If the cornerstone of every civilisation is knowledge, then taking a look at what is not currently happening in Serbia would give you the impression that Serbia is a nation lacking a cornerstone.
By Dejan Restak
All of us can simply turn on the TV and see what is being considered as Serbia’s priorities in the 21st century: the status of Kosovo and Montenegro, BK transactions, The Hague, Karadzic and Mladic, resolving differences between Chetniks, Partizans and all the other factions of the Second World War and so on.
None of these questions will provide any concrete changes and use to the average Serbian citizen. They will not receive higher wages or pensions, a new job, new knowledge or a higher quality of life in any circumstance. They are much like the preventive removal of tonsils to avoid added difficulties in the long run.
Trying to find a way to popularise essential topics needed for the development of a modern society within this bizarre cacophony does seem to be an impossible mission.
Until then, the vital functions of a modern Serbia will continue to atrophiate, and many have not even come into existence yet.
A conference was held last November in Tunisia, the World Summit of Information Communities. How many of you know about what happened at this conference? The excuse of many is that this does not really interest them, which the media also concluded and therefore decided to ignore the event.
Our delegation was headed by Federal Parliamentary Speaker Zoran Sami, who in his conclusions mentioned that he is “deeply convinced that if we are reasonable, wise and visionary, we will be able to build a better world in the 21st century.
But are there any reasonable and wise visionaries in Serbia?
One of the main topics of the summit was transcending the large gap that exists between wealthy and poor nations, as far as internet access is concerned. Serbia’s approach begs for a higher level of awareness and understanding of this problem. Serbia, so involved in what’s going on in its northern and southern regions, fails to notice how deeply south she is on the global knowledge map..
The summit presented a new method of helping Third World countries with its technological deficiencies. Nicholas Negroponte, director of the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, promoted new computers that cost only 100 dollars. Representatives of several African countries expressed their interest in buying millions of these computers. Serbia would need no less than that amount as well.
Someone was smart enough to point out that we are quick to boast that at least one Serbian student can be found at every prestigious university around the world. But, couldn’t that be said by pretty much any country?
Even if we are ahead of some African countries as far as having experts working internationally, how do we intend on producing more minds of this calibre when it is obvious that information and knowledge is at the bottom of Serbia’s list of priorities. While in Iceland there are 684 internet users for every 1,000 people, there are only 190 in Serbia, and furthermore, only 200 that even own a computer.
In a survey done by the Federal Bureau of Statistics, it was determined that 21% Serbian households have a computer and 19% are connected to the Internet. Even back in 2003, 44 percent of households in European Union member-countries had Internet access. Also, 85 percent of businesses in the EU have internet access, which is 3.4 times greater than the amount of companies in Serbia connected to the information superhighway.
According to the Mineco Research Company, the sale of computer products in Serbia decreased by 20 per cent this year. Even though consumption of IT increased in Serbia by five per cent this year, surrounding countries such as Bulgaria, (15 per cent) Croatia (ten per cent) and Slovenia (12 per cent) saw much greater progress.
IT consumption per customer in Serbia amounts to 43 American dollars, while each consumer in Croatia spends about 148 dollars, and 292 dollars in Slovenia.
Based on this, it can be clear to everyone that the “I” of an “informed society” will not be possible for a long time, unless changes are made right away.
Where to start? For instance, taking a look at the recent conference organized by the Mikro PC World Magazine at the Hyatt hotel, where the leading national IT magazine presented its “black globe” for the biggest IT mishap of 2005. Not surprisingly, this dishonourable mention was awarded to the Serbian Information and Internet Bureau. They did however courageously accept the anti-award, which is to be commended, but still serves as no consolation. They did not have an answer to why the development of information technologies and the Internet is so slow, therefore showing an inability to justify its own existence.
What should we do about the development of an information society? What about e-government, e-health, e-commerce, e-education?
Reporters of the daily Danas asked “How far have we gotten with creating an e-government?” Cedomir Suljagic of the Science and Natural Resource Protection Ministry had the following to say:
“E-government in general means implementing concrete projects which will change the administration so that its services are offered to the citizens, through the help of technology, in a better and simpler manner. It includes not having to wait in line, being able to take care of various jobs through the internet or other technological services.”
He went on to explain all the details that go into the system and everything that will be necessary in order for an e-government to become a reality in Serbia, finishing his comments with “We are, for now, at the very beginning.”
This is something we can all agree on. Serbia is, at the beginning of 2006, and also at the beginning of becoming an information society.
Maybe no one in Serbia understands these problems and there is no one to lead us out of our low-tech slums. Even if that were the case, we should at least have someone who is able to copy the example of others. But years come and go and never once do we gather the courage to skip through the plot and see how it is that Romania has become one of the biggest software countries in the world. How is it that the Macedonians are looking to become the first country with completely wireless internet? Could we have thought of that as well?
How is it that the Hungarian IT market is so great that we wouldn’t even be able to reach 50 per cent of its income in four years, even if we were to see a rise of 20 per cent per year? How come internet users in Slovenia are reaching the same numbers as all other EU countries boast? Why do the Croatians have such nice-looking websites?
People who deal with these kinds of problems have lots of experience and know-how and claim that the solutions are simple and numerous.
The IT Community of Serbia and the Serbian Chamber of Commerce suggests that Value Added Taxes be cut, and the customs taxes on IT products be reduced, a faster development of the telecommunications infrastructure, development of e-administration, implementation of standards, etc.
We have been listening to these stories for over a decade. Still no one is doing their job adequately. Recognizing when something is wrong is a big part of finding the solution. Even knowing what the solution is not enough, if we can’t find a way to implement it.
It remains up to us to try and overcome our already well-known and recognizable attitude, which includes disregarding all criticism and constructive advice. Someone else is always to blame for things in Serbia, but we have had no luck in finding that someone, and those who are here to work are still not good enough for any of us. B92