Posted by: pascoesabido | December 29, 2007

Rule España

Spain’s King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia are descendents of the once powerful House of Bourbon. Like most European Monarchies, they now play a ceremonial role, leaving the running of the country to Socialist Prime Minister Jose Zapatero.

The Royal Couple have three children. The youngest but first in line to the throne – as male heir– Crown Prince Felipe of Asturias is married to a well respected television anchor-woman in Madrid and has two daughters. The oldest, Infanta Elena Maria – who studied education and sociology at Exeter University in England – is applauded for her work with children. She is honorary President of Special Olympics Spain and uses her position to encourage mentally handicapped kids to participate in sports. She has two children and is having a trial separation from her husband. Infanta Christina, Duchess of Palma de Mallorca, is their second daughter and has studied around the world. She is now involved with UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), focusing on their work in Latin America. She and her husband have three children.

From the royal residency, Palacio de Zarzuela, on the outskirts of Madrid, the Royal Family enjoy widespread support, but unlike their illustrious forbearers it is no longer assumed. The King recently admitted the need to “earn my throne every day”.

Back in the 16th century Philip II of Spain dominated most of the western world. While his armada against England had failed, he controlled the Mediterranean and overseas was building an empire. Columbus had ‘discovered’ the Americas; Pizarro was conquering Mexico, while Balboa claimed the Pacific Ocean and Magellan had set off round the world. The legacy is there to see in the various royal titles of Juan Carlos I, among them ‘King of the Two Sicilies’ and rather more bizarrely ‘King of Jerusalem’. However, the spread of ideology, revolution, and democracy threatened to topple the monarchy. 300 years later, in 1873, Spain was briefly a Republic, but in-fighting brought down the government. In 1931 the monarchy was again deposed by the republicans who, after a bitter civil war, were beaten by General Franco’s fascists and both democracy and the monarchy were suspended during his 39 year dictatorship.

Ironically, the return of the monarchy brought democracy to Spain. Franco chose the then ten-year-old Juan Carlos as his successor and trained the king-to-be into the next-best-fascist-dictator, the Darth Vader to his evil Emperor. Franco became a “surrogate father”, but ultimately failed in his mission. Despite his public support for fascism, the moment the dictator was laid to rest in his larger-than-life mausoleum, the newly-appointed King re-legalised political parties and kick-started the return to democracy.

In 1978, Juan Carlos I and his Queen Sofia oversaw the first democratic elections in 41 years, which gained them support and respect throughout Spain. They had ended Fascism and given up most of their own power. The King’s continued support for democracy was tested again in 1981 when he backed the democratically elected government against an attempted coup.

However, not all in Spain applaud the monarchy, and it is becoming the target of independence movements in Catalonia and the Basque Country. Portraits of the King and Queen have been burnt at anti-monarchist rallies and those responsible have been threatened with jail, sparking further outrage from separatist republicans. So far, the republicans appear to be in a minority, and according to the Associate Press, the Royal Family are “well-liked also for their professionalism”. An admirable trait, but also a rather difficult one to up-hold, as any observer of Buckingham Palace knows.

The press have traditionally been respectful towards the royals, although attitudes are relaxing. The recent separation of Princess Elena from her husband was hot media gossip, not to the liking of the Monarch. An offensive caricature of the couple in a magazine earlier this year led to the Crown taking the artist to court.

As the memory of Franco fades, so too does the King’s pivotal role in Spain’s return to democracy. According to some, the monarchy is less a nation-saver and more an outdated institution, and it is no longer only the Republicans and Separatists who view the Royal Family as a drain on the country’s resources. The King recently appointed an auditor after facing criticism over the lack of transparency of how the royal budget – which comes from public taxes – is spent. However, Prime Minister Zapatero is privately quoted as saying that if Spaniards were more aware of their history, no-one would criticise the monarchy. Following the 1981 attempted coup, even then-Communist leader Santiago Carrillo claimed “God save the King”.

The Royal Family enjoy a 77% popularity rating and newspapers such as the weekly Tiempo claim the King is even a better national leader than Zapatero. In a splintered country, the Monarch and his family play the role of uniter and divider, hero and villain. However, most believe that as long as the Royal Family continue to act in a respectable way and lend their hand to good causes, the majority will continue to support them.

Written but not published for Barcelona Connect

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