OWNI http://owni.fr News, Augmented Tue, 17 Sep 2013 12:04:49 +0000 http://wordpress.org/?v=2.9.2 fr hourly 1 How a handful of geeks defied the USSR http://owni.fr/2011/03/13/how-a-handful-of-geeks-defied-the-ussr/ http://owni.fr/2011/03/13/how-a-handful-of-geeks-defied-the-ussr/#comments Sun, 13 Mar 2011 22:28:49 +0000 Olivier Tesquet http://owni.fr/?p=51217 OWNI is at SXSW ! For the occasion, we offer you some of our articles translated in English. Enjoy ! /-)

USSR, August 19 1991: While Mikhaïl Gorbatchev was on holiday in his datcha located in Crimea, Eight apparatchiks attempted to seize power over the state. Hostile to reforms, the “Gang of Eight” tried to prevent the Perestoika reforms and the loss of their satellite states. These eight orthodox Communists launched an attempted coup d’état by installing themselves as The State Committee of the State of Emergency. After Gobatchev returned he tried to restore order and save face, but it was clear that this episode would eventually lead to his downfall.

In this well documented event, there is an interesting historically episode which is often overlooked. During the two days of the coup the Russian media was shut down, and thus not covering Boris Yeltsin ranting on top of a tank for the crowd, nor the shock of the international community. All channels were blacked-out except for one; Usenet, which is the grandfather of chat-rooms and is capable or surviving without the Internet. For these precious 48 hours, a few dozen individuals contributed to this last means of communication with the outside world.

Information exchange with Helsinki

How did they manage to accomplish this feat? During the time, Relcom (Reliable Communications) was a small independent network which operated without state funding. It’s clients provided their own modems and paid a fee of 20,000 rubles for the service (similar to the current OpenLeaks project). Overall it connected 400 organizations in over 70 Soviet cities, using UNIX and Usenet to exchange information.

Usenet in 1991

In August 1990, Relcom partnered with EUnet, the ancestor of the Internet Service Providers. This small soviet project, rendered viable by Glasnost, was then accessible to the rest of the world. It connected to an office in Helsinkis, which exchanged information once per hour (a similar concept to the FDN project in Egypt). Ironically this initiative was made possible by the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy, a prestigious Russian research program.

Thus the first cyber-activists were able to use this decentralized architecture and Usenet (developed in the USSR in 1982) to circumvent traditional censorship. The results resemble a more primal version of Twitter:

For those who are interested, Yeltsin’s declarations to overthrow Gorbatchev can be read on newsgroup Usenet talk.politics.soviet

<USENET> 11h45 – 3 divisions of the red army have rejoined the Yeltsin camp.
<Scofield> Information confirmed. Source: Radio City News, 15h GMT +3, Helskinki, Finland
<USENET> Posted on news-server@kremvax.hq.demos.su
<USENET> A man has been killed by the military in Riga, the night when Gorbatchev vacated Crimea
<USENET> An arrest warrent has been issued for Boris Yeltsin. It’s the first time. The source is NBC.
<Scofield>  Information service in Finland – sent at 16h: The EU convened for an emergency meeting on Friday. Mitterrand tried to call Gorbatchev several times.
<muts> 200,000 protesters in Leningrad. 400,000 in Chisinau (capital of Moldova)

“They forgot”

Nearly twenty years before the coining of the term “Twitter revolution,” when the web didn’t really exist and the concept of an Internet connection at home was still in its infancy, Usenet was paving the road for the technology we depend on today. Yet with the situation in Egypt, it is hard to ignore the similarities; some users were told not to post information on the current political situation to avoid congesting the network. Polina Antonova, who worked at Relcom at the time, wrote this during the USSR coup d’état:

Don’t worry, we’re OK, though frightened and angry. Moscow is full of tanks and military machines, I hate them. They try to close all mass media, they shutted up CNN an hour ago, Soviet TV transmits opera and old movies. But, thanks Heaven, they don’t consider RELCOM mass media or they simply forgot about it. Now we transmit information enough to put us in prison for the rest of our life :-)

This excerpt, written while the USSR was rapidly dissolving, attests that there is a historical reality to the web being used as a tool in political struggles.


Photo credits: Relcom archives, Flickr CC iamtheo

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South Korea: Protesting with Flowers and Pink Placards http://owni.fr/2010/10/25/south-korea-protesting-with-flowers-and-pink-placards/ http://owni.fr/2010/10/25/south-korea-protesting-with-flowers-and-pink-placards/#comments Mon, 25 Oct 2010 15:56:35 +0000 Lee Yoo Eun http://owni.fr/?p=33566 This article originally appeared on Global Voices Online, and was written by Lee Yoo Seun.


Cha Young-ran, 28, studied for about four years for the Teacher Certification Examination, a national test required for those wanting to become educators.  Just one month before she was scheduled to take the exam there was avshocking announcement from the Ministry of Education: there was not a single job vacancy in the Korean public school system for integrated social studies and the integrated science that school year. Cha was planning to take the exam on integrated social studies and the last-minute notice meant that years of work could be rendered meaningless.

Last year, there were 32 job openings in social studies and 34 vacancies in 2008. Enraged over the inconsiderateness of the administration, Cha, dubbing herself “the Noryangjin girl” (after  the district in Seoul where institutes offering Teacher Certification exam courses are heavily concentrated), stepped up to urge the Ministry of Education to compel every education sector to notify the public of available vacancies prior to the exam.  A petition was circulated, and gained 3,500 signatures.

Images de la lettre, de la pancarte et des photos sur le blog de Cha. (Utilisées avec autorisation)

Last week, Cha staged a solo protest in front of the Education Ministry, holding a bunch of flowers and a pink placard that read “a date request for Mr. Lee” (the minister of education). Within 30 minutes, Cha, in her black suit and with her long straight hair swinging in the wind, was invited into the ministry building. Several days later, the ministry announced that notification on job vacancies six months prior to the teacher certification test had been made compulsory.

To. Lee Ju-ho, Minister or Education. :) I ask you for a date. First, let me introduce myself….I am the so-called ’Norayngjin girl’ on the internet. My first round of the teacher’s exam is on Oct.23, which is this Saturday. You might wonder what am I standing here in front of the ministry and asking you to go on a date. If you type the search word, ‘Norayngjin girl’ on the Naver.com, you will soon get the idea….I have cut myself from everything (every outside activity) and went back and forth from the library to the house, focusing only on the exam…One behalf of every helpless future teachers who suffer under this whimsical, helter-skelter administration system, I ask Minister Lee for a date…***(her cell phone number) I will wait for your response.

“This system is very conservative”

On the web, lavish praise was heaped upon Cha for her courageous move. Blogger Ssmile260 thanked her for standing up against the social injustice with innovative ideas.

She is the Joan of Arc of our time. She tries to make a change in an irrational system. I hope to see more Noryangjin girls in the future.

Blogger SeriousMethod, who was once in the same situation, lauded Cha for taking action in an area that no one dared to touch:

I went to a college of education and I totally understand her situation more than anyone else does. My major was English (education) and fortunately, there has always been job vacancy for English teachers, but…I always aware of the irrationality of the system, but never took any action. The education sector is very conservative place. I give her a round of applause for protesting so valiantly. I sincerely hope her to pass the teacher’s exam and become a great teacher.

“I am jealous of her passion”

Sungkyoung25 reminded others that this was a long overdue reform. Education remained the only government sector that did not give potential exam-takers prior notification on job vacancies.

Every national exam sends the prior notice on the job vacancies, except the Teacher Certification exam. They(education ministry officials) make an announcement on the teacher vacancies just one month before the exam under the excuse that they want to get the exact number of vacancies made by the retirement. This year, there was zero vacancy on the integrated social studies and the integrated science. The students who studied for a year for the exam (on that subject) would be crestfallen…What’s worse, is that there are more people who have studied not one, but two or three years, even five to six years for the exam… That is why the Noryanjin girl stepped up, because of the urgency of the matter…For the government officials, this is not a big deal. They (casually) do some paper works and make an announcement (on the job vacancy). But for those numerous people who have been waiting for the job, they feel as if they fall into a pit… (The Noryangjin girl’s move) made me feel shameful about myself. I envy her passion. She made me realized one more time the importance of taking action as an intellect.

Cha’s request for change was a demand that anyone with a social conscience could have made. However, Cha was the one who actually took action and with a zest of fresh ideas, a rare change was made in one of the most rigidly bureaucratic areas of Korean life.


Crédits photo: Flickr CC UNC-CFC-USFK, ornellaswouldgo

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