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Western Press Review: Commentary Examines What Did And Didn't Happen

By Brent McCann and Alexis Papasotiriou

Prague, 4 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Western commentary considers what comes now after the Y2K bug problems that didn't happen -- and the Russian leadership change and Indian Airlines hijacking that did.

NEW YORK TIMES: Our officials must have started yearning for something to go wrong

A number of newspapers are looking critically at the cost of the Y2K bug precautions and the possibility that the risk was overstated. In the New York Times, Gail Collins says in a commentary that the challenge of the Y2K bug is to determine how to respond to what she calls the "remarkable ease of the transition." In her words: "Everybody worried that all those zeroes would cause computer crashes around the world. Nuclear power plants might explode, missiles might launch themselves, water and electricity shut down. There hasn't been so much disaster preparedness since the bomb shelter era."

Collins says the quietness is good, but suggest that some people may be wishing for a few surprises. She puts it this way: "Nobody, of course, wanted a Russian nuclear reactor to implode just so Americans could feel the $1 billion we spent on Y2K compliance was worth it. But as the year 2000 moved across one dateline after another, our officials must have started yearning for something to go wrong someplace."

Of the computer experts who say that the careful preparation beat the bug, the writer says they sound like the man beat his head against the wall to scare away the elephants. When no elephants showed up, he said, "See! It works."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Some governments were too credulous in listening to computer professionals

The Financial Times calls the Y2K quiet, in the words of its editorial, "a phenomenally expensive anti-climax." The estimated $4 billion spent on making computers recognize the year 2000 would have been enough to build 350 millennium domes -- and more than enough to write off the debt of the world's poorest countries."

The editorial says that effective preparedness might explain the lack of problems. But, in the words of the editorial, "the absence of major disruptions and the speed with which glitches have been rectified might suggest that some governments were too credulous in listening to computer professionals who may have been hyping up the doom."

The editorial proposes a comparison study of effects in countries like the United States that invested great effort in warding off the problems and those that, like Italy, more relaxed.

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Better-safe-than-sorry remediation has paid off

An editorial in the U.S. newspaper Christian Science Monitor is less skeptical and more admiring of the anti-bug precautions. The editorial says this: "Planes stayed in the air, nuclear plants hummed, phones rang, elevators worked, [bank cash machines] dispensed cash. One of mankind's biggest mistakes was turned into one of its finest hours." The editorial says there may have been some hype, but it says also there was evidence that a real threat existed. It says this: "enough snafus did take place, especially in the computer-savvy United States, to justify the work of hundreds of thousands of programmers. The most serious one was a breakdown in the Pentagon's satellite-intelligence system." It adds this: "On a lighter note, someone at a Korean video shop was charged $7,000 because the computer thought his rental was 100 years too late."

The newspaper says the Y2K bug could still hit in coming weeks. Here the editorial's conclusion: "Better-safe-than-sorry remediation has paid off, with added dividends of more productivity from new computers, a healthy skepticism toward technology and those who run it, and a unique global bonding over reducing a global risk."

ELEFTHEROTYPIA: Departing political leaders don't usually ask to be pardoned

The Greek paper Eleftherotypia both praised and condemned not Boris Yeltsin, but the style with which he left the Russian presidency. Eleftherotypia said yesterday in an editorial that Yeltsin, as the editorial put it, "managed to secure an immunity worthy of an irresponsible monarch."

The Greek newspaper's praise was for the grace with which the outgoing president apologized for his shortcomings. The editorial said this: "Departing political leaders don't usually ask to be pardoned in public because they haven't lived up to the expectations of the nation, and they don't usually say they've been foolish. (Yeltsin) did this, in an impressive way, in order to win the public over for his chosen successor."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Russia today looks almost as black in black as the Soviet Union used to look red in red

Frankfurter Rundschau commentator Karl Grobe sums up the last ten years of Russia's governance -- what he calls "the Yeltsin decade" -- as starting with hope and closing with despotism. In Grobe's words: "Those who showered praise on the first Russian president on his retirement were either being diplomatic and telling a big white lie or have very short memories."

Grobe says Yeltsin did not encourage grass-roots democratic initiatives but did change the Russian Constitution into an authoritarian instrument. He says the Yeltsin decade created, in Grobe's words, "a primitive capitalist oligarchy."

Grobe also criticizes interim President Vladimir Putin, of whom the writer says: "Yeltsin's successor, who is an espionage man, is the embodiment of the transfer of power to the military-secret service complex." The Frankfurter Rundschau writer says that the handover indicates that Putin came to terms with the Russian oligarchy and, as the writer puts it, "Russia today looks almost as black in black as the Soviet Union used to look red in red."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Pakistani denunciations of the hijacking have a hollow ring

In other German commentary, Peter Muench, writing in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, says that India's condemnation of Pakistan in the aftermath of the hijacking crisis in Afghanistan is significant in Asian subcontinent diplomacy. Muench: "This epilogue to the hijacking drama makes it clear that the war of nerves in Kandahar was merely an episode in the ongoing conflict between arch-enemies India and Pakistan over Kashmir." The commentator says India's accusations are justified because the hijackers achieved the release of Kashmiri secessionists who have the same agenda as Pakistan has. He says Pakistani denunciations of the hijacking, in his words, "have a hollow ring to them."

WASHINGTON POST: Afghanistan and Pakistan contradict themselves by playing host to terrorist groups

The Washington Post, in an editorial, examines last week's hijacking as a case study in international terrorism. The Washington Post says this: "The governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan have condemned terrorism and publicly refused asylum to the hijackers. Yet the hijackers are thought to have escaped from Afghanistan, the scene of their piracy, and into Pakistan." The editorial says that Afghanistan and Pakistan contradict themselves by playing host to terrorist groups and then, in the editorial's words, "wax indignant when terrorists hijack an aircraft."