Country Report - Yugoslavia

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Country Report — Yugoslavia
by Slobodan Marković



Euro-IR Project Main Index


The APC European Internet Rights Project[edit]

Country Report — Yugoslavia[edit]

By Slobodan Markovic[edit]

The development of the Internet in Yugoslavia began under very difficult circumstances, during the breakup of the former socialist state (SFRY). In the middle of 1992 the UN Security Council imposed all-inclusive sanctions against the newly formed Yugoslav federation of Serbia and Montenegro.

The sanctions did not exclude telecommunications and all such government-funded projects came under the sanctions. It was not long before the only Yugoslav Internet link was shut down (the link connected the Yugoslav academic network to EARN, the European Academic and Research Network). The sanctions prevented foreign companies from doing any kind of business with Yugoslav firms, so it was impossible to establish any commercial Internet links with Yugoslavia.

Before November 1995 the only way to access the Internet from Yugoslavia was by using an extremely expensive and slow X.25 packet network or by directly dialling ISPs abroad. These methods were used only by a few of the largest Yugoslav companies and by the academic network.

After the Dayton peace agreement was signed in the middle of November 1995 (ending the war in Bosnia), some of the UN sanctions against Yugoslavia were lifted, opening up the possibility of decent Internet access for Yugoslavia.

On 14 December 1995, Belgrade's Radio B92 formed an Internet division which became known as Opennet. A128 Kbps link (a leased phone line) between Radio B92 and S4All ISP in Amsterdam was sponsored by the Fund for an Open Society. Opennet became the first Yugoslav ISP to offer affordable public Internet access, e-mail accounts and Web space.

Like Radio B92, Opennet strongly supported the Internet as a means of free expression and promoting tolerance and open communication. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (www.eff.org) honored Opennet's director - Mr Drazen Pantic - as the EFF Pioneer for 1999, in recognition of his continued promotion of these values and of his contribution to the development of civil society in Yugoslavia. Opennet was also the first Yugoslav ISP to offer public Internet access in three computer centers, known as "Opennet classrooms", in Belgrade.

Shortly after Opennet started up, on 26 February 1996 the first commercial Yugoslav ISP - Beotel - established a 512 Kbps satellite link with the Norwegian ISP Taide.net. In April 1996 another commercial provider started up with a local branch of EUnet International (now KPNQwest). It started with a 2 Mbps digital ground link with Amsterdam and remains the largest and strongest ISP in Yugoslavia. At the beginning of April 2001 EUnet owned two satellite and ground Internet links with an overall capacity of 10 Mbps.

Today, there are more than 100 commercial ISPs in Yugoslavia (most of them situated in Serbia), but only a few of them have an international Internet link. The biggest obstacle to further development is current monopoly of the state company, Telecom, the only company licensed to lay telecommunications cables. The situation is getting even worse due to Telecom’s excessively high tariffs for commercial ISPs that lease and use Telecom's international links.

The second largest obstacle for further development of ICT is the poor state of Telecom's infrastructure in many areas. The process of modernization is progressing very slowly. Many telephone exchanges in Belgrade are still not based on digital technology, and the situation is even worse in other (rural) regions.

Broadband Internet access is even worse. Telecom is offering ISDN lines, but further development has been delayed, mainly due to the limitations of the rest of the telecommunications and Internet infrastructure. Official statistics for 1999 state that by the end of that year there were 6,800 base ISDN subscribers in Serbia and 500 in Montenegro (a total of 7,300)and only 260 primary ISDN subscribers in Serbia and 30 in Montenegro (a total of 290). On the other hand, providers of high-speed downlinks via satellite (such as Europe On-Line, which offers a 2 Mbps downlink) are becoming increasingly popular for downloading large files. A high quality, affordable two-way broadband Internet communication solution is, however, still not yet available in Yugoslavia.

The most common way of accessing the Internet in Yugoslavia is by using one of the pre-paid packages offered by local ISPs. The price per hour is less than 1 DEM on average (in comparison, the average monthly salary in Yugoslavia at the end of 2000 was around 90 DEM).

Telecom in Serbia and Montenegro charges for local and long-distance calls, but almost all major cities have at least one ISP that offers full Internet access at local (cheaper) phone tariffs. People who live in areas without a local ISP mostly use one of several phone numbers that allow Internet usage at a fixed tariff. The most expensive such service charges the caller 1 dinar per minute (or 1 DEM for 30 minutes) of full

Internet access anywhere from within Yugoslavia. Public Internet access is also available at fairly reasonable prices from a number of local cyber cafes to be found in almost all the larger cities in Yugoslavia, as well as in a number of smaller towns.

Free Internet access in Yugoslavia is still non-existent. There is limited free Internet access in elementary schools and public libraries, but this is unevenly distributed around the regions. On the other hand, all university centers and research institutes in Yugoslavia are connected to the Internet and students may use all Internet services for free. The greatest limitations of the Yugoslav academic network (AMREJ) are low bandwidth (a 2 Mbps ground link to Greece and one backup 512 Kbps satellite link with Norway via Beotel) and the small number of dial-up lines.

The development of the Internet in Montenegro was not as dynamic as it was In Serbia. Today, Montenegro has only one good quality ISP - "Internet CG". This provider, based in Podgorica, owns nine points-of-presence (POP) in the major towns of Montenegro. Users in other areas can use a special phone number to re-route their call to the closest POP. Internet CG has more than 10,000 users who share a single 4 Mbps Internet link with Slovenia. University students in Montenegro can also use the Internet for free via the Yugoslav academic network (the University in Podgorica has 60 dial-up lines and a 2 Mbps link with Belgrade). All in all, around 1.5% of the Montenegrin population have some kind of Internet access.

There is only a very small amount of information available on Internet development in the southern Serbian province of Kosovo. Before the war in 1999 the best way of accessing the Internet from Pristina was said to be by using the Eunet local POP and fast digital link with Belgrade. According to some reports, there were a few smaller ISPs in Kosovo (mostly using low bandwidth satellite links), but there was little information about their services or capacities. In any case, the flow of information ceased completely in the spring of 1999. Shortly after the UN and NATO imposed a protectorate on Kosovo, the International Rescue Committee started up a project called Internet Project Kosova, under the leadership of Paul Mayer. IPKO.org is still operating in Pristina and connects several international Kosovo-based agencies, local media and educational institutions via a satellite link. The author of this report could find no other information about the status of ground Internet links on Kosovo or find out whether there were any other local ISPs.

During the nineties, the Yugoslav government, heavily influenced by Slobodan Milosevic and his Socialist Party of Serbia, did little to popularize or develop Internet services at local level. Relevant government officials have occasionally announced plans for "the rapid ‘informatization’ of Yugoslav society", but none of these projects have been implemented.

Instead of encouraging and supporting the development of information technologies, all Yugoslav governments (Serbian, Montenegrin and federal) have allowed the sector to develop in an unplanned way. This has resulted in a low level of computerization and even lower levels of computer literacy.

To date, no authoritative and comprehensive study of Internet usage and of the state of ICT development in Yugoslavia has been done. Even the new federal Minister for science and technology, Boris Tadic, could not provide a precise figure for the numbers of Internet users in Yugoslavia. Mr Tadic's best estimate the number of users at the end of 2000 was a just under 2% of the total population, or less than 200,000 users.

For most of the nineties, there were less than 10,000 Internet users in Yugoslavia (less than 1% of the total population). This low figure probably why the otherwise repressive regime of Slobodan Milosevic did not view the Internet as one of its principal enemies.

The Yugoslav government has never introduced any kind of ISP licensing; neither did it prevent ISPs from establishing Internet links with companies abroad. The government also introduced no limitations on usage of the Internet during the war with NATO in 1999. Internet users from within Yugoslavia could freely access all Web sites (including the sites of NATO, the Western governments and media, various NGOs and sites of Kosovo Albanians). Usage of PGP for e-mail encryption was also possible. Nevertheless, many Internet users in Yugoslavia claimed that they Experienced strange delays and blockades when sending and receiving e-mails during the war. They stated that those problems were not due to ISP’s servers’ overload, but due to a filtering software installed on all major ISPs by agents of the police and secret army agencies. Although it is known that some of the major ISPs indeed had "close encounters" with such agencies during the war, the claims of e-mail filtering were never backed up in public with good evidence and remained unproved.

Although the government did not launched any wide campaign against free expression in Yugoslav cyberspace, it allowed its extremist exponents to occasionally harass and persecute the most vocal individuals.

Among the most notable cases of Internet-related censorship in Yugoslavia was the arrest and persecution of the journalist Miroslav Filipovic; politically motivated tampering with a couple of ".yu" TLD registry entries during the presidential elections (both cases in 2000); filtering of Opennet's servers on the Yugoslav academic network (in 1998 and 1999); and a couple of cases when certain ISPs ordered some of their users to remove politically and otherwise "unsuitable" content from their personal Web sites.

The most severe case of repression over use of the Internet for free expression was undoubtedly the arrest and persecution of Miroslav Filipovic, a journalist from the city of Kraljevo in Serbia. Mr Filipovic was charged with "espionage and spreading of false information", for writing articles about confessions by extremist Yugoslav army members who committed war crimes during the clashes in Kosovo in 1999 (the articles were published on the website of the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting). Mr Filipovic was sentenced to seven years in prison, but was released from jail shortly after the Milosevic regime was overthrown in October 2000.

At the end of September 2000, during the elections for the Yugoslav president, another incident occurred. On 24 September 2000, a group led by Vlada Teodosic (a pro-Milosevic dean of the School of Electrical Engineering at Belgrade University) forced one of the ".yu" TLD hostmasters to change the DNS entries for four ".org.yu" domainswho were giving realtime coverage to the election process and vote counting. According to unofficial, but reliable, sources, the move was directly initiated by the Serbian Ministry of Science and Technology, headed by a high-ranking Socialist Party official. The DNS records were altered for 30 hours. During that critical period, normal functioning of the four sites was not possible and all their Internet communication (including e-mails) was re-routed to the server of a computer center sponsored by the Socialist Party.

This incident was only the most recent repressive action carried out by the dean Vlada Teodosic, who proved himself the greatest enemy of freedom of information on the Yugoslav academic network. Mr Teodosic ordered the blocking of Opennet's and Radio B92's servers on two occasions, at the end of 1998 and 1999. In 1998 a blockade was set up on the main gateways (routers) of the Yugoslav academic network in RCUB (Computer Center of the Belgrade University),affecting all users of the academic network in Yugoslavia. All communication channels with Opennet and Radio B92, including e-mail, were completely cut out. In 1999, Mr Teodosic ordered a similar blockade, but this time only for his college.

There is only one active group for Internet users in Yugoslavia. This group, known as Internodium (www.internodium.org.yu) was formed in 1999. It monitors Internet development trends in Yugoslavia, government policy in the field of ICT, documents censorship cases and discusses solutions to problems that impede further development of Yugoslav cyberspace.

New democratic and pro-reform governments came to power in Yugoslavia at the end of 2000. They promised to work on re-integrating Yugoslavia into all local and global trade and technology initiatives and institutions. Among many intended reforms, the following may be of interest for ICT development in Yugoslavia: the break-up of the monopoly of national Telecom (which should solve most of the infrastructure problems); establishment of a national Internet framework and hub; adoption of a new law on e-commerce; and revision of the penal law which will regulate crimes and abuses committed on the Net.

The new government has still not announced any kind of legislation to regulate content of Internet communications or otherwise limit free speech. Neither have they announced any laws that would explicitly guarantee and protect users’ privacy and freedom of expression on the Net. During the past six months, however, the new government has done nothing to change the inherited situation in the ICT sector. It may well be that we will have to wait a little longer to see any concrete and positive changes in that sphere.


2001


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