December 18, 2000, 4:23 PM —
The rutted streetsshake the U.N.-escorted van that methodically travels up and down every lane, street and avenue in Pec, Kosovo, in the Republic of Yugoslavia. From the van, four pairs of unblinking electronic eyes take in the broken windows, the burned cars and the stucco walls dotted with bullet holes, and commit it all to memory. Digital memory. The City Server, a GPS satellite-tracking vehicle, has digital cameras mounted front, back, on both sides, and on each corner, eight in all. For six weeks in the fall of 1999 it cruised every street of Kosovo's war-torn villages and towns, taking a picture every 3 meters. The digital cameras streamed data into an onboard computer to produce a seamless, close-up mural of the war zone. Later, the images will be matched to existing GPS-coded maps and satellite imagery to confirm the exact location of the destruction -- a pictorial butcher's bill for the civil war in Kosovo.
The vehicle, driven by an employee of the German company Tele Info Digital Publishing, was contracted by the IT department of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, Netherlands, to record visual evidence of possible war crime scenes before they could be covered up or destroyed.
This is just one of the IT tools employed by those trying to bring to justice the individuals responsible for war crimes committed during the grisly dissolution of Yugoslavia. In the ensuing chaos, the work of acquiring, analyzing and managing information was (and still is) formidably hard. But it had to be done.
Yugoslav dictator Marshall Tito's death in 1980 marked the beginning of the country's end. After Tito, the six federated socialist republics that composed Yugoslavia (Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Macedonia) participated in a joint, rotating presidency -- the leader of each republic serving for one year. As the decade wore on and the influence of Soviet-style communism waned along with the power of the Soviet Union, nationalism reemerged in Yugoslavia's various ethnic pockets and politicians, like Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic, used it as a vehicle in which to ride to power.
Slovenia seceded from Yugoslavia in 1991 after a very brief battle; then Croatia attempted to secede and take with it the land in Bosnia inhabited by ethnic Croatians. That devolved into war between Serbia (claiming to be protecting the integrity of a united Yugoslavia) and Croatia. The battleground became the republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, with both Serbia and Croatia trying to grab territory. In 1992 the outside world stepped in to try to stop the fighting. Several approaches were tried, and finally the American-brokered Dayton Peace Agreement was signed, under which an edgy peace held until the smoldering tension between the Serbs and Albanians living in Kosovo flared into ethnic cleansing.
And it's really much more confusing than that.