Photo: King Felipe VI & Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, sitting opposite Roger Torrent, at Mobile World Congress dinner (Credit: El Nacional)
By Jordi Barbeta, El Nacional
From Monday February 26th, 2018
King Joan Carles I never had a protest like that which occurred Sunday [25th February 2018] in Barcelona against Felipe VI. At the end of his reign, there were jokey, rather than critical comments made about his lovers, his enjoyment of elephant hunting, and on his entrepreneurial spirit which drove him to sell off large infrastructure to his Arab counterparts, but street protests proclaiming the rejection of the Spanish monarch accompanied by vocal criticism by democratic representatives is no humorous anecdote, it marks a historical inflection.
Unlike the presidents of the republic, the monarchs need to stand us as a consensus figure. When they cease to build consensus, their days (or years) are numbered. Or years. Inevitably, the countdown becomes ubiquitous and can be seen in the ill-at-ease monarch’s faces in photographs, from that moment on.
It is nothing new for the Bourbons to seek protection in the most reactionary political sectors of the country. 23-F (the failed coup d’état during democratic transition, in 1981) was an exception. Joan Carles I had a few hours of doubt, as Adolfo Suárez later related to a group of Catalan journalists, well-documented by Pilar Urbano, but he had good advice and enough sense to guess what the winning bet was at the time. That’s why he lasted longer than his ancestors. Anyway, after the coup d’état, he brought the parties (seeming more like dynasties) together, read them the riot act, and then came the LOAPA (the law which put in place the path for the devolution of powers to the autonomous communities), and and “the future”.
So, what happened on Sunday [25th February 2018] is an unusual event that highlights the regime crisis affecting Spain at present. This is no standard protest against the head of state. It’s the reactionary response of the establishment in defense of His Majesty that smacks of high levels of fear, as if a badly wounded animal fearing death is fighting for survival with more ferocity than ever.
The kinds of episodes of reverence for power and acts of vassalage that we are seeing these days, are not typical of a democratically normal political situation. Let’s reflect on this examining the events of this past weekend. The Spanish government, in a statement, said: “The rudeness of certain institutional representatives, besides being unjust and petty, puts Barcelona’s potential to continue to hold such global events at risk.” Obviously this is a threat, and whilst the Spanish government is not the organizer of the event, everyone understands it has enough power to sabotage this private initiative. It used to be that the El País and El Mundo represented the “two Spains”, as Machado called them, and that neither of these newspapers would simply have parroted a government statement in such an uncritical way, but times are changing, and not for the best. Monday’s headlines read “The boycott of the King threatens the future of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona” and “The secessionist movement’s rudeness to the King threatens the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.” There is really no difference and, in fact, all the newspapers distributed throughout Spain emphasized the same idea, dictated by the Moncloa.
Now in Spain we have a King subject to a citizen inquisition, a government mired in corruption and a limping opposition. The rich are richer and the poorer, poorer. And the main media outlets compete to see who can lie and seduce the best . There is, therefore, none of the counterbalance of power required for proper democracy. And that’s why there are exiled politicians and political prisoners, pursued journalists, artists and comedians being charged for expressing themselves, censored paintings and retired people in the street facing physical attacks from the police. All of this will inexorably end up exploding in his face, so the King, rightly so, is so scared.