A conversation with GlasNet's Anatoly Voronov
Once again, on-line networks offered a channel for information amid Moscow's chaos. Networks such as Relcom and GlasNet provided a forum for Russians and Westerners to exchange vital information, dramatic viewpoints and even comic relief. (Q: Now Russia has two presidents... Which president do you support? A: President Clinton.)
A couple of weeks before the latest political crisis, Anatoly Voronov, director of GlasNet in Moscow, discussed networking in Russia with Alan Boyle, GlasNews' managing editor. Voronov, 46, left the weekly Moscow News to set up GlasNet's Russian operation in 1991, during the buildup to the abortive August hard-line coup.
GlasNet, which is part of the Association for Progressive Communications' constellation of global networks, seeks to provide low-cost network access with particular emphasis on research institutes and nongovernmental organizations. The network has more than 1,100 users, and offers local dialup from Moscow as well as St. Petersburg, Vladivostok, Ekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Kazan, Voronezh, Novorossiisk, Odessa and Kiev in Ukraine, Tallinn in Estonia, and Riga in Latvia.
For more information on GlasNet, contact David Caulkins in the United States (email@example.com) or Anatoly Voronov (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Interview with Anatoly Voronov of GlasNet:
Q: Where were you during the Kremlin coup (in 1991)?
A: When the Soviet coup was announced I was on my way back to GlasNet's office. I heard the news about it in the car. At first I thought it was a bad joke...
In Moscow, when I entered the city, close to the center of the city I saw tanks. It was a caravan of tanks, but their conduct was quite strange, because they respected the lights of the semaphore: They stopped when it was red and they started to move again when it was green.
I came to my office and immediately filed a message to David Caulkins, who is GlasNet USA director. I wrote him that it was a coup d'etat and gave him instructions how to proceed if they cut our phone connections....
We decided that if the connection were cut, I would move the equipment to my flat, and this would be a variant to keep the connection...
But it was never necessary, because the KGB guys were a little bit dumb. Maybe they never thought that such kinds of connections existed. I guess they did not know that we existed.
Q: That seems hard to believe...
A: But it was this way. I wondered why they didn't. But after it all occurred I found out that they really didn't know. Those guys were more accustomed to faxes and telexes, and they simply were technically illiterate. They were computer-illiterate.
So for all those three days we kept stable connections, and our traffic grew tenfold.... People wrote us get-well messages from all over the world. I got messages from Brazil, and of course from the United States. I got a very funny and useful message from a Chinese networker who used to live in the United States: He offered to consult with us on how to get on with tanks, because he had participated in the Tiananmen Square events....
Russians at that time, in 1991, were still not very much accustomed to e-mail. Even now, e-mail is not very widespread in Russia, because even to own a computer in Russia is still quite an expensive thing.
The average Russian cannot afford to buy a computer, so usually networking in Russia is based on corporate computers or scientific research institutions who can have the equipment, and maybe some businesses that have computers.
Q: Does it seem that the Net is developing as a mass medium, or is it still more of a research tool?
A: Still I can't say that this can be converted into a mass medium. But every year, as it grows exponentially, I hope that it will convert into a mass medium. I have big hopes that it will be, because we need independent mass media -- which TV is not. TV is still partisan. TV fills you up with information which is not the information that you sometimes want to get. You have no choice, because it it owned by the government or by the parliament.... They fight with each other. There is no good independent television.
Q: How are networks being used in Russia today?
A: They are mainly used by commercial structures, who use Relcom, and by nongovernmental organizations, who prefer Glasnet.... We are a sister network of IGC networks (Institute for Global Communications) -- PeaceNet, EcoNet and ConflictNet -- and we get a lot of support from IGC. And GlasNet is part of APC (Association for Progressive Communications). APC now is quite a powerful organization for nongovernmental organizations especially...
Actually networks are used for information exchange between commercial structures and some research and academic institutions. But in the future, I hope more individuals will be able to use them. More scientific and research institutions will be able to use them, because American organizations especially help to deploy networking among the research community. We participate in this project, because we are using the George Soros-financed channel to the West, 64 kilobits per second. It is due to this channel that we have full Internet connectivity now.... We were the first to have access to it, which cost us the hefty sum of 1 million rubles.
Q: How was that wired? Did your own technicians wire it?
A: No, we paid to the Moscow Telephone Company, which is the monopoly that sells the direct copper lines. And I paid them cash just to get it done fast....
Q: Could you talk about the relationship between new media and democratization?
A: The relationship is still nonexistent. The problem is, what do you understand as democratization? First of all I want you to define your understanding of the term, and maybe I'll be able to clear up the question.
Q: Well, in terms of new media, I would think of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, wider access to information, being able to read or publish what you want relatively free from interference. A: OK, if you are speaking of "media" as a medium for broadcasting information, this is one thing. I consider networking a two-way medium, and TV, radio and telex are one-way. What is broadcasting? Somebody gives a piece of information to many people, eh? But people can't talk back to that somebody. In networking this is not the case, because each can talk to each. This is the principal difference, in my understanding, between networking and broadcasting.
So do you consider that networking can compete with broadcasting? I don't think so, because of course we should be realistic and admit that still only the elite can use networking in Russia.
Even in America, a lot of people are computer-illiterate. They don't know what networking is. They have never heard of the Internet. People I met in the last two weeks ... nobody knows what the Internet is.
Q: And even if they did know, they might not be interested in paying for it or becoming part of a network.
A: Well, maybe. I don't know the marketing in America regarding Internet and networking. But usually, when I explain to people that they can communicate with Russia more cheaply than via fax or a direct telephone call, they are surprised.
You know, I had a conversation with a Baptist pastor who has a computer in his office and used to subscribe to Prodigy, but he dropped it because he said he didn't get what he wanted from Prodigy. I made a demonstration and hooked up to my computer in Moscow. I showed him the list of my users, and he said, "Oh... that's good!"
So he is living in America and I know a little bit more about the Internet than he. It's very strange.
Q: So perhaps ignorance is the biggest problem....
A: Not only ignorance. For Russians, it is the hardware cost. For Americans, hardware is not the problem. You can buy a cheap computer here. And, for example, a PeaceNet subscription is $10 a month. Of course, you pay a line fee and you pay a per-kilobit fee; still, it would be cheaper than doing interstate calls and sending interstate faxes.
But I'm afraid that people still are not aware of it. Maybe because there is no proper explanation (of how networks work). And if in America you have this situation, just imagine what the situation is in Russia.
Q: So there's a big educational job to be done. A: Yes. Not only education but promotion, marketing, call it as you like.
I would call it the second computer literacy, because people in America are quite computer-literate in the sense of using single computers, but they are not aware of the huge potential of computer networking. This is the second degree of computer knowledge.
Let's put it this way: If Americans already have a college education in computers, they still need the Ph.D.
But Russians still need the primary school in computing. That is the problem: the level of Russian computer education and literacy. So if you ask me what are the prospects for networking in Russia, it's like asking me what are the prospects for higher mathematics among Africans who only have a primary-school education.
Q: So it will take a long time.
A: Not so much time as effort. Effort and investment. Investment in teachers, investment in hardware. Hardware is very important for Russia. Hardware is not the problem for you; hardware is a big problem for Russia. So I always advocate here in America that people who have used computers, If they don't know what to do with them, send them to Russia. We'll know how to fix them, how to use them and prolong their life. If you have used modems, if you have PCs to give away, send them to Russia or contact us and we'll do our best to have them shipped there. But we need the stuff.
Q: Can you discuss the current state of Russia telecom?
A: I was talking about hardware, but the other component of networking is the phone lines and fiber-optic lines. You already know that the infrastructure in Russia is very poor: poorly developed and of poor quality. We still have cross-bar switchboards in Moscow -- the equipment you used in America 30 years ago or even more. We have some switchboards that have not changed equipment since the '30s.
Q: Do you have any idea how long it would take Russia to catch up with the required telecom infrastructure?
A: Well, maybe 10 or 15 years, to be realistic....
Q: What can Westerners offer to Russian networkers?
A: Equipment donation is one thing, share of experience is the second thing. And of course moral support. The Westerners could help us in this. They could lobby the Russian bureaucrats, because the Russian bureaucrats listen more to Westerners than to us.
Q: Why is that?
A: Well, they have more respect for the West, and they think that Westerners are very wise people. You ought to remember the Gospel. You know what Christ said: No prophet is honored in his homeland.
Q: And what can Russians offer to the West, particularly in terms of networking?
A: Brains. We have a lot of smart people. If these smart people get access to networking, it will be to mutual advantage.
We have a small company in Moscow called Talus: They developed the NeXT software, and they use our network for the exchange of the huge files they develop every day. So this is a good example of using networking for constructive and positive purposes.
Q: How do you view the rise of commercialization in networking? For example, Rupert Murdoch has just bought a controlling interest in Delphi Internet, and he's talking about such things as an electronic version of TV Guide.
A: Well, I am a little bit alarmed that such a guy as Rupert Murdoch is laying his hands on the Internet, to tell the truth, because it is double-edged for us. Of course people need to pay the expenses on this, because you can't be subsidized forever. But if we start to charge the real price of the Internet connection in Russia, I doubt that we would attract a lot of people. They simply wouldn't be able to afford it.
So the problem is that we need to go to it gradually. And for such networks as ours, that is exactly our aim as a nongovernmental organization. Our aim is to democratize telecommunications, to make it available to people. But if we try to install instead some kind of business in it, to convert it into a for-profit organization -- well, maybe we'll make money, but we won't achieve our goal of spreading it in Russia and other republics of the former Soviet Union....
Returning to the question of fostering democracy by networking, I would observe that it is very important. I think Russia is a unique case when the start of the development of networking coincides with the start of the development of democracy in Russia. And maybe for Russia networking will be far more important in terms of democracy than for any other country.
We don't yet have civic society in Russia. We don't yet have a real party system in Russia. We don't have democratic-minded people in Russia, and networking could help. Networking could be the basis for the development of democracy in Russia, because real networking doesnt depend on TV, it doesn't depend on those guys who control it. Independence is the principal factor which counts in this situation for Russia.
So regarding commercialization, I repeat that I have a double feeling about it. I applaud it if it is healthy. But if it turns out that the only purpose of it is to make a profit, it will be bad for Russia, because it will not allow a lot of people to use it. We don't have a middle class in Russia. We don't have people who can pay their own money even for good service. This all will stay in the hands of people who have money, but this money is of dubious origin.
So we need to support independent organizations, and not stress too much the idea of commercializing it.
Q: Right, because the commercial system in Russia now is so undeveloped.
A: It's sinking already. In most fields, it's Mafia-controlled. Thank God that networking is not yet in the Mafia's interest because it does not promise easy money. But if it becomes so, it will be very hazardous.
Q: What do you see as the proper role of government in the development of networking?
A: I would suggest one thing. Just remember the Hippocratic Oath: If you are not able to help, at least do not do any harm. So the only thing I would expect from our government is this. But unfortunately, sometimes they do harm.
Q: And how do they harm?
A: Taxes. Taxes and its policies, because usually the telephone companies are owned by the government, and this is a governmental monopoly. And they do what we call tariff strangulation. They raise tariffs in such a way that it is simply impossible to do any business. If we try to compensate for these tariffs by charging more to our users, we would go out of business. Nobody would pay that much.
Q: Can you give a concrete example?
A: I can't tell you the specific figure, because we would have to take inflation into account. But proportionally, for every ruble we take from our users for our service, we earn only maybe 10 percent. All the rest is for paying all those tariffs, taxes and rates. So what we earn really is 10 percent of every ruble.
Q: And you have to take that 10 percent and pay for new equipment?
A: No, the pain in my neck is staff salaries. They're terrifically low, and I can't afford to pay them more because I have to pay the phone company so they don't cut my phones. I have to pay for modem registration and so on....
Q: You have to pay the government a registration fee for every modem?
A: They are bandits! They impose a fee for every modem used. And they do modem hunting and fax hunting. They detect those telephone users who have modems installed in their homes, and they charge them and they warn them that if you do not register your modem, if you do not pay this fee, you will be cut off from service.
Q: Do they go door to door looking for modems and fax machines?
A: No, no, no. It is easy to detect: You randomly dial the number, and if a modem replies you know that it is a modem, or a fax.
Q: It sounds as if your business is facing threats from every direction.
A: This is a jungle yet. You never know where the threats come from. You never get bored with it.
-------------------- Questions or comments may be sent to email@example.com. GlasNews is published by the Art Pattison Communications Exchange Program, 111 W. Harrison St., Seattle, Wash. 98119. Telephone: 206-285-7070. Fax: 206-281-8985. GlasNews may be distributed freely, but please credit GlasNews in any citations of articles.
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Even as policy-makers and business executives debate the future course of the data highway, millions are already traveling a global network of networks, known as the Internet. The number of network users is growing dramatically - and so are the number of guides to the Internet.
What follows is not a comprehensive Internet guide - there are plenty of books that serve that function. Rather, this is a listing of some Net resources that may be helpful for those interested in East-West relations.
E-MAIL This is the foundation of the Net: the ability to send text (and, if you and your computer are sufficiently adept, pictures, sound and video as well) to anyone else in the world who is plugged in. Under most conditions, transit time is no more than a couple of hours, and the per-minute cost ranges from zero to pennies.
But who's out there? How do you start networking on the Net? Even if you use nothing but e-mail, there are plenty of resources available through "listservs." Here's how it works: Two addresses are involved. You send computer commands to one of the addresses, in order to do things like subscribe and unsubscribe, receive indexes and information about the listserv itself. When you send a message to the other address, the message is automatically re-sent to every subscriber on the list. The system works like a computerized mailing list.
Take the example of the "Rustex-L" listserv, focusing on Cyrillic/ Russian text processing. To subsribe, you send a short message to the address LISTSERV@UBVM.CC.BUFFALO.EDU. If your name is John Smith, the message is simply SUBSCRIBE RUSTEX-L John Smith.
In response, the host computer sends you a long message explaining how the system works. To send a message to all list subscribers, the address should be RUSTEX-L@UBVM.CC.BUFFALO.EDU.
Here are some other lists of interest:
INFO-RUSS: This is a "moderated list," which means you send a request to subscribe (SUBSCRIBE John Smith) to INFO-RUSS-REQUEST@SMARTY.ECE.JHU.EDU. The person in charge of the list will take it from there.
RFERL-L: Automatic mailing of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty's daily briefing on the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Request (SUBSCRIBE RFERL-L John Smith) to LISTSERV@UBVM.CC.BUFFALO.EDU.
E-mail is the most basic service involving the Internet. But there are varying levels of connectivity to the Net. Those who are fully connected can use several other tools....
UseNet is a type of bulletin board service that is older than the Internet itself. There are hundreds of "newsgroups" where networkers can post messages relating to television shows, sports teams, sexual relations and even East-West relations.
I won't explain here how to use the newsreaders, known by cryptic initials such as rn (read news) and nn (no news ... is good news). But once you get the hang of the newsreaders, here are some newsgroups to check out:
alt.current-events.russia clari.news.hot.ussr (for systems receiving ClariNews) misc.news.east_europe.rferl (the RFE-RL briefing) relcom.talk (in russian) relcom.politics (in russian) soc.culture.soviet soc.culture.ukraine talk.politics.soviet TELNET
Once you have entered the Internet through one site, you can move over to any other Internet-connected computer site where you have an account. This is called "telnet" capability. One resource available via telnet is at the University of Kansas. There are lists of computer-based resources in the former Soviet Union as well as quick facts about the republics and their leaders. From the Unix shell, type "telnet ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu" and when you are asked for a log-in, type "ex-ussr." Then simply follow the directions.
FTP stands for "file transfer protocol" - a standardized way for transferring files from one computer to another. If you know how to FTP, you can get all sorts of software and documents over the Net. Here are some sites of particular interest. In most cases, you would be well-advised to start out with README files that explain what is available on a particular site, and exactly where.
Here's a smattering of FTP sites to get you started: BRAIN.PHYSICS.SWIN.OZ.AU: A useful program for typing and transmitting Russian, even if you don't know the Cyrillic keyboard layout, can be found in directory "pub/pc/klop." The shareware program is called "Klop."
CS.OSWEGO.EDU: Documents relating to the 1991 Kremlin coup are in the directory "pub/coup."
KIAE.SU: One of the oldest Internet "gateways" to the former Soviet Union.
KEKULE.OSC.EDU: Various files are in the directory "pub/russian."
FTP.CS.UMD.EDU: Check out the directory "pub/cyrillic."
FTP.FUNET.FI: Useful MS-DOS and Mac programs, including Cyrillic word
processors, typing tutors, other language programs. One directory is "pub/culture/russian/comp/msdos."
SEQ1.LOC.GOV: Files relating to Russia from the Library of Congress are in "pub/soviet.archive/text/english."
ESKIMO.COM: An archive for past issues of GlasNews (hey, that's us!), as well as GlasNet Info bulletins and information about the crisis of October 1993 from Russia. Just look in the directory "GlasNews."
Gopher is a menu-driven method that helps you "go fer" all sorts of specialized information. It's something like using an on-line library catalog. Here are a couple of places to try:
GOPHER OLYMP.WU-WIEN.AC.AT and head for "Netzwerk Ressourcen und andere Dokumente." There you will find CERRO, the Central European Regional Research Organization.
GOPHER KASEY.UMKC.EDU and go for "Odds-n-Ends," then "USSR." GOPHER TIESNET.TIES.K12.MN.US and go for "Best of the K-12 Internet Resources." Then look for "Russian Far East Exchange."
These resources were found using a technique called "Veronica," and other gopher sites may be found using the same method.
---------------------------------- s is Version 1 of a guide geared to East-West resources. Corrections, additions or other suggestions are appreciated. Please send queries or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. GlasNews is published by the Art Pattison Communications Exchange Program, 111 W. Harrison St., Seattle, Wash. 98119 USA. Telephone: 206-285-7070. Fax: 206-281-8985.
1` n Back to menu . . .
Citizens Democracy Corps publishes a directory of more than 7,000 e-mail addresses for former Soviet republics, including the Baltics. The directory is organized by domain, from Aktyubinsk to Zelenograd. A 146-page review copy contains many duplicated or outdated addresses, but CDC is trying to work the bugs out for subsequent editions. The cost is $27.50. To order a copy, write Citizens Democracy Corps, 2021 K St. N.W., Suite 215, Washington, D.C. 20006. The CDC's e-mail address is email@example.com.
"Eastern European and Former Soviet Telecom Report"
The title of this monthly newsletter, published by International Technology Consultants, pretty much sums up its content: telecommunications developments in the former Soviet Union and the rest of the old East Bloc. EESTR runs down who's allied with whom to upgrade the region's information infrastructure. Your typical article might discuss the state of Russian independent television, or the commercialization of Russian launch facilities, or the effect of the AT&T-McCaw merger on telecom ventures in the Czech Republic and Poland.... Definitely geared toward technical and business types. The published subscription rate is rather pricey: $679 for one year, $698 for an international subscription. ITC Publications, 1724 Kalorama Road, Suite 210, Washington, D.C. 20009. Telephone: 202-234-2138. Fax: 202-483-7922.
Handbook for Journalists of Central and Eastern Europe
A Russian-language version of this handbook has been published by the World Press Freedom Committee and the Russia PEN Center. The handbook covers such fundamentals of print and broadcast journalism as typography and advertising. For information: Russian PEN Center, Neglinnaya 18/2, Moscow 103031, Russia. Telephone: 209-45-89. Fax: 200-02-93.
"Television and Elections"
State-provided TV time nurtured Russia's nascent political parties during the sometimes-nasty campaign leading up to Dec. 12 parliamentary elections. The Aspen Institute and Emory University's Carter Center have put together a guidebook on how television should be used by election officials in the former Soviet republics. "Television and Elections" is being used by officials in Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. For information, contact Mimi Choi, Assistant Director, International Media and Communications Program, Emory University, P.O. Box 22181, 618 McTyeire, Atlanta, Ga. 30322. Telephone: 404-727-2120.
Knight International Press Fellowship Program
This new program sets up fellowships matching American professional journalists with news organizations seeking assistance, primarily in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, Latin America and South Africa. The training/consulting projects range from one to nine months in duration. Each fellow receives money for transportation and living expenses, plus an honorarium. Application deadlines are March 15, July 15 and Dec. 1. For more information, send a faxed or mailed request to the Center for Foreign Journalists, 11690-A Sunrise Valley Drive, Reston, Va. 22091. Fax: 703-620-6790. Telephone: 703-620-5984. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Russian-American Press and Information Center
This Moscow-based resource center for journalists, a joint project of the U.S.A.-Canada Institute and New York University's Center for War, Peace and the News Media, is opening three satellite centers in St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod and Novosibirsk. Vladivostok is next on the list, and the center hopes to have 10 to 12 such offices across Russia eventually. For more information, contact the Center for War, Peace and the News Media, New York University, 10 Washington Place, New York City 10003 (Telephone: 212-998-7960. Fax: 212-995-4143. E-mail: email@example.com); or the Russian-American Press and Information Center at 2/3 Khlebny Pereulok, West Wing, Moscow 121069 (Telephone: 203-57-02. Fax: 203-68-31. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
---------------------- Questions or comments may be sent to email@example.com. GlasNews is published by the Art Pattison Communications Exchange Program, 111 W. Harrison St., Seattle, Wash. 98119 USA. Telephone: 206-285-7070. Fax: 206-281-8985. GlasNews may be freely distributed, but please credit GlasNews in any citations.