Sarajevo Link


Darko Zovko, Sarajevo 1995


I was asked by the co-ordinators of Media-Scape to present the development of Internet in Sarajevo. First of all Sarajevo has no Internet but only E-mail links with the world. Taking into the consideration that the links in Sarajevo were organised by a group of enthusiasts who had worked mainly in humanitarian organisations, it was not so easy to explain to the people the possibilities of such a communication while the city is under siege. In my presentation you will hear sometimes some critical observations, but I would like to mention that it is completely understand-able, why some things around Sarajevo were not organised fast.

Reasons are as follow:

1. Lack of knowledge to organise such a link (people who knew the matter had no personal interest (we all know that the Internet, next to other possibilities, has the potential for marketing and business)

2. Links were never properly used by the humanitarian organisations.

Therefore, when there is any critical note in my presentation, I am asking for ex-cuse. This presentation is before all our wish that people get introduced to this way of communication with Sarajevo. We also wish that our experience help some other places in the world which have the same or similar sad lot as Sarajevo.


Beginning of Sarajevo´s problems

On the 2nd of May 1992, after a serial of smaller combats around the town, the Bosnian Serbs had attacked the centre of the city hoping to occupy it and establish their policy. Many things were organised in advance such as the sabotage in the main building of the post office. There were 50.000 installed telephone lines (90% of all the lines in Sarajevo). In this sabotage the building and technique in it were burned to the ground. There is an other telephone central which was build during the preparations for the Sarajevo Olympic games in 1984 and was not destroyed by Bosnian Serbs. This is a quite modern system which serves the number of people living in outskirts of Sarajevo. It was necessary first to rearrange this new telephone center, so that some of the people living in the centre of Sarajevo could get the telephone lines. Nevertheless people still couldn't get in contact with anybody from abroad. From the spring 1992 till the summer 1993 Sarajevo and the most of Bosnia and Herzegovina was excluded from the international telephone network. Only large newspaper agencies (CNN, Sky News) and humanitarian organisations (ICRC, UNHCR, MSF) had direct links with the rest of the world during that period of war. The links they had, were mainly satellite telephones and satellite faxes. Interest of people from Sarajevo to get such a possibility of communication was enormous. Everybody had their own idea, but for all the primary reason was to survive - to inform their families that they are still alive, that they need money, how to send them money or food, how to find out what had happe-ned with the rest of the family which is hundred meters or hundred kilometers away, already in the occupied territories etc.. All these desires to inform were not possible to organise because of the high costs of services or too small capacities of equipment. The existing communication tools were not accessable to the most of the people in Sarajevo.

Suddenly in Summer 1993, Bosnia and Herce-govina got a link with Switzerland. I don't know why with this country and not with any other. There were possible political, financial and/or technical reasons. Direct connection with Swit-zerland helped many, but it was again only a one way link and for a very limited number of people, only for these who had somebody in Switzer-land. It was possible to make phone calls from Switzerland, but not from Sarajevo. The question was, why not from Sarajevo? In this case the reason was a financial one. How to charge for the telephone service, when people have not enough money even for the bread.

All in all, for most of the people in Sarajevo this link with Switzerland was not a big help. But in any case, I would like to mention that there were a large number of people from all over the world who called Sarajevo on their own costs and so forwarded important informations.

At that point when the first communication between Switzerland and Bosnia and Herce-govina was established, some enthusiasts from Sarajevo and outside have seen the chance to broaden the communication via the Internet. The idea was to get the link for the price of a short local call and that as much as possible people can get a chance to send their information and to receive an answer. This idea was born in many places simultaneously, and I can not claim with 100% of certainty who were the first, who had organised this link. I think that Zamir and ICVA, two humanitarian organisations played a key role. Of course, nothing could be done without the sponsors of this project. In the beginning help came through the SOROS foundation, UNHCR and number of smaller humanitarian organisations.

E-Mail in Sarajevo started to function in March of 1994. As first it was necessary to organise over E-mail a good co-ordination of the humanitarian work in Bosnia and Hercegovina and in Croatia. Although it was not originally the idea, speechless from the side of the organisers and sponsors there was the possibility for some people and companies who had already a computer and a modem to be logged into this humanitarian network. The only condition was to respect the basic rules. The result was astonishing: people had used this possibility much better than humanitarian organisations who are still using the satellite links for matters, which are not so urgent. Also, the most of the humanitarian organisations are not co-ordinating properly their work with other humanitarian organisations, which are doing the same or similar work.

Between the inhabitants there was from the beginning a good collaboration: Those who didn't know how to use a computer and a modem had either learned or were assisted by those who knew. In the last two years about thousand users of BBs in Sarajevo were counted. Each of the users has several families which are regularly providing information about their relatives and friends but who are now living dispersed over the world. The Interest of the people outside of Sarajevo has been even greater. They are using the network in a very similar way, either they buy a computer and modem and are learning the basic instructions for communication or they use the services of those, who have already the equipment and are familiar with it. All in all, the expansion of the information send to or send from Sarajevo from the "first hand" is enormous. According to the statistic it was send over 160.000 various data banks. In the moment of our conversation with SYSOP's BIT there were exactly 65.312 calls. It is proven that this success is not due to the money or knowledge but to the organisation and a desperate wish of all these misfortuned people, not to become isolated from the rest of the world.

Our company Forth Dimension is using the Sarajevo link in a different way. We are running complete business in Sara-jevo just by using this link. Using direct telephones lines with Sarajevo and with other parts of the world for us is too ex-pensive. Beside text-messages we are sending and receiving binary data banks. Our management in Sarajevo is in this moment primary of humanitarian character, supporting the humanitarian organisations which are distributing medical help. One of our aims is to co-ordinate as good as possible distribution of medical supplies over the data banks and information, which are to be exchanged over the mo-dems via Sarajevo. In parts of Bosnia and Hercegovina, where the quality of the lines are insufficient there will be direct connections via E-mail links .


How to organise the Sarajevo link?

Sarajevo link is not a classical Internet provider. It is not possible to send and to receive the mail directly. It is not possible to call the "gopher" and to switch from one server to another. In the beginning it a center was organised to collect all messages - one for Sarajevo and one for Zagreb. For Sarajevo it is a BIT - Society of Informaticians of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and for Zagreb is Zamir, a humanitarian organisation, which organised their computer system and a SYSOP. Connection was spread and in this moment we have centers in Tuzla (B&H), Ljubljana (Slovenia), Belgrade (former Yugoslavia) and Pristina (Kosovo in former Yugoslavia). Computers which are set as receivers of messages have open lines 24 hours a day, but only from time to time the data would be exchanged between Sarajevo and other centers. As far as I know, in this moment personal messages are transferred 4 times a day and binary data banks 2 times a day in one direction. Conferences would be not transferred but left at a local service. Other centers which have this possibility (Zamir for example) are distributing via receiver mail all over the world in a classical way. This means that the person which is sending the message in the morning from Sarajevo can expect that someone from USA receives this message in the same evening. In the worst case the answer could come by the next evening, but from our experience the answer usually arrives after two days. Two days for people from Sarajevo - maybe sounds unbelievable - is more than a fast way of communication with the world.

The link between Sarajevo and Zagreb was established also during the exclusion of Croatia from these global computer network. Unfortunately, some of the Croatian users of Internet tried to do some illegal actions over other Internet centers in the world and that had caused that Croatia was suspended from the network for a longer period of time. This detail can show to you how little is necessary for the world to get connected, but in the same time how much the users in this computer world must respect the regulations.

Of course, today there are still enough troubles and many things could be better organised. Momentary there are plans to build up a real Internet server in Sarajevo like anywhere else in the world. There are plans for 15 places to be opened for maintenance of the system. For the moment the biggest problem is the money. Besides the money it is necessary to have the equipment to start the work. I don't mean the equipment for the Internet but, for example, several notebook computers, which are necessary for testing the quality of the link between the centers. There are large companies from all over the world which would like to be a "Internet Provider" in Bosnia and Herce-govina but because of the situation on the territory such a project couldn't be expected yet.


What are the difficulties?

BIT in Sarajevo has only one telephone line, one overloaded 486 PC, two 286 PC's and a modem of the speed of 14.400 b/s. You could imagine in which state is this equipment, when I tell you that, several days ago when I was connected with a center in Indiana I was 28th of the 5000 users connected with this center and BIT in Sarajevo have more than thousand users. If one would be connected only one day and spend only 5 minutes on the network, the day should last 84 hours. Our people are solving this situation again with the way how they use the computer. In advance prepared mail and with a help of software there is non-stop dial of the BIT. By getting the line all new incoming messages will be received and transferred on the hard disk while outgoing messages will be then send out. This way the time of transmission is shortened on the minimum. Yet, to get several more lines the So-ciety of Sarajevo Informaticians would welcome. On the central computer there is an open space for the conferences. There are 417 kinds of conferences: advertisement, discussion about hardware, important information about the life in the city, interesting texts from computer magazines etc. By the help of sponsor ODA, the British humanitarian organisation, around 150 various computer magazines were bought for which the interest is enormous. A free of charge library is organised, but because of the great interest it is difficult to get the access to the magazines. Because of that, the most interesting parts of magazines are re-written. By this way the information are more available to the users.



For one I am sure. If people of Bosnia and Hercegovina could become experts to prepare very good culinary meals out of nothing, to produce all kind of tools and necessities for life with nothing, in a situation with limitations and restrictions of electricity and with programming languages, that are not anymore in use, people are able also to produce the communication programs with a desirable level of quality. If they will continuously succeed to resist the aggressor in all sorts of aspects of daily life, than I am sure that every new technique will be used till its maximum in the best way. But I hope that the end of suffering of people of Bosnia and Herce-govina and Croatia will come to the end soon and that people could use their energy again for something else but a daily struggle to save their lives.

Taking this opportunity I want to thank all humanitarian organisations and sponsors for all what they have done and what they will do to help our country.