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Western Press Review: Turn Of Century, Millennium Occupies Commentators

  • Don Hill



Prague, 30 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Unsurprisingly, Western press commentary focuses on the end of the century and millennium.

NEW YORK TIMES: Unknown problems of our own making are an enduring part of existence

The New York Times discusses in an editorial how concern during this brief period about the Y2K bug may look a long time from now. The editorial says this: "Years from now, historians will be fascinated by the combination of arduous planning, breathless hype and stubborn indifference that have gone into preparations for the computer glitch known as the Y2K bug. By now it seems clear to experts who have followed the saga that when the new year arrives Friday night, the most dire predictions of crises in computer systems in this country will not come to pass."

The editorial also says, in its words: "U.S. experts are most alarmed by the lack of preparations abroad. Russia, China, Italy, several oil-producing states and many more developing countries with aging computer systems could face major disruptions. Russia is an obvious worry because of its nuclear weapons, though Russian leaders insist they have everything under control. No one knows what will happen when U.S. computer systems that have been fixed interface with systems that have gone haywire, either in this country or elsewhere. It may take days or weeks to determine that the globe's vast network of electronic systems is home free."

The newspaper's conclusions is that -- whether or not computer driven systems around the world go crazy or simply keep on -- the lesson is that, as the editorial puts it, "unknown problems of our own making are an enduring part of existence."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Technical progress can create more problems than prosperity

Sueddeutsche Zeitung commentator Jeanne Rubner wonders whether scientific advances will capture public imagination in the next century as they did in the past one. As she puts it: "Relativity theory, quantum mechanics, the motor car, antibiotics, the atom bomb, the transistor, Sputnik and the first landing on the moon -- without a doubt the 20th century has been the century of science and technology."

The writer continues, in her words: "So it is only reasonable to wonder whether things will continue like this in the next century. Will scientists be able to discover anything new at all?"

Rubner's message is of mixed optimism and pessimism. Yes, science will march on, she says. And so, she suggests, will technical unintended consequences. In her words: "After all, technical progress can create more problems than prosperity, as shown by the example of Russia, impoverished by the arms race and threatened by ecological disasters."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The world appears to be slowly gaining a moral majority

England's Financial Times turns the same kind of spotlight on international political development. The same century that brought the world the Cold War also brought the Cold War's end. The newspaper says this in an editorial: "After the Cold War most of today's conflicts are internal civil wars brought by ethnic or religious strife, or struggles for natural resources (but) will the picture look any better by 2099?"

The editorial's response is this: "The record is not good." If gives the example of the United Nations, stronger than the League of Nations but still weak. Yet, as the editorial puts it: "There is hope for better things from the new century. It lies in the possibility that the world appears to be slowly gaining a moral majority, in the best sense of that term, (a majority that) wants to do better by tackling the roots of conflict."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: It is high time a generally valid code was agreed to outline the limits to nationalism great and small

Another Sueddeutsche Zeitung commentator, Wolfgang Koydl, writes from Istanbul that the international community -- which he says means the same thing politically as "the West" hasn't determined how to balance self determination, a good, against nation-state Balkanization, that is fragmentation, a bad.

As Koydl puts it: "The West's response to the various liberation movements is correspondingly contradictory. It is a blend of morality, self-interest and convenience. East Timor is to be allowed to gain independence, and Tibet ought to as well, but Chechnya? Well, not really, and certainly not the Turkish Kurds. This kind of attitude helps neither Western credibility nor the liberation movements in question. That is why it is high time a generally valid code was agreed to outline the limits to nationalism great and small."

In the writer's words: "The future does not lie in the nation-state, regardless whether it is Russia or Chechnya, Turkey or Kurdistan. It lies with associations of independent, self-assured regions that voluntarily hand over sovereignty to a higher authority."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: What was the 20th century's first democracy?

The Wall Street Journal Europe looks over the past century for hints about the spread of democracy. One good question, the newspaper says in an editorial, is this: "What was the 20th century's first democracy?" By modern standards, the editorial says, the answer is neither Britain, which still denied the vote to half its population, women, nor the United States, which excluded not only women but in many places black men as well. It was Finland in 1906.

Now, says the editorial, the world claims 22 full democracies and 21 partial ones. The Wall Street Journal Europe says hopefully, in its words: "Indeed, a pop quiz at the end of the next century might well pose the question: What was the last country in the world to become a democracy?"

NEW YORK TIMES: Baby boomers and their children could coexist in a glut of healthful longevity

The New York Times considers in an editorial the dangers of overpopulation in the coming millennium. As the newspaper puts it: "For all the people wondering how to celebrate the turn of a century that also turns a millennium, the greatest wonder is that there are so many people still alive to think about it. The dawning wonder - and also worry, for those concerned about the quality of old age and the allocation of resources - is how many babies born this centennial may still be alive for the next one."

The editorial goes on to say this: "Medical knowledge, in effect, has created a new stage of life -- an extended old age."

As other commentaries do today, The New York Times considers unintended consequences. Among these is, as the newspaper puts it: "Already the children of the (baby boomer generation) are growing up without a fixed sense of the natural limits of life. They, their parents and their children could coexist in a glut of healthful longevity such as the world has never known. We cannot conceive what competition that will provoke among generations for resources. The likelihood is that many of us will live to know."

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