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R@D 3 - Mobile Phones as a Tool for Civil Resistance - Case Studies from Serbia and

R@D 3 - Mobile Phones as a Tool for Civil Resistance - Case Studies from Serbia and

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Published by: DigiActive on Jul 14, 2009
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Mobile Phones as a Tool forCivil Resistance
Case studies from Serbia and Belarus
Fabien Miardf.miard@sunrise.ch
DigiActive Research Series, June 2009
 This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-commercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. To view a copy of this license, visithttp://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/us/
 
INTRODUCTION
 The recent “Twitter Revolution” in Moldova (Morozov 2009a; Economist 2009; BBC 2009;Dagbladet 2009) has created a renewed interest in the role of new communication technologiesin civil resistance and social protest activities. It is a new example in a growing list of events where such technologies played an important role in facilitating protests (Castells et al. 2007). Twitter and other microblogging platforms represent a new phenomenon because they easily  work across different types of communication technologies such as instant messaging, blogging,and text messaging. This convergence also draws attention to the wide-spread use of mobilephones in civil resistance, a factor often overlooked by Internet enthusiasts. The impact of mobile telecommunications in political activism was at the center of my master thesis (Miard2008), where I argued that the mobility and ubiquity associated with personal cell phones is amajor advantage over Internet-based communication.Part of my work was to get acquainted with everyday ‘street use’ of mobile phones. To do this, Iinterviewed civil activists in both Serbia and Belarus. This R@D product summarizes some key insights from the interviews and links them to insights gained from the recent “TwitterRevolution”.
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Although the cases of Serbia and Belarus might initially seem similar because of their geographic proximity, struggles with dictatorial leaders, and historical Communistdominance, mobile phone use by activists in these countries is markedly different. Mobilephones were a critical tactical tool in bringing down Milosevic in 2000. However, only 8 yearslater, mobiles are less useful to anti-Lukashenka Belarusian activists in the present day because of the state’s increasingly effective surveillance of mobile communication.
Mobile communication is said to enhance the autonomy of individuals, enabling them to set up their own connections, bypassing the mass media and the channels of communication controlled by institutions and organizations
 
 Manuel Castells 
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The complete interviews are available in the appendix of my thesis (Miard 2008).
 
SERBIA IN 2000: A CRUCIAL TACTICAL TOOL
Originally a student movement, Otpor, which means ‘resistance’, turned political after the NATObombings in Serbia in 1998, waging a political campaign against Slobodan Milosevic. Thecampaign eventually led to the intended outcome, and Milosevic stepped down and was laterextradited to The Hague for trial. Otpor’s use of cell phones in their activities was reported by Radio Free Europe (2005) in response to the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine. Ukrainianactivists were said to follow a path “already forged by the Serbian youth movement Otpor, whosemembers used coded short-text messaging on cell phones to coordinate their actions” (RadioFree Europe 2005).In the intervie w , Ivan Marovic – a founding member of Otpor and the person responsible forpress and PR during the events in 2000 – unequivocally confirmed the importance of mobilephones in this movement. A particularly interesting aspect that surfaced in the interview was thefact that the Internet played a rather limited role because the Web was slow and not used a lot inSerbia in 2000.
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Mobile phones, on the other hand, where very common according to Marovic:“[By] 2000, almost everybody had a mobile”. While the Internet was used for strategiccommunication – news, documents, etc. – the mobile phone was crucial for operational andtactical communication. For example, in order to transport small packages from one place toanother, they would ask bus drivers to deliver them and immediately text or call the receiving party in the other town to pick up the deliveries. Marovic stated that cell phones were crucial forsuch operations.He also cited the use of mobiles when handling tasks in real time was critical. During a long march from Novi Sad to Belgrade in April 2000, the organizers had to coordinate tasks while walking. Food had to be delivered, supplied by volunteers from different towns. They also had toorganize buses for those who could not walk anymore (the distance between the two Serbiancities is 80km). Last but not least, the welcome rally and press releases upon arrival in Belgradeneeded to be prepared and coordinated. Marovic used up three cell phone batteries that night.
 The most important [situation] was the march from Novi Sad toBelgrade on April 14th, 2000. That was a demo 100 percent operatedthrough mobile phones
Ivan Marovic 2008 
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Marovic had feared too many questions about the Internet, only to discover, to his delight, that someone was finally interested inmobile phones. Earlier scholars had interviewed him with a focus on the role of the Internet, which he had little to say about.

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