In the mid- to late 1980's, I had access to the nascent, completely text-based, "Internet", both at work and through some computer programming classes I was attending (no graphics-based WWW until the early 1990's of course).
When I had some free time, I would explore the Usenet newsgroups and listservs that I would find. Tools such as "gopher" and "Veronica" were very useful at the time. I still remember my excitement of accessing a university library's catalog in another country (Germany) for the first time--even if I didn't have any particular use for it!
The Usenet newsgroups, especially were a great source of information--both for my profession in the computer industry, and for a whole range of other topics. As primitive (by today's standards) as this Internet was, it opened up a much larger world, than the local "BBSs" that were prevalent at the time.
On the Internet, there were several thousand Usenet newsgroups at the time, but my employer had limited our access to those primarily related to our work--and probably another thousand as well. (These groups take up a lot of disk space, and SCSI computer disks for UNIX systems were very expensive at the time.) I had access to more newsgroups and other tools with my university e-mail and login account, though only while I was enrolled in night classes.
(By the way, today, there are well over 40,000 international Usenet newsgroups, and in addition, there are many local ones as well. As "glamourous" as multimedia Web pages are with streaming audio and video, the real work of the Internet is still best done (and done most quickly) by e-mail, listservs, and Usenet newsgroups!)
In the midst of all of this searching for information on the Internet, I would look for Belarus-related information. Very disappointing to me, I found almost nothing about Belarus! After several years of looking and looking and asking others, I finally came to the conclusion that it was time to get involved myself with projects on the Internet. This situation remained essentially unchanged until the early 1990's when. . . .
The graphics and multi-media based Internet arrived in the early 1990's, and gained a lot of momentum by 1994-95. In browsing the Web some time in the first half of 1995, I ran across several very small Web "pages" about Belarus. They were usually very enthusiastic (and brief), and usually weren't kept up to date, with one or two exceptions, but they excited me nonetheless!
The very best of them was (and is) The Virtual Guide to Belarus, then hosted at the University of Virginia (USA). It contained graphics, and had quite a range of articles. (The Virtual Guide was started in late 1994, and has grown into one of the largest collections of information about Belarus on the Internet--in both English and Belarusian.)
Dr. Alies' Artsyukhovich, a scientist from Hrodna (Grodno), Belarus (but working and living in Virginia at the time), the originator and main force behind the The Virtual Guide to Belarus (there is a group of fellow scientists who collaborate with him, and they are listed on the page), was very supportive, encouraging, and patient with my early efforts. This relationship between The Virtual Guide to Belarus and the A Belarus Miscellany Web sites continues to the present; the two of us try to work closely together, sharing information and resources whenever possible. (And we are of different generations, with one of us educated in the USSR; the other in the USA, and we also have many different values, yet we certainly share an enthusiasm for celebrating Belarus and Belarusians!)
In late 1995, with the personal encouragement of Mr. Greg Cole, and through the host facilities and generous technical support of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, the A Belarus Miscellany Web site and the Belarus Discussion (e-mail) List began operation in January, 1996. Alies' Artsyukhovich, Dima Zelenko (in Illinois but from Miensk, Belarus), Matvey Nemenman (in California, but from Miensk, Belarus), and I (a Belarusian-American whose family comes from the Polacak area of Belarus) were the four collaborators of this discussion list. Interestingly, most of us have never met one another in person, yet we were (and are) able to work closely together, across the continent of the USA, and with others in western Europe and the former USSR.
In June, 1996, the moderated Usenet newsgroup, soc.culture.belarus, was added to these Internet projects. We chose to make this forum a moderated group, since the Belarus discussion list (mailing list) was un-moderated. Also, there already was a lot of "spam" and/or hate speech on some of the other forums (the ex-USSR-related ones seemed to attract quite a few odd characters, somehow.)
The same four people who initiated the Belarus discussion list started soc.culture.belarus, and soon we were lucky enough to add Irena Slage (who is from the Viciebsk area of Belarus, and who runs the Miles Away (from Belarus) Web site, and is currently very involved in entrepreneurship). In addition to the support of CINI at the University of Tennessee, the majority of the technical configuration and ongoing support were provided by Matvey Nemenman and Dima Zelenko, who were also co-moderators of the group. Repeated technical difficulties occurred with soc.culture.belarus, and it went off the Internet in December, 1999.
These online projects continued at the University of Tennessee's host facilities through September, 2000, and were made possible through the Center for International Networking Initiatives (CINI), Greg Cole, Director, Natasha Bulashova, their staff, and the facilities of Friends and Partners at the University of Tennessee, USA.
A related item, from July, 1997, through September, 1998, I was the first Belarus country coordinator of the Internet Access and Training Program (IATP). This was a wonderful experience for me, and I hope a positive one as well for the folks in Belarus who worked with me and for IATP. I met a lot of enthusiastic, knowledgeable Belarusian educators, and computer and Internet experts, and it appears the program continues today in an even more effective way.
While in Belarus directing IATP, I of course, had a lot of time to explore and learn much more about Belarus and Belarusians. It was quite an experience, and it reinforced my experiences from the Internet, and it also provided me with a great deal of materials to add to the A Belarus Miscellany Web site.
In September, 2000, both the A Belarus Miscellany Web site and the Belarus Discussion (e-mail) List relocated to new hosts. (I also registered the domain for the A Belarus Miscellany Web site, in part because of all of the instability with Internet providers since the business and investor problems with the "dot-com" technology sector.)
In January, 2004 (coincidentally, the 8th anniversary of the Web site), the A Belarus Miscellany Web site moved again. (But only its 3rd host in eight years; an unusually stable record, it seems to me.) Again, problems with the reliability of the host as well as excessive price increases necessitated the move.
The moderated Usenet newsgroup, soc.culture.belarus, a much more technically challenging to set up and configure resource, was restored in April, 2002 (through the help and initiative of someone from Canada), but still hasn't regained the interest and momentum it once had. It is part of the "Big Eight", and nonetheless, it's there for the interested.
For the future, I hope we can find a stable host computer system (without advertising on the pages, messages, etc.) for these and other non-commerical, Belarus-related Internet projects--maintained by folks in a number of countries. We need to ensure these many interesting projects by Belarusians all over the world stay accessible to everyone. (Stable addresses are very important, yet difficult to come by.) This is a long-term project of course.
As this summary I hope points out, the Internet is a very important tool and entertainment for those of us interested in such an "esoteric" topic as Belarus! So many interesting and positive projects have occurred in the past few years, and I look forward to seeing many more!
Go to the A Belarus Miscellany Topic List
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