). After some difficulties a dedicated telephone line was also found. This was installed at the end of December 1992. Since then the ZTN has been very reliable.

One year of Zamir

By the summer of 1993 there are a total of 375 users in Belgrade, of which only 7 are groups. In Zagreb there are about 125 users including 27 groups. The large amount of individual users in the Belgrade BBS is due to the fact that other channels of electronic communication from Serbia to the outside world are still very difficult, if not imposible. The system operators in Zagreb have done a lot of work to involve as many groups as possible to join and use the system. There are also many more international humanitraian aid groups active in Croatia. In Belgrade there is much more work to be done on this aspect. There is a lack of the necessary equipment for the groups and also a lack of training to introduce groups to the system.

Each 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. 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 in Zagreb. Future plans call for raising more funds and spreading the costs among the users.

The ZTN has ist own conferences which are exchanged betewwn the system in Zagreb and Belgrade. Additionally the BBS's offers more than 150 international conferences (from the APC, CL, Z, T, Usenet, etc.) which can be read and written to by the users. (see list in the appendix)

In Zagreb there was at least one meeting of users to help organize the BBS. More and more organisations are using the email systems. 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.

The ZTN grows 1993 -1994

The software and hardware were updated or two system. Fluctations in the electrical supply were causing problems so UPS's were installed. New telephone lines were ordered in Belgrade and Zagreb to enable more users to access the systems. Unfortunately this could not be realized quickly. In Belgrade it has not been possible to get a seconsd telephone line, even by the beginning of 1995 we have no second line. In Zagreb we had to wait for about 2 years before we finally had the second line installed. Even then it cost 1 400 DM just to get it installed.

At the end of 1993 we switched the international servers; from LINK-ATU in Vienna, Austria to BIONIC in Bielefield, Germany. In February 1994 a new BBS (ZAMIR-LJ) was installed in Ljubljana, Slovenia and in March 1994 ZAMIR-SA was installed in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina. Because of the war, the siege of Sarajevo it waswas quite difficult to install. I was very happy to be able to get a telephone, electricity, a computer and international connections all together at one place within three weeks. The Sarajevo conection was being routed via 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. BIONIC became the central server in the ZTN connecting Belgrade, Zagreb, Ljubljana, Sarajevo and the rest of the world.

In October 1994 a fifth server, the ZANA-PR was set up in Pristina, Kosova. So the network now includes 5 BBS's offering email, newsgroups, Internet connectivity for email, local newsgroups / conferences.

Since the end of 1994 we the ZTN are now, together with HISTRIA, full members in the APC world wide network. Our new domain which will soon be implemented is "ZTN.APC.ORG". We have over 1 700 users on 5 different servers in 5 different cities.

It is very difficult to server so many users with the few telephone lines that are available. We ask users to make use of point programs that allow quick and automatic netcalls into the BBS's instead of working online. Especially in Sarajevo there are also many users who come into the office to type their letters (the have no compuer themselves) or they exchange the files via floppy disk, because they have no modem or no telephone. We are also having to deal with many technical difficulties such as bad quality telephone lines and repeated electricity failures.

The future

The next steps for the ZTN is to help set up systems in some other cities in the post Yugoslav countries. Especially in regions of Bosnia & Herzegovina that have difficulty connecting to the rest of the world.

We are also trying to help set up email to paper mail interfaces to help refugees, families and friends that are seperated to have a better chance of communication with each other. We are looking for support for modems and computers for NGO's who are not yet connected.

We need to do a lot of training to help the users to become more proficient and to train new users.

For the new users we need to gain access to additional telephone lines. The lack of new lines is one of our biggest difficlties is giving adequate access to our users.

We also are trying to get the BBS's closer to Internet. That way we can provide a quicker exchange of messages.

Thanks to all who supported us

Since the beginning of 1993 both ZAMIR-BG and ZAMIR-ZG have reliable email exchange with each other and with other networks around the world. This has only been possible with the help from a number of people and groups in many different countries. The email networks --Association for Progressive Communication (APC), the ComLink network(CL), the Z-Netz have been very helpful be providing the infrastructure for the transport of the email and have either reduced their fees or offered their services for free.

We have been especially supported by the system operators of the following systems:

Of special note is also the help given us by the programmers of the BBS software "ZERBERUS", both for their donations and their untiring hotline support. Without the help of padeluun and Rena from Bionic we would not have solved a number of problems we had when setting up the systemm in Zagreb and Belgrade.

The generous financial support from:

and the many individual who donated funds have made it possible to supply the antiwar groups with the necessary soft and hardware to set up the electronic communication systems in Belgrade, Ljubljana, Pristina, Sarajevo and Zagreb. Not to be forgotten are all the groups and individuals who have donated donated computers, modems, fax machines, etc directly to the groups in former Yugoslavia.

Eric Bachman, coordinator of the Zamir Transnational Net, 31.1.1995