Balkans turn to Web for local news and war crimes trials
July 1, 1998
by Sharon Machlis
(IDG) -- As war raged in Bosnia and "ethnic cleansing" claimed the lives of tens of thousands, Dutch systems administrator Frank Tiggelaar said, he "knew as much about [former] Yugoslavia as your average newspaper reader."
Then Bosnian refugees moved into his apartment building and told him their stories.
Today, Tiggelaar, 47, and a small team of volunteers run an ambitious Balkan news site on the World Wide Web called Domovina Net ("domovina" means homeland). It has about 10G bytes of data spread over servers in four countries and includes video and audio streams from around the world. Domovina Net also features news reports from Kosovo, the Yugoslav province where Serb forces have repeatedly clashed with the majority ethnic Albanian population.
The latest project, set to debut next month with backing from several nonprofit groups, will bring to the Web real-time audio feeds from the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. Tiggelaar said that will help media within Bosnia rebroadcast the trials as well as give sound bites to other small media outlets in Europe.
"It's an amazing information source," said Andras Riedlmayer, a bibliographer at Harvard University who has launched a project to help rebuild the collections of Bosnia's destroyed libraries at www.applicom.com/manu/ingather.htm.
"There have long been sites on the Internet that were able to give wire service copy," he said. "At Domovina Net, you have everything. You have real-time broadcasts, you have multilingual renditions of the local papers, of the international press. ... Basically, everything you want to know is there or linked to the site."
Desperate for contact
It all started in early 1995, when Tiggelaar met some Bosnians who had fled the onslaught of Serb nationalist forces and were desperate to keep in contact with relatives still caught in the war. Tiggelaar let them use his home computer and Internet connection to send E-mail to Bosnia, where there were rudimentary connections set up via satellite between besieged Sarajevo and the outside world. His Bosnian friends then asked about starting a Web site with news from their country. That site was launched in May 1995.
Domovina Net now attracts 25,000 to 50,000 visitors per week. They download about 8G to 9G bytes of data weekly.
Predrag Jovanovic, an engineering technician now living in the U.S., is one of many Bosnian expatriates who regularly use the site. Though he said he sometimes is frustrated by the nationalist tone of some broadcasts from the region, Jovanovic said, "It's nice to hear news in my native language."
Tiggelaar says he spends 10 to 25 hours each week working on the project and a related effort to develop a high-speed satellite link between Sarajevo and Amsterdam.In addition, he has a full-time job at the BB&H Consultancy in Amsterdam.
The largest chunk of server space for Domovina Net is donated by and housed at an outside Dutch Internet provider, XS4All. But much of the audio and video production, such as converting satellite TV and radio programs to Web RealAudio and RealVideo format, is done in Tiggelaar's home, on several networked computers he also uses for his job. Tiggelaar said his windows have been smashed three times, apparently by a Bosnian Serb opposed to the site's stance favoring restoration of a multiethnic Bosnia. A suspect was arrested the third time and deported, Tiggelaar said.
The International War Crimes broadcasts are tentatively scheduled to go live on Domovina Net July 14. Those who have been working to have those responsible for war crimes brought to justice are heartened by the effort.
"People who really want this information will be able to get it," even those living in Serbia and Croatia where local nationalist media are unlikely to broadcast the trials, said Riedlmayer, who testified before Congress as an expert witness on the genocide in Bosnia. "Everybody will have a chance to come to terms with what happened. That's one of the best chances of preventing a repetition."
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