Serb-Croat Battleground Moves to Cyberspace

BELGRADE – A new war has broken out between Serbs and Croats, this time without casualties and bloodshed because the battleground is cyberspace.

In less than a week, hackers on both sides have crashed the most popular Web sites, leaving challenging messages but short of the hatred the two nations found for one another in the wars of the 1990s.

“This is just to show how able we are,” said one message. “Brother Croats, be more careful,” said another.

It started with Croatian hackers crashing the site of the popular Belgrade-based TV Pink last week. The home page of the Serbian private television channel, visited by millions in the Balkans, was covered with the red and white Croat national flag.

In recent years, TV Pink has become the most popular TV in the Balkans. Its popularity extends also to countries not from the former Yugoslavia, such as Bulgaria.

Serbian hackers responded immediately to the attack on TV Pink, crashing the site of the most popular Croatian sportsperson, the world and Olympic champion skier Janica Kostelic. They replaced her photograph with a photograph of a popular Serb basketball player. He had his three fingers raised, in a typical Serb gesture.

Then they turned to the site of the youth branch of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and erased all the news. This party led by late Croatian president Franjo Tudjman had taken Croatia down the road of independence from former Yugoslavia in 1991. That move toward independence was opposed by Serbs and led to a war that spread to Bosnia.

Within days, the cyber-war spread to other sites. Croats “attacked” the sites of Serbian football club Partizan, and Serbs responded with crashing the sites of the Croatian Faculty of Economy in Osijek town and another popular Web site, Blitzcinestar, on cultural events and cinemas in Croatian capital Zagreb.

“It’s just showing what we can do,” said Vlada S., a young man who belongs to the Serbian group of hackers who call themselves “Viruscrew.” Like the “Black Hand” group and “Serb Angels,” they insist on anonymity and rarely speak to media.

“It has nothing to do with the war of the ’90s,” he added. “We were just kids then.”

Serb hackers have considerable experience in crashing sites. Some of their most successful raids came at the time of the 11 weeks of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) bombing of Serbia in 1999. With the help of Russian hackers and Serbs abroad, they crashed the sites of NATO, the White House, and the U.S. Navy.

“The crashes lasted only for a short time, half of a day,” Vlada S. said. “But we managed to block access to the NATO site in April 1999, when the alliance was celebrating its 50th anniversary. At one of the U.S. sites, we managed to change the caption under the photo of [then-Secretary of State] Madeleine Albright.”

The targets in this new “war” were carefully picked. TV Pink has aimed to reunite the region of former Yugoslavia “in a cultural sense, due to the common language and heritage its people share,” its owner Zeljko Mitrovic told IPS.

Serbia and Croatia, the two nations most traumatized by the war, are on a painful road of reconciliation. The two countries only recently re-opened their borders to permit free travel. After a decade in which all ties were cut, many families only now have the chance to reunite. But conservatives on both sides strongly oppose reconciliation. For many on both sides, “the others” are still the enemy.

The nationalist section of Croatian media targets TV Pink as a new attempt at “Serbian domination over the area of former Yugoslavia.” The TV station airs Latin American soap operas, movie blockbusters, and folk music popular among all people of former Yugoslavia, who share common roots and a common language.

The new war between Serbs and Croats continues, but the messages and the manner profoundly differ from the hate speech of the 1990s.

“New times bring new ways,” sociology professor Ratko Bozovic told IPS. “Differences and disagreements [between Serbs and Croats] can and will remain for a while. But it is good to see that the new ‘battles’ are not fought in real battlefields and that these guys are using only their skills and brains, and not guns.”

(Inter Press Service)

Author: Vesna Peric Zimonjic

Vesna Peric Zimonjic writes for Inter Press Service.