After 39 years on the throne, Juan Carlos I of Spain announced on June 2 that he is quitting the job. “A new generation must be at the forefront… younger people with new energies,” His Catholic Majesty said on TV. Once the Cortes (the Spanish parliament) passes the legislation necessary to make abdication possible, his son will take over as Felipe VI. This is a critical moment for the Spanish monarchy.
Spain has suffered quite a bit economically in the past few years. Unemployment shot through the roof when the property bubble burst, and young ambitious Spaniards have moved away. While this was going on, Juan Carlos (who incidentally is the last direct descendant of Louis XIV to reign as king of any place) was off hunting elephants in Africa while his daughter and son-in-law may or may not have been misusing government money — the investigation continues.
Fortunately for the House of Borbon (Bourbon is the French spelling), Felipe appears to have pretty clean hands, and the economy is ticking up. Since Juan Carlos has had some health issues (a few hip operations are the most troublesome), the abdication seems prudent now.
Indeed, there seems to be a fashion in European royal households for abdication of late. Juan Carlos follows Beatrix of the Netherlands and Albert King of the Belgians in laying down the burdens of office. And of course, Benedict XVI doesn’t pope anymore.
Naturally, Britain’s Elizabeth II isn’t going to step down ever; Victoria’s record is now in reach, and Charles has THAT woman as his wife. No reason to let her get her mitts on Windsor Castle any sooner than necessary. And the reigning monarchs of Denmark, Norway and Sweden don’t seem all that interested in spending more time in the garden or whatever ex-monarchs do. So, I expect this is just a passing fad, like tight-fitting suits or thinking Katy Perry’s music isn’t all the same tune.
Despite the scandals surrounding the royals in Madrid, there is still a great deal of affection for Juan Carlos in Spain, and I have to confess, I like him. Yes, that’s right, the anarchist, anti-monarchist likes the King of Spain. As a general rule, monarchies are silly things at best and downright evil at worst. However, Juan Carlos during the 1981 coup proved just how valuable a wise king can be.
Spain has been a republic twice in its history, most recently in the 1930s. Then, the Spanish Civil War (Abraham Lincoln Brigade, Bombing of Guernica, Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia”) left Francisco Franco in charge. He declared Spain a monarchy again, but Franco’s face was on the money and stamps. In 1969, Franco (who put the dick in dictator) selected Juan Carlos to be the next head of state, skipping Juan Carlos’ father, whom Franco didn’t think he could control. Fortunately for Spain, Juan Carlos had no interest in keeping Spain fascist. He started dismantling the fascist machinery of state after Franco died in 1975, and by 1978, Spain had passed a referendum approving a constitution that kept the monarchy but enshrined human rights and democracy in law.
Where he really won me over was during the February 1981 coup. On the evening of Feb. 23, about 200 armed right-wing jackasses led by Antonio Tejero stormed the parliament. Their objective was to go back to the good old days of secret police and torture. In Valencia, the local commander put tanks on the streets. Spanish democracy was in real danger of dying before it turned three years old.
Juan Carlos went on TV at about 1 in the morning, dressed in the uniform of the Captain General of the Armed Forces (the highest rank in the Spanish military, and therefore, he outranked the coup leaders). He said, “Given the situation created by the events that took place in the Palace of Congress and to avoid any possible confusion, I confirm that I have ordered Civil Authorities and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to take all necessary measures to maintain constitutional order, within the law. Should any measure of a military nature need to be taken, it must be approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Crown, the symbol of the permanence and unity of the nation, cannot tolerate, in any form, actions or attitudes of people attempting by force to interrupt the democratic process. A process which the Constitution, voted for by the Spanish people, determined by referendum.”
The monarch showed himself to be a democrat, and the coup collapsed in the early hours of Feb. 24. I am prepared to give the guy a pass on a lot of stuff as a result. I still think monarchies are silly, but Juan Carlos makes that argument much harder. Felipe VI has some big shoes to fill.
Jeff Myhre is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.