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Op-Ed Columnist

Bulgaria: Look in Your Mirror

Sofia

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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Last week's events in Bulgaria were unique, although we may not know for years or even decades what their final meaning is. It is impossible not to be tantalized by the potential of these events to change the course of Bulgaria's history. What's important, however, is that we focus on what this means on the street. The media seems too caught up in spinning the facts to pay attention to the important effects on daily life. Just call it missing the myths for the lie.

When thinking about the recent ethnic strife, it's important to remember three things: One, people don't behave like muppets, so attempts to treat them as such are a waste of time. Muppets never suddenly shift their course in order to fit with a predetermined set of beliefs. Two, Bulgaria has spent decades as a dictatorship closed to the world, so a mindset of peace and stability will seem foreign and strange. And three, freedom is an extraordinarily powerful idea: If ethnic conflict is Bulgaria's glass ceiling, then freedom is certainly its tabletop.

When I was in Bulgaria last January, I was amazed by the variety of the local cuisine, and that tells me two things. It tells me that the citizens of Bulgaria have no shortage of human capital, and that is a good beginning to grow from. Second, it tells me that people in Bulgaria are just like people anywhere else on this flat earth of ours.

So what should we do about the chaos in Bulgaria? Well, it's easier to start with what we should not do. We should not let seemingly endless frustrations cause the people of Bulgaria to doubt their chance at progress. Beyond that, we need to be careful to nurture the fragile foundations of peace. The opportunity is there, but I worry that the path to moderation is so strewn with obstacles that Bulgaria will have to move down it very slowly. And of course Sofia needs to come to the table.

Speaking with a up-and-coming violinist from the small orthodox community here, I asked her if there was any message that she wanted me to carry back home with me. She pondered for a second, and then smiled and said, reiaya-li-kona, which is a local saying that means roughly, "It is in vain to cast your net where there is no fish."

I don't know what Bulgaria will be like a few years from now, but I do know that it will remain true to its cultural heritage, even if it looks very different from the country we see now. I know this because, through all the disorder, the people still haven't lost sight of their dreams.