Peace Network in the War Zone

Early History of ZTN

The following, the last of three article on the history of ZTN written by Eric Bachman that we have found on the nets, contains and updates the earlier versions. We obtained this copy from Pangea, the APC sister network in Barcelona. - ed

in the post Yugoslavian countries
The origin and development of the

a member of the
Association for Progressive Communication
September 1991 - January 1996

by Eric Bachman
coordinator of the Zamir Transnational Net


3. FAXHELP - the first step
4. ELECTRONIC MAIL - the next step
9. The ZTN grows
1993 -1994
Technical difficulties Updated 10. Jan 1996



Since the summer of 1991, when the anti-war and human rights groups of former Yugoslavia increasingly began to organize themselves and coordinate activities, they have encountered immense communication difficulties. With the start of open warfare in Croatia normal communications were disrupted. Not only did travel by train or road between Croatia and Serbia become impossible but the destruction of many telephone connections caused an overload of the existing lines. Telephone calls between Zagreb and Belgrade, for example, became almost impossible. In the telephone lines which existed to Bosnia-Herzegovina are being increasingly destroyed by the war. The disruption of the postal system meant an almost total breakdown of communication, especially those working on opposite sides of the fighting. In 1992 as the war spread to Bosnia and Herzegovina there was even more vicious destruction of the communications infrastructure there.


The purpose of this project is to help the anti-war, peace, human rights, NGO and media groups in the various countries and regions of former Yugoslavia and humanitarian aid groups active in the region to be able to communicate better with each other.
Additionally, it should help them to communicate with people and groups in the rest of the world.

In a situation where prejudice, hate and fear between people of different ethnic backgrounds has grown almost unchallenged, it is necessary to start with building up communication links. Helping people to reach out to each other, to begin a new relationships, to revive old friendships is of utmost importance.

Although the idea of the ZAMIR TRANSNATIONAL NET grew out of the needs of anti-war groups in the region it is not only for an exchange of letters, messages, news and ideas among the peace groups, but it is for helping people from both sides of the conflict begin to communicate again with each other. (This idea was first expressed in a proposal of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) in former Yugoslavia for a "TRUST LINK" between the conflicting sides.)

It has now grown to enable humanitarian aid groups, NGO's (non-governmental organizations), educational institutions and others to use the network for their own communication needs. In fact the network is open for all users and some commercial and even governmental institutions are using the net. Additionally, it is to provide the basis of a communication network for many different projects and activities in the south Balkan region.

This project of COMMUNICATIONS AID for the people in former Yugoslavia (now the post Yugoslavian countries) which later developed into the ZAMIR TRANSNATIONAL NET began and was first conceived and developed at the suggestion of the Center for the Culture of Peace and Nonviolence (Ljubljana), the Antiwar Campaign (Zagreb) and the Center for Antiwar Action (Belgrade).

3. FAXHELP - the first step

In October 1991 several groups (WRI, War Resistors International and IFOR, International Fellowship of Reconciliation and others) from countries that still had good telephone connections to Zagreb and Belgrade agreed to relay FAXes received from one group in one city to another group in the other city. This was a big help for the groups in former Yugoslavia and also for groups from countries, like Germany, that had great difficulties reaching Belgrade directly, but better communications were needed.

4. ELECTRONIC MAIL - the next step

Because the telephone lines were not completely destroyed but the remaining ones were just overloaded, it was suggested that they could be used at night for communication by computers using electronic mail. I found out that even until the Spring of 1992 it was generally possible to make telephone connections between Belgrade and Zagreb or Ljubljana or even more distant cities, if it was done during the night (after midnight). This meant that electronic mail --a BBS (Bulletin Board System) using computers, modems and the telephone lines-- would work.

And even if it would not be possible to connect directly with another city from former Yugoslavia, then we would connect indirectly through Austria, Germany or Britain. This would also enable a connection with the world-wide matrix of networked BBS's and Internet systems. A store-and-forward email and news server could continue to work as long an there was at least some international telephone connectivity.

Some of the existing BBS's in Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia were willing to support the development of a larger network. The idea was to support the existing AdriaNet (mainly in Slovenia) and to help it to connect to BBS's in other cities and former Republics of former Yugoslavia.


December 1991 - June 1992

The first phase began in December 1991 and January 1992. Modems were given to peace and anti-war groups in Ljubljana, Zagreb, Belgrade and Sarajevo. I installed these modems and gave preliminary training to people from different groups. The first steps taken to connect a BBS in Belgrade into the AdriaNet.
AdriaNet introduced two new topic areas for the use of the peace groups.

Unfortunately the system operator (sysop) of the BBS in Zagreb was not able to keep his system running on a regular basis. Reliable email exchange with other BBS's in the AdriaNet was not possible. The BBS in Belgrade was also not able to carry out a regular exchange with other BBS's in the AdriaNet. The cause of these difficulties were overwork and or unavailability of the sysop and also the very poor quality of the telephone lines which meant a lot of direct supervision. The help which was given in Phase 1 was not enough to get the communication going. Several peace groups now had the means to communicate by email, but the local BBS's were not able to fulfill their role to pass on the messages. The network was not functioning.

In 1991 the Association for Progressive Communication (APC) set up a conference / newsgroup "YUGO.ANTIWAR" to discuss the increasingly violent situation in the Balkans. This was done at the request of Yugoslavs (APC users) who where living outside of the Balkan region. Even though this electronic conference could be accessed in many countries around the world, it was not accessible in Yugoslavia until ABM in Ljubljana and part of the AdriaNet began experimental connections to GreenNet a member of Association for Progressive Communication (APC) were started. At the same time Yugoslavia and the communications lines there were falling apart which meant that the access to this transnational discussion forum "YUGO.ANTIWAR" was more or less limited to Slovenia.

In the mean-time a foreign volunteer experienced in email (Wam Kat) joined the Antiwar Campaign in Zagreb and connected directly into the world-wide email network by directly dialing to the London-based GreenNet. He arrived in 1992, just before the fighting began in Bosnia & Herzegovina. During the beginning of the war in Sarajevo, daily fax reports were sent to Zagreb and he help to transmit them into the newsgroup "YUGO.ANTIWAR". This continued for some weeks until the telephone connections to Sarajevo were completely cut off. His work provided excellent and speedy communications to and from the Zagreb Antiwar Campaign, but was very expensive. Also it was not a solution for groups and people in other cities, especially those in Serbia. A better solution was necessary.


June 1992 - November 1993

Zagreb and Belgrade are connected

Because the attempt to develop the existing BBS's into a functioning network failed, the Antiwar Campaign in Zagreb and the Center for Antiwar Action in Belgrade decided to set-up their own network. In July, 1992 I helped install a server in Zagreb and one in Belgrade. In both cities the email and news server was installed in a computer which was normally used for other purposes during the day and also had to use a telephone line which was normally used for voice and fax communication during the day. A lack of funds and available telephone lines forced us to begin with such limited resources.

The two new systems "ZaMir-ZG" (For Peace - Zagreb) and "ZaMir-BG" (For Peace - Belgrade) which exchanged mail by way of Austria were now connected with each other and the rest of the world. Letters could be sent overnight from Zagreb to Belgrade and from Belgrade to Zagreb. Letters could be sent and received via a server in the APC (Association for Progressive Communications) Network and through gateways to other networks. >From the beginning, users could send and receive messages from anyone in the world with an Internet email address. Even though we did not have a direct and full connection to the Internet, we were part of the world-wide matrix of digital communication. Within 24 hours a message could reach any other email address in the world.

Belgrade -- ZAMIR-BG in the Center for Antiwar Action

Unfortunately, the ZaMir Network was not able to run as well as was planned. The computer in Belgrade (a old laptop with a small harddisk) was not adequate for the task of a email and news server. The limited hardware caused problems. Also the single telephone line which had to be shared between voice, fax and computer communications was completely overloaded. Training for a system operator was also needed.

Zagreb -- ZAMIR-ZG in the Antiwar Campaign

In Zagreb they also needed a computer dedicated to the email and news server. And a dedicated telephone line was necessary as well. Within the limits of the hardware and the limited number of hours online each day it was working well. In spite of the difficulties the international e-mail exchange began to work.The telephone costs were reduced. The email and new server ZaMir-ZG is being used by people from the peace groups there and has attracted an increasing number number of other users. It is also possible to use the BBS to send faxes.


The connection between Zagreb and Belgrade was working, albeit with great difficulty. To seriously implement this phase of the COMMUNICATION HELP there was a need for additional equipment and software. The most important item is a dedicated computer system and telephone line in both Zagreb and Belgrade. A special modem to compensate for the very bad telephone lines in Belgrade was also needed. Regular support for the costs of running the system were and are still needed. Although the international networks to which the ZTN is connected (many thanks to APC, CL, Z-Netz) have waived most of the costs for the time being (they also run on a nonprofit basis and do not have excess funds), there are regular expenditures which have to be covered.

In September 1992 I installed a new computer (a 386 40 MHz with a 170 MB Harddisk) in Belgrade. It is dedicated solely to ZAMIR-BG. Together with a new modem (Trailblazer PEP) which works even on very bad telephone lines and a dedicated telephone line it was possible so set up very reliable communications with the relay server in Vienna, LINK-ATU.

I found an organization (Brethren Volunteer Service) that was willing to send a volunteer to the Centre for Antiwar Action to support the COMMUNICATION AID project. In October I trained the volunteer (Patrick Morgan) to use the email programmes and in November he joined the staff of the Center for Anti-War Action Belgrade for one year. He was responsible to keep the email system running to facilitate communication on the net.

During December 1992 the computer system in Zagreb was causing big problems. We were still using a borrowed computer and shared telephone lines (on a two-party line). The system operator was traveling for several weeks and during that time the harddisk crashed and the email program went offline. No one there knew how to get the system running again. The result was that ZAMIR-ZG was off line for about 4 weeks. By this time there were a number of users who were actively using the email system and were upset about the unreliability of the system.

As a result of this problem, funds were found and a new computer was bought (a 386 40 MHz, 200 MB Harddisk). After some difficulties a dedicated telephone line was also found. This was installed at the end of December 1992. Since then the ZTN has been a reliable link.


By the summer of 1993 there are a total of 375 users in Belgrade, of which only 7 are groups. In Zagreb there are about 125 users including 27 groups. The large amount of individual users in the Belgrade BBS is due to the fact that other channels of electronic communication from Serbia to the outside world are still very difficult, if not impossible. The system operators in Zagreb have done a lot of work to involve as many groups as possible to join and use the system. There are also many more international humanitarian aid groups in Croatia who wanted and needed international communication.

Each of the servers send and/or receive approximately 500 kilobytes a day. This includes public and private messages. At that time it cost approximately 400 DM a month for each system. The users of the ZTN were still not charged for the communication services. The local running costs (telephone, electricity) have been covered by the Centre for Antiwar Action in Belgrade and the Antiwar Campaign and Suncokret in Zagreb. The servers were still being maintained by volunteer workers, both in Belgrade and in Zagreb. There was not enough money to pay system operators. Future plans called for raising more funds and spreading the costs among the users.

The ZTN has its own conferences which are exchanged between the system in Zagreb and Belgrade. Additionally the servers offer more than 150 international conferences (from the APC, CL, Z, T, Usenet, etc.) which can be read and written to by the users. (see list in the appendix)

By this time, in Zagreb there was at least one meeting of users to help organize the service. More and more organizations are using the email systems. The International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA) an NGO that has a task force for aid to former Yugoslavia has set up its own BBS in Geneva (ICVAGE). Since April 1993 it uses the ZTN to have better contact with it's member organizations working in Serbia and Croatia. The ICVA conferences/newsgroups are now available on ZAMIR-ZG and ZAMIR-BG. Some of these conferences were for public information, others were internal ICVA coordination conferences.

9. The ZTN grows

1993 -1994

The software and hardware were updated for the two systems. Fluctuations in the electrical supply were causing problems so UPS's were installed. New telephone lines were ordered in Belgrade and Zagreb to enable more users to access the systems. Unfortunately this could not be realized quickly. In Belgrade it has not been possible to get a second telephone line, even by the beginning of 1996 we have not been able to get a second dedicated telephone line. In Zagreb we had to wait for about 2 years before we finally had the second line installed. Even then it cost 1 400 DM (US $ 1 000) just to get it installed.

At the end of 1993 we switched the international servers -- from LINK-ATU in Vienna, Austria to BIONIC in Bielefield, Germany. It gave us a closer (more frequent regular transfer to a full Internet server) and a more reliable connection to the rest of the world.

About this time I began working under the auspices of the Soros Fund, Open Society Foundations. This enabled me to concentrate on developing the network. Funds also became more available from the foundation for new servers.

In February 1994 a new system, ZAMIR-LJ, was installed in Ljubljana, Slovenia and in February/March 1994 ZAMIR-SA was installed in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina. Because of the war and the siege of Sarajevo it was quite difficult to install. I was very happy to be able to get a telephone, electricity, a computer and international connections all together at one room within three weeks. This was the most difficult installation in the network.

I had been trying for some time to get to Sarajevo to access the situation. After almost two years of bombardment and destruction much of the telephone and pubic utilities infrastructure in Sarajevo had been destroyed. But some repairs had been made. It was now possible to make telephone connections between Sarajevo and certain countries, especially if calling from outside. Of course there were only few lines and they were almost always overloaded. But by choosing the slack time for automatic dialing, I was hopeful that somehow I would be able to get a server up and running with automatic data exchanges. After waiting for several weeks for a UN flight to Sarajevo, at the end of February 1994 I took a notebook and a software and a modem with me to Sarajevo.

The organization Bosnian Informatic Technology (BIT), agreed to administer the server. They had just acquired new offices but did not have a telephone line nor electricity in them, not to speak of a lack of heating.

Many attempts to use a satellite telephone line for the connection ended in failure. The available bandwidth did not permit full duplex connections -- modem exchanges would not work on that line. Fortunately the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA) had recently set up a server in Geneva and from Switzerland it was possible, though difficult, to dial to Sarajevo. (The Swiss telephone company had just set up some satellite telephone lines to Sarajevo.) They offered to be the link to our Sarajevo server.

Within two and a half weeks:

This was simply fantastic considering the problems there at that time. We installed the software and began testing the system. After three weeks the system was finally up and running. We were able to overcome the problems so quickly only due to the full support that was given to the project by the the Open Society Fund of B&H (a Soros Foundation). Via the ICVAGE system in Geneva and the BIONIC server in Bielefield, Germany we had connected Sarajevo with the rest of the world. BIONIC became the central server in the ZTN directly connecting Belgrade, Zagreb, Ljubljana, Sarajevo and the rest of the world.

In October 1994 a fifth server, the ZANA-PR was set up in Pristina, Kosova. This system is being operated by the weekly "Koha".

APC Membership / ZTN.APC.ORG

At the end of 1994 we the ZAMIR TRANSNATIONAL NET (ZTN) together with HISTRIA in Slovenia became full members in the Association for Progressive Communication (APC) world-wide network. We no longer had to use the domain "" or "" which was that of our servers in Germany but we now had our own transnational domain name, "ZTN.APC.ORG". By this time we now had over 1 700 users on 5 different servers in 5 different cities. We were exchanging several hundred, mostly international, conferences and newsgroups.


Routing changes and problems

At the end of 1994 the ICVAGE server in Geneva was taken off line because the ICVA was closing down their "Yugoslavian Task Group". Fortunately it was now already to telephone between Zagreb and Sarajevo. We had been experimenting with that way of connecting the two cities, but the availability of those telephone connections were not regular and reliable. Now we had to use them as we had no other way of exchanging data with Bosnia & Herzegovina. Since ZAMIR-Sa did not have an international telephone line, it could not call to Zagreb. So the Zagreb server was responsible to call Sarajevo and even often did manage to get through 4 times a day. This was our frequency of exchange that we aimed at that time. But usually the only connections that we cold be sure to expect were the attempts at night during slack time.

All or our servers are store and forward systems using the existing telephone lines to connect with each other and exchange data. This meant that we were very flexible and could easily change the routing structure of our network and the availability or destruction of connections became apparent.

We also watched closely the changes of the costs for telephone connections and changed our routing and dialing habits accordingly. For example, in October 1994, when the new post-Yugoslavian-countries acquired their own new individual international country code, there was a dramatic change in the costs for telephone calls. All of a sudden, a call from Ljubljana to and from Zagreb became an international call. As it turned out, calls from Germany to Zagreb were less expensive than calls from Zagreb to Germany, where connect to our Internet server and relay to Belgrade. In fact calls from Germany to Zagreb were less expensive than a calls between Ljubljana and Zagreb. So our system in Germany is responsible for calling to Belgrade and Zagreb.

During 1995 the systems in Zagreb and Belgrade and Sarajevo were enlarged. More telephone lines were became available and were installed which meant that hardware and software improvements and changes were needed to open the additional dial-up connections. More modems, more comports, larger harddisks due ot more users and more activity of existing users. In short the systems were continuing to grow.

During March to May a new server was established in Tuzla (Bosnia & Herzegovina). We had an international line installed so that we could call to Zagreb (or elsewhere as needed) instead of being dependent upon Zagreb always calling to Tuzla. (Note: Having a working telephone in B&H during the war did not mean that you had the possibility to call outside of the country. A special connection and a large deposit was necessary for an international connection.)

Tuzla now became the main connection for all of Bosnia & Herzegovina. Even Sarajevo was connecting to Tuzla instead of to Zagreb. The installation of the server in Tuzla meant that people in the Muslim controlled part of B&H who had access to a telephone could now easily have email. Users from all over central B&H joined the system. This server with 4 modems lines not only provides connectivity to many more people in B & H but also provides a back up to the system in Sarajevo. Whenever the Sarajevo server was down (usually due to power problems) many users then communicated via the Tuzla server.

During the summer serious problems in Sarajevo (long term lack of power) were overcome and with the addition of additional telephone lines it has become more reliable.

Through out the development of the ZTN we also provided connections for many humanitarian aid organizations. Some even had their own serves. The ICVA in Zagreb and as well the offices of the Open Society Foundations (Soros Foundations) in Belgrade, Sarajevo and Zagreb ran servers for their staff and/or member organizations. Besides the 6 public ZTN servers there were 4 ICVA servers and 3 Soros serves that were using the network for data exchanges.

By the middle of 1995 there were 2000 users of the public ZTN network of which about 400 were organizations. By the end of the year we had over 2500 users of which about 500 were organizations. Additionally there were maybe 100-200 users of the private servers in the ZTN.

Technical difficulties Updated 10. Jan 1996

ACCESS - User to Telephone-Line Ratio

It is very difficult to serve so many users with the few telephone lines that are available. We had 400 - 700 users trying to access a server on only one telephone line. That did not allow effective online work. Since we could not easily get more telephone lines we asked users to make use of point programs that allow quick and automatic netcalls into the server. Instead of working online, they read and write their mail and news messages without being connected to the server. The users then made quick "netcalls", often several times a day during which they exchange pre-packed files of incoming and outgoing mail and news. We also encourage users to use high speed modems (14 400 bps) to enable quicker exchange of data. Combining both steps enabled many more users to share one telephone line and still have reliable and quick communication. Instead of the 25 to at the most 50 users per telephone line, which is usual for online dial-up work, we could deal with 100-200 users per telephone line. This is, of course, a function of the amount of data the users send and receive, the speed of their modems and the frequency of their exchanges with the server.

In Zagreb it took two years to get an additional (second) telephone line installed in Zagreb. It took another year to get another 2 lines, and lately, after another 6 months we had a 5th line installed there. Zagreb now has a total of 5 lines, 3 for public use, 1 for inter-system data exchanges and one for hot-line voice support of the users. Access is now is quite easy. But as we have reached the physical limit of telephone lines available in the building in which we are located. Further growth in the number of users will again create a very difficult situation.

In Belgrade, we still, even after 3.5 years, were not able to buy a second dedicated line for the system. This one line is used for inter-system data exchange and also for the users. The number of users is much to high for the available line. Access is therefore very difficult. The one line is usually busy.

In Ljubljana we have two lines and no access problem since there are not that many users there. This is due to the fact that there are a number of other providers of email connectivity and TCP/IP services.

In Sarajevo we were able to get an additional 3 lines after 1 year. We therefore now have 3 lines for public use, 1 for inter-system data exchanges. The BIT office voice line can be used for hot-line support for the users. But due to difficulties with the lines some of them are often not available. If all there lines are operating, then the access is quite good.

In Pristina there is no overload even with one line. This is because there is no overload of users.

In Tuzla we were extremely lucky to be able to set up the server in an office where 4 lines were immediately available from the beginning. There we have 3 lines for public use, 1 for inter-system data exchanges. Additional another voice line can be used for hot-line support for the users. Access is good.

One of the the biggest difficulties for our network is the general lack of telephone lines in the region. This bottleneck will continue until the telephone companies of the region are able to improve the infrastructure.

Bad quality of telephone lines

In many places the quality of the telephone lines did not allow fast data transfer. Here are some examples:

Within Belgrade I experienced local telephone lines that wold not support any type of modem connection no matter what setting was used. some international connections from Belgrade would not support more than 100 cps even though the modems could have easily done 14400 cps. The quality of the line varied greatly, depending upon which local exchange or number was used. Parts of the telephone system in Belgrade were very old and caused problems for digital communication.

The telephone lines from Sarajevo to the rest of Bosnia (in so far as they existed at all) were so noisy that often no more than an average of 500 cps could be expected, even though the modems could do more than 19 000 cps. The result is that connections are often slow or get broken off before the data transmission is complete.

In Pristina there is such an overload of the telephone switching capability that telephone users must wait anywhere from seconds to even 30 minutes for a dial tone. And when the user gets a dial-tone, s/he has just a few seconds to dial (five dial-tone cycles) , otherwise another user who is waiting will get his/her chance. This makes it almost impossible for programs using modems to dial automatically. Fortunately, outside calls to Pristina are given priority so that the intercity connections usually get through to our server there reliably. The local users, though, still have to deal with the overloaded telephone exchanges there.

This problems can essentially only be improved by a better telephone infrastructure.

Electrical outages

Unexpected loss of electricity has been a big problem for a number of our servers. In Belgrade, especially during the winter, different parts of the city would take turns being turned off for two hours at a time. In Tuzla there would at times a several hours loss of power. In Sarajevo the problem with power outages was even more extreme. At times the city as a whole would not have electricity for days and weeks at a time. Even during the time when electricity was nominally available 24 hours a day, there were unexpected outages of hours at a time. For some time the International Rescue Committee (IRC) shared their emergency generator electricity with us (but only 9 - 5 o'clock Monday to Friday). But when they moved out of the building that source was gone. We finally were able to arrange a connection with the high priority city emergency power. But even that disappeared for hours at a time. A large capacity UPS was created (including two huge lead-acid lorry batteries, a 12 VDC charger, 12 VDC to 220 VAC converter and relays together with a normal UPS and a 220 VAC voltage stabilizer) now give us 10 - 15 hour emergency supply for the server and modems.

These problems have been generally overcome by the use of normal or extended UPS's. The only time that we now have difficulties is if the power disappears for a longer period of time.



The "Letters" project helps refugees and displaced persons to find each other and helps them to exchange mail quickly. This project, has created an electronic mail <--> paper-mail interface which enables people without computers to access each other via the Internet. It has been mainly carried out with the help of volunteers in cities in Bosnia, Belgrade, Osijek, Tuzla and many other places in the world. In Tuzla it was possible to have one person working full time on the project. Many messages have been passed through this network. People have been found.

copyright 31 January 1996, by Eric Bachman, coordinator of the Zamir Transnational Net

Back to contents of this page

Back to main Contents