Geert Lovink on Wed, 28 Jul 1999 23:18:30 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> War In The Age of Internet

[after andreas and eric have send theirs, this is my contribution for the
media revolution book, ed. by stephen kovats, which will appear this fall,
as a wrap up of the ostranenie exhibits, the series of east european media
art shows which took place in the bauhaus/dessau in east germany. the text
is rather desperate, dark, written after the collapse of the international
help b-92 campaign, before the first media/net initiatives in macedonia
and albania took off. the real role of internet over these three months
still has to be evaluated. a lot of what has been written in newspapers
about the 'heroic role of the internet' is itself part of a larger
infowar. it is for sure that both the independent media in ex-yugoslavia
(including B92) and their supporting NGO campaigns in the West (such as
press now, here in amsterdam) were not at all prepared for this increasing
role the internet played in the media wars. voices of kosov@-albanians
have virtually been absent on the net, and remain so. still, the amount of
information, the sheer overload during these tense weeks has been
impressive. the questions which have been raised this spring, from all
sides, will keep us busy for a while, that much is clear. geert]


War In The Age of Internet
Some thoughts and reports, spring 1999
By Geert Lovink

What is (net)activism these days?  Why wear a "Dazed and Confused" 
t-shirt? You know, the lifestyle magazine... Or "Help B92", the support
campaign for the banned Belgrade independent conglomerate, for that
matter? It is not the 'why' but 'how' which fascinates. Click here, order
the t-shirt NOW. Engagement is a non issue for the Low Identity People,
the High Intensity Crowds. Why wonder? Enjoy, get outraged. "Make War,
Love Later." There are always some lost moments, not yet colonized by the
cruelly true so-called 'economy of attention'. Enter vague terrains, free
slots of good will, yet to be filled. Once we have left behind boring
political principles, a universe of activism unfolds before our eyes. Cool
data do not stick onto smooth surfaces. Unclassified resistance. Tell me,
was it two steps forward, one step back? Or one step forward two steps
back? Little time for reflection, even less to concentrate and browse for
new ideas. Let us move on. 

A clever news analysis is by far the maximum we can expect these days from
the pensee d'aujourd'hui. The few public intellectuals left, those who did
not turn into TV personalities, have little on offer at the brink of the
millennium. This is the post-media era with a technological imperative
going way beyond broadcasting. News is just another option within a range
of menus the networked economy has imposed on its clients/users. Sooner
than expected, we have slipped into the Reality of the Virtual. No one
Baudrillard anymore to upset liberals and alike. Simulation rules; so does
reality TV. The heroic-Hegelian battle between the Real and its Virtual is
over. Both are contained, subjected to the same cyber-synergetic forces. 
"Kosovo n'existe pas." Not anymore. The dirty reality and its counterpart,
the clean, surgical image are intertwined into one never ending stream of
infotainment. Also the newly proclaimed infowar of hackers and secret
services does not prevent any Kosovo-villagers from being expelled. It
just opens a next, still insignificant, battleground. The yet unseen
pictures from inside Kosovo will merely intensify the war. Even without
shocking imagery we are faced with an evidence overload. There is no truth
in the unseen. We are reaching here the point of equation: media=war. 

Media never simply represent, or report. Its technological nature drowns
out each signal. As spin-offs from the war machine, manipulation is just
another technical feature: cut & paste, import-export. Erase and rewind. 
Media as an 'extension' of war: the mother of all media. It is a daily
practice of media professionals, worldwide, getting lost in an uneasy
propaganda theater. War as the continuation of politics with the same
means: computers. The then authentic outcry in the aftermath of the
Romanian television revolution can now be reinterpreted as a violent
initiation into the technicality of today's live image production. The
staged realities of 1999 have a similar docudrama touch, having to watch
history at the speed of light, sending out very basic human impulses,
straight through the postmodern surfaces. 

Ten years after the Romanian television revolution: "The Internet is with
us." Not quite. In the case of the Kosovo war, this new medium has proven
particularly vulnerable. Not yet war proof. Not much 'routing around', as
the official Internet ideology is stating it so simply. A clear lack of
satellite telephones, crypto software, laptops and digicams, technophiles
would say. With the armed uprising of the KLA almost 1 1/2 years under
way, since late 1996, there are few or no signs of a clandestine press, on
either side. No heroic attacks from Serbian opposition on government
servers. Hackers are operating on behalf of Slav brotherhood, anti-NATO
movements or pro-Albania, but from elsewhere (Russia, USA, Switzerland). 
With Serbian 'dissident' media being shut down, journalists being killed
and intimidated, and Kosovo being destroyed and emptied of people, who is
there to do the 'authentic' Internet reporting? It is therefor strange,
saying that the Gulfwar belonged to CNN, with Kosovo now being the first
Internet war. At least, the pop mythology likes to see it that way. After
the Belgrade 'Internet Revolution', with (NOTE OR REFERENCE?) 
continuing the banned radio signal of B92, using (December
1996; see David Bennahum in Wired #5.04), we now seem to have the
'Internet War', with Chinese hackers in retaliation for the NATO attack on
the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, bringing down the websites of the US
Ministry of Energy and Internal Affairs. In mid May even the rumor got
spread that Internet as such would be shut down, which was later denied by
American government officials. Internet is supposed to be good for the
Yugoslav people! Slobodan Markovic, a young computer programmer, reporting
almost daily to the syndicate and nettime mailinglists from Belgrade, puts
the effort to shut down the Yu-Net in a broader perspective: "This attempt
of shutting down Internet satellite feeds to Yugoslavia is a good reminder
that Cyberspace is not situated in some kind of a vacuum and that our REAL
governments CAN and WILL do anything that suits their interests. Just like
corporate invertebrates, they will do all of that regardless of our
communication customs and ethics we developed over years on the Net." 

To illustrate this Slobodan sums up the following incidents. 

- Together with Radio B-92, their Internet division (
  also went down. All of Opennet's classrooms and New Media Labs
  (like cybeRex) are closed. All of their Internet projects (aimed
  to education about Internet issues and development of Yugoslav
  cyberspace) are put on hold or completely cancelled.
- When NATO destroyed the second bridge in Novi Sad one fiber-optic
  cable carrying Internet traffic was broken.
- When NATO hit one building in Belgrade downtown a great deal of
  computer equipment, belonging to BITS ISP, was totally destroyed.
- NATO is targeting Post offices in many large cities. Three days
  ago more than 18.000 people lost their phone connections in (THE) city
  of Uzice (similar thing happened in (THE) city of Prishtina).
- NATO is using graphite bombs to COMPLETELY disable major Serbian
  power plants. During five days, more than half of population in
  Serbia (approx. 5 million of people) did not have electric power.

(Tmhwk censorship! From: Slobodan Markovic <twiddle@EUnet.yu>, Date: Thu,
13 May 1999 20:43:10 +0200)

It is hard to grasp that an entire region inside (South-East) Europe is
being turned into an information black hole. Journalists should just do
their job and go there, war or no war, some say. That may be the case for
CNN or BBC, with all their resources, but specially these Western news
organizations are particularly vulnerable for sophisticated forms of
propaganda and manipulation with images. Small media may be 'tactical'
(see: n5m conference, Amsterdam, March 12-14, 1999, http://www/ 
but they are also easy to shut down. One of the first things B92 stopped
doing after being taken off the air was independent reporting. You need a
lot of courage when fellow journalists get killed on the street because of
their critique of the regime. Would you have it? Would you stay, not being
able to do the work properly, or go in exile and not being in touch
anymore with friends, family, events. Probably old dilemmas. Most Kosov@
Albanians did not even had a choice. 

What we are left with, on the Serbian-urban side are individual witnesses,
diaries, personal accounts. Immediately, even during the first bombs were
coming down, they started to pop up, and have not disappeared ever since. 
Their psycho-geography is limited, by nature, by the very definition of
the genre. This is not theory, or critical analysis of politics and the
war situation. Add to this the semi-personal touch of e-mail, and presto,
there you get an odd, once in a lifetime mixture of paranoia, reflexion,
pathetic pity, waves of despair, worrysome productions of subjectivity,
with here and there valuable pictures of the everyday life under
extraordinary circumstances. Here are some fragments, posted to various

"YES - I AM angry and personally endangered... and not just physically...
I have dedicated all my life to computer sciences. Without that what is
left for me to do? And yesterday some idiot decided to bomb all the main
electric plants in Serbia. When I woke up early this morning (around 4 am)
I could only sit silent in the darkness of my room, the darkness of my
city, watching darkness on my computer screen! What the hell - the army is
using electric power, so let's cut it out COMPLETELY, right?!" (Date: Mon,
3 May 1999 19:47:31 +0200, From: Slobodan Markovic <twiddle@EUnet.yu>
Subject: A Just War, to: nettime and syndicate)

"Do you still believe that they are fighting for human rights?  We are in
terrible position. If they are fighting only against our government why
are they attacking civilians? Do we really need this aggression? Don't
they have any other way to persuade our president to negotiate? Do we,
civilians, have to suffer because of wrong government on one side and
aggressive ways of USA to realize their strategic and economic goals on
the other? We only want to live our lives normally. To work, have fun,
have families, have healthy children. We are normal people that is very
tired of everything that is going on here in the last ten years. Please,
help us, by spreading our side of the story all over the world. Tell this
to your friends. Anything that you do can be helpful. Help us only by
thinking. Remember, this can happen to any poor nation. The world should
not be a jungle." (Subject: <nettime> (fwd) my side of the story, From: 
Marija Marjanovic <marija@sezampro.yu>, Date: Tue, 4 May 1999 14:35:31

"good fucking morning to you too. fucking fucking fucking! early morning,
4.50, all fucking windows were shaking fucking strong, fucking close if
anything happen to my son, i will fucking do something nasty, really nasty
i am fucking scared, i am fucking angry, i must be fucking dangerous and
do not anyone EVER dare to fucking brainwash me about fucking military
targets NEVER FUCKING AGAIN i am dangerously fucking scared and ANGRY! who
of you have visited novi sad and who fucking can remember the old bridge,
near the fucking oldest bridge which is in danube, as remembrance of
fucking WWII and thousands of jews, serbs and others fucking thrown alive
in january cold water under the fucking ICE by fucking nazi destroyers? 
(..) we are still not stinking but shall!!! we shall be fucking stinky,
and all fucking picture about fucking stinky serbs will fit finally! but
it will fucking not destroy my fucking memory about the bridge and fucking
fear of my little son, NEVER! there are fucking demonstrations everywhere,
find a first square and START opposing madness and destroying, fucking
of love and all the best (just to the friends) and the rest of you-happy
fucking 1st of april fucking world joke fucking day (From: baza
<baza@eunet.yu Subject: Syndicate: fucking 1st of april day of fucking

"nato prevents humanitarian catastrophe in kosovo by creating a more grave
humanitarian condition in serbia and montenegro. now it is our babies that
are short of milk, now the whole population of serbia suffers from food
and petrol shortages. this is no way to spread democracy. if it is,
democracy is a virus that kills!  i am the assistant professor of american
and english literature at the university of novi sad. i have visited
states and seen myself that it really is a land of opportunities. i am not
one of those people who mocks american dream. still, now that i am so
tense after spending two days in a damp shelter with a swollen tooth (not
being able to visit my doctor in all this mess), now that i am quite tense
and near the end of my tether, i do not want to be harsh, or to use harsh
words on anybody. just, please, do not turn american dreams into yugoslav
nightmare! (Subject: <nettime> serbian diary, 26 march, From: insomnia
<insomnia@EUnet.yu>, Date: Wed, 31 Mar 1999 14:47:52 -0800) 

There has been a fierce (mainly financial) repression of (independent) 
media before March 24, 1999, the day NATO bombing started
( Yet, the belief in civic structures
remained amazingly strong. And still does. That's what all these accounts
have in common: a strong anger, disbelief, completely unprepared for the
'clean bombing'. Throughout april 1999 the then banned radio station B92
worked on a law suit against the Serbian authorities to get back their
radio station, building and equipment, which had been confiscated by a
leftist patriotic student organization, Milosovic puppets (see: Perhaps a naive, optimistic
view, believing in the final victory of Law? The problem here, in my view,
is the not any longer existing distinction between war and peace. It seems
hard to acknowledge for the advocates of independent media and free
cyberspace that in times of war there is little or no role to play for
this famous 'civil society'. Besides buildings, roads, bridges and of
course lives of people, the military logic is also destroying civil
structures, media first and foremost. Obvious, one would stay. Still, we
have got rather high expectations, for example from B92 or even from
Kosov@-Albanians hiding in Preshtina, or somewhere in the mountains. With
the vanishing of the very real distinction between civil and military
(rule) it is specially the smaller broad/netcasters, local radio and
television stations, magazines, newspapers, rooted in the local and
national social structures (including its building and technological
structure) which are the easy targets. Not the established global news
corporations. And the individuals, or communication guerilla units, but
that concept is not (yet?) operational within Deep Europe (the former
East..). Stuck in the middle of some 'transitions', longing for some basic
'normalization', it seems inappropriate to demand for a militarization
towards 'underground' media. In wartime, all media will ultimately
surrender to the military logic and will seize to exist. Specially the
civic, open and experimental parts of the Internet. Unless its users are
prepared, and give up their universal right to communicate random data. 
Only after such metamorphosis we enter an entire (ENTIRELY) different
mediascape, filled with secrecy and distrust. But that's a different
track, way beyond, or rather besides, the now historical 1989 paradigm of
'independent' media. 

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