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    Telematics for peace, stories of people and computers

    PEACELINK: BONDS OF PEACE

    From Gulf War I to Gulf War II, experiencing cooperation with Comboni missionaries in Africa and Latin America. An evaluation of volunteer information activity on the web.

    By Alessandro Marescotti
    16 gennaio 2004

    Logo PeaceLink The history of Peacelink begins after the I Gulf War, at the end of 1991, for a very special reason. The First Gulf War in fact had represented a turning point for the pacifist movement as regards the means of action. Until then the movement was used to the slow pace of the war in Vietnam and had always used monthly magazines for in-depth analysis, although they could never be tools for mobilization. However a monthly magazine takes about 50 days to reach people if we consider the whole process of writing and publishing, not to mention delivery delays... Thus, when the attack of General Schwarzkopf was started and nearly concluded in 50 days, we realized that the exchange and communication of ideas was taking too long. The quick 1991 War taught us that the peace movement needed a technological upgrade. It was essential to be able to offer a fast and adequate response to the events by having our own information system in real time.

    1991 the birth of Peacelink Peacelink means "bond of peace" as well as "connection of peace". Peacelink was born within Fidonet, a system that used BBS technology (Bulletin Board System). At that time nobody would dare to talk about the Internet, which was only for few universities provided with large and advanced calculus centers. Thus Peacelink started out on BBS, a system of telematic bulletin boards. BBS were able to distribute messages by means of modems and personal computers connected with each other by the telephone line, and creating a sort of "chain reaction".

    1992 on the record, already. Peacelink organizes in Taranto the first course of telematics open to students and teachers. People outside the world of school attend the class as well. The first "info" on Peacelink is launched. In December 1992 Peacelink sustains pacifist missions to Sarajevo led by Father Tonino Bello and Father Albino Bizzotto (members of the association "Beati I Costruttori di pace", Blessed the creators of peace). The weekly magazine "Avvenimenti" (Events) publishes a long essay on Peacelink. December 12th, 1992: Giovanni Pugliese attempts an independent connection between two BBS, withdrawing from the host system Fidonet. The connection is successful: 2 autonomous BBS are able to communicate. From that moment Peacelink becomes a wholly independent system. (-For further information on "BBS small revolution", click here).

    1993, modem and journalism During 1993 Peacelink, previously hosted by Fidonet, builds its own connection to other sites devoted to the information on social issues: now all is possible without having to depend upon external permissions. 1993 is the year of the partnership with the weekly magazine "Avvenimenti" (Events) and "I Siciliani" (The Sicilians). After few months Peacelink is able to add 2-3 new BBS and offer a phone connection at local fare in several towns. During the summer of 1993 Peacelink sustains peace missions in Bosnia organized by "Beati I costruttori di pace" and offers an emergency airplane connected to our telematic system: the airplane is ready to take off in case of attack against the peace corp. One of Peacelink BBS is also connected to the emergency heliport in Montecalvoli (near Pisa).

    1994 Raid and Seizure In 1994 a Revenue Service raid, ordained by a zealous magistrate, subtracts the main computer to Peacelink: an outrageous mistake. The military is looking for an illegal software distributor in the home of Giovanni Pugliese, with no success. It is an awkward initiative. The reaction is a series of inquiries to the Italian Parliament. In October 1994 the First National Congress promoted by Peacelink takes place in Rome: 200 people participate, representing numerous associations all over Italy. Giovanni Pugliese declares in his address: "They accuse me to earn between 50 and 200 thousand Liras for each connection to our web site. Considering the numbers of Peacelink users, I should get more than 1 billion a year. If it were so, why would I want to live in a small rented apartment while I might own a luxurious villa? Why haven't I got chandeliers then?".

    1995, Peacelink in Africa A significant expansion of our intents marks 1995: Peacelink opens up to worldwide themes and issues. Peacelink binds BBS technology to the Internet and the World Wide Web: it's a new beginning. Cooperations with Africa begin and the magazine Nigrizia is now on the web. In summer 1995 we meet Father Renato Kizito Sesana for the first time: we come upon a telematic SOS he just sent. He had eluded arrest after a dangerous journey in Sudan. In October 1995 Enrico Marcandalli goes to Nairobi to set up the computers of an online agency of African journalists for alternative information: Africanews. Thus we get in touch with the community of street children in Nairobi, which will be called Kivuli.

    In 1995 Peacelink creates its own web site. The first action is to support Gianmarco, a very unlucky child affected by a disease yet to be diagnosed at the time: it was an unknown variant of leucodistrophya. We start looking for similar cases and, most importantly, a therapy. Homeopathic medicines become available, together with a computer, a modem and lots of toys for Gianmarco. Then we participate online to another life story: Ugo, a drug addict, is telling us on Peacelink the painful experience of his treatment day by day.

    1996-Telematics for peace Months of focused research produced the first book published by Peacelink: "Telematics for peace". The publishing house Apogeo backs up the authors' wish (Gubitosa, Marcandalli and Marescotti) to donate the income from copyright and part of the proceeds to the street children of Nairobi "adopted" by Father Renato Kizito Sesana. Peacelink begins a series of publications in order to raise funds for the poorest of Africa. In October 1996, the Second National Congress of Peacelink takes place at Statte (Taranto). Among the speeches we particularly treasure the beautiful email message from Ettore Frisotti (http//www.peacelink.it/associazione/html/frisotti/html), a Comboni missionary writing from Brazil, and a friend whose memory and testimony we'll never forget. In 1996 Enrico Marcandalli, member of Peacelink, goes back to Africa to establish a group of young people who will learn to update the web site Africanews. For instance the group learns how to send electronic mail to Italian newspapers. Thereafter something unexpected happens: several Italian journalists working for important newspapers become embarrassed in front of the small community of Koinonia in Nairobi. What happened? It is simple: our work in Africa helped establish in Nairobi a young team capable of working with digital technology while Italian newspapers are not up to date yet. Thus Italian journalists often have to say: "Sorry, we don't have email, can you send us a fax?". The power of digital technology allowed a small underdeveloped community such as that of Koinonia to beat important newspapers.

    1997- "Open a window to the world" World wide web experiences bring Peacelink on the Italian Television: firstly it is a program by Carlo Massarini (Mediamente) and secondly some coverage filmed by the directors Squizzato and Brunatto working for RAI (Italian Broadcasting Company). Profits from television programs are donated to Father Kizito and the poorest children of Nairobi. Furthermore, the urge to support Father Kizito's projects and spread his ideas led to publishing the book "Open a window to the world", subtitle "School and Telematics: experiencing solidarity with Africa", edited by Peacelink (Multimage publisher). Afterwards another Peacelink book "Beyond the Internet" was born under the same premises and with similar characteristics (donation of the copyright profits to Father Kizito's projects). The book contains an interesting preface by Alex Zanotelli, which marks a radical change in the direction of telematics and computers by Alex and large sectors of the pacifist world, who previously felt almost suspicious about it.

    1998- Kossovo and the non-violence battle "Elderly people at Adwa, Ethiopia, are 35 years old". Yes, you read correctly: we receive this email from a nun. This message becomes the beginning of a correspondence between Sister Rita Odarda and the students of the class IV A of the ITC Pitagora (Commercial and Technical Institute) at Taranto. Sister Rita is about to leave Italy, Turin, for Ethiopia and wants to keep in touch with Italy through the Internet while there. She is going to live in the extremely poor village of Adwa, where only 2% of young girls attend elementary school. She heard that in Italy there is a telematic web involved with peace and solidarity issues: she sits down at the computer and sends an email to Peacelink.

    1998 is full of hopes for Kossovo (please notice that we spell it with double "s" to suggest linguistic equality between Albanians and Serbians). Peacelink offers its web site to make the non-violent resistance of the Kossovars known. A Peacelink editorial recites: "Do we have to wait until the conflict exasperates and degenerates into a war to see the international community step in for the respect of human rights in Kossovo? Non-violence does not seem to draw the attention of the international community: why? What can we do about it? October 10th, from 9am to 2pm the organizations of "Campagna Kossovo" (Kossovo campaign) will march together with Kossovars at Montecitorio Square, Rome. There is something extremely important we can do: spread the word of this call for demonstration". This is our appeal but except for Paolo Cento, no member of the Parliament participates to the October 10 March.

    1999, The "humanitarian" war 1999 is marked by the war in Kossovo: the Parliament members who neglected the opportunity to meet the Kossovars in 1998 are the same who patronize the "humanitarian" NATO intervention in their favor few months later. During the war in Kossovo Peacelink experiences an outpouring of telematic contacts, especially because our web site receives messages from those suffering from NATO bombing. From that experience the book "Chronicles underneath bombing" (Multimage ed.) was born: a dramatic testimony, deeply humane and compassionate. Pages of true literature comparable to the letters of the sentenced to death during the Italian Resistance to the Fascist regime. The book is published a year later: during the war Peacelink distributes an essay which is printed and read in several Italian cities. Meanwhile Giovanni Pugliese is still on trial: Peacelink's response is the book "Italian crackdown", original title (Apogeo publisher), by Carlo Gubitosa: a report on the history of the trial started in 1994 against Peacelink.

    2000- Nuclear risk In 2000 finally Giovanni Pugliese is acquitted. That's the end of a trial started in 1994 with a search warrant at Giovanni's home and the seizure of the main computer at Peacelink. On May 18th the volunteers of "Dove Operation" of the Association Pope John XXIII, leave for Chechnya. Among them a conscientious objector: Carlo Gubitosa, Peacelink secretary. Before leaving Carlo writes on the web: "I believe that fear of death, and more generally any fear, cannot prevent you from dying but can prevent you from living". While Carlo is telling us dramatic stories, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Dini reports that everything is getting back to normal. On September 5th Peacelink is able to secure and make public the "Emergency plan for incidents to military nuclear units in Taranto". Thanks to the 230/95 decree, Peacelink obtains from Taranto Prefecture an 8-page file considered as an abstract of non-military interest on the issue inquired. The file reports the evacuation plan conceived in case of a nuclear catastrophe in the town by fusion of the nuclear reactor core in the military unit. Consequently the Prefect of Taranto is removed. On December 21st Peacelink hands journalists NATO documents (declassified yet unpublished) which show with no doubt that the Italian military operations in Kossovo are taking place in the most dangerous region, as it is the most brutally attacked by depleted uranium bombing. The NATO map of delpeted uranium in Kossovo starts circulating: Peacelink publishes it on the web, then newspapers and press reports publish the map as well. It is the beginning of a campaign of information to reach the soldiers' families.

    2001, From the G8 to Afghanistan January 7th, Peacelink publishes detailed maps of the areas affected by depleted uranium. A warning to the families of the military appears: "What can you do to protect your sons? You can connect to Peacelink on the Internet and check the maps indicating where depleted uranium fell. Peacelink, after charging the government (center-leftist at the time) for not having distributed the data, decides to circulate online the available information. The result is thousands of people connected to our web site, which is literally submersed and gets stuck. Two days later the Minister for the Environment announces to Press Agency Asca that the maps indicating the presence of depleted uranium would be promulgated in a press conference. This is the proof that Internet information and protest do not pass without notice and have power enough to make governments move. January 16th: Peacelink, together with Falco Accame and other European Organizations are invited to attend with all members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg the public audition of a scientific report on depleted uranium. Peacelink is now linked to the web sites of Italian newspapers and television programs such as RAINEWS24, Repubblica online, RAI Raggio Verde, etc. March 26th: Peacelink wins the online information section of the Journalism Prize "Il mosaico della solidarieta'" (The solidarity's Mosaic) in Milan. The motivation recites: "For Peacelink consistent commitment to circulation of information on Ong activity (non-governmental organizations), the thorough and high quality web site and news updating, the persistent research and promotion of alternative sources of information, the interactive style of news-lists". July 20th-21st, Genova, demonstration anti-G8: "Police forces reach the Black-blocs from behind and suddenly charge. The Black-blocs are the first to flee while non-violent pacifists gather to the side of the street: shirts and white hands well visible, heads and faces uncovered. Policemen strike. It's not the Black-blocs. Tear gases spread panic around and Policemen assailed us." These are the kind of messages Peacelink receives those days. Anybody can read them on the web at the following address: http://www.peacelink.it/genova/index.html September 2001- it's the tenth anniversary for Peacelink, unfortunately there is nothing to celebrate: the Twin Towers have been razed to the ground. A group of suicidal terrorists hijack several airplanes, shatter the Twin Towers in NY and hit a section of the Pentagon. Japanese pacifist Kazuhiro Imamura (imamurak@pf.catv.ne.jp) and Woody Powell, US veteran of the Korean War and President of "Veterans for Peace" (www.veteransforpeace.org) sends a message worldwide against war. Peacelink takes part in the initiative and spread the message in Italy. November 18th- Italian warships leave from Taranto. A humanitarian chain against the war is organized. Peacelink commissions a group of students an opinion poll. The question: "Italy will take part in the war: do you agree with it?" The results: 45% of the people interviewed is favorable to the Italian participation, 55% is against it. "Where were the pacifists?" The periodic recurrent question is a veiled accusation, yet Peacelink turns it into an opportunity by writing the chronological report of the "Annuario della pace" (Peace almanac, Asterios publisher), in 2002 at his second year of publication. Furthermore in 2001 an experience of education to peace online on Peacelink becomes a book: "Con il mondo a scuola" (The world at school) (Maria Teresa Tarallo, Multimage). The proceeds from the copyright are donated to the "Anita's Home" (an initiative of the Association Amani, founded by Father Kizito). Another book with core "peacelinkers ideas" is published: "Alternative information" by Carlo Gubitosa (EMI).

    2002- Weapon dealers January 31st- One email is able to move thousands of people to action. The committees for Foreign Affairs and Defense of the Italian Chamber of Deputies have secretly arranged a sudden turn of events: in only 8 days a bill for the abolishment of a large part of the Parliament control powers on the weapon market has been examined and approved. To achieve such a goal the core of the law 185/90 needed to be nullified. It is indeed the law 185/90 to allow a tangible control of the Parliament on the weapon trade and export. January 31st Chiara Bonaiuti, researcher at Oscar (Observation Post Weapon Trade) sends an email message on the issue. Peacelink immediately makes it public and a scandal blows up, especially because of a detail of no secondary importance: Mr. Minniti M.P. (Left Democrats) supports Mr. Previti for the manipulation of the law 185/90 (later on he said that he made a mistake). Meanwhile the weekly magazine "Vita" (Life) hosts the alarm, followed by other media day by day. It's the beginning of a new Internet campaign: "Defend law 185/90 against death markets". In few days we reach all organizations engaged in peace and human rights issues: such a general alert would have been simply unconceivable without the World Wide Web. February 11th-13th ­ Hundreds of pacifists block the nuclear base of Faslane in Scotland. Francesco Iannuzzelli, Peacelink web-site programmer, takes part to the non-violent action. He writes via email: "At 7am we tied our arms on rubber tubes so that we could form human chains that would be very difficult to loosen, then we laid down in front of the base entrance".

    2003- From the NATO consultant to Bush 2003 begins with a formal charge against Peacelink put up by a Nato consultant on alleged reasons, asking 50.000 Euro for damages. Peacelink decides to collect the money either for paying the debt or, in case of victory in the trial, to donate it through Father Renato Kizito Sesana to the Africa Peace Point in Nairobi. In order to handle the whole operation a board of guarantors is created: Nigrizia, Comboni Missionaries of Bari, Aifo, Amani and Father Kizito are part of it. Father Kizito pronounces his comment on the issue: "I express my solidarity to Peacelink, which has been sued by a NATO consultant asking 50.000 Euro for damages. The "sin" committed by Peacelink is the truthful reproduction in February 2000, with indication of the original source, of an appeal for environmental defense which circulated widely on the Internet and contained some criticism towards NATO and the use of depleted uranium in the war. Such appeal was signed by 69 important names in the world of culture and journalism and was born within a group of people not belonging to Peacelink. Three years later one of those 69 who signed the document charge Peacelink by claiming that as a NATO consultant he was damaged by that appeal. As a journalist, as well as a missionary, I believe that such a charge against Peacelink is unjust and unjustified. This civil cause cannot be sustained by those who defend freedom of information, it is aimed to attack a web site that distinguished itself in actions for peace and solidarity". The trial will last several years, the lawyers say. Meanwhile Peacelink is following the progress of Africa Peace Point in Nairobi, which works in close touch with Father Kizito, and will receive the 50.000, Euro Peacelink is raising. Right, our hope is to win the cause, sooner or later. 2003 is also the year of Peacelink "web peaks": from 3000 daily users in 2002, to 10.000 daily users in January 2003, 15.000 in March and a final jump to 20.000 users on March 20th 2003, the day the war in Iraq started. If all this has become possible we also need to thank the "community management" of this web site, welcoming thousands of people willing to express their ideas. For example Peacelink promotes the campaign "Peace Flags on balconies": anybody interested can register his peace flag on a database and write a comment. Besides many people respond to the call for inventive and creative forms of non-violent demonstration (database "tuttigiuperterra", everybodydowntoearth). Some sign in the database of anti-war volunteers, others highlight the untruths on the war in "mediawatch", some others follow closely the campaign against the modification of the 185/90 law, which unfortunately have already occurred. Even in this moment further people are downloading a file with the list of products of the multinational companies supporting Bush and his war to boycott. Centro Nuovo Modello di Sviluppo (Center for a Model of New Development) has written the list. Finally Peacelink created an archive of pacifist organizations which can be consulted and updated following this link: http//db.peacelink.it Participation and interaction is the heart of Peacelink: not a "read-only" web site, but a "community web site" with everybody's contribution.

    2004?- More "bandwidth" and more funding Peacelink is based on sheer volunteer work. A group of about 30 people does most of the work on the web and through mailing lists. A thousand volunteers from their hometowns and regions offer their help for various initiatives and protests. For the future Peacelink needs more funds, as the number of users on the Internet tends to double every year and triple in case of war. These figures demand a more expensive and faster Internet connection, to be able to offer a broader "database" and avoid technical cessation in the event of a steadily growing number of users. However this is not all there is. Peacelink in fact is raising funds for the proceedings started by the NATO consultant mentioned above. That's why it is necessary to increase self-funding, despite the fact that Peacelink recognizes a "Franciscan" attitude and doesn't spend money either for renting a facility or paying employees. Donations can be done by postal money order to the Post Office Account: cc n. 13403746 to Association Peacelink, POBox 2009 - 74100 Taranto, Italy. By indicating "legal expenses" as the cause of donation, your gift will be given to Africa Peace Point in case of victory in the trial. The postal mail address is Peacelink, POBox 2009, zip code 74100, Taranto, Italy. You can find further information about Peacelink at the following link: http//www.peacelink.it/associazione.

    Note:

    (Translation by Paola Merciai)

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