Assault on the Serbs: Verbal fire spreads across cyberspace

The Internet
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THE STRUGGLE over Kosovo is being fought not only in the airspace over Yugoslavia and Albanian villages on the ground: at least one small part of the conflict is being played out over the Internet.

There have been plenty of verbal punch-ups and passionate outpourings of opinion in cyberspace. "I hope a lot of American lives will be lost in the next few days; that would teach them a lesson not to interfere with one small sovereign country who is just defending its own territory," says one unmistakably Serb voice called Vlad on the Los Angeles Times conference page on Kosovo.

"Hey Vlad," replies Lento57. "Americans do not go to Kosovo to die, but to kick some butt."

Chat forums have been so clogged since the Nato attacks began that they are hard to access. More than 12,000 people have contributed to the online debate hosted by The New York Times alone, with tens of thousands more plugging into Albanian discussion forums, Serbian discussion forums and other sites hosted by newspapers and television networks.

Kosovo politics are esoteric, and many non-Balkan contributors display a rudimentary knowledge of the situation combined with free-floating anxiety about the consequences for Europe and the US military forces being deployed.

The real bile, though, comes from people who know the region best. "Albanians!" says a Serb called Okovalev. "Why are you so primitive you need Nato to help you? Why can't your, as you say, 3,000-year-old `civilisation' take native Serbian land itself?"

Another ideologue, called Freedom4serbia, traces it all back to the Albanians' treacherous alliance with Ottoman Turkey. "Once a Ottoman bastard ... always an Ottoman bastard ... it's written in your genes ... evolution will eventually remove you from this planet ... "

Not all the rhetoric is quite so forthright and some is tinged with touchy- feely American psychobabble. "The Serbs need a spanking, that's for sure," writes Logothetis1. "Actually, they are an ill nation, that needs help, nurturing, and support. National therapy ... The Serbs have a lot of healing to do. The US is not helping. Fuel to fire, isolation, sanctions, biased one-sided coverage, and now war!; this will not help Serbia regain her humanity."

Although the intervention of US forces has unleashed strong passions, those expressing such views are confined to quite a small constituency: news junkies who surf the Internet and watch 24- hour news channels, or people with a personal interest - emigres from the region and of Albanian, Serbian and Greek descent. Public concern and even interest in the deployment of US forces appears to be relatively low.

Andrew Gumbel