Central & Eastern Europe: Trademark on ;-) and Other Internet News

Global Voices Online
Thursday, December 18, 2008

Below is a selection of recent posts by bloggers from around Central and Eastern Europe on social networking, participatory media, online activism and other related issues.

Eternal Remont writes about Russian businessman Oleg Teterin, who claims to have trademarked the ;-) emoticon:

[...] Seeing that the Russian patent agency will grant a trademark for just about anything these days, Eternal Remont is attempting to trademark "Oleg Teterin," (trademark pending) and will expect payment whenever anyone speaks, writes, prints, or otherwise uses this phrase in all media known to humanity, existing or future. [...]

Streetwise Professor has chosen a different approach:

[...] To Mr. Teterin, I say: ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-)

So sue me.

Russian Blog writes about the Russian Facebook look-alike, vkontakte.ru - which, among other things, appears to be a good language learning tool:

When learning a foreign language communication is crucial. [...] I tell my Russian students of Swedish to join Swedish online communities, and the same advice goes for you who are studying Russian - join a Russian online community! Not only will you find lots of interesting (or uninteresting) clubs as well as people, or be able write to strangers from one sixth of the Earth’s ground (that’s just how big a country this is), but for those of you who are only beginning to study Russian joining in itself will be a challenge. After all - one must join in Russian. [...] There’s a Russian version of Facebook, though it’s completely independent, and in no way connected to Facebook, except for one thing - it is an almost exact copy of the way Facebook used to look before (the old Facebook), translated into Russian. [...]

Siberian Light interviews Dmitry, the owner and manager of Expatriates.ru, a new social networking site with fast-growing membership:

[...] What inspired you to develop expatriates.ru?

During my studies abroad many people asked me a lot of questions about Russia. I decided to create a community where all people will find the answers to their questions about Russia and where they can talk and discuss issues related to Russia. [...]

Siberian Light also discusses some of the challenges that a blogger writing on sensitive geopolitical issues - in this case, Russia - often has to deal with:

[...] Over the past few months, I’ve written posts that have both criticised and praised Russia. I write them because I think that Russia is often right, although it’s also far too often wrong.

And, far too often, I take crap from people. Usually because of what they think I have said, in the context of their tiny little world views, rather than what I have actually said, in the context of an entire blog post, or a series of posts. [...]

Gray Falcon, a blogger focusing on the Balkans, seems to share Siberian Light's frustration:

It has been almost ten years since I started publishing commentary on-line, and it never ceases to amaze me that people seem to possess a remarkable capacity of completely missing the point of entire articles to zero in on one particular sentence or phrase and make a huge deal of it.


Look, I'm routinely attacked by Albanians because I'm a Serb (it doesn't matter what I say, really - unless I endorse the KLA somehow; then I'm a poster child for what needs to be done). I get grief from Greeks, because I dare say "Macedonia" instead of FYROM or what have you (look, Alexander was a barbarian, OK? Just because he embraced the culture of Hellas and spread it around the known world doesn't make him any more Greek than my Orthodox faith makes me one).

And now I'm marked for malice by Macedonians for daring to point out that hey, today's Macedonia exists within the boundaries of the territory liberated from the Ottoman Empire by the Kingdom of Serbia. [...]

Belgraded writes about the Facebook group celebrating the 1995 Srebrenica massacre (the group is now closed; an earlier GV text on it by Sinisa Boljanovic is here):

[...] What struck me as interesting is that the vast majority of members were not even born when the Yugoslavia breakup wars started and were still in pre-school when it all ended. So where do they get their ‘knowledge’ and information about the past from? Who makes the biggest influence on how they see the past – their parents, media, their friends, the whole society?


There are no similar hate groups in English, presumably because the facebook admins can react swiftly if they can understand what some group is all about without waiting for numerous people to hit the ‘report’ button and translate ‘Ubij [insert nationality here]’ for them. I know also some would like to blame facebook and other social media for making hate speech so available, but remember – it’s not guns that kill people.

I guess that facebook is still not considered to be so influential or important by mainstream media, at least not in the Balkans. All this despite the fact that both Serbia and Croatia have around 170.ooo members on facebook each, a respectable number which is only going to grow in the future, with Bosnia lagging behind with about 50.000 members. Despite the fact that it’s mostly teenagers. Despite the fact that members post things under their full names with their photos attached – without having any fear or feeling no responsibility that the things they are posting could be dangerous and are wrong. [...]

In another post, Belgraded welcomes a new arrival on Serbia's online magazine scene:

White City magazine is "Belgrade’s first English-language domestic urban magazine. It is written entirely in English, entirely by local Serbian writers for a Serbian readership." Check it out - it looks good, the articles are very well written, hopefully it will survive in this tough competition.

Scraps of Moscow reviews some of the new arrivals in "Moldovasphere":

Moldovaphiles should check out this new website, Moldovarious, which has been set up by a couple of Austrians. Curiously, the guys behind another interesting project related to Moldova (well, related to the PMR) profiled here are also Austrian.


And, via barabanch, I learned of another newly launched project, this one initiated by Moldovans and called ThinkMoldova (also available in English) [...].

One of the people involved in the project is Barabanov's wife and fellow New Times journalist Natalia Morari. [...]

Hungarian Spectrum writes about the blog of the Hungarian PM Ferenc Gyurcsány:

[...] Quite a few Hungarian politicians decided at one time or another to write a blog but after a few days, or at most after a few weeks, they gave up the ghost. Ferenc Gyurcsány is an exception. He began writing a blog about two and a half years ago, just before the 2006 elections. [...] Even in the midst of a grueling campaign the Hungarian prime minister wrote his blog practically every weekday. Moreover, he didn't stop after the election that he managed to win practically single-handedly. [...] I think one reason that he didn't stop is that the readers of the blog were so enthusiastic and so supportive that he felt it his duty not to disappoint the team that supported him with words and deeds. Eventually Gyurcsány and his readers organized personal meetings where people revealed their pseudonyms, where they met each other as well as the prime minister. The fact is that he is a good blog writer. His notes are interesting. Very often he reveals government plans that the readers of the blog are the first to know. By now the members of the media visit the blog every morning to see what's going on in Gyurcsány's head. [...]

Meglena Kuneva - a Bulgarian politician, the European consumer affairs commissioner, and a blogger - writes this about "the realities of cross-border e-commerce for consumers in Europe":

Some of you have complained through this blog that you cannot buy over the internet from certain stores located in other EU countries. I share your frustration. The Internet has the potential to bring the single European market to a whole new level, and to provide consumers with the chance to buy the very best that is on offer within the EU in terms of choice, price and quality.

But the fact is that although a third of EU citizens already shop on the internet, only 7% shop online from other Member States than their own. [...]

Cyrus Farivar writes this about Estonia's advanced voting practices:

The Estonian parliament [...] has just approved a bill to let Estonian citizens vote via their mobile phone. This makes the country the first country in the world to do so, and comes about 20 months after Estonia held its first nation-wide election where the electorate could cast their ballots online.


Update (Dec 17.): I spoke with Silver Meikar, an Estonian MP, who told me that this actually isn’t quite mobile phone voting. In fact, this is using Estonia’s digital ID card infrastructure to use your phone as an ID tool instead of your ID card and reader. You still need a computer and an Internet connection to vote online, but you now can just have your phone instead of your ID card. So, not as sexy. [...]

Window on Eurasia reports on what appears to be a move in the opposite direction for Russia:

In the name of fighting extremism, a group of United Russia Duma deputies has proposed new legislation that would allow the government to impose sanctions on those who distribute what Moscow believes are “extremist” materials via the Internet and to close down the sites they post them on.


And even though the nature of the world wide web is such that Russian government efforts in this area are unlikely to be fully effective, such moves against what many consider to be the last free media space in Russia represent a further act of intimidation by Vladimir Putin and his associates against the embattled members of civil society in that country. [...]

In Latvia, too, the state seems to be taking a proactive approach in its dealings with the online world. Free Speech Emergency in Latvia wrote this last week:

According to unconfirmed reports, the Latvian Security Police have detained Valdis Rošāns, a self-proclaimed neo-Nazi who has been writing his views extensively on the internet (in Latvian) using the nickname FENIKSS.


By harassing a young neo-Nazi crackpot, the Security Police may be trying to restore their image after their detention of economist Dmitrijs Smirnovs and questioning of musician Valters Frīdenbergs. This caused an international uproar.

I don't think too many people will rally around Valdis Rošāns, but his case should be put on the record. [...]

Earlier this month, Aleks Tapinsh of All About Latvia wrote on GV about Dmitrijs Smirnovs' case and the economic crisis dimension of the freedom of speech situation in Latvia. On his blog, he posted a picture of a t-shirt featuring a mock message to the Latvian security police:

Notice to the security police: I admit that yesterday I withdrew money from my bank. Please don’t arrest me. I did it to buy milk and bread, and not to destabilize Latvia’s financial system.

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