Can the Monarchy Survive? – Notes From Spain | Edward Anderson
Despite a noble contribution to his country, Spain’s former King might bring the Royal Family to their lowest ebb in the post-transition era.
Whilst COVID was cancelled by Black Lives Matter, another story has been simmering away and is now ready to boil in Spain. The King Emeritus, Juan Carlos Alfonso Víctor María de Borbón y Borbón, is being investigated by his country’s own Supreme Court for an alleged kickback going into the millions from Saudi Arabia, that may have helped a Spanish consortium secure the high-speed rail contract that Saudi Arabia desired.
A shorthand version of the story is that Yves Bertossa, the chief prosecutor of the canton of Geneva is investigating the potential that Juan Carlos received millions of euros from the Saudi Finance Ministry for reasons that may be linked to Spanish firms offering a lower rate for the building of a high-speed rail. After this, the Spanish Prosecutors Office opened their own investigation into their former King’s financial affairs in his role as interlocutor between Spanish companies and Saudi Arabia.
In the time I have been trying to edit this even more unseemly information has come out, with the story of Spanish Royal Family and financial gifts reaching the UK. The Telegraph have reported that the King Emeritus paid for the honeymoon of his son that cost $500,000 with half being paid by a close friend of Juan Carlos.
By the time you read this, even more could have unravelled so there are only two statements we can make for certain. One is that you are more likely to see Donald Trump winning re-election, promptly going on TV in blackface screaming “Four more years America! Four. More. Years.” then of the former King seeing any courtroom; and two, this has done horrific damage to a family that is now at their weakest moment in the post-transition era.
However, the removal of Royalty, its restoration and constant tug-of-war over whether Spain will have a King or Queen is one of the few constants in Spanish society. The man who was King before Juan Carlos was not his father but his Grandfather, Alfonso XIII. Alfonso would rule for a turbulent 30 years, his low point being backing the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera. He would correct this years later but in the eyes of the Spanish people he had sealed his own fate and could not be trusted. Elections in 1931 became a de-facto referendum on the Monarchy and he would sail away from Spain, never to return in his life.
After rejections and deaths, his third son (and the father of Juan Carlos I) was in line in the event that the Monarchy would be restored. Franco did not trust Juan Carlos I’s father and would seek to groom the young Juan Carlos to maintain the Francoist system.
Of the last six members of the House of Bourbon, two have abdicated and one (currently) died in exile. One was deposed and one of them was Ferdinand VII, perhaps the worst King in Spanish history. There appears to be something in the genes for this Royal Family that gives them an ability for self-destruction that makes Juan Carlos I (in historical terms) look like a saint.
Which brings us back to the current day. Predictably, in Parliament the story split along ideological lines with the regional and non-Government left wing parties in favour and the right wing and traditional parties of state voting against the Parliament opening their own investigation.
Suffice to say, it doesn’t look good, but the crucial role he played in the successful transition to Democracy shouldn’t be forgotten. A transition which, when you look at the failures in the last decades to move from Dictatorship to Democracy in so many other countries, makes Spain’s own transition look even more impressive. This is the same man who, alongside Adolfo Suarez, led Spain out of self-imposed exile and into the European Family of Democratic Nations. The same man who recalled, in a 2014 interview the politically fraught decision of whether to allow the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) to run in elections, that “there could be no democracy without the PCE”.
Of course, his finest moment and what he should be remembered for is the night of 23-F 1981, when Spanish people sat terrified at home as sections of the army had seized the Spanish Parliament and put tanks on the streets in Valencia. It was in this moment, in the early hours of the 24th February, that the King addressed the nation. He went on TV to put the Monarchy firmly behind the Democracy and called on all sections of the army to stay loyal to him and therefore, the Democratic Spanish State. Unlike his Grandfather, Juan Carlos I had passed the test.
Which is what makes the recent events so disappointing for the Royal Family but also Spanish society. For it is this legacy that is being tarnished and putting an institution that, when Spain has got rid of it in the past has promptly launched itself into Civil Wars, on precarious ground. The folks at Electomania have done polling showing people are split down the middle on whether Spain should be a Monarchy or Republic and there are no prizes for guessing which regions are most Republican. The recent scandal will only increase the calls for the abolition (again) of the Monarchy.
For Juan Carlos I, he appears to have chosen exile. His departure to the Dominican Republic will see him end his days as he started them, of Spain but marooned from it. However this story is finally concluded, it is the culmination of an ignominious fall from public grace and is a sad final chapter of Juan Carlos I’s public life. A public life which, even the most critical of his detractors should realise, has contributed more good than harm to his country.