Internet distinctly more attractive as an alternativesource of information.The war led to further restrictions on indepen-dent media. Even before
dropped its firstbombs, the authorities closed the well-known inde-pendent radio station B92(www.freeb92.net) inBelgrade and detained its director, Veran Matic (itlater released Matic and allowed B92to reopen,albeit with a new progovernment staff). Within afew days of the start of the war, all independentmedia had no other choice but to close down orexercise self-censorship to avoid being banned. Therole of the Internet-based media during the war inKosovo thus became twofold: it had to bridge thegap left by the closure of other independent mediawhile it attempted to provide information on thebombing and its effects. Some sites, such as theInternet-based www.beograd.com, became the mostreliable means to keep informed about the destruc-tion caused by
bombing.Although the Internet provided some alternativeto the government-dominated electronic and printmedia—which offered little news and much propa-ganda during the bombing—the Internet was notimmune to government attempts to exert control.The closure of B92as a radio station coincided withthe disappearance of its web page until May 9, 1999,when the site went back on-line. Access to the newsite, however, was frequently blocked by govern-ment-owned Internet service providers, such as theelectronics faculty of the University of Belgrade.
The air strikes and the Yugoslav government’sresponse threatened not only the media using theInternet, but also the web itself in Yugoslavia. Whenthe government took over Radio B92, it also gainedcontrol of one of the country’s largest Internetproviders, OpenNet, which was operated by B92. Asa result, many web pages that belonged to Serbiannongovernmental organizations (
s), such as theSerbian Helsinki Committee, became unavailable.The largest Internet provider in Yugoslavia, EUnet,issued a set of guidelines for its subscribers thatencouraged users to protest
bombing but toavoid engaging in Internet abuses such as “spam-ming”—the sending of large numbers of unsolicitede-mail messages—that could lead to the terminationof the company’s access to the World Wide Web.As the war continued, the Western governments’intensified attempts to destroy the media outlets of the Yugoslav government by bombing them, andtheir imposition of harsher sanctions against thecountry, seemed to threaten all Internet access inYugoslavia. Even before the bombing by
,reports circulated in late April 1999 that a ban onYugoslav access to the Internet by the United Stateswas imminent. Although the ban never material-ized, it led to protests by Yugoslav
s against itsimposition because of the detrimental impact itwould have on communicating to the outside worldtheir work on political and economic rights.But even without the ban, the Internet proved tobe a vulnerable means of communication. E-mailscontaining “sensitive” words were often delayed forhours by Serbian Internet providers, while otherproviders canceled the accounts of members of theindependent student organization Otpor (Resis-tance). The destruction of power stations andtelecommunications by
bombing in the lastphase of the war made usage of the Internet increas-ingly difficult and unreliable.
HE YUGOSLAV INTERNET’S BEGINNINGS
The Internet became available in Yugoslavia onlythree months after the war in Bosnia and Herze-govina began in April 1992. It had its origins in thefrustration of peace activists throughout the formerYugoslavia, who were unable to coordinate theirefforts because of the severing of conventional com-munication networks with the dissolution of theYugoslav confederation.Unlike most other Eastern European communistcountries, Yugoslavia maintained close communi-cations links with the West during the cold war.Academic institutions in Yugoslavia were connectedto the European and worldwide electronic networksthat would later constitute the foundations of theInternet. When these networks were destroyedbecause of fighting or were put under governmentcontrol, peace activists began to look for alterna-tives. A small group of these activists and computerexperts from the Center for Anti-War Action in Bel-grade and the Zagreb-based Anti-War Campaignand Center for Peace, Non-Violence and HumanRights set up two electronic bulletin boards andlinked them in July 1992. Using old equipment andreceiving minimal outside help at the outset, this
The Internet and the Balkan Wars •
Although a mirror site could have been established at rel-atively low cost, which would have prevented the Yugoslavgovernment from completely shutting out B92or any otherindependent site, few users would have been ready to par-ticipate in an electronic “paper chase” across the Internet,with the independent media setting up new sites that weresubsequently blocked by the authorities.
For an assessment of the role the Internet played duringthe war in Kosovo, see the article by the Association of Inde-pendent Media, “Serbia,” in Peter Goff, ed.,
The Kosovo Newsand Propaganda War
(Vienna: International Press Institute,1999), pp. 332–336.