Collateral Damage, Collateral Benefit

By Micz Flor, 10 April 2000

The Kosovo ‘crisis’ wasn’t only a testing ground for NATO’s military prowess, it also put cultural networks to the test. Micz Flor looks at how these networks performed and how they were permanently changed by the experience of war.

It’s now been a year since the last Amsterdam based tactical media conference, Next Five Minutes, was held. A stunning, international mix of people came together to put their foot down. They weren’t necessarily buying into a utopian vision of a bright future for independent media, a life without international trademarks on systems, formats and content but still — a future with a strong and thriving alternative network.

It has been almost a year since the beginning of the NATO air-strikes against FR Yugoslavia. For the European net community the war, which split European media propaganda into two opposing poles, was a testing ground for various established belief systems centring on a trans-national network culture (mainly concerning the coherence, trust and sustainability of independent structures). The obvious and often striking differences and misunderstandings which exist(ed) between those who were inside and outside the target area, often intensified by independent media networks, pose important questions for this culture.

Firstly, there was the attempt to maintain functioning and human communications. It might seem a simple matter, but even long running mailinglists such as Syndicate and Nettime experienced tectonic shifts throughout the first weeks of the war. Then there were the activists from this side of the war plunging themselves into the peripheries of the war zone hoping to establish communication networks to help counter the loss of social structures. And finally, also on the periphery — in exile so to speak — publishing projects were established, working in collaboration with journalists and other media related individuals who managed to successfully flee the country.

The work in such settings went beyond editorial involvement. From my experience in projects like ‘akut’ and ‘Period After’, hosted at Vienna’s Public Netbase, organising visas as well as lobbying for partner institutions to adopt intellectual (read: first-class) refugees took up heaps of time. In all those initiatives there was one strikingly common trait. The network structure was first and foremost about the individuals within the network, people who needed concrete help — be that money, equipment, or social support.

However, the war has also given a strange energy to some corners of the independent network community, as vast and dispersed as it is today. Apart from the impact of collateral damage to people directly involved in the war, one could possibly also identify some sort of collateral benefit to some of those involved, on both sides of the front line.

It is hard to not sound cynical when dealing with such issues, but within the Gordian knot of responsibilities, blurred guilt feelings, the quest for authenticity and spectacle, as well as a bizarrely complicated deadlock of victimised identities, the NATO air-strikes had a strange elevating and amplifying effect on the individuals and projects involved. The art scene suddenly had a high demand for Serbian artists (better still, Albanians, but they were hard to get) while mainstream media just had to get an authentic email diary from inside the war. And they did. Real or fake or both.

Recognition could be easily earned. At times, ‘doing the right thing’ simply meant saying that bombs suck; adding a personal contact inside Serbia (even better Kosovo/a) to the equation helped to qualify it as cool.

It seems impossible to determine the point at which cultural currency drops its political surplus-value and becomes ‘merely’ culture. And why shouldn’t it? In fact there would be nothing wrong, if such projects hadn’t pretended to approach the political sphere from an angle other than art alone. In one case, I had asked someone — whose posts throughout the war had struck a precarious balance between the outrage, analysis and desperation of being a civilian target — if I could include the (freely distributed) text in an online publication dealing with precisely those issues. It was sobering to find out that this was apparently impossible as the author had found an American publisher to release a selection of his texts written within FRY shortly after the war. They would mind.

There is nothing wrong with such developments. The author certainly deserves recognition. But, it vividly outlines the other side of being made a victim - becoming simply irresistable.

I guess it will take some time to renegotiate the realities of independent networks. Right now it feels as if there is enormous relief in some corners that the pressure is off; pressure meaning mass media attention.

As for those who are still struggling within FRY: this is another question.

As for the war: file under history.

Micz Flor <>

links:Balkan Sunflowers - - Crash Media - European Cultural Exchange - freeb92 - http://www.freeb92.nethelpb92 - http://helpb92.xs4all.nlnettime - http://www.nettime.orgPeriod After - http://periodafter.t0.or.atpressnow - - - -