War destroys the cultural fabric of a nation. Not
only do the victims suffer the deprivation of material and personal loss, they
are torn loose from their own social persona. The insidious horror of Sarajevo
and Bosnia is that the Serbs have launched a systematic campaign aimed at the
total destruction of the Bosnian Muslim sense of being in the world.
goal is nothing less than the complete and irrevocable eradication of even the
faintest trace of a Bosnian heritage in the Balkans. For all intent and
purposes, they were never there. To date, Serb propaganda and their re-writing
of history are complementary tactics employed with great effect. What will it
matter to Bosnian children if the stories they hear from their elders are only
tales from the Atrocity Exhibition? With no other resources to draw from, no
remnants of the legacy of poets, novelists, playwrights and musicians, no sense
of a culture which speaks to a time of vigor and renewal, how can they be
expected to build again, to think and grow beyond the bonds of this great
tragedy which has so overwhelmed them?
What is needed now is the
regeneration of the cultural genome, that part of the Bosnian heritage which has
not yet been eliminated and can serve as the seed of their renewal.
for the creation of a new cultural resource center in Sarajevo. A "library"
perhaps, but in a larger sense the ritual gathering of the broken pieces of a
city and its population and their quiet restoration.
The focus for this
undertaking is not the "traditional" foreign aid paradigm. We do not feel that
internal connections to outside entities, no matter how well intentioned, are
appropriate to this project. We feel that too often victims of a catastrophe
such as this are made to feel more powerless through the helping hand-out
approach. What value is there for a Bosnian teenager to be connected to the San
Francisco Library if all he can access is the collected works of Shakespeare? In
English? We see groups of people searching through their own possessions, the
remnants of lives shattered and lost forever, finding old volumes of native
writers, recordings of music they hold close and ... remembering. They will take
these volumes in their own hands and transport them somehow to this center not
because they have been promised a free copy of Peter Gabriel's Save Sarajevo CD,
but because they are driven to keep a memory alive, to contribute their own
piece of the collective psyche of a people belonging to a place. Forget the
outside world and its affectations. The people of Sarajevo need a safe haven
where their lives can begin to grow again.
Practical steps to be
Set up centers all over the world (wherever there are
concentrations of Bosnians, Croats etc.) such as in Zagreb, Vienna, Frankfurt,
Paris, NY and all those refugee camps in Austria, Germany etc. Ask these people
to bring their most favorite books and start archiving them: Scan them - keep an
electronic facsimile, then OCR them to be stored as ASCII on a single floppy
The digital facsimile will not lend itself to distribution over the
net but will be important to be kept as a reference: The historical original.
The same should also happened inside Sarajevo once it is possible to bring in
the necessary equipment.
The ASCII version will be the one to become part of
an on-line library which can be accessible from anywhere and which can be build
remotely from outside Sarajevo. The ASCII version is compatible with all kinds
of electronic search, archiving and structuring functions. The inherent economy
of the Internet favors ASCII text based information exchange as opposed to
graphics or so called multimedia communication. Whereas an entire book may fit
well on one floppy disk as pure text (ASCII) - a single page as a graphic
document would take up that much space by itself.
The organisation of such a
library is special task and probably can be done well in conjunction with
professionals at the S.F. Library, Brown University, The New York Public Library
and other institutions. The NY Public Library has a well sized Slavic department
(and an eager departmental chief). It can be safely assumed that they would be
actively interested to have all their books turned into electronic data.
this can happen while the war is either going on or the cease-fire regulations
prevent anything to happen in Sarajevo. But while one must wait with any
activity in Sarajevo itself, the electronic Library can be built from those
small centers (which can be equipped for $ 2000. - with off-the-shelve hard- and
software to scan in books of sizes up to 8 x 14). Not more than 10 of those
"centers" would be needed at first. It can be expected that HP or other scanner
makers would be willing to donate equipment. The same may be true for the
As this electronic archive is being built from de-centralized
locations the Internet will provide the necessary conduit for sharing, updating
and coordinating the effort. Needless to say - the compilation and organization
however, will have to be done in one central location - either as an
international academic project headed by Brown University (they do the best
stuff with hypertext etc.) or/and in conjunction with professional librarians.
The archived ASCII texts will be centrally stored in at least one US and
another (mirrored) European location. The Internet will be used to feed the
texts as they become available to the Sarajevo library. All main locations
update each other automatically on a daily basis.
Meanwhile as the
digital library is being built the interface/s for Sarajevo's burned-out library
building can be planned and brought in whenever there is a chance to get a piece
of equiment in.
In the cellar of that building a space has to be secured and
perhaps fortified to house a UNIX computer system and massive digital storage
arrays. (NeXT could be the software and HP the hardware sponsor). That system
needs not to take up a lot of space but has to have electric backup and a
reliable power source - possibly at all times. At least one high speed modem
should be connected and a telephone line - perhaps via satellite.
has to be very safe. "Upstairs" a few computer terminals (either Laptop PCs or
Macs) are encased in metal housings almost randomly distributed in the space but
fixed in position and unremovable. They are all wired to the central computer in
the basement. People sit either individually or in groups in front of the
screens - only ten of them will be there at the beginning. More are added with
time as the military/logistic situation allows.
Library cards will not be
available but all people of Sarajevo will have their individual login and
password. That in turn will become part of their Internet address. Indeed in a
city where telephones have not worked for a long time and are likely not to work
in the near future, e-mail among the users of that library will be an automatic,
integral feature and an important messaging system for the city. Much like Mao's
wall newspapers this will be an electronic bulletin board - fixed at one
location and individually accessible.
In fact - whenever the Internet
connection of the main computer in the basement is operational - the users will
have international e-mail. A daily UUCP feed may only require several minutes
every couple of hours - all with only one telephone line.
Phoenix-Project will create a novel situation in manx respects:
city on the Internet, but with no individuals computers and without tlephone
service, a soley electronic library, with no books to complete with. The
no-choice condition almost forces practical success on this project but will
equally allow to reevaluate the features and benefits of the elevtronic civitas
in the testbed situation unmitigated by existing structures of communication.
It will have to be considered what the social and political implications
of such a project are - beyond our "good intentions". It will be necessary to
anticipate how this will be seen and perceived from the potential user# s point
of view. An information invasion?
It will be equally important to have
an idea if this will provoke an urge to control such a system - even if it
really cannot very well be controlled.