This week, Central Europe Review examines information technology (IT) in Central and Eastern Europe with a pair of articles, one on the expansion of the Internet in the Baltic states and the other on the history and future of IT in Hungary. The amazing speed with which this technology is spreading throughout the region is mind-boggling. Central Europe Review and its parent organisation, the Central and East European New Media Initiative (CEENMI) are proud to be part of this trend.
As we have been establishing our organisation in this field and in this region over the past few weeks and months, I have heard several accusation about the alleged elitism of the Internet in the poorer half of Europe. The Web is supposedly only for the rich and well-connected in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
In fact, we have been told by some officials in the UK that the elitism of the Web could even damage our charity status. "Not everyone has access to the Internet," they say, "so a Web-dependent organisation is inherently exclusive."
When CEENMI holds its first annual general meeting (AGM), that meeting will be virtual, conducted over the course of several days through the medium of an e-mail discussion group. Such a system is more democratic and less elitist than a normal AGM for an international organisation such as ours.
Our group has members in 15 or 16 different countries around the world, and many of our members live and work in Central and Eastern Europe itself. Were we to hold our AGM in London, the costs of travel and accommodation would have to be met somehow; that would add up to hundreds of pounds and be well beyond the means of our members in Central and Eastern Europe.
An hour at an Internet cafe in Warsaw, Tallinn or Bucharest is clearly not free for local inhabitants, but it is infinitely cheaper than a plane ticket, a hotel room and meals in a foreign city.
It is true that not everyone is online in Europe - in both East and West, and as long as European phone companies are allowed to charge for local calls, this side of the Atlantic will always be behind the US in the spread of information technology. However, the Internet is everywhere more easily accessible than international air flights and decent hotels. Virtual travel will always be more democratic than physical travel.
With this in mind, I invite you to travel this week to Tbilisi, and let your guide, Andrew Princz, reveal the Georgian capital's wonder and excitement. No boarding pass required.
Andrew Stroehlein, Editor-in-Chief, 19 July 1999