Last December a 40-year-old professor armed with basic computer skills and "off-the shelf" software accomplished what armies of soldiers, legions of diplomats, scores of journalists and hundreds of politicians could not: He gave the Serbian pro-democracy movement its first widely visible victory against the regime of Slobodan Milosevic and broke Milosevic's control of Serbia's domestic news media.

With a simple telephone connection to the Internet, Drazen Pantic and his colleagues at Radio B92, one of Belgrade's few independent media outlets, quietly demonstrated how new technologies have changed international politics: Anyone with a computer, modem and street smarts can alter deadly domestic political dynamics by exploiting the global character of the Internet. The story unfolded quietly and was largely unnoticed by Western media.

The Serbian government, in response to B92's news coverage of opposition protests, began to jam its radio signals. Regular listeners, in an effort to hear the latest news over the jamming, began making crude signal amplifiers using long wires and hangers to improve their reception. B92's broadcast staff also responded with a cat-and-mouse information strategy. According to a story filed Nov,. 28 by CNN, "the radio . . . regularly tricks the jammers, announcing their street reporters but continuing to play music. A couple of seconds after the announcement, the jammers knock the radio station off the air. It's back a couple of minutes later after the jammers hear the music and think they've made a mistake. Then once back on the air, the radio tries hurriedly to carry unannounced news and live reports before being switched off again. It's absolutely clear that the jamming is directly connected with our news program and reports about the current events, said Veran Matic, the radio's editor-in-chief." Meanwhile, Pantic and the Internet department of Radio B92 has been testing a computer program called RealAudio, which enables sound to be carried over the Internet. As Pantic learned, the process of using RealAudio is relatively simple: A microphone is plugged into a computer that then saves the sound in a format that can be transmitted over low-speed Internet connections. The ability to transmit good sound over slow lines was vital to Pantic because B92's Internet service provider, XS4ALL, was located in Amsterdam. By using regular long-distance phone lines to connect to the Internet, the only way Serbian authorities could have prevented B92's Internet broadcasts would have been to shut down the Serbian telephone system. In November, at the first sign of jamming, Pantic began encoding B92 news bulletins into RealAudio format and sending B92's radio programs via the Internet to the radio's home page, located on XS4ALL's computers in Amsterdam. As the protests mounted in the streets of Belgrade, Pantic managed to secure a faster Internet connection. Hearing of B92's efforts, RealAudio's manufacturer, U.S.-based Progressive Networks, donated more powerful server software, allowing 500 Internet users to simultaneously hear live B92 broadcasts. Jamming increased, and on Dec. 3 the Serbian government shut off B92's transmitter altogether.

Thanks to Pantic's foresight in employing the Internet link, turning off the transmitter didn't shut down the radio station. Pantic continued to send RealAudio broadcasts to the Amsterdam-based server, making B92 radio programs available via the Internet to anyone in the world (including Serbia). Shortly thereafter, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Director Kevin Klose (now director designate for International Broadcasting for USIA) acquired tapes of Radio B92 programs and began to use RFE/RL transmitters to broadcast the stories back into Serbia. For the first time since the annulment of the elections, Serbs could follow what was happening in the streets of Belgrade. On Dec. 6, when it became apparent to Serbian authorities that blocking access to one medium of transmission could not prevent information from flowing through others, B92's transmitter was switched back on. B92's victory strengthened the opposition's resolve and attracted support from unlikely sources -- including the army and the clergy -- to join in protest against an increasingly strident government. The result has been the reinstatement of the original election results for the 18 municipalities and improved prospects for a more democratic Serbia.

This is not a story about brilliant computer hackers cleverly defeating a totalitarian giant. Pantic and the Internet staff at B92 are merely thoughtful computer users applying good computer management techniques. The important distinction between Pantic and the average computer user is that Pantic recognized that his avocation could have a significant effect on his society. In a recent e-mail, Pantic wrote, "I always found boring and trivial the classical use of computers as a crunching machine for numbers. The social impact {the} Internet could spread came to me as a gift from heaven, and I have persistently tried to introduce that open network here." B92 operates on a shoestring budget even in the best of times, and in most countries "alternative" media have a threadbare feel. But the actions of Pantic, Veran Matic and the staff of Belgrade Radio B92 illustrate that for the first time, anyone who has a desire to "route around" censorship to reach a mass audience instantly and globally has the means to do so. It takes courage, a good idea, a computer and a few connections. In the end, the lesson of B92 is clear: Technology is a powerful tool no longer reserved for the elites. The writer is the information-systems manager at the U.S. Institute of Peace.