The International Writers Magazine:From our Spanish Correspondent
The Spanish Monarchy 2013
Last month was not lacking in horror stories. The massacre at Sandy Hook school in Connecticut that left among others, twenty dead children under the age of 10 not only shocked the United States but spread bewilderment and anger like wildfire across the world. Despite the constant killings in other areas of the planet, especially Syria, when some deranged human murders small kids, it hits home at most hearts of ordinary citizens despite political or religious differences.
Spain 2013: Departing from the normal update of unemployment figures, banking crisis and the number one issue that is of major concern, the move by Catalonia to hold a referendum, Scottish style, to ask Catalans if they wish for independence, it is about time that reference is made to the one institution that is probably the only one untarnished, other than its personal scandals and is still an important anchor in Spain’s young democracy. I refer to the Spanish Monarchy and its role in trying to maintain some sort of law and order in the otherwise chaotic political and economic state that the country is in.
It’s worth at this stage to mention recent history and why the King of Spain is so important to the stability of the country. A few years before Generalissimo Franco died; contrary to present historic belief his technocratic government devised a program to transfer power in the smoothest possible way without causing immediate political upheaval once the old codger passed away. This move included the re-establishment of the Spanish Monarchy and a return to democracy, although it remained to be seen what sort of political set up would be authorized. Although his father, Don Juan, Count of Barcelona objected, his son Juan Carlos was the chosen candidate and from an early age was groomed from the start to become heir apparent to the Spanish throne. Ever since the early 60’s, the young Prince, who had returned to Spain was introduced and indoctrinated (he attended all the Military Colleges) in his future role as Head of State and was exposed to the public thus indirectly captivating the hearts of most of the population. In 1962 Juan Carlos married Princess Sofia of Greece and seven years later was officially designated as Franco’s successor.
On October 30th 1975 the Spanish Dictator handed over the power to the Prince and almost a month later when Franco passed away the Spanish General Court proclaimed Juan Carlos King of Spain. He was crowned on the 22nd of November as King ‘Juan Carlos I’. Within no time, the new Head of State began a series of reforms amongst them the appointment of the former leader of the National Front, Adolfo Suarez as Prime Minister. Some of the old school in the Falangist and Monarchist movements was disappointed as they expected a continuation of the authoritarian rule whilst most of the other sectors were still banned from entering the new system of government. This soon changed. In 1977 the Socialist Party (PSOE) was legalized and Felipe Gonzalez was named its leader. A month later, despite severe opposition from right wing political factions so was the Communist Party. Almost immediately Spain held its first post-Franco democratic elections. Adolfo Suarez, who was leader of the newly formed party UCD (Union of Democratic Centre) won the elections. For the first time in over forty years Spain was now governed by a sort of transitional government that set about reconciling all the new political parties by drafting a new Spanish Constitution.
This included the confirmation of the heir to the Spanish throne as Head of State and leader of the armed forces. It was approved in the Spanish courts and by the people in a referendum held on the 6th of December. Spain was reborn.
However, many sectors were still not convinced, especially the armed forces and above all, the Communist leader, Santiago Carrillo who nicknamed the King ‘Juan Carlos the Brief’. This statement spread across Europe and was picked up by the international press. Had it not been for an event that set the pace for the future, it is impossible to predict whether this would have occurred and the country plunged, yet again into civil unrest similar to the early 30’s of the previous century. On February 23rd 1981, a lieutenant colonel of the Civil Guards stormed the Spanish Parliament and seized the members as hostages declaring a state of emergency in the country. It was, in other words the staging of a military coup. It didn’t take long for King Juan Carlos to broadcast over the television that he was in full support of the legitimate democratic government and for ‘those involved, to go back to their barracks.’
Juan Carlos had previously consulted with his mayor Chiefs of Staff to ascertain the formal position of the army. It worked, and ironically the event consolidated Spain’s democracy and the acceptance of the Monarchy to the present day.
So what has happened since? From a political point of view Spain continued down the path of democratic consolidation, albeit with a strong socialist tilt thanks to the 1982 elections that brought to power for the first time in decades the PSOE under their new leader Felipe Gonzalez. In the meantime, the new Constitution opened the doors to more power to the seventeen autonomous regions including political power to the Nationalist parties in the Basque Country, Catalonia and Galicia. The extreme left wing Republican Party of Catalonia was also granted the privilege of participating in the new arena of Spanish democracy. Felipe governed for fourteen years from 1982 to 1996 and despite certain setbacks was able to open the doors to the massive European funding that came about thanks to Spain’s membership of the European Union in 1986. On a parallel basis his government was able to establish a social welfare state second to none in the European Union. Everyone benefitted. Tourism grew, investment in every sector of infrastructure blossomed and the construction business went overboard. However, unemployment figures reached an all-time high and although the economy was able to hold on, the signs of deterioration were beginning to emerge.
Enter the Conservatives in the 1996 elections and for the first time the right wing party (PP) under their leader Jose Maria Aznar won. They began to tackle the economic mayhem that had been caused in the past and brought in an austerity plan designed to overturn the country’s deficits of the past few years. For the next eight years prosperity returned, although a great deal of the wealth was thanks to the continuing investment in construction and property that was destined to bring about the present day economic disaster.
But what about the Monarchy? King Juan Carlos’ power as Head of State is limited; no different to those of HM Queen Elizabeth of Britain. There is no political interference other than the inauguration of Parliament every year, the acceptance of a new government after general elections or general institutional functions during the year. That is as far as the national panorama is concerned. On an international scale, Juan Carlos’s role is very different and of greater importance to Spain as a nation. As an example, for the past twenty years he chairs the annual Iberian-American conference of Heads of State and is thus respected as the genuine non-political representative of the country. The relationship between Latin American countries and Spain ever since their independence over two centuries ago has been on a love-hate basis. However, King Juan Carlos, apart from the famous incident in 2007 when he literally told Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela to ‘Shut up’ because the latter had called ex-President Aznar a fascist, is respected by all as one of Spain’s most revered ambassadors. Further afield, from East to West wherever he goes in the world he carries a message of confidence and respect.
From a personal point of view the lives of the members of monarchy for the first two decades were pure Hollywood style glamour. From yacht racing to skiing trips, attendance at European Royal weddings, births or christenings intermingled with hundreds of inaugurations and other types of public events requiring the King or his offspring’s presence were printed in all the soap-opera magazines. Any other intimate information was taboo as far as the media was concerned. During the last century whilst poor Prince Charles of the United Kingdom was being lambasted because of his shenanigans with Camilla Parker Bowles, King Juan Carlos’ infidelity was covered up. He had been unfaithful to his wife Sofia from day one of their marriage.
Enter the XXI century and the turn of events begins to change for the Spanish Monarchy. Most of the limelight over the last quarter of the XX century was based on the King and everything related to his activities, yet lurking in the wings was the shadow of the future in his only male offspring, Felipe, Prince of Asturias. This tall handsome royal began, as did his father with a silver breakfast spoon, a designed education program and a ‘pass’ to scrutinized female company. As fate would have it the Monarchy hit lucky! In October 2002, Felipe, 36 met Leticia, 31 and a binding romance began that ended up in their marriage in May 2004. Leticia Ortiz was a commoner but was also a well-known national television broadcaster. Not only is she extremely attractive, produced two charming offspring as future heirs, but is a stable anchor and has kept the media at bay. After all, she is one of them.
It has not been the same for other members of the Royal family including the King. Elena, one of Juan Carlos’ daughters married Jaime de Marichalar in 1995. It ended in divorce. Another daughter, Cristina married a handball player called Iñaki Undargarin. This character is up before the judge for all kinds of illegal business deals and the case is still being thrashed out in the courts. The King was caught recently on an elephant safari with his mistress where he injured himself. As the country was already in a deep economic crisis the incident hit the press and caused a national uproar. Yet despite all these ups and downs of the personal lives of the royal family, the Monarchy continues to hold a certain level of esteem amongst the Spanish citizens as the one institution that is not tainted by corruption or political bias.
However, Juan Carlos is a physical wreck. He has had knee and hip surgery, removal of a malignant cyst in his lung and can be seen to be in pain. It is all a matter of time as to when he intends to step down and open the door to his successor, Prince Felipe. Nevertheless, he still stands firm in trying to keep the country together despite all the independence conniving that is going on in parts of the country. In his annual speech at Christmas he did not mince his words. He said and warned, ‘I do not ignore that the politics today are not living their best hours in the citizens’ perception. For this reason I wish to emphasize that their role in these moments of crisis is vital.’ He went on, 'we cannot ignore the pessimism and its effect on the quality and the social climate in which we live. It is generating uncertainty towards the institutions and the political functions which we are concerned with. Both government and opposition must work towards the general interest of the citizens.’
My own interpretation of his speech was simple. If the main political parties don’t drop their ideological rhetoric and all pull together Spain will not overcome the present crisis.
© James Skinner. January 1st 2013.
The Party's over! The Three Wise Kings have delivered their presents and gone home. The real drama begins now! The King addressed the Arm Forces today and stated that the present crisis threatens the security of the country. How about that? The banking drama is about to begin and the independence moves from Catalonia, the Basque Country and even Galicia are about to really take off. Will update as soon as I see how the dust settles JS
Losing Identity in Spain
We’ve got Nationalists, Conservatives, Socialists, Republicans, Marxists, Monarchists – in minority – Ecologists all vying for the imposition of their political agenda in Catalonia.
Invasion and Freedom
Life in Spain Now
I reported last month that Spain was out of control. Well, I haven’t changed my mind although some of the outside press may differ and those mysterious rating agencies that feed the stock markets have given the country a breather for the time being, the situation is far from clear as to the final outcome.