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Ethnic Discord

Electronic Pony Express Handles Balkans Mail

Nonprofit on-line service keeps war-weary residents in touch with each other and the world.


SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina- In Los Angeles, Nalini Lasiewicz sent New Year's greetiags to all: "May 1995 bring a conelusion to the war in Bosnia and the beginning of reconstruction throughout the country."

Zoran Kaimakovie messaged from San Francisco seeking "information on my good, good friend from childhood, Vedada Seremeta."
And from Purdue University came an offer of information on post-traumatic stress disorder.
These are typical -letters" carried on Sarajevo's equivalent of the Pony Express, an electronie mail network that connects the enemy-encircied eapital with the rest of the former Yugoslav federation and the world.
ZaMir Transnational Net offers access to a city that has no regular mail service, limited telephone service and, for most people, no escape. Even when the roads in and out of Sarajevo are closed by Serbs, the information highway is open.
"I am a computer engineer without electricity or a telephone," said network user Haris Hadzialic on a recent afternoon in ZaMir's cramped Sarajevo office. 1 come here once a weck to communieate with my friends in the ex-Yugoslavia, in Belgrade and Zagreb, and with my brother in Sweden who left here a few days before the war started."
For the neighboring state of Croatia, ZaMir provides a communication link between its eapital of Zagreb and Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. The Croatian government cut telephone communications with Serbia in 1992 at the beginning of Zagreb's war with Croatian Serbs, who were backed by Belgrade.
The nonprofit network was founded by American and German peace activists in July, 1992, primarily for their colleagues in Zagreb and Belgrade -who needed to send and receive uncensored information about the political situation. ZaMir means "for peace" in Serbo-Croatian.
In 1994, Sarajevo was added to the network, along with the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana and Kosovo's capital, Pristina. Eric Bachman, one of ZaMir's founders, said he hopes to have the Bosnian towns of Tuzia and Mostar on line this year.

The system is funded by the Soros Foundation and the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy.
In Sarajevo, which is surrounded by rebel Serbs and the capiLal of Bosnia-Herzegovina's Muslim-dominated government, the network operates with one Computer and a telephone line serving about 550 users. Those fortunate few with their own terminals, modems and functioning telephones may dial their messages into the ZaMir computer on a local call. The ZaMir line is often busy, but with persistence, a conneetion can be made.
Otherwise, users may drop off a disk at the smoke-filled office or stop to write their messages directly on ZaMir's computer, housed in a building of international aid agencies. The structure is powered by an electric generator, allowing for operation when niost of the city is dark.
Telephone connecLions are far more dependable from Zagreb to Sarajevo than tlie revers(1, So ZaMir's computer in Zagreb telephones iLs Sarajevo counterpart four Lunes a day to co[Iect the mail. "'I'he computer is programmed to dial 20 Linies and then to wait for 20 minutes," said Src[jan ])vornik, a member of the Zagreb supporL Leam. "It usually gets thi-ough."
Dvornik said the system can transmit about three to four pages of text per second. The tiiail is relayed to the Zerberus cornputer network in Bielefeld, Germany, which then distributes iL till-OLI~IIOUL the worid. A computer letter from Sarajevo to Belgrade or Sweden may arrive in a inatter of hours.
"The main thing is that we make contacL between poople," said Miaden Rifelj, who works for ZaMir in Sarajevo. "Between ordinary people and connections between people here and businessnien around the world, as weil as contaet with mass media, humanitarian groups and Student organizations."
As Rifeli spoke he seroiled Lhrough a list of articles on Bosnia from Time ina.aazirie, the New York Times and other niajor pub[ications that generally are unavailable in Sarajevo except through the computer network.
"I worked at the post office in telecominunications for 20 years," said his colleague, Meho Klico. "1 know what cominunicaLion means to people."
In war-ravaged Sarajevo, the computer service is free for the asking. In other cities there may be a minimal charge, but e-mail is far cheaper than regular mail or a long-distance telephone call.
"I think it is more or less clear that the main function of ZaMir is not communieation between Belgrade, Zagreb and Sarajevo, but with other countries," said Dvornik of the Zagreb team.
Dvornik said peace and human rights activists used the network to rally international support in the fall of 1993 when the Croatian government arrested 10 opposition politicians in Dalmatia. The prisoners were accused of being terrorists and were to be tried by a military courL on charges of bombing their own offices.
Messages went out to human rights groups around the world, asserting that the explosives were planted and that the politieians were innocent. Eventually they were released.
That is the only time the Croatian government-or any governmenL-has reacted negaLively to the computer network, Dvornik said.
"One evening on the television news, they remarked that even an eleetronic network was.being used for propaganda against the Croatian state. It was a .Communist-style accusation," he said.

Peace activists, journalists, business people and other professionals, who are already familiar with computers, tend to dominate the network. Most people here still find e-niail difficult to understand.
But the traffic is inereasing, and with iL come many messages to peopie who are not on line. That means that ZaMir's handful of einployees are often asked to telephone or hand-deliver mail to those who have no e-inail address.
In Sarajevo, the Lwo part-time employ ees say the " y barely have time to do their job maintaining the system, let alone deliver the mail. ZaMir is looking for volunteers to help.
In Zagreb, where movernent is unrestricted and telephone communications are better, Dvornik has more tirne. "People See my name on e-mail and write to me with letters for their family. I print them out without reading thern and put thein in an envelope with a note that was received through an electronic mail network. Then I either call or send it through the regular 'snail mail,'" he said. That makes Dvornik an e-mail-man.
The e-mail address for ZaMir Transnational Net is

Los Angeles Times, 24. Januar 1995

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