I once read that Kings don’t say sorry, don’t explain or justify their actions and they don’t promise to change. If they do, then it’s a sign that things are going very wrong.
Well, things have recently gone very, very wrong for King Juan Carlos of Spain. Juan Carlos not only said sorry, but he did so with bowed head, and promised that it won’t happen again.
In some ways it’s farcical. The King professes empathy with a Spain in deep crisis, soaring unemployment and genuine hardship then he sneaks off to Botswana to shoot elephants. Unfortunately, he falls and breaks his hip requiring an immediate return to Spain for an operation.
Suddenly this quick jaunt to Africa comes into the glaring spotlight of publicity. It’s really not a time for any of Spain’s leaders to be seen to be indulging in luxury holidays. That it involved shooting elephants just makes it appear even more ludicrously disconnected from the lives of the Spanish people.
Oh, and by the way, when Juan Carlos was 18 his younger brother Alfonso died in a shooting accident involving Juan Carlos. Details are rather vague but the general outline is that a pistol assumed to be empty of bullets was not.
I don’t think I have ever seen anyone crass enough to suggest that this was anything other than a tragic accident. Juan Carlos was apparently devastated. However, there is a part of me which thinks that most people in these circumstances would most likely not return to shooting as a leisure pastime.
As a final ironic twist to the tale, the king is in fact the honorary of the Spanish branch of the WWF (yes, the Wildlife organisation, not the wrestlers).
So it really looks to be a holiday in poor taste on several levels. However, in other times perhaps this news would have been allowed to pass relatively unnoticed, a joke passing from mouth to mouth and a footnote on the inside pages of the newspapers.
However, it comes at the same time as a real scandal, one involving the king’s son-in-law, Iñaki Urdangarin who was indicted on charges of corruption in November.
The story centres around a nominally not for profit organization called the Noos Institute run by Urdangarin. It is believed that various public bodies in Spain, mainly the regional governments, were persuaded to commission works from the Noos Institute which were either never delivered or were enormously overpriced.
It is an apparently confirmed fact that Urdangarin has sent significant sums of public money to tax havens in both Belize and the UK.
King Juan Carlos has tried to distance himself from the situation, going as far as to say that ‘justice is equal for all’. However, there are those who believe that Urdangarin himself would not have been sufficiently influential to persuade regional governments to part with money for nothing. Spotlight back on the King….
The truth is that the monarchy in Spain is an anachronism. The constitution of Spain is the most modern, progressive and democratic in Europe. The monarchy only exists in there because of Juan Carlos as an acknowledgement of his quite remarkable role in the transition of Spain from dictatorship to democracy.
As essentially an adoptive son to Franco, the succession of Juan Carlos to power in 1975 was greeted with dismay by all except the core of Francoists left in Spain. However, what Juan Carlos did, on being handed absolute lifetime power, was to hand it over to the Spanish people. He brokered a peaceful and broadly inclusive transition to democracy in 1978.
When a coup d’etat was launched in 1981 it was Juan Carlos personally who called round military commanders to urge them to hold fast to democracy. It was he who appeared on television to reiterate his unambiguous support for the democratically elected government of Spain. It is he who is often credited with saving Spanish democracy that day.
So you see, modern Spain really does have a great deal for which to thank King Juan Carlos. That’s why he’s still around. Really the Spanish monarchy bears no comparison to the British monarchy in terms of their day-to-day integration into the life of the nation. A jubilee to celebrate the Spanish monarchy would be inconceivable.
In Spain you get the feeling that the monarchy has been given permission to stay as long as it doesn’t make too much noise, a bit like a child who has snuck downstairs after bedtime. Now the child is misbehaving and Spain is asking why they’re still in the room.
As the events of the late 70s and 1981 fade into history, the goodwill extended to Juan Carlos the man diminishes and as that goes, the reason to maintain the expensive trappings of the monarchy disappears.
There is a genuine chance that the monarchy in Spain is nearing its end.