Is everybody still there? Okay, Y2K'd and ready to play?
As the millennium's close was celebrated, five ambassadors chosen at random offered their reflections on what has been their nation's most memorable contribution and most significant event. Japan, Jordan and India focused on the last century, while Italy and Portugal went further back in time.
* Ambassador Shunji Yanai said the most significant event in Japan's history was World War II and Japan's arduous and impressive recovery from ashes and famine to "one of the world's most affluent" countries. "Within a few years, Japan was able to recover not only in terms of the economy, but also in terms of reforms in its political system to become one of the most advanced democracies," he said.
Yanai credited Shigeru Yoshida, Japan's prime minister after the war, for the nation's rehabilitation, reform and development. Yoshida, a career diplomat, was imprisoned during the war for his political views but later became the architect of modern-day Japan and the U.S.-Japan alliance.
* Ambassador Naresh Chandra suggested that India's greatest contribution has been "the art of living together in relative tolerance and harmony, the fact that people of many different languages and faiths can flourish together in a democracy. The Indian subcontinent is full of people who are accommodating and who want to maintain their subcontinental civilization despite very heavy odds.
"We have had a whole lot of formation of states, but . . . the Indian-ness, the unity of India, has survived all external pressures, invasions and tribulations, the Persians, the moguls and the British colonial era," he added. The most significant event, Chandra said, was "the life of Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi and the 1947 independence of India and Pakistan from colonial rule."
* Ambassador Yao Rocha Paris, ensconced somewhere in northern Portugal where the Y2K bug was not expected to have much impact, said the most significant milestone in his country, apart from its birth as a state in 1140, was its entry into the European Union in 1986, a decisive step in its evolution as a modern nation. The most significant contributions, he noted, were his countrymen's "maritime discoveries in the 15th and 16th centuries."
"They were the first ones to sail around the world and to put Western countries in touch with Asia, India and Japan. This was the most important contribution to mankind this past millennium," Paris said.
* Ambassador Marwan Muasher said Jordan's most significant contribution has been "peace, not only in the sense of ending the state of war with Israel but in terms of presenting a model for cooperation and coexistence. That alone satisfies the aspirations of all people in the region, whether they are political, economic or security-related. So far, we are the only country that has looked forward and presented an exemplary pattern of peace for the future."
The most important event in Jordan's history, he said, was its establishment as a modern state in 1921, when it was carved it out of the Ottoman Empire.
"In a century that has witnessed a lot of instability in the region, Jordan stood alone as an oasis of stability and reason," he said, and "has proven it could develop into a successful model for political, cultural and religious diversity where so many groups and communities, Jordanians of different ethnic and religious backgrounds, lived together side by side with Palestinians, Jordanians, Chechens, Sirkassians and Armenians, co-existing in an atmosphere of tolerance."
* Ambassador Ferdinando Salleo could not narrow down Italy's significant moments. "My country is so rich and goes so far back," he protested by telephone from Rome.
"If we go back chronologically by 1,000 years, there was Romanesque architecture. Then from the serene Gothic art of Florence and Pisa sprang the Renaissance, the arts and artists whose work formed our modern aesthetic sensitivity. The Italian Renaissance put man at the center of the universe, not only of the solar system. The whole philosophical and moral world was centered around the rights of man."
The most significant contribution: "Astronomy, Galileo. We owe entirely the knowledge of the universe to the fact that this unfortunate scientist, rather than follow funny, abstract theories, brought science back to earth by compelling everyone to make experiments. This was the rethinking of the scientific method," Salleo said.
"Closer in time to us, we owe Marconi the wireless, which enabled us to make telephone calls, on which so much now depends," he added.
But, seriously, what about the eternal pleasures of sushi, pasta, curry, port and coffee with cardamom?