Intranet project aims to heal Bosnia

Intranet project aims to heal Bosnia

Several groups are working to boost Internet access in cities where almost all communications were cut off by years of siege. And academics are trying to reconstruct documents lost when Serb forces destroyed the National Library.

The latest high-tech effort, Project Bosnia, plans to set up an intranet in the Serb-held city of Banja Luka for independent journalists to communicate with one another.

"It's a useful step to open up some new channels of information exchange," said Henry Perritt, dean of the Chicago-Kent College of Law, which is part of the intranet project.

Balkan experts say that media controlled by nationalist extremists spewing ethnic hatred contributed greatly to the war in Bosnia, which is why it is important today for independent media to be functioning in the country.

Project Bosnia, sponsored by the Chicago-Kent and Villa-nova University law schools, already has identified a home at the Banja Luka University-based media centre for a donated Sun Microsystems server.

The intranet project meshes with US Government efforts to bolster anti-Karadzic forces within Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb entity created by the Dayton peace accords.

Radovan Karadzic, charged with genocide and crimes against humanity, still holds power in most of Srpska and opposes many provisions of the peace treaty that ended Bosnia's war in 1995.

"One of our major efforts is to promote independent media . . . [and] improve access to information, which is still pretty limited in Republika Srpska," said Janet Garvey, public affairs officer at the US Embassy in Sarajevo. The US Government has given financial backing to the intranet plan, she said.

Project Bosnia earlier set up an intranet in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, which suffered years of heavy bombardment by Serb forces. Serb gunners targeted several historic and cultural landmarks in the city, including libraries and museums that housed vitally important documents.

That intranet, still in its early stages, will be used first by the country's courts and human rights office to gain access to electronic documents where paper versions are unavailable. Other projects across the country bring legal information via intranet to regional government offices.

In the longer term, university volunteers are trying to help rebuild the collection of the National Library, where millions of books and several rare historical manuscripts were destroyed.

"When the National Library was burned down in August 1992, the card catalogue was destroyed along with most of the collection," said Andras Riedlmayer, a bibliographer at Harvard Uni-versity's Fine Arts Library. Riedlmayer has worked on several Bosnia-related reconstruction projects. "They were left with no way of even identifying what it was that they lost."

OCLC in Ohio, agreed to search its bibliographic database from thousands of member libraries for any Bosnia-related publications, creating a massive reference resource.

Enes Kujundzic, director of Bosnia's National Library, said the project will help not only people in his country, but also researchers worldwide who need information about the Balkan nation.

In addition, basic computer technology such as technical journals on CD is vital in helping to rebuild the library's contents, he said. With entire collections of medical, scientific and other magazines wiped out in the shelling, it would be expensive and time-consuming to handle all new paper copies.

"We don't have much staff at our disposal," he said. "In addition to online access, CD technology is very important."

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