power of organized crime, continually recur, like musicalnthemes, in every conversation about politics.nMy excuse for spending three weeks in Italy was anninvitation from the Centro Internazionale di Studi Lombardin(the International Center for Lombard Studies) to read anpaper comparing American and European democracy.nCEISLO is ably directed by Professor Giuditta Podesta ofnthe University of Genoa, who has acquired an old conventnin the village of Olginate, not far from Lecco, and thenorganization’s stated goal is to deepen and broaden thenawareness of human interrelatedness (they take a particularninterest in European unification) from the particular standpointnof Lombardy, a key region of Europe that connectsnNorth and South, Latin with German Europe.nEvery year CEISLO assembles a distinguished group ofnscholars and journalists to discuss and debate the prospectsnfor European community or the lessons of comparativenanthropology. The talk is stimulating, the food wonderful,nand the hospitality gracious. Lecco is a prosperous industrialncity, but it is also the birthplace of Manzoni, and despite allnthe strains imposed by modernization and urbanization, thenItalian lake country is as redolent of literary associations asnany in the world. .nFor my own part, I had come to preach a message ofnlocalism and regionalism as the true basis of the Americannsystem. In the course of my remarks, I ventured to observenthat the localist spirit of the old Italian republics was stillnalive, since the party of local autonomy, the “Lega Lombarda,”nmanaged to win almost 20 percent of the vote in thenmost recent administrative elections.nBringing up the Lega in a group of academics is a bit likenpraising Pat Buchanan at an editorial meeting of anynmagazine published in New York, but I did hear one burst ofnapplause. Afterward, this turned out to have come from anComo businessman, Elvio Conti, one of the oldest membersnof the Lega. I had lunch with Conti, Professor Podesta,nand Professor L.V. Ferraris (now of Rome University andnformerly ambassador to West Germany); the talk wasnanimated and at times heated. Of course the Lega had itsnpoints, but why were the members so little interested inncultural matters? When Conti ventured to proclaim his faithnin Lombard culture. Professor Podesta brought him upnshort. “There is no Lombard culture — so many differentnpeoples have contributed to the region — there is only anculture of Lombardy. “nEven after a few days in the region, the phrase “culture ofnLombardy” begins to make sense. For one thing, the peoplenlook different, as much Swiss as Italian: a bit taller, butnthicker, and heavier-boned than other Italians. “I am sonashamed when I meet Americans,” a young Lombard activenin the Lega tells me. “When you think of Italians, it isnnothing but scrawny little guys and pizza parlors.” I assurenhim that Northern Italian cooking is now regarded asngourmet food, and that Robert de Niro is more popular thannAl Pacino.nThe streets in Lecco and Como are clean, the shopsnattractive; and in the morning the squares are bustling withnthe activity of busy and disciplined men and women on theirnway to work. The only slouchers are the governmentnofficials, and they are for the most part from the South.n(Coming across the border by train from Zurich, there werenthree customs officials to ask qualcosa da dichiarare withoutnbothering to check either luggage or passport. No wondernLake Como was always a smugglers’ paradise.)nBut it is the character of the people that is mostndistinctive. A fine old Lombard, a veteran of World War IInand of several German camps, expresses with eloquencenwhat I am to hear over and over from other Lombards: “Wenare a hardworking and honorable people. The Southerners,nespecially the Sicilians, are more creative, more refined.nThey seem to have a greater capacity for poetry. But thenLombards are a simple race, without guile. Do you knownwhat they call us in the South? Polentoni [big polentas], andnit is not because of what we eat, but that is how they think ofnus, as bland, flavorless mush. Why? Because, unlike othernItalians, we are not furbo [cunning].” He is nonethelessnsuspicious of the Lega Lombarda.nThe Lega is controversial throughout Italy. The newspapersncondemn it as fascist (which it certainly is not) andnracist—a codeword in Italy as in America for anyone whonhappens to love his own people. When Conti walks into anroom full of academics, there is an immediate eruption:n”Tell us plainly what you stand for, then leave us alone.”nIt is a good question. The Lega began life not as anpolitical party but as a grass roots coalition of Lombards whonhad lost patience with the Italian political system, which theynregard as a corrupt, inefficient bureaucracy thoroughlynpenetrated by the Mafia. The members made speeches andnheld meetings but they took no part in politics. Eventually,nas Conti explained to me, they were stopped on the street bynpeople who asked them, “Why don’t you enter the politicalnarena and do something?” They did, and with results thatnterrify the regular parties. Because Italy does not have anwinner-take-all electoral system, the Lega now has severalndelegates in the European Parliament, two deputies in thenlower house, and one senator: party leader and hero to hisnfollowers, Umberto Bossi. In mid-September, friends andnenemies of the Lega were citing polls that projected 30npercent or more of the vote in Northern Italy.nThe Lega is unique in European (and American) politicsnin basing a grass roots political coalition on popular issues —nlocal control, tax reform, government corruption, immigration—nthat are set within a broad historical-political vision.nWhat Bossi and his followers envision for Italy, is a federaln(they often prefer the less ambiguous term “confederal”)nsystem in which local and regional governments are allowednto have a say in making their own laws and policies. The firstnprinciple of the party’s program states that it is “for thenself-government of Lombardia, replacing the centralizednstate with a modern federal state that knows how to respectnall the peoples that constitute it.”nThe idea of federalism will in itself carry no elections, andnmuch of the Lega’s activities have been concentrated onnhardball issues like taxes, crime, corruption, welfare, andnimmigration. Much of this is cast in the form of anNorth/South problem. Northern Italians work, pay taxes,nand obey the laws, while the South has specialized innproducing bureaucrats (including teachers and judges),nloafers, “disabled” workers, and criminal conspiracies. Thenlocal representative of the Liberal Party in Olginate, a mannof remarkably good sense, strenuously objects to the Lega,nnnJANUARY 1991/13n