American ignorance of European politics is as sublime as ever. All eyes switch back and forth (as in a tennis match) from the Middle East to Eastern Europe, and what goes on among the allies who gave us our civilization—France, Germany, Italy, Britain—remains a closed book. Of England we hear occasional tidings from her expatriate journalists, but even in this case the news is limited to the inner workings of the liberal Tories who fought under Mrs. Thatcher’s banner.

Italy is the most extreme example: a country that everyone wants to visit and no one wants to read about. Last fall we informed our readers of the early progress made by the Italian autonomist movement spearheaded by the Lega Lombarda. Since then, virtually the only notice in the press has been David Dinkins’ casual lumping of the Lega together with “national front” groups. The Lega Lombarda (and its umbrella organization the Lega Nord) is actually the opposite of most right-wing movements: its emphasis is regional and local, as opposed to national; it opposes all forms of imperialism; and so far from wanting to rebuild a fascist state that can make the trains run on time, the party’s leader, Senator Umberto Bossi, wants to decentralize the Italian state and set up a federal constitution, on the Swiss model, with three republics.

The press had been predicting that the rapid ascent of the Lega would soon be stalled as voters got wind of its true objectives, and even up till the day before the local elections in November, the Corriere della Sera was publishing survey results that angered ill for Bossi and his party. Unfortunately, Bossi, who had been predicting victory, turned out to be a better prognosticator than the professionals. One town in Lombardia went 31.2 percent for the Lega, and in other communes the party’s share went from around 11 to around 17 percent of the total. But even while eating crow the day after, journalists pointed to feuds within the Lega’s ranks, and the pros are confident that the autonomist movement is a flash in the pan.

Nonetheless, the prominent weekly Espresso, back in September, devoted an entire section to Bossi’s idea of three republics, and now you can’t pick up a newspaper or magazine without seeing the senator’s face or reading of some new outrageous statement. Giorgio Bocca, a prominent commentator for Espresso, has consistently been advising Italians to take Senator Bossi seriously, and in a January 6 column argued that 1991 would be the test. Italians are so fed up with corruption and organized crime that they will be willing to support the various leagues all over Italy. The main thing, Bocca warns, is that the Lega keep its hands clean and not attempt to join in any ruling coalition.

Time will tell. In the meantime, the talk goes on, all over Europe, of European unity, but the reality is the growth of regionalism and petty nationalisms, and a rising tide of what some people like to call nativism but I prefer to call self-respect. Are the United States sunk so low that we are incapable of forming regional “leagues” here?