in the New Europe
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Surprisingly or not, most of the ex-communist countries
are catching up with Western Europe in the most modern method
of communication - The Internet. Frane Maroevic explains
The internet was born during the cold war 30 years ago.
The US Department of Defence got together with a number of
military contractors and universities to explore the possibility
of a communication network that could survive a nuclear attack.
For the first decade of its existence, it was primarily used
to send e-mail messages, access discussion groups and distant
Today literally the whole world is linked up - at least wherever
there is a phone you can connect to the internet. Former communist
countries that were once almost completely closed to the outside
world are using the internet to improve communications, promote
trade, attract tourists, investment, broadcast news... The
versatility of this media is endless. In terms of spread of
the internet, is Eastern Europe lagging behind the West? Jacek
Gajewski is the Director of the Central and Eastern European
Countries like Poland, Czech, Hungary, Slovenia, Estonia
have level of the development of the networks and the penetration
of the internet, on the European level, they do not differ
a lot. In countries like Bulgaria, Romania it's developing
quite quickly, Macedonia is doing very good progress.
In common with the rest of Europe the speed of growth of the
internet in this area is phenomenal. Vassily Le Moigne is
Microsoft's Internet Manager for Eastern Europe.
I have been working in this area for the last four years and
it has been developing extremely fast. We see it's almost
doubling every year, when we talk about people online and
for web sites it's doubled in the last six months... So it's
an incredible growth.
Not all of these countries are developing the internet at
the same speed, Vassily Le Moigne again.
The country that is growing extremely fast is Poland and Poland
is actually the third largest internet market in Europe, with
about 3.5 million users, so it's enormous, because access
there is like a commodity, it's access for free, you just
have to pay for local phone calls, you don't have to register.
It's a simple phone call away. The other countries they are
growing a bit slower because it's still expensive for most
people, you need a PC and you need to pay a monthly fee and
the telephone line, so it's quite expensive.
Once connected, what do these 3 million people in Poland use
the internet for? Juliusz Donajski is the Public Relations
Officer for the Polish Chamber of Information Technology and
now we are observing that from the very simple way of using
the internet, like e-mail, browsing the web for fun. We are
slowly moving to the serious use of the internet, relations
with e-commerce. In Poland we have from the end of last year,
one of the Polish banks is offering home banking, through
Vassily Le Moigne sees this market potential developing throughout
Central and Eastern Europe.
I would say it's just as sophisticated as market of Western
Europe. You find basically the same types of services as you
would in France or in the UK. They just adapt it to the local
market conditions, so if you talk about e-commerce the face
that there is a limited usage of credit cards, they have to
come up with alternative methods of payment. So you have Western
technology adapted to eastern Europe. You see banking applications,
stock trading, these type of things all over Eastern Europe.
Another former communist country that is considered economically
and technologically developed to Western European standards
is Slovenia. Miso Alkalaj, the Head of the Slovene National
Supercomputing centre is more sceptical about the growth of
business on the internet.
Those that are interested have it, but I would say, this is
not an observation only on Slovenia but, Europe in general.
I think very few businesses actually see it as something that
is necessary for their commercial success. There is some sort
of threshold we haven't reached yet. A lot of companies have
their web pages, a lot of their managers have e-mail, but
very few people actually see the internet as something they
need for their businesses.
Two years ago US President, Bill Clinton announced plans to
boost global commerce on the Internet. According to some projections,
electronic commerce could account for as much as twenty per
cent of worldwide consumer sales within the next decade.
It will literally be possible to start a company tomorrow
and next week do business in Japan and Germany and Chile -
all without leaving your home, something that used to take
years and years and years to do. In this way the Internet
can be and should be a truly empowering force for large and
small business people alike.
According to Miso Alkalaj, even the United States has a long
way to go as far as commerce on the internet is concerned
I would actually say that even in the US it hasn't developed
into the real commercial internet that we expect some day,
because what really succeeds is selling stuff that you would
otherwise sell in a regular shop. The real future I think
of the internet is selling information, selling soft goods.
In Europe this has succeeded to a much lesser extent, to an
even lesser extent in Slovenia.
Slovenia has modernised its telephone system. But, in some
of the other former communist countries the telephone system
on which the internet relies is outdated and the equipment
required to connect a country to the internet is expensive.
As Vassily le Moigne explains most of them rely on external
There you have a lot of support done by organisations for
instance the Soros Foundation has been helping a lot, trying
to create centres where people can use the internet and we
have been cooperating with them to help them do these types
of projects. For example in Albania, in Former Yugoslavia,
but also in Russia and most of the countries of Eastern Europe.
In Albania, the United Nations Development Programme, the
UNDP was the first institution to set up internet access,
providing free e-mail service to anyone. When a few comercial
companies were established, they continued to provide this
service just to academic and government institutions, and
non-governmental organisations. Genti Dace, the Network Administrator
at the UNDP explains why it was important to connect Albania
to the internet.
Albania like all other countries wants to be opened to informatin
resources, information libraries and also wants to offer its
information to all the world. So it's very important to extend
and to promote new technologies. Here in Albania this is a
very important issue, because people can share ideas with
from other countries.
Using the internet I found out that the Soros Foundation Internet
Programme Director, Jonathan Peizer is in Baku, Azerbaijan,
and after sending various e-mails I found the restaurant where
he was having lunch. He explained that for an organisation
devoted to promoting links between people, the internet is
a vital force
Freedom of information and communication is essential component
of an open civil society and internet being an efficient distribution
mechanism it made sense to go into that. As the internet was
developing it made sense to develop it in Central and Eastern
other places where we do work.
One of the most famous example of the internet use to challenge
state censorship was when the Yugoslav government tried to
close down the Belgrade independent radio station B92. As
its Editor in Chief, Veran Matic explains, by using the internet
they avoided closure.
We started developing the internet as a separate branch of
the media. In a way it became an addition to the existing
media.... This meant that we could continue transmitting when
our radio was banned and our transmitter was closed down in
December 96. We could quickly establish contact with the Voice
of America, Radio Free Europe, Deutche Welle and the BBC.
After 52 hours of transmitting over the internet and the transmitters
of these radio stations, we were allowed to continue transmitting,
and in a way made nonsense of the ban.
This was by no means the sole example, how the internet can
be used to promote spread of information and sometimes help
in a crisis, such as Moscow's White House siege in 1993, Jacek
Good example of it was in case of Hot Days in Moscow where
all other information channels were blocked and via internet
we could get most fresh news about what's going on when the
White House was attacked. Also in some case of a problem with
natural disasters, there were very nice examples where the
help had been organised via the internet a year and a half
ago we had terrible flood in Poland and as-hoc there was a
bank of exchange of information and people who need something
or have something to offer.
Charlie Bartlett from BBC Monitoring remembers how the war
in former Yugoslavia was continued on the internet:
A group of Croatian hackers, I think based in Sweden who were
attacking some Yugoslav government site and disrupting it
and counter-action was taken by some Serbs on the Croatian
BBC Monitoring in Caversham listens to broadcasts from all
over the world. The internet has become another source of
information. How has it developed as a medium? Charlie Bartlett
I see it as changing very rapidly, I mean just a couple of
years ago there was very little, in the last couple of years
we have noticed a very big difference in terms of the press,
you get all the Eastern European press free now. The official
media see that it's going to be the way forward and they've
got to catch up and develop it, equally it's used by various
campaigning groups. We used the Hungarian government web site
during the parliamentary elections in May 1998, and for the
local elections in October 98. It wasn't the main and sole
source of information, but it was very useful as a backup
because they had all sorts of background information on the
elections which was readily available and we weren't able
to get it from other places easily.
Veran Matic from B92 confirms that much of the information
is placed on the internet by various media mainly for foreign
Firstly, as compared to other European countries, very few
people have access to the internet, especially when it comes
to listening to Real-Audio broadcasts. Our programme is primarily
aimed to the audience abroad, most of them are the new generation
of immigrants, those who left the country since the beginning
of the war in 91. They are our most loyal listeners who in
this way want to keep in touch with their homeland. When we
launched our text service on the internet in Serbian and English,
it was intended for a foreign audience. This was a part of
our strategy of breaking the information blockade by combining
conventional and modern media. Our news bulletins, published
on the internet would be printed by people abroad, who then
sent them on by fax to other parts of Serbia which did not
then have access to the internet.
In its infancy the internet was mainly used by scientists
to quickly exchange large amounts of information. Today scientists
still find the internet an invaluable tool as Jacek Gajewski
I would say that this little bit depends of course on type
of science that you do. It's not that critical for social
sciences, where mostly small volume of data is transferred,
but it's very critical for natural sciences, if you take astronomy
or high energy physics, enormous amount of data which has
to be transferred through the network, and that is of course
completely out of question in case of such remote locations.
Generally natural sciences in those countries with bad infrastructure
suffer from the lack of connectivity.
The existing infrastructure in Eastern Europe can also offer
some unexpected advantages. Vassily Le Moigne from Microsoft
has been looking at opportunities for improving internet access.
The infrastructure of the eastern Europe is bringing some
unique problems and unique opportunities. One of the opportunities
is that they have very high penetration of cable TV in Eastern
Europe compared to other countries of the world, this is a
unique opportunity for bringing the internet to the end user
via alternative methods and this is something that is very
specific to Eastern Europe.
As internet technology becomes more accessible and affordable
it will reach more remote parts of the world. Giving greater
number of people the opportunity to exchange information and
learn about parts of the world they may never see or people
they may never meet. It's already clear that it will be a
long time before the internet irons out the differences between
regions or people.
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