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Geert Lovink: Reports from Kosovo

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1........... RIKS general update july 99
2........... Internet for Refugees in Macedonia and Kosov@, A Report

From: Jo&Sanja <>
Subject: RIKS general update july 99

RIKS: Internet in Kosov@

Now that in Kosovo the battlefield is turning into a playground for
international military, diplomatic, intelligence, aid-, NGO and commercial
agents, it is good to remember that quite a few Kosovars have solid
experience with building parallel civil structures, dealing with
international agents, and using Internet for various purposes. RIKS is a
international support-project to re-install and further develop Internet
as a tool for reconstruction and reinventing Kosov@ Society. If only to be
an equal player on their own ground. A team of international
media-activists is working closely with people and projects in the region
of Kosov@, Macedonia, Albania, and Montenegro.

this first web-based database to help refugees from Kosova to find their
relatives. It was made by a local Albanian NGO)called ADI (Association for
the Democratic Intitiatives) in Gostivar (Macedonia). They exchaneged
information with the refugees by going to the camps with notebooks, either
digital or paper. In Tetovo a Cybercafe opended just a month before NATO
raised the war in Kosova to a higer level. It is owened by a local
macedonian-serb and a student of architecture from Prishtina, specializing
in web-based animations. Expanding the idea of xs4all-refugees it acquired
the perspective of constructing a communicative, community-oriented
infrastucture owned by a network of people from local and regional NGO's,
enterprises, projects, etc., with the long-term purpose of reconstructing
Kosov@. This is RIKS: Reconstructing via Internet Kosov@ Society.

The concrete phase RIKS is in now: - Widening the network both regionally
to Albania, Montenegro and of course bringing it home to Kosov@, as well
as globally, activating support in the international internet-community. -
The local pilot project of upgrading the cybercafe in Tetovo to a local
ISP, as a basis and a laboratory for transferring to other locations and
groups of people working out internet-applications - Introducing
micro-radio-stations for producing audio both locally in the ether, and
globally via Internet.

Besides upgrading, we will widen the reach, or better outreach of the
Cybercafe. In collaboration with local NGO's, volunteers will go with
laptops to refugees or returnees to exchange data for refugee-finders on
the web, e-mail, etc. Net-links using mobile-phones, satlinks or FM-links
could be used to create nettents in the camps, in communities or in towns
and vilages in Kosov@. I would also like to mention the Operating System
Linux: we are in the process of distributing RedHat 6.0, forming
Linux-workshops and -clubs.

Let me resume the basic approach of RIKS: xs4all refugees, radical
democracy, producing and re-inventing media is juicier than just
consuming, grassroot networking: local laboratories, regional transfer,
global support network tactical media: mobile, flexible, human scale and

Jo van der Spek
journalist  and
coordinator of RIKS
Reconstructing via Internet Kosov@ Society

tel +31.20.6718027
H.Seghersstraat 46 1072 LZ Amsterdam
Jo van der Spek is a free lance journalist and
programmer of public debates on matters political and cultural
both in the national and international domain

mos ban luft, ban dashuri


From: Teresa Crawford <>
Subject: Internet for Refugees in Macedonia and Kosov@, A Report

These are my notes from the trip to Tetovo/Prishtina for the RIKS
envisioned Internet project.  The reason I am sending this to you all as
I/we need to make sure that this is proceeding in a way that has the
maximum amount of input early on.  Some of the chronology may seem off
since I took this directly out of my diary and cut out personal stuff.

Today I will meet with Brad Fox with IRC and Marko Peljhan and Borja >from
Slovenia about the Internet projects.  Brad called last night to set up
the meet and he sounded a little frustrated.  RIKS was envisioned as an
umbrella project for whatever sorts of IT projects people wanted to do. As
such it is lacking a certain concreteness and a lot of different people
have varying levels of understanding about what RIKS really is including
me so meeting with them should help.  It is also not being coordinated
beyond an email distribution list and phone calls that only include one
other person.  Brad and I decided we would head up to Tetova today after
picking Marko up from the airport.

I called Driton and Vegim and tried to connect the two but Vegim is now in
Prishtina and is attending meetings of the technical faculty as they
regroup.  It was a reassuring sign to me that they were meeting again to
talk about school.  Driton is in Tetova and Marko and Brad and I will meet
him there.

July 2 1999

It has been a few days since I actually sat down and wrote.  I was feeling
yesterday that things were spinning a little out of control in terms of
what the hell is my focus.  I have been to Tetovo once and back and forth
to Prishtina twice in the last 3 days.


I came here with a vague idea about an Internet project at the University
in Prishtina and the University in Tetovo.  I had emailed for weeks with
several people including two guys in Slovenia.  They turned out to have a
friend in Skopje working for IRC so they contacted him and had him contact
me. Together we went to the airport to pick them up and then drove
directly to Tetovo. Beautiful country in terms of landscape.

We met with Driton who owns an Internet cafÈ in Tetovo (several sprang up
during the refugee crisis without any real coordination).  Great
conversation but the more concrete we got with him the more we found out
about how he does what he does and it did not quite fit with what we
thought. He and his partner Igor have some sort of an agreement with
Macedonia Online that means he has access for free to their Internet
connection but if he wants to become an ISP then he has to split
everything 50/50. This may not work with our conception of a non profit
providing access especially for the University.  Top it all off the
University is embroiled in the politics of just finally being recognized
by the Macedonian government but not getting any support >from them.

Driton and I worked out a quasi business plan but there were too many
unknowns.  He was sure Gostivar and other surrounding towns would be the
ones to use the service of a local ISP but he did not know the population
or how many potential users.  Smart guy and I trust his instinct but that
was all it was, instinct about how many users of a new ISP there would be.  
He based this on having worked at a local computer store that did a
booming business to outlying areas.

We left the meeting with Driton feeling like we made a good connection but
not feeling like we had moved too far forward on the project.  We drove up
one of the nearby mountains that has this ski resort on it. >From the top
Marko and Borja scoped out the tallest mountain with a direct line of
sight between Tetovo and Prishtina to put the satellite equipment on for
the Internet connection.  We had long discussions about using land lines
instead of satellite.  Satellite is more expensive but since currently all
land lines go through Belgrade it means that a new satellite ISP would not
be dependent on Belgrade.  The other issue is that there are already
several satellite dishes set up around here.  Interpackit set up one at
two refugees camps, Stankovac one and two near the border.  No one is
using them now that the camps are emptying.


The next morning I was to meet Brad, Marko and Borja to go to Prishtina to
meet with some of the professors in the technical faculty including Naim,
the father of the family I stayed with last year.  He and Vegim (my friend
Vjosa from San Francisco's cousin) are colleagues and friends.

The road to Prishtina was not hugely damaged.  Most of the destroyed
houses were ones that had had shops below them.  They were burned from the
inside out so it was not from shelling or bombs.  There were a few
overturned cars that were burned out also.  Helicopters buzzed through the
valleys doing combat maneuvers.  That lent a war time feel.  There were
KFOR soldiers on duty at the border (they only stop private vehicles to
check for weapons) and we came upon a few convoys on the road.

Once in Prishtina we went to Medita's sisters house.  It was not damaged
at all.  Not even looted and it was immaculate.  We had to drop off oil,
rice and flour to her.  We stayed a few minutes.  Her father in law had
stayed in his house across the garden all through the bombing so he as
able to go out and plant so they will have vegetables in the fall.

We went to Naim's house next.  (I took out all my personal reflections at
this point.  If people want the longer version let me know. Remember this
is the first time I have been back in a year)  I explained to Naim that
part of the reason I was in Prishtina was work and that I was looking for
Vegim Gashi.  They are professors together in the technical factory.  
Hardly anyones phone is working including Naim's so we left to go find a
mobile to call Vegim.

Next stop was UNHCR to drop of some papers for the guy working under
Randolph Kent at OCHA/IASC Bob ?Miller?. Bob used to be the country
director for IRC for 9 months.  He looked rough around the edges like most
people in the Balkans.  I am a little vague about who I describe myself as
being.  I was with IRC today but more so I am Advocacy Project and I was
also a little ICVA.

UNHCR is in the police station or what is left of it.  There were several
buildings in the compound near the mall and stadium.  One is totally
destroyed.  I think it is the one with the jail cells in it. The part of
the building I was in a year ago is still standing.  Damn.

I used Bob's mobile to call Vegim and we arranged to meet at Naim's.
Borja, Marko and I parted ways from Medita and Brad.  They were off to
find the IRC office and we went back to Naim's to meet Vegim.  The walk
back to Naim's was one I had made 10s of times the year before.  There
were a ton of people on the streets and not a lot of damage on the main
streets in the center of town.  Vegim was waiting for us at Naim's house.

We sat outside around a table and I explained how I knew everyone and how
much of this meeting came from an idea that Vegim had a year ago for an
ISP in Prishtina.  The inclusion of Marko and Borja added the technical
expertise that made it possible for me to think through how it might work.  
Naim and Vegim both liked the idea of a satellite ISP for Prishtina that
would be housed in the Technical faculty university building although who
was to be 'in charge' was not clear nor was it clear how to deal with
potential profits.  PTT and phone lines were also a concern although the
building is well wired we were interested in ISDN lines.

We decided to go meet Illir Limani who is the Dean of the technical
faculty.  He lives in Dragodan but towards the bottom so I did not see any
of the destroyed houses that are supposed to cover the hill.  Vegim and
Naim explained to him who we were and we arranged to go and look at the
technical faculty building.

Vegim drove the 4 of us then came back to get Illir.  The technical
faculty building is in the Sunny Hill neighborhood, which looked largely
intact.  Rather then wait for Illir and Vegim we decided to go inside
because the housekeeper who watches over the building came up >from the
bottom of the long stairs to meet us.  I have noticed that in these days
all the men embrace each other when they see each other. After what they
have been through a hand shake is no longer sufficient. The building is
huge and made up of about 8 floors.  There are two technical faculties
that share it.  The computer and the more hands on engines and motors.  
We roamed around looking in rooms but being careful not to pick anything
up since it has not been cleared of landmines.  Many of the rooms had been
occupied by Serbs as sleeping quarters.  Every lock on every door was
destroyed and there were rooms littered with beer bottles, blankets and
pages from porn magazines. Marko and Borja wanted to see the room access
to place the satellite dish on.  It had to have southern exposure.  There
was a great roof to put it on.

We had seen enough of the building so we left.  At the top of the long
stairs we all shook hands and agreed to get back to one another about the
project.  Illir gave it his blessing.  Naim decided to walk back to the
house since he said it was good for his diabetes.  The rest decided to go
to cafÈ Corzo, which had just reopened.  But it was closed again when we
arrived so we went on to one nearby.  I made the joke that once again I
was one of the only women sitting at a table full of men drinking coffee.  
I told them about sitting in a cafÈ with Naim the year before and being
the only woman and arguing about Plato and how everyone would look at us,
this older professor and young woman arguing.

The trip back went fine until we got to the border.  In the car I wrote up
the ideas for the proposal. After a debacle at the border Marko, Borja and
I got a ride to my apartment and we got right to work.  I took a shower
while the guys typed.  They went for food while I typed some more.  We
finished with a few minutes to spare and caught a cab to our meeting with
the USAID/OTI guy named Nick.  Brad had set the meeting up for us.  I went
to IRC to print the proposal.  While there I started to talking to a guy
named Paul Meyer.  I was not entirely sure who he was but Brad deferred to
him.  Paul was interested in the ISP project and asked me to come and talk
to him after I was done with the other meeting.

Nick was lukewarm with about the project and said that OTIs focus was more
on local media and supporting that.  Also that the priority he was sure
would be on International NGO Internet access way before anything that
supported the university.  Marko and Borja had to cut out early to make
their plane so we did not really get to talk about the follow up on the
project.  I agreed to email them the proposal.  Nick and I spoke for a bit
about DC and mutual friends.  He was not planning to stay for long in the
region and in fact would be going back to DC permanently in a month.

I went back up and met with Paul.  Over coffee we talked for about an
hour.  It was not enough time to talk about all the different projects and
ideas we had in common.  He has just worked on a software project that was
for information sharing among NGOs in west Africa so they can match
unaccompanied children and their parents who approach different NGOs in
different countries.  It is a success and IRC is moving forward on it as
the lead agency.  He also worked on the family finder 'yellow pages' for
families separated in the Kosovo refugee crisis.  He said that he has been
given a mandate by IRC to create a section that funds best uses of
technology in crisis situations.  He has a lot of flexibility but can
still take advantage of the infrastructure of IRC. He liked what I told
him about The Advocacy Project.

While at the cafe I ran into Susan McNamara who I met on the plane over.  
She is making a documentary for CARE.  She invited Paul and I to dinner
later.  I had to go and meet the PP kids for a few hours but Paul wanted
to meet me again to talk some more.  I was already starting to feel the
wear and tear of rushing around and not really processing what it had been
like to be in Prishtina and to see everyone.  The PPs and I went to the
Internet cafÈ but Heroina begged off.  We agreed to meet the next day at

I left Ereblir some money for the Internet and rushed to meet Paul again.  
Several hours later he was fired up about the ISP in Prishtina idea but
not so much about the idea of linking the universities.  At least on the
first shot.  He thought that convincing a donor to fund it would be
difficult if there was not a provision for access for international NGOs.  
In a previous conversation the guys and I thought that it might be too
much pressure on everyone to start out as such a huge operation but I
could see Paul's point.  I also was imagining a local acting as a liason
between the ISP and INGOs.

But it made sense when we worked it out that the profits from the INGOs
and businesses fees would make it possible to make the ISP self supporting
and subsidize universal access instead of creating dependency like the
Soros's ISPs.  The profit would also go into getting local NGOs up and
running.  The university would be the hub of a tactical media/internet use
research center and ISP. The ISP project fit in perfectly with the new
direction for IRC and they had the grant money to fund it.

Paul, Brad and I went to meet one of Paul's friends, John Cutler.  He
works for Motorola but seemed more like a cowboy then anything else. Not
that he had boots on but that he used a mobile phone instead of a gun and
wielded it well.  He was negotiating a deal for Motorola to set up a
wireless network all over Kosovo funded in large part by the US
government.  I was a little disgusted by the avarice.

Paul and I decided we needed to go to Prishtina to meet with Naim and
Vegim and also to see that Koha Ditore was up to.  We heard the rumor that
were interested in a business oriented ISP. (First impression of that was
that like many good NGOs they are being picked to do everything by
everyone and given a lot of money)  I got a ride home with the Americans
from the embassy who were with us.  8am came too quickly.  I went to IRC
to meet Paul and we went up to Prishtina with Jonathan and his wife.  
Jonathan is head of logistics for IRC and coordinated all their food drops
during the bombings.  They are from Quebec but had been 10 years in Guinea
in Africa.

We dropped them at IRCs office in Prishtina and while talking to them I
saw Naim.  He was surprised again to see me and went off in search of
Vegim to come and meet us at Naim's house.  We all sat and talked. Paul
explained some of what we were thinking and how the ISP project was kind
of changing.  The two men loved it.  Turns out Vegim was already thinking
that there was a way to make the ISP self supporting. Naim liked it since
it would fund the university doing a lot of other projects related to
technology such as an oral history project on the web about the exodus
stories.  Once again we agreed to be on the look out for movement with PTT
(they control the phone lines) and at the University and to look for
people to bring into the project.

We left them and went to meet with Bob at IASC but he was in a meeting and
asked us to come back later.  We tried to meet up with John Cutler the
Motorola guy but no avail.  We went to Koha Ditore to try and find their
computer guy, Mark Vuksani, to see what their plans were.  I did not
really like the guy and he kept everything close to the vest.  He said he
is focusing on wirign the office again but that yes they are thinking of
becoming an ISP.

We went back to meet Bob and waited for him for a bit.  I ran into
Randolph Kent and introduced myself.  I think Paul and I were playing a
little game of one upsmanship to see who knew whom.  I was buying into it
a bit since I am still uncomfortable with this scene.  Randolph wants to
talk about ICVA and coordination next week when Peter and I come back.

Bob was interested in the ISP idea and said we were the first ones to
bring an idea like that to him although he heard N design was up and
running again and may have a similar idea. (n design created many of the
websites for the parallel system).  He said that our idea seemed destined
to limit competition and squash small businesses.  He said that thinking
on the long term of the economy was what UNMIK was committed to doing.  
He also mentioned a new procedure of 3 serbs and 3 albanians having to
approve all decisions including two that directly affected our ideas.  
PTT and the University.  He said that if the University is only in
Albanian then there is no way they will get any international support.  
What kept running through my head was 'the power of capitalism' and how it
has not erased the inequalities in the US and why did we feel the need to
export it.  The ISP at the university seemed an improvement over
traditional ways of dependent NGOs and business without a conscience.

We decided to head back.  I was exhausted.  Paul and I talked about The
Advocacy Project.  I could tell he was trying to figure us out.  How do we
do what we do.  Not an easy thing to get your head around.  He asked me to
say in 6 words what it is we do.  I could not and I did not really want to
since this project is not just me.  It is a project and a collaboration.  
He said based on our conversation our work was to help NGOs/Advocates
create, share and manage information.  I thought that sounded about right.  
But it was an exercise I did not really like.  We are not an NGO and do
not want to become one.

I told him about possibly approaching Silicon Valley.  He too is thinking
to do that.  He said the way to pitch it is say this is an innovative use
of the technology you created and it should be supported.

Once back in Skopje I had tons of phone calls to make including Alice
Mead.  We had not connected yet.  She was in Tetovo and had been in
Prishtina for 6 days.  She was not nearly was optimistic about things as I
was.  She had spent several days with Albin's mother and told me that his
mother's hair had turned totally white during the ordeal of the last few
months.  Albin is still being held in prison in Nis along with
approximately 2000 others.  Heroina's cousin included.  Her cousin is
being held because his ID was from the Drenica region and when the VJ
rounded up all the men and they saw the village name and Drenica was a KLA
stronghold they arrested him.  He has not been released.

Alice said UNMIK is a mess from the local standpoint.  No one will speak
with the provisional government, which has set up shop in the Hotel Dea.
She said that the provisional government is not invited to any meetings
nor consulted. My first thought was that they should start protesting.  
Refuse to let meetings take place unless they are represented.  I thought
about their 10 year history of protest.  They know how to do it.

About the board of 3 serbs and 3 albanians consultative group she offered
this story for why that would not work.  She was speaking to a friend in
the street and someone came up and interrupted them to say that during the
fighting the woman Alice was talking to her sister was killed along with
her 4 children.  There were more stories like that. Alice said the board
was the reason why there were no operating radio stations yet and only a
few papers.  No one would agree to work together.  The Serb rector of the
university has handed the keys over to UNMIK but there are negotiations to
get them to stay.

She said that there was so much Albanian on Albanian theft going on that
was really undermining the community. This fits with what Naim told me.  
He also said that there are a lot of Albanians in Prishtina he does not
recognize.  Edita says they are Mafia from Albania in P. to make some
money.  She said the same is true of the KLA.  The men she and the
journalists had relationships with during the last year are not around
anymore.  Instead a bunch of guys in newly purchased uniforms are running

According to Alice the parallel structures are collapsed except for the
Mother Teresa clinics, which are distributing medical supplies in
partnership with Mercy Corps.  LDK deputies are back at their regular jobs
not in politics and the KLA does not know what to do.  The provisional
government has set up boards to determine the needs of the different
sectors.  But no one is listening to their conclusions. Instead the UN,
WHO, UNICEF, OSCE is doing it but paying lip service to the local
contribution and scrambling to preserve a multi ethnic state. As I watch
the Ulster agreement be negotiated I can see how the possibility exists
there for co existance.  They have not lived through what the Albanians
have in the last year on the same scale. The model of coexistance is being
forced on Kosovo with no recognition of what they have been through.  It
is moving too quickly.

To Alice the refugees returning was a big mistake.  Because the
international community did not do a better job of supporting the
indigenous leadership when they were in the camps then there was no one to
tell the people to stay put while the landmines were cleared and food was
made available.  Now people have nothing and are far away from the reach
of aid.

July 3, 1999 Skopje Macedonia