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Op-Ed Columnist

Ukraine is Israel

Kiev

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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Last week's events in Ukraine were unique, although we may not know for years or even decades what their final meaning is. What's important, however, is that we focus on what this means to the people. The current administration seems too caught up in dissecting the macro-level situation to pay attention to how their people are doing. Just call it missing the desert for the sand.

When thinking about the recent problems, it's important to remember three things: One, people don't behave like lemmings, so attempts to treat them as such are a waste of time. Lemmings never suddenly blow themselves up. Two, Ukraine 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 Ukraine's curtain rod, then capitalism is certainly its alarm clock.

When I was in Ukraine last month, I was amazed by the people's basic desire for a stable life, and that tells me two things. It tells me that the citizens of Ukraine have no shortage of potential entrepreneurs, and that is a good beginning to grow from. Second, it tells me that people in Ukraine are just like people anywhere else on this flat earth of ours.

So what should we do about the chaos in Ukraine? Well, it's easier to start with what we should not do. We should not ignore the problem and pretend it will go away. 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 moderation is so strewn with obstacles that Ukraine will have to move down it very slowly. And of course Kiev needs to come to the table.

Speaking with a young student from the large Protestant 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, xi fe li sen, which is a local saying that means roughly, "A baby is an alimentary canal with a loud voice at one end and no responsibility at the other."

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