Operation Save the Crown

The Spanish state seems willing to sink the monarchy so that the Crown may stay afloat. If the play on words strikes you as twisted, let me put it this way: in order to save King Felipe’s reign (and, with it, the Crown as an institution) they have decided to bring down his father, King Juan Carlos, [who was given the title of King Emeritus after abdicating]. These days we have seen a sudden avalanche of news features published in European newspapers (with Le Monde’s being the most recent and probably the biggest of all because of the French daily’s influence and reputation) exposing the dirty laundry of the incumbent king’s predecessor. It beggars the question of why now. Anyone who is involved in corrupt practices deserves to be called out and held to account. But “anyone” should really mean anyone: did Spain’s royal household have nothing to do with King Juan Carlos’ shady dealings? Did the racketeering patriarch fly under everyone’s radar? Has his son Felipe, at the tender age of 52, only just found out about it? As PM Pedro Sánchez spoke about his concern over the news that foreign media have been publishing about the King Emeritus (the penny has only just dropped for the Spanish leader, too, apparently by reading the papers), in the background you could almost hear the tune that plays when a statesmanship decision has been made and all the powers-that-be act as one to achieve the common goal. The Spanish PM went on to say that, nevertheless, he felt hopeful because King Felipe’s announcement that he intended to renounce his father’s embarrassing inheritance marked the start of a new era where the Spanish Crown will be wholly sleaze-free. Power goes about things in such a magical, premonitory manner: from now on things won’t be like they used to anymore because we say so.

The fact is, though, that you cannot escape the past and its memory. So pretending that King Juan Carlos and his reign have nothing to do with the Crown as it stands today, as if it had undergone a surgical makeover, is simply impossible. The temptation to undermine the reputation of the King Emeritus in Spain and abroad in order to boost his successor’s is understandable. But falling for it is a sign of ineptitude and, above all, desperation. Us republicans may actually find ourselves thanking the Spanish royal household for knocking down their own narrative.

King Juan Carlos is a key figure to explain the present status quo in Spain and, in particular, the narrative of the Transition [from Franco’s regime] which he embodies. For forty years it was drilled into us that the head of state was instrumental to the consolidation of democracy in Spain and we were presented with an immaculate version of him and the royal household that mirrored the virtues which they sought to attribute to the Transition and post-Franco Spain (a label that is much more factual than calling it a democracy). If that ideal king was a lie, so was the official version of the Transition. We already knew this, but we should thank its perpetrators for admitting to it so blatantly. They might leave Juan Carlos without supporters, but I doubt if they will ever manage to build Felipe a fanbase.