Last update at : Fri May 5 7:41:56 1995

Internet: Supporting Democratic Changes in the Post-Communist Slovak Republic

Internet: Supporting Democratic Changes in the Post-Communist Slovak Republic

April 28 1995

Martin Vystavil


The purpose of the LOGOS project is to extend interactive communication technologies of the Internet into various groups of society, establish an information system on social and cultural events in Slovakia, and support free communication space for individuals.


1 Introduction

2 Media

3 The LOGOS project

4 In the future

5 Conclusion


Author Information

1 Introduction

Communication is necessary to social beings. We have the need to speak as well as to be heard. We need useful information and free communication channels in the personal, community, and global spheres.

The communist regime which existed in the Slovak Republic deliberately and unashamedly controlled the media, hindering any personal initiative. This spread an atmosphere of fear and prevented individuals from developing unique and creative personalities. For more than half a century, the rule of totalitarian governments in Slovakia damaged the conscience and value systems of society. While the 1989 revolution changed outer conditions, the battle for the individual to accept a democratic world view has not yet finished. In order for democracy to develop, it becomes increasingly necessary to maintain free communication space which would provide interaction on the personal, group, and global levels. This in turn opens an opportunity to develop positive values. The concept particularly stands out in the former communist countries where a profound transformation process has been launched. State property has been privatized, new states have been established, a new vision for future development is being researched, and the identity of the citizen is continuing to be redefined. On the one hand, we can see in the background that all these processes have emerged in an environment shaped for decades by fear. On the other hand, they are being realized under the on-going battle for control over the media. It is therefore necessary to support the democratic awareness of the individual, the right to have access to information, and the peace of free communication.

2 Media

If we take the aspects of influence and interaction into account, we can divide the classic communication media into two groups: personal communication such as telephone, fax, and classical mail, and secondly mass media such as newspapers radio and television. Both groups have certain handicaps. The personal means of communication does not provide for group communication as well as global communication. Although the mass media does have a large influence, they are not interactive. Hence, a communication medium is needed which would be independent of the central administration and yet flexibly providing for the requirements of clients. The Internet appears to be such a platform.

2.1 The Internet in Slovakia

At present the Internet services in Slovakia are accessible through the SANET network which has a site in each of the larger cities including an EUnet site in Bratislava.

The SANET (The Slovak Academic Network) constitutes a network of universities and academic institutions. Non-governmental and commercial organizations that have become members of the SANET can also be connected to the network. Approximately 15,000 users, mostly students, have daily access to the Internet, and it has already brought fruit in the area of economics. It has given users the opportunity to exchange global experiences, improve their knowledge about the world, and enlarge their qualifications, and continue in their professional growth. These are positive, irreversible changes in the conscious of people. However, this group of academic users represents only a small portion of society. So, a question should be asked: "How to address the rest of society?"

3 The LOGOS Project

Within the framework of our LOGOS project, the Computing Center at the Slovak Academy of Sciences has decided to make the Internet and its potential of interactive communication accessible to various institutions in the social, cultural, and media spheres. Realizing that modern information technologies should be provided to those who produce information, we have resolved to create an interesting information system for citizens and friends of Slovakia all over the world. Although a shift in opinion was necessary, we concluded that the attraction of the Internet would prove profitable especially in commercial institutions, where the cooperation principle lies in free information exchange. The aim of the project was to address the world academic society with ideas from some of the important cultural, social, and media institutions in Slovakia. We intended to present their opinions, statements, and methods of finding answers to questions such as:

How do we live? What is valuable to us? How have the adopted values been transformed into goals? How are these goals being reached through our work and concrete projects?

Therefore information about actual works and events in Slovakia in the area of the printed news media as well as cultural and social events are being made accessible through the Internet during the period of one year. During this year, the project is assessed in two areas: firstly, the initial benefits that the participants receive, and secondly the accomplishment of short term objectives leading to long term goals.

The requirements for taking part in the project are simple. The computing Center of the Slovak Academy of Sciences would provide, free of charge, its HW/SW means, as well as its personnel to help prepare presentations technologically. An institution which has been invited to participate, would provide their presentation free of charge and be legally accountable for it. The LOGOS project is structured in the form of an electronic multimedia journal, called Slovakia Online, based on the WWW Platform. Documents are available in the ASCII code while the diacritic marks have been deleted for the purpose of legibility.

In spite of the need to over come possible financial and technological problems, we understand that the project's success clearly depends on our ability to contact the right people who comprehend the vast potential of electronic communication.

The project has proved to be successful and about 40 institutions have joined so far.

3.1 Presentations of the press as well as social and cultural institutions

To begin the project, cooperation with the media was the most important. In November 1994, the SME daily was the first to enter Slovakia Online and was welcomed enthusiastically by many users all over the world. Their debut was even publicized through the daily in its own articles. Since then, we have managed to invite five of the most influential dailies in Slovakia (SME, Pravda, Narodna Obroda, Praca, and Slovenska REPUBLIKA) to cooperate with us. As well, monitoring agencies bring interesting information from central European radio and television stations and from the press.

The Press Agency of the Slovak Republic presents part of its service via Slovakia Online. Slovak weeklies have thus far been represented by the influential, economic weekly called TREND, and by the Catholic news weekly. These sources also cover the political spectrum in Slovakia and now make their daily production accessible, free of charge to users of the Internet.

We understand that cooperation with these sources is very important as daily news and commentaries on current events in the society substantially contribute to forming the required information space. Having them on the Internet brings in the necessary dynamics into the whole information-exchange process in the society.

Not only does Slovakia Online provide the opportunity to search and browse information, but it also makes access to a richer piece of information about current events by means of E-mail gateways and discussion lists. This method of communication is frequently being used since discussion topics are often original and provide the required feedback from citizens. Hence Slovakia Online becomes a platform in which citizens' initiatives are being discussed. The platform may even become a place of the inception of such initiatives. Furthermore readers can also send their comments to the editorial staff of a periodical or newspaper about the content and the appearance of their publication. In cooperation with editorial teams, we have been preparing the presentation of the Slovak press on the WWW.

We have also addressed cultural institutions dealing with the arts, theater, film, and music. The multimedia environment of the WWW is very favorable to the presentation of culture. We have managed to contact people who have shown enthusiasm and willingness to overcome the distance which separates the world of computers from the world of the arts. In cooperation with well-known Slovak painters and sculptors, we have organized several multimedia exhibitions and prepared a presentation of contemporary Slovak art. Galleries, such as the Slovak National Gallery, use Slovakia Online to bring information about their exhibitions, and together with the Ministry of Culture, have been thinking of using the Internet as a communication platform.

At the outset we managed to make accessible several books (poetry, dialogues, fairy tales) written by contemporary authors. Looking forward, we want to point to the possibility of using the Internet for the needs of universities and Slavic language schools in the world. Moreover, the WWW platform also appears to be interesting for publishing houses, which inform readers about their plans for new editions and present their latest publications.

Among the journals presented through Slovakia Online, there are scientific journals registered in the Current Contents, as well as a journal of musical alternatives, and a journal about the Catholic movement called Focolare or a journal of the British Council in Slovakia.

In conjunction with the center of electro-acoustic music, an information system has been formed about the current events in the world of music in Slovakia. The system aims at covering both spheres of popular and classical music.

Non-governmental organizations such as the British Council in Slovakia, the Roman-Catholic Church, and the Evangelical Church in Slovakia use the WWW information system to inform others about their activities.

The Professor Matualy Institute of Slovakia for mentally handicapped children has introduced an interesting proposition to use the Internet technology to broaden the children's understanding of the world. We are convinced that this is crucial, and therefore we're endeavoring to support a different view of man, taking other values into account, stressing the value of human life and choice and not measuring everything by prestige.

We have recently initiated cooperation. with other institutions such as the Office of the President of the Slovak Republic and the Information Center for the Visually Handicapped.

3.2 Results after a half year

The response from readers all over the world is positive. We record about 30,000 accesses into Slovakia Online each week. They are geographically distributed as follows: one third from the USA and Canada, One third from Slovakia, and one third from Europe and other continents. These 30,000 accesses a week seems to be relatively consistent, and so we assume the number represents a growing community of readers who are interested in Slovakia.

Information contained in the journal is being used by Slovak Republic embassy workers, researchers, and also, for example, by a radio station run by our countrymen in Australia who prepare programs for Slovak people living there. As we have learned, the access to wide ranged information has already caused, among our countrymen living all over the world, a positive shift in understanding events happening in Slovakia.

In Slovakia, the project has been accepted very positively by the media, as well as government institutions. There is growing interest for teamwork with pilot projects in the government area, as our workers have been developing contacts with government institutions focus mainly on culture, tourism, and foreign affairs. The Computer Center of the Slovak Academy of Sciences may possibly be involved in mutual projects of building up state information systems where the Center will participate technologically.

It is interesting that almost every participant in the LOGOS project has become an active participant in the network. The project has also been financially realized through the already existing technology. Moreover, the project has also been realized without any claim for higher salaries. The dailies, providing their daily production free of charge, in some cases a day in advance, have not lost their audience.

Another interesting fact is to note the change of attitude or perspective of the information producers. The WWW represents a new environment, and the producers have begun to transform their styles to be able to use it. For example, the presentation of scientific journals is not simply a copy of the previous forms. We have been surprised by the amount of creatively integrated information. We intended to start the project using simple methods. Yet, we have produced conversion programs in to the HTML language, employing the AWK language. Consequently the participants have gradually become acquainted with the HTML language and the means for making presentations in the WWW.

I think that interesting things have been happening in our team as well. We have not only been experiencing together the struggle for vision in the future, but right before our eyes, some workers of our team have been adjusting their qualification to become experts in new information technologies, for example, in the field of arts.

4 In the future

The LOGOS project will be finished in the summer 1995, as it was scheduled. The project's outputs, such as Slovakia online, will continue. Co- operation with various institutions, both in the form of a specific co-operation or pilot projects, will go on. Contacts have been established in different fields, for example, municipal authorities have shown interest in services of the Internet. We intend to open up space for tourism institutions, as well as for ordinary citizens, giving them chance to respond to actual problems in society. expectations. The expansion of interest has surpassed our expectations.We have currently been very busy with the surge of offers for co-operation, so we need to gain time to be able to look at our work from a clearer perspective.

5 Conclusion

We assume that the success of the Project has been caused to a great extent by the current situation in Slovakia, since important social, economic, and cultural changes have been going on in the country. In this time, when the society has been forming a fragile democratic base for the country, a lively discussion on the future direction of Slovakia, covering all aspects of society, has been continuing in the background. We are grateful to be able to contribute by making small irreversible changes in the conscious of people to the development of our young state. We believe that the LOGOS project will help Slovakia, which is in the process of integration into the world information community.



I would like to express my appreciation to my co-workers at the Computing Centre of the Slovak Academy of Sciences for their help, enthusiasm, support, and valuable contributions to the project.

Author Information

Martin Vystavil is the co-ordinator of the LOGOS project. He graduated from the Slovak Technical University with a degree in Telecommunication technology. At present, he has been working on the development of network at the Slovak Academy of Sciences. His field of expertise has been the application of information technologies.

Martin Vystavil

Computing Center of the Slovak Academy of Sciences
Dubravska cesta 9
Bratislava 842 35
Slovak Republic
phone: +42 7 374 422
fax: +42 7 375 881

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