Around the world, a collective sigh

Despite dire predictions, 2000 began with barely a blip of

Oh, what a relief it was.

Just after the clocks rolled over in Moscow's Red Square, the revelers checked their watches, saw that the street lights were still shining, and relaxed a little.

There was reason for gratitude. Russia's nuclear plants were not blowing up, the water in the taps was still flowing, and the heat was still on to warm against the winter cold.

Much like any other new year, this one dawned with inexorable certainty. One thing we humans know for sure is that the sun always rises.

But the absence of Y2K calamities and crises gave everyone a nice warm feeling. "I am indeed very happy to be able to inform you that it appears that so far there have been no serious problems," said Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi in a brief televised address that contrasted with his earlier admonitions to stock up on food and water.

The media coverage - shifting from country to country and culture to culture along the westward drift of time zones - also gave many people a feeling of global togetherness. "What is perhaps most remarkable," said President Clinton about the celebration of the New Year, "is the way it was shared around the world."

Millions and millions of television viewers could see a white-haired Moriori elder, on New Zealand's Chatham Islands, greet the sun on 2000's chilly first daybreak. "This is a new dawn, a new millennium, and a new generation," said Bunty Preece, wearing a woolen cloak, one arm wrapped around his granddaughter.

The technological oneness was somewhat artificial, of course. Mr. Preece said his well-rehearsed words into a half-dozen television cameras at a remote clifftop site selected by broadcasting companies.

All systems go

But at least the technology worked. All around the globe, people checked their phones, their light switches, their computers - and with rare exception, everything was fine. The Paris-based Agence France-Presse news service actually ran a story headlined, "Trains and planes leave on time."

Despite, or very likely because of, the global concern about the possibility of Y2K-related computer problems, all systems seemed go, at least initially.

"It's frustrating," said Marie-Claude Picard, a software support engineer at IBM in Paris, after she showed up at the office at 6 a.m. yesterday morning.

"I don't have any work to do at all."

Oddly enough, it seemed that the most "rational" people in developed societies - computer engineers and other tech-savvy types - turned out to be misguided millenarians, predicting disaster that never struck.

But experts warned that the beginning of the business week might reveal hidden computer crises. "We do not expect in the US any significant problems," said the US government's Y2K chief, John Koskinen, but he added, "We should not be surprised if there are glitches. Monday and Tuesday will give us the final pieces of the picture."

With Y2K hype and anxiety mostly out of the way, people began to think more about just what they will do in this new year and the coming ones.

China's leadership, not a group that thinks small, is considering its country's prospects over the next century. Flanked by traditional red-paper lanterns inscribed with the Chinese characters for "new life" and "2000," President Jiang Zemin spoke in a televised speech about a history five millennia long.

"The Chinese nation will be rejuvenated in the new century," he promised.

While President Jiang wants the Communist Party to lead the way, many Chinese have very different visions of the future. "Of course I want to see China become a great power in the 21st century," says a young Chinese software engineer. "But I hope that it is a democratic superpower modeled after the American system."

Cautions for coming years

Not everyone is so enamored of some aspects of that system. Japan's influential Asahi newspaper, in its New Year's editorial, warned that the world's population, now 6 billion, could reach 10 billion by 2100.

"If the per capita consumption of oil reaches the current American level," the paper said, "oil production would have to be sextupled."

If everyone ate meat the way Americans do, the Asahi said, four Earths would be needed to produce the necessary grain. The paper urged developed countries to think anew about their priorities.

In a New Year's Day radio address, Mr. Clinton promot- ed the idea of American leadership.

"To advance our interests and protect our values in this new interconnected world, America clearly must remain engaged," he said.

"We must shape events and not be shaped by them."

Trouble-free in Holy Land

In Jerusalem, where officials had to worry about containing enthusiasts of global Apocalypse on top of their Y2K preparations, the relief was doubled.

Last year, Israel deported some 60 members of small Christian sects out of concern they might use violence or commit mass suicide to try to trigger the apocalypse. But during the rollover, only a handful of people were brought in for examination after shouting out declarations about the world coming to an end.

Saturday morning, Israel Radio reported that it hadn't. "If you are waking up now after New Year's parties," an announcer said, "we can tell you that everything is fine."

Canadian Peter de Jager, one of the first computer experts to alert the world to the potential Y2K crisis, passed into the new year aboard United Airlines Flight 928, which was somewhere over eastern Canada on its way to London.

Once the clock clicked over from Dec. 31 to Jan. 1 (as measured by "universal coordinated time" used by the aviation industry), Mr. de Jager told reporters that he was now "officially unemployed."

Reported by staff writers Cameron W. Barr in Tokyo, Peter Ford in Paris, Judith Matloff in Moscow, and Kevin Platt in Beijing, and contributors Shawn Donnan in the Chatham Islands, New Zealand, Ilene R. Prusher in Jerusalem, and Tom Regan in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Written by Cameron W. Barr.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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