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Op-Ed Columnist

Lithuania: Where the Locusts Are

Vilnius

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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Yesterday's news from Lithuania is unique, and it raises questions about whether there might just be light at the end of the tunnel. It is impossible not to be tantalized by the potential of these events to change the course of Lithuania's history. What's important, however, is that we focus on what this means on the street. The media seems too caught up in dissecting the macro-level situation to pay attention to the important effects on daily life. Just call it missing the desert for the sand.

When thinking about the ongoing problems, it's important to remember three things: One, people don't behave like billiard balls, so attempts to treat them as such are a waste of time. Billiard balls never suddenly blow themselves up. Two, Lithuania has spent decades as a dictatorship closed to the world, so a mindset of peace and stability will seem foreign and strange. And three, capitalism is an extraordinarily powerful idea: If corruption is Lithuania's glass ceiling, then capitalism is certainly its flowerpot.

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

So what should we do about the chaos in Lithuania? Well, it's easier to start with what we should not do. We should not lob a handful of cruise missiles and hope that some explosions will snap Lithuania's leaders to attention. Beyond that, we need to be careful to nurture the seeds of democratic ideals. The opportunity is there, but I worry that the path to stability is so narrow that Lithuania will have to move down it very slowly. And of course Vilnius needs to come to the table.

Speaking with a local farmer from the unpopular Palestinian community here, I asked him if there was any message that he wanted me to carry back home with me. He pondered for a second, and then smiled and said, nama es tubo, which is a local saying that means roughly, "He who wants to do good, knocks at the gate, he who loves finds the gates open."

I don't know what Lithuania 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.