Interview with Geert Lovink By Christian (Anti-Haider Movement, Vienna/Austria), Spring 2000. C: New media seem to play an increasingly important role in the question of resistance against power structures. Could you tell something about the history of the www in regards to this specific use? GL: It is banal say that the Internet has military origins. This might perhaps even be a popular myth as very little historical research has been done yet. I would say that three cultures are colliding here, competing, in a rather naïve, creative way. The first is the one of the big research centers, of the military, closely tied to academia. This world is still intact, yet has lost complete overview and control over what we now call Internet. The second is the corporate world, which now seems to have taken over. Corporate influence on the way IT developed over the last 50 years has always been substantial, even though most huge companies from sixties do no exist anymore. The third factor is geek culture, hackers, which I see as a creative offspring from a much older male engineering culture. It is here from these circles that we see first signs of “resistance”, even though we have to be very careful to transplant political terminology from the level of street into the machinic realm of computers. So much of the common sense of today’s network architecture is going back to the US during the years of the Vietnam War. The influence of the sixties on the Internet is immense. It is a period where we see an interesting mix of ideological confrontation and technological innovation (unfortunately, these days innovation is by definition conform in nature). We can think about terms such as open source, public access, decentralized, horizontal networks, distributed resources and the importance of discussion forums such as USENET and mailinglists. The rise of WWW has all but destroyed this culture. It took at least five years to find the right response to this neo-liberal takeover. Geeks and programmers are still by and large dazed and confused about the rapid closure of the Internet, which is a necessity for business to have a secure, controlled environment in which e-business can proceed. The libertarian, anti-government stand of the cyber-elite is long gone. They need the protection of the state, against hackers, activists, info-warriors or whatever label they invent in order to step up new regulations and repressive laws. Do not believe their “free” ideology of global markets and new economies. It is at this level that the new net activism comes in, which is very diverse, from B92 n Belgrade, and other streaming media initiatives to Seattle and A16/Washington, to etoywar and open source software initiatives. C: How are the perspectives in this field, to what extend will governments be able to initiate and continue censorship in the future and therefore weaken new media in the role as free media? GL: We should get rid of the idea that Internet is ruling the world. Forget the phrase that Internet will see censorship as a bug and will route it. In theory, this is still the case. That is, the art of “routing around” has always been an act of civil courage! It has never been a technical feature. We should not compare Internet with newspapers or television. Obviously, censorship has become a much more dynamic and complex process. So have the surveillance and filtering tools. The question of “free” media is therefor a challenge for people, even on the level of single individuals. It is a matter of culture, and courage. Not a technical or even legal issue. What counts, in the end, is the quality, diversity, the radical poetry and political spirit of a social movement, whether virtual or not. Censorship cannot tackle such a movement. Brutal repression can, a sudden influx of heroin, paranoia and betrayal, caused by agents provocateurs and spies. They usually break up movements. Not censorship or “perception management”. C: The example of B92, it’s forced closedown by the Serbian authorities have shown that cyberspace offered at least a temporary virtual asylum to the activists. How effective is this move into the virtual as far as the continuation of the political activism is concerned? Did this step in fact provoke more than just international media interest and are activists of B92 still able to influence the internal political situation in Yugoslavia? GL: I do not want to play up the heroic performance of B92 and other independent media. They lost the war. We all lost this war. Milosevic is still in power. Serbia is in ruins, at the verge of a civil wars. Thousands lost their lives. NATO can now police the ethnic divides which have been stepped up in Kosov@ since the early eighties (if we do not want to go back too far in history).
The use of Internet by B92 has been mainly been secondary. Rather symbolic and tactical than effective. B92 is in fact a bit of an old fashioned rock & roll radio station which just got into this situation due to a few individuals with a lot of courage, vision and energy (such as Veran Matic). B92 is a utopian pocket of resistance, a reminder that life in Serbia could be different, in the future, once, now. I do not want to overestimate their influence. We all support them in their struggle, and that’s it: effective or not. They lost everything and now have to make dubious compromises in order to survive. The situation there is pretty dark and desperate at the moment. Let’s hope Serbia will not be turned into another Libya or Iraq. B92 would certainly not survive such a period of massive corruption, internal violence and a prolonged boycott by the international community. C: The efforts from both sides, NATO and Yugoslavia’s secret service, to shift the war a rather subversive level of “hactivism” showed, that this field has enough political potential. It is apparently worth engaging in. But how much power has a politically motivated hacker in reality (e.g. throwing a cream-cake into Gates’ face had been effective, too)? GL: The power of hackers, or let’s say system operators in general, should never be underestimated. The more the world is depending on computer (networks), which it does, the more attacks of all sorts, from all sides, we can expect. In cultural and political circles people liked to look down on hackers because the old school PC-conceptual artists and Gutenberg activists do not speak the technical language of hackers. We are dealing here with a cultural gap, differences between generations, certainly, which are rapidly fading away. At least that’s my impression. A few hackers will bring down the entire Internet, all Windows operated machines, whatever. It is all possible now, so we just have to wait for the person or group who will actually do it. The growth of computer networks has just been too fast. The imperatives of the New Economy are confusing, to say the least. There you go. Now we have seen some denial of service attacks and the damage of a silly “I love you” virus was just estimated at $ 25 billion. That’s comparable to the losses of a modest crash of the New York stock market. All the attacks have not been politically motivated. Yet.
C: Do you see that the new organization-forms of activist groups via new media (e.g. protestors against WTO/IWF) might mark the begin of a protest-culture which might lead to a significant change of power structures? GL: I would like to quote Reinhold Grether here, who has been very much involved in the etoywars. I think he report from New York sums up the general atmosphere in a very precise, and brilliant way. “Durchgaengiges Thema aller Gespraeche war die Frage nach einer neuen “Politik des Code”. Welche Netzarchitekturen koennen mit Aussicht auf eine progressive Entwicklung des Netzes entwickelt werden? Ich bin niemand begegnet, der nicht darueber nachdenkt und eigene Schritte in diese Richtung unternimmt. Im Vordergrund stehen die Subversion von ICANN, die Entwicklung von Peer-to-Peer-Architekturen wie Napster und die Etablierung browserloser Netze in Weiterentwicklung von Netomat. Zweites großes Thema war der re-entry virtueller Erfahrungen in die reale Welt. Von Aids über die Zapatistas nach Seattle und Washington bis zu Toywar und Anti-Haider laesst sich ein performatives Medienhandeln beobachten, das nicht mehr auf die revolutionaere Umgestaltung des Realen, sondern auf dessen semiolutionaere Neutralisierung abzielt. Das Unmögliche, Virtuelle und Surreale infiltrieren das Reale und versuchen so, dessen Machtanspruch ins Leere laufen zu lassen.” This would be my analysis, and tactics as well.