Internet Technology & Nonviolent Struggle : Serbia#1

Here’s the general picture of Serbian people using internet in overthrowing Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. The reference is not yet put in precise location of text, but at the end of this post are my reading sources in writing this case. There are 4 parts of Serbia case in my writing. The other three will be posted soon.

1. General picture

During his ten years of dictatorship rule in Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic brought a number of violence to the people in Balkan peninsular, ranged from taking country to the war in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo; putting people in concentration camp; driving ethnic Albanian out of Kosovo creating millions refugees; launching ethnic cleansing and a lot of massacre; bringing 78-day bombing by NATO. A lot of corruption, poverty, unemployment and country-wide fear were occurred under his repressive regime. In October 2000, Milosevic was overthrown by mass people movement from all over the country who declared the nonviolent resistance against his regime. In such huge-scale and complicated event as regime overthrow, the nonviolent movement was not isolated action, but comprised various sectors, including student network group named ‘Otpor’ (means ‘resistance’), opposition political parties alliance named ‘Democratic Opposition of Serbia’ (DOS), and a number of community groups. Struggle by and over diverse sort of political media—including press, radio, TV, and especially internet—were also equivalently complicated interwoven and so dynamic. Here, the nonviolent movement using internet will be mainly considered, with supplement of traditional nonviolent action and related struggle in other media.

On March 1996, in the second term of Milosevic as President of Serbia, the first signal of nonviolent struggle was appeared as a rally of opposition coalition named ‘Zajedno’ (‘Together’) was launched, following by daily demonstration in many cities all over Serbia six months later. Meanwhile, the transmitter of Radio B-92—the only one, small but influential, independent radio against Milosevic regime—was turned off by the government. That triggered the resistances to extent to another new fighting front, the internet. The signal of B-92 had been rerouted through internet to the host in the Netherlands and re-broadcasted throughout the world by BBC, Voice of America (VOA), and Radio Free Europe. Shortly then, the first opposition website was established hosting by ‘Sezam Pro’, the internet service provider (ISP) at Belgrade University.

In return to the struggle, on April 1998, two months after the rise of ‘war’ in Kosovo, the law for limiting media freedom and freedom of assembly was passed, but not yet responded to the internet front line. Otpor, a group of young students, mainly at Belgrade University, that used internet sophisticatedly to campaign nonviolent resistance against Milosevic’s repressive regime was established at this time. The massive e-mails among the resistance groups in the country and to inform foreign press on what happen inside were employed. Meanwhile, the opposition groups finally could be reunited as ‘DOS’ to compete Milosevic. Since then the mass struggle all over the country and government’s strike back were incrementally heated up.

The government increasingly realized the power of internet that needed to be controlled by imposing legal restriction. In October 1998, about after two years since Radio B-92 had transmitted its signal through the internet, a special decree for forbidding ‘re-broadcast by any means’ and Public Information Law were issued. It also targeted on re-broadcasting such foreign radio news program as BBC or VOA which become plentiful among the small independent radio stations in Serbia. Shortly after that, OpenNet, another ISP that found by Radio B-92 to train Serbian people to use computer and internet since 1995, was closed to Serbian Academic Network. OpenNet was a host for almost all opposition websites. Immediately, all websites were mirrored to external ISPs and the network of e-mail transmission was set up, resulting almost nothing affected from closing OpenNet.

In early March 1999, in the fog of NATO bombardment to drive the Serbian troops out of Kosovo, the struggle of many sectors was mixed with the international threat and Kosovo crisis. After imposing a number of almost useless legal restrictions, the government started its direct action on the internet by setting up website to tell its own version of story of Kosovo. Meanwhile, as internet café was boomed in Kosovo, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the group that does not refuse using violent means, also established Kosovo internet community by using laptop in connection to the satellite. Furthermore, Belgrade-based Beta News Agency in collaboration with Koha Ditore, the Pristina-based Albanian newspaper, opened ‘Kosovo/a On-line’ to present both side story of Kosovo crisis too. The internet battlefield also came outside the Serbian country. In consequence of USA’s role in NATO, a Serbian hacking group named ‘Black Hand’ attacked American and Albanian government websites, brought back the US’s threat to cut off satellite links (that allow international transmission) to the Serbian ISPs. After 78 days bombardment of NATO, among omni-directional pressure, Serbian troops finally began leaving Kosovo. NATO then suspended bombing.

BELGRADE, Serbia (Reuters) - A woman feeds her baby in a bomb shelter with no electricity in central Belgrade after air raid sirens sounded May 8. Thousands of people have spent their nights in shelters since NATO air raids started over Yugoslavia 45 days ago. Photo by Reuters

BELGRADE, Serbia (Reuters) - A woman feeds her baby in a bomb shelter with no electricity in central Belgrade after air raid sirens sounded May 8. Thousands of people have spent their nights in shelters since NATO air raids started over Yugoslavia 45 days ago. Photo by Reuters

Though NATO and US government hold a large part of responsibility to the catastrophe in Serbia, NATO bombing probably was the last straw for Serbian people in living under Milosevic’s regime. After that, his regime seems continuously and rapidly in its falling. People demonstration all over the country rose to its boil. Unexpectedly, in July 2000, Milosevic changed his political strategy to gain more advantage, by calling for a new election, very shortly, in September of the same year. The game was changed. The oppositions in DOS needed to prepare for the next election. A lot of independent website promoted opposition candidates openly. Collaboratively, Otpor and the people movement, especially on the internet, had to turn their strategy to election-related struggle too. Every group shared the common goal, bringing down Milosevic’s dictatorship with slogan ‘He’s finish!!’

In the meantime, a new and more aggressive law was passed to give authorities permission to access to all e-mail and internet communications. Despite the new law, internet was used sophisticatedly to organize the voting campaign; to check the electorate census list; especially to monitor the election. And especially, in the Election Day on September 24, 2000, the internet was used to report more accurate and faster result than the government party back to DOS headquarter. The result showed that the candidates won the election. Anyway, the election commission called for the second round by claiming that neither Milosevic nor Kostunica (the opposition candidate) got more than 50% of the majority. Otpor and the oppositions claimed the fraud in the election and started new series of strikes and civil disobedience again to force Milosevic to step down. At the coal mine in the South of Belgrade that produces 70% of Serbian electric power, 17,000 workers ran strike immediately. Taxi and Bus drivers in many cities slow down and blockade the road. October 5, ten days of continuously strike all over the country after election, the popular protest reached its peak.

[From the clip, you can see that there was no any police or army beating the demonstration, as they knew the movement win & Milosevic must stepped down very soon.]

By sophisticated communication among Anti-Milosevic popular movement via e-mail, internet communication, short-wave radio contact, Radio B-92, and other media types, hundreds of thousand people from all over the country directed their street to join the rally that run nonviolent take over the parliament building at 3 p.m. Milosevic stepped down in the next day. His regime was overthrown. Three month later, the Public Information Law (passed since September 1998) was repealed to discard the legal-structural repressive restriction to the internet and people free communication.

Reference

  1. Ackerman, Peter (2001) Bringing Down A Dictator, DVD movies.
  2. Tunnard, Christopher R. (2003a), “From State-Controlled Media to the ‘Anarchy’ of the Internet: the Changing Influence of Communications and Information in Serbia in the 1990s”, in Southeast European and Black Sea Studies, Vol.3 No.2, May. pp.97-120. London : Frank Cass.
  3. USIP (1999) Preserving the Free Flow of Information on the Internet: Serbs Thwart Milosevic Censorship,” Washington, DC: United States Institute for Peace.

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