The more I learn of Italy, the less I know. Several years ago I thought I understood the essentials of the Italian political scene, that I was a Tocqueville in reverse. But ignorance was Tocqueville's great advantage, too, and it is always easier to make out the forest when you are willing to ignore the trees.
If the March elections seem confusing from the distance of 5,000 miles, they are even more confusing viewed from close up, even when the viewers are Italians. For one thing, most of the major players and even the parties are newcomers. Tell me where and in what country is the photogenic Claudio Martelli, where are Giulio Andreotti and Bettino Craxi, Cossiga and De Michelis? Mais où sont les neiges d'antan?
The one real veteran is Achille Ocehetto, the communist who changed the name of his party. Not so long ago, political analysts were already arguing over the composition of Occhetto's cabinet. His success, after recent victories in local elections, was a foregone conclusion. For years, the communists had represented themselves as the honest party, aloof from the corrupt partitocrazia that worked hand-in-glove with big business and the Mafia. Now that the Cold War is ended and the United States does not worry about a communist takeover; now that the CIA no longer seemed to be tunneling money to the ruling parties, the long-deferred communist victory was just around the corner.