have been besieging the senator ever since the springnelections, I am the first American to interview the head ofnthe Lega Lombarda.nI begin by asking him the question that had been on mynmind for several days: is it possible to be a good Lombardnand a patriotic Italian? “We are not separatists,” he insists,n”and there is no component of violence in our program.nSelf-determination and autonomy are not the same thing asnseparation, but the right to have a say in the laws that arenmade. What we want is democratically to modify the Italianncentralized state and transform it into a confederal state,nusing Switzerland as a model.” As an intermediate levelnbetween the regions and the nation, the party proposes anpolitical structure that is analogous to the Swiss cantons: thenthree republics of the North, Center, and South. In fact, thenparty is organized on this basis throughout Italy, and thenLega Lombarda is now only the most powerful section ofnthe Lega Nord.nI ask Bossi if he has any plans to counter the hostility ofnthe press. The Italian papers and news magazines routinelynprint vicious caricatures of him that resemble World War IIncartoons of General Tojo. Recently Bossi had lashed out at annews conference, describing journalists as “worms” thatnrefuse to print the truth. “In Lombardia,” he insists, “thenpress does not present a serious obstacle, because here isnwhere the Lega got its start, and the word has passed fromnhouse to house.” More generally, he says, the Italian pressnhas made a fatal alliance with the political parties, and thenvarious segments of the mass media represent specificneconomic and political interests. (In broadcasting, this “fatalnalliance” is an official arrangement.) “There are, however,nhonest journalists who do not accept this logic. I am talkingnabout Montanelli, although he does not exactly think likenus.” (Montanelli, among the most celebrated journalists ofnpostwar Italy, is the founder of the anticommunist 11nCiornale.)nBossi is right not to despair, even of the Italian press. Asnhis popularity and influence grows, he is attractingnmore and more coverage, and despite the fairly uniformnmisreporting and editorial hostility, an occasional fairmindedncomment can appear. In May, the very establishmentncolumnist Giorgio Bocca asked his readers in Espresson(the rough equivalent oiTime): “Why has one Lombard innfive voted for the Lega Lombarda? People say that a vote fornthe Leagues is a pro-northern, localist, egoistical, even racistnvote. But the dimensions of the vote say something else.nThere is a rising ‘NO’ against the corrupt, arrogant, andnconspiratorial oligarchy of the major parties, against thenpalace.” Even journalists cannot afford to ignore realitynforever.nMost Italians think of the Leagues as a strictly Northernnphenonienon, and I ask the senator if this notion ofnautonomy is applicable only to Italy (particularly NorthernnItaly) or if it is a universal ideology. To answer that, he looksnback to the 19th century and the valid criticisms made bynMarx. But the Marxists established governments that attemptednto liberalize society by limiting the power of thengreat interests. Unfortunately, in pursuing these liberalnideals, Marxists sacrificed other, equally important liberalnprinciples: personal and religious liberty, freedom of associa­n16/CHRONICLESnnntion, etc. Marxism was clearly in error, but the error is notnsimply the error of Marxist ideology. The really importantnerror is the whole project of the centralized state. “What wenare proposing, in contrast with this doctrine of centralizationnand the government controlled by great interests, is federalismnand autonomy. This is not an ideology of class but ofnautonomy, an ideology of liberty, and, above all, of justice.n. . . The Jacobin state of liberal centralization, which is anninstrument of centralized power and the pawn of the greatninterests, is at this moment in a historic confrontation withnthe federal state that will replace it.”nBossi envisions a new European community based onnthese principles of federalism and autonomy, and the twelfthnand final point in the Lega’s program advocates “thenconstruction of a Europe based on autonomy, federalism,nrespect and solidarity among all the peoples and thusnbetween the Lombards and every other people.” This isnsomething quite different from “World Federalism,” whichnseeks to empower an even higher level and more ruthlessnbureaucracy than we have now in Europe and the UnitednStates. Bossi’s vision is more like Chesterton’s, in ThenNapoleon ofNotting Hill. A federal European communitynwould respect the rights of individual nation states; morenimportantly it would represent not only an affirmation ofnhistoric nationalities and cultures but also a devolution ofnpower down to the local and regional levels.nUp until a few years ago, this was easy to dismiss. By onenof the larger ironies of the past several months, Bossi’s dreamnof a Europe confederated out of historic nationalities is nonlonger as impossible as it seemed until recently. ThenEuropean Parliament is providing an opportunity for Scots,nBretons, and Lombards to meet each other, and there isnsomething like an autonomist caucus taking shape in thenpariiament. European unity may, in the end, turn out tonmean not world government but a resurgence of regionalismnand ethnic nationalism.nI am suspicious of all and every universal ideology, and Inwonder — as we eat a seven-course dinner at Da Tony justnoutside of Bellagio — if the Lega has not gone mad onnideology as well as on history. But after the first few glassesnof wine are drunk and the polenta consumed, the talknswitches from political systems to local gossip and thatngreater gossip that constitutes a nation’s history. One of thenyounger members makes the mistake of trying to drink thenAmerican under the table as we listen to a young man onncrutches tell a series of stories in dialect that must benhilariously funny, because everyone is laughing. I can’t get ansingle word. As the dinner progresses from prosciutto toncheese tarts to risotto to rabbit to roast beef to salads andndessert, I am given language lessons and learn to say “nu”nand “su” (pronounced in what sounds like a Swedishnaccent) instead of “no” and “si.” There is general hilarity atnthe crazy American’s attempts, as when older kids teach thenkindergartner to say bad words.nIn the next few days I spend attending party meetings andntalking to members I give up any suspicion that thesenLombards are really ideologues at heart. They are, as the oldnsoldier described them, a plain hardworking people strugglingnto maintain some sense of who they are in a country,nin a world that only wants them to “pay and shut up.” Hownunlike the United States. n