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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Serb Internet Faces Oblivion




Is it possible to destroy the Internet in a single country? How complicated would it be?


Thanks to NATO's assault on Yugoslavia, these may soon cease to be hypothetical questions. It's quite likely that in the near future we'll get exhaustive answers to both of them. And there's every reason to believe that the answer to the first question is yes; to the second, not very.


The four largest Internet providers in Yugoslavia - BeoNET, Eunet Yugoslavia, SezamPRO, and BITS - are linked to the outside world by three fiber-optic cables and one satellite channel. All four connections are overloaded at present, and the breakdown of any one of them could lead to the others collapsing as well.


Destroying Internet communications, by the way, is much easier than restoring them. It would take the tiniest of bombs to sever a cable, fry a router or turn a satellite dish into a puddle of liquid plastic, and NATO has thousands of bombs. The cost of reconstructing Internet arteries would run into the millions of dollars. Of course, no one will bother trying while a war is raging.


But the Yugoslav Internet might cease to exist not only as a result of a central communications node being destroyed but for a far more prosaic reason, the trade embargo imposed on Serbia by the countries that make up the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Last month, the press secretary of the U.S. satellite operator Loral Orion, which provides BeoNET with its uplink, announced that, although his firm understands the importance of the Internet for people inside Yugoslavia, it was not willing to break the law and would be forced to shut off transmissions as soon as the U.S. government asked it to do so.


However, U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin has since denied that NATO has any intention of cutting off the Yugoslav Internet's oxygen supply, explaining that "full and open access to the Internet can only help the Serbian people know the ugly truth about the atrocities and crimes against humanity being perpetrated in Kosovo by the Milosevic regime." And it goes without saying, of course, that they'll also be able to learn more about the worthy actions of NATO.


If the Yugoslav Internet falls victim either to sanctions or bombs, than there will be practically no reliable means for the outside world to communicate with Yugoslavia, a country almost at the heart of Europe. Wired News reports that Yugoslavia's phone network is experiencing serious overloads: International calls from Belgrade are, at best, extremely difficult. This means that Serbian web users won't be able to log on to providers in neighboring countries; even if they manage to dial out, the connection will be poor and very expensive.


The sad thing is that the Internet has been the most objective source of information on the war. Photos, letters and videos describing the situation on the ground there tell us a great deal more than conventional media. So that Serbian users can access the web without fear of being detected by Milosevic's secret police, the company Anonymizer (www.anonymizer.com) has inaugurated a free service that "shields" a client's real IP address. The famous Belgrade radio station B92 (www.freeb92.net) was forced to move to the Internet after its editor in chief was arrested and its staff replaced by puppets of Milosevic. B92's server is located in the Netherlands and supported by Dutch provider XS4ALL.


For now, the question of whether the Internet can survive in Yugoslavia remains open.


Daniil Dougaev is an independent computer journalist in St. Petersburg who has written widely on the Internet in Russia.