Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Ancien Regime 7

Spain the Savage State – A Trip into the Dark Side

Spain 1812 - Goya's vision of violence
Spain 2012 - Protester badly beaten by police


We are savages first, Spaniards second, because our Spanishness must take shape from the savagery that animates it… Our social life, apparently civilized, is in fact savage.
Eloy Luís André, Spanish philosopher (1876-1935)

1. Garrote Vil - A trip not very far back in history

The roots of violence in Spanish culture are the same as anywhere else, and in the Middle Ages the level of brutality was no doubt much the same wherever you went in the world. What makes Spain different is that violence and cruelty have become central to the culture, and acts of atrocious savagery have come to define Spanish society itself. In the 21st century to renounce cruelty would be in some sense to stop being Spanish. The effects of that identification of barbarity with the essence of the culture are really felt in the way that casual violence has today become a characteristic of the Spanish state. 

Let's take the garrote vil. A method of execution used in Spain and across the Spanish Empire from the end of the eighteenth century, it was in essence a primitive strangling machine. The condemned person was placed in a chair with a loop of cord or leather around the neck. This noose passed through a post behind the victim where it could be tightened by a screw. 

A public strangling was a common enough sight during the nineteenth century, but how long did it last? In fact the last people executed by this method were Salvador Puig Antich (a Catalan anarchist terrorist who had murdered a Guardia Civil officer) and common criminal Michael Werzel (aka Heinz Chez, a German national) on 2 March 1974. The death penalty and the garrote vil were outlawed in Spain in 1983. The execution of Puig Antich is recreated here in a scene from the movie Salvador, which portrays the violent anarchist as a kind of Catalan hero. 

Camilo José Cela, the Francoist author who had a hand in the authorship of the 1978 Spanish Constitution, had a special fondness for the garrote. He demanded from the legal authorities the one that was used to execute Puig Antich, and got it free of charge in 1995. To his great delight, he used to show visitors to his home this sinister instrument and enjoyed describing in detail the gruesome end of the anarchist. Cela, a central figure in the Transition years, is a perfect example of the savagery which underlies traditional Spanish culture. 

His proudest attribute, beyond receiving the Nobel prize for Literature and being ennobled as Marquis de Iria Flavia by the King, was of an unusual nature. "The special ability I have is to be able to suck a litre and a half of water up my anus in one go. Not many people can do that. Get me a hosepipe and I'll show you," he boasted in one TV interview. Alas, the presenter declined to take him up on it, so we were unable to watch the great literary figure's unarguably impressive feat. 

2. Great White Hunters

Hunting animals for food is an ancient human activity; hunting for sport first appears when there are rulers and ruled. It is an activity exclusive to the ruling class, and therefore a symbol of belonging to that class. Nowhere so more than in Spain where the boss dude of all, King Juan Carlos I, is also King of the hunters. 

You might imagine that a man who, at the tender age of sixteen, had put a bullet from a 6mm automatic pistol through his fourteen-year-old brother's brain would in later life have an aversion to guns. Not so our King Juanca (pronounced "hwuanka"). He simply loves shooting things. 

From his young days, when he was happily knocking up debutantes and shooting cheetahs, to his old age, when he unfortunately slipped and broke his hip while shooting elephants in Botswana, the King has been an avid huntsman, though he prefers that his subjects know as little of this as possible.  

Don't look at this image - it's illegal and you'll be fined
Perhaps the most shameful episode of this came on a royal hunting trip to Russia as guest of Vladimir Putin in 2006. A domesticated bear called Mitrofan, favourite of the local kids, was selected as prey for the King. The bear was made drunk by a meal of honey mixed with vodka, then made to stagger out in view of the monarch, who promptly blasted it. Those who satirised this episode with a series of photomontages or cartoons were promptly taken to court for the crime of "injurias contra la corona" (insult to the crown) and fined many thousands of euros.

As these things tend to run in families it was not exactly a surprise this year when it transcended that the king's grandson, 13-year-old Froilán, had been taken out to hunt with his drug-addled father, the aristocratic socialite Jaime de Marichalar, and had shot himself in the foot. 

Since the King sets an example to those who aspire to greatness in Spain, it's no wonder that his behaviour has sparked imitations among today's new ruling classes, the (literal) top guns of the right-wing Partido Popular. PP conseller (regional minister) for tourism in the Balearic Islands Carlos Delgado was happy to pose with a slaughtered deer's testicles balanced on his head. Now that takes balls, though not necessarily your own. 

3. "Mummy, what happened to the cartoons?" - The National Cultural Treasure

La corrida
is classified officially by the PP government of Madrid as a "national cultural treasure". 

I can't see it myself. I mean, I literally can't see it, watching it makes me feel violently ill. 

In 2006 the then-Socialist government took bullfights off the air. But in 2012 the new PP administration of the Spanish public TV corporation RTVE decided to put it back on public screens. 

The law on broadcasting content in Spain requires that in "children's protected time", specified as 5pm to 8pm, no images may be shown of violence in a "realistic and detailed way".  Bullfights are always held in the afternoon-early evening and so live TV coverage necessarily is broadcast during the "children's protected time". The PP gets around that easily - it simply states that the violence seen in TV coverage of the bullfights is not detailed or realistic. Since they run both the TV station, the regulators and the government, that's all she wrote. Bloodbath for teatime.

Are the images shown during the early evening, at a time which is theoretically protected against the display of extreme violence, really detailed and realistic? Could they possibly be traumatic and horrific for young children? I leave that for you to decide, but I'm 47 years old and they sure scare the bejeesus out of me.

4. Party Time! - animal torture as local culture

Whether it's chucking goats out of churchtowers, pulling the heads off live chickens from horseback, setting fire to bulls, throwing hundreds of darts into their hides, or hacking geese to death while blindfold, Spaniards of all ages and classes know how to celebrate local traditions.

Hey, British people used to hunt foxes for fun (though not any more) and people all over the world hold deathmatches of fighting birds and dogs (clandestinely and illegally, however, and not in the village square as a festival for all the family).
Who the hell are we to judge?

5. Savage Spain on the Streets - The cops get on with it

What's the result of all this officially-sanctioned brutality in Spain? Let's check a few images from the last few weeks and see what we can see...

For connoisseurs of police brutality, there's nobody quite like Catalonia's own stormtroopers, the Mossos d'Esquadra. In just a few short years they've built themselves a fearsome reputation as the police who will whack, and whack hard, where other cops fear to tread. They give the lie to the concept that the Catalonia is somehow not as brutal as the rest of Spain. They are Catalonia's jackbooted shame. They're bastards, but we're supposed to console ourselves with the thought that they are our bastards.

Check out how they beat up the young boy (13 years) who was an innocent bystander. When the young woman recriminates them, they give her one, two, and for good measure, three hearty whacks. She collapses crying against the wall then tries to get up, but can't. 

This is where we are. The most brutal, savage, barbaric, unthinking, cruel society in Europe.

Love it or leave it. 



Animal fun

Friday, 23 November 2012

The Ancien Regime 6

Spain and the Rise of the Idiot State

Alicia Sánchez Camacho - smart in only one sense of the word

"If every Spaniard confined himself to talking about what he understands, and nothing more, then there would be a great silence, which we could all use for studying."           
Antonio Machado

This month Mariano Rajoy’s PP government budget for the next bleak year in Spain was published. Among the details of the operating budgets of the government departments, the salaries for the government’s handpicked special advisors reveal that Prime Minister Rajoy himself has 245 “wise men”, but of this cohort of technocrats 68 have not yet completed high school education.

In UK terms, it’s as if a quarter of PM David Cameron’s special advisors and spin doctors hadn’t an O-Level between them. In US terms, it’s like a fourth of the President’s men couldn't boast a High School diploma. The implications of that lack of basic competence at the highest levels of government are staggering.

The Financial Times habitually ranks European finance ministers by their performance. The PP's Luis de Guindos has just come last, slipping from 13th last year to 19th of 19 this year. His FT profile notes his distinctive financial experience: "He was executive chairman of Lehman Brothers in Spain and Portugal from 2004 to 2008". An impressive professional background indeed, helping to drive a centuries-old institution into bankruptcy. That should prove valuable experience in the months ahead as Spain skates towards insolvency of an even greater scale than Lehmans.

In Catalonia, where elections are being held, the PP’s candidate Alicia Sánchez Camacho holds up a placard in a TV debate showing her projected budget calculations. According to Alicia’s team, 700 + 500 + 118 = 1,218. Except it doesn’t, it makes 1,318. I suppose her special advisors didn’t stay in school long enough to learn basic arithmetic.

In Madrid the PP city government is undergoing convulsions following the death of four young women in a crowd crush at a Halloween mega-rave event. The preliminary proceedings reveal deep incompetence and negligence within the Madrid municipal machinery for licencing and safety. But this is at a time when mayor Ana Botella desperately needs to establish her city government’s credibility in these areas ahead of a third bid for the Madrid Olympics in 2020. So far two of her councillors responsible for safety and event licences have resigned pending investigation. All evidence points to the fact that although the municipal authority was theoretically responsible for assuring crowd control and safety, no competent checks or inspections were made at any time.

At the same time the biggest scandal ever to engulf Madrid and the ruling PP is oozing out of the courts in a constant tide of sleaze. Bankia is the king of all housing bubble busts, a vast black hole of bad assets. The huge accumulation of negative equity was concealed until after the previously public-private savings bank went onto the stockmarket as a private bank group, an IPO that was foredoomed to failure given the huge burden of hidden debt. Rodrigo Rato was the CEO of Bankia and the architect of its flotation; before that he had been Finance Minister in the government of José María Aznar’s PP and president of the IMF. He was nominated to the CEO post by the PP government of the Madrid Autonomous community, as was former minister Ángel Acebes.

Since the key question in the Bankia case is how the  black hole of debt was concealed by the bank’s accountants, it may be seen as significant that the delegates to the auditing and oversight committee of the group, appointed by Madrid’s PP, were completely unqualified to oversee financial accounts.

Mercedes Rojo-Izquierdo was nominated as delegate by then-president of the Madrid Autonomous Region, Esperanza Aguirre. But Ms Rojo-Izquierdo (whose name, ironically for a conservative stalwart, means “Red-Left”) hasn’t the foggiest about numbers and accounting, as she was a student of pharmacology who had dropped out of college. She expressed doubt to her sponsor Aguirre about her own competence to fill the post, but was told not to worry as there were others on the committee who did know what they were doing and she should take her lead from them. For these services to auditing she received €144,000 per annum.

All of which tends to suggest that Spain is ruled over by the least qualified and most clueless gang of political and business leaders - Partido Popular loyalists to a man and woman - ever to hold power. For why that might be so, the reader is referred to this blog's previous discussion of cronyism as the defining characteristic of Spanish culture
Welcome to Spain. It's funny for a while, but after a lifetime it gets old


68 out of 245 special advisors without high school diploma

Sunday, 28 October 2012

The Ancien Regime 5

All the King’s Bastards

Big daddy in his younger days, handsome but vile

In La Vanguardia (27 Oct 2012) Juan José López Burniol makes an impassioned case against the intention of Artur Mas and his colleagues in the CiU, ERC and ICV parties who have pledged to carry out a referendum on Catalan independence whether or not it is legal under Spanish law.

His article, entitled “The law is like the air” (in the sense that you don’t notice it until you don’t have it), makes a solid, coherent and impressive case for respecting the laws of the land above all other considerations:

The state is not, despite all appearances, a hierarchically-organised structure that goes from the King at the top down to the lowest functionary.
All of these are instruments of the state. The state is, in essence, a juridical system made up of laws, all of them related to each other, such that the violation of any of them has repurcussions on all the others.

His argument, developed further in the piece, is that since the rule of law is indivisible and sovereign, to break that law in any way is to threaten the peace and security of all:

It is a very grave decision to do without the law. Above all, if we bear in mind that the law – the democratic law – is a binding plan for living together in justice, which makes us all free and equal. From this it follows that the law is the best defence of the weak against the strong.

A coherent point of view with fine historical precedents, from Socrates, through Hobbes, to Kant. It ought to give pause to those would-be rebels who think to challenge the Spanish constitution and the system of justice it embodies.

The only problem with this argument, with regard to Spain, is that it is utterly untrue. The King is not an instrument of the state, he is the state, and is completely above its laws. The Spanish law does not make us equal, for in fact there are whole categories of persons with special legal privileges. And it most assuredly does not protect the weak, but rather it is their scourge.

The law is in reality the refuge of those with power, influence and money when the weak seek to challenge them. The greatest injustices are perpetrated daily and completely legally. And despite many years of popular clamour for some justice to be introduced into the legal system, nothing has been done by their legislators to satisfy that popular desire.

In fact Spain is only barely a democracy, its democratic credentials based on the fact that the citizens can vote once every four years for a party with closed lists of candidates. The successful candidates take their seats without even once having campaigned in public, and instead of representing their electorate, or even appearing before them occasionally, they settle in to represent their party machine. There is zero accountability and zero transparency. The self-maintaining machine, not the law, rules here.

Let’s take these contentions individually:

1) The King is not an instrument of the state, he is the state and is above its laws. There is no dispute possible here. Section 56 of the Constitution of 1978 makes it explicit that
“He arbitrates and moderates the regular functioning of the institutions”. Moreover it guarantees that “The person of the King is inviolable and shall not be held accountable”.

What that means in practice can be seen in the case of Albert Solá (56) and Ingrid Artiau (45), who claim to be illegitimate children of the King. By obtaining without consent some genetic material belonging to him or someone from his close family, they have established a 99% probability that they are his children, but this test is not admissible in law.

When they brought their case to the Spanish family law courts, demanding a DNA test, the case was thrown out, not because it was disproved, but because the “person of the King is inviolable” according to the Constitution.

Constitutional expert
Antonio Torres del Moral, professor of Constitutional law at the UNED university, supports this decision. “The inviolability [of the King] is absolute… The King may not be brought before the courts.”

However, he recognises that this is grossly unjust to the pair, who are claiming their rights under the law to be recognised by their putative father. “It’s an injustice in consonance with the law”, he states, apparently unaware that justice is what law is all about.

So much for the monarch being an instrument of the state to guarantee justice for all. So much for equality under the law. Incidentally, this case was not reported in any major newspapers of Spain except El Mundo, the right-wing anti-monarchist daily, whose report was then picked up by the BBC and others. The mainstream Spanish press have suppressed it totally and it has not been reported on TV or radio.

2) The law in Spain does not make all equal, there are categories of privileged persons. Apart from the King’s “absolute” immunity from criminal and civil law, the King and all the royal house are protected from criticism by a law of lese-majeste, making any comment on this issue a potential jail sentence for those rash enough to enter into this debate.

At present the King’s son-in-law Iñaki Urdangarin (Duke of Palma) is accused of embezzlement, the charges stating that his Noós Foundation fraudulently invoiced regional governments in the Balears and Valencia to the tune of €20 million. Charged along with him is his partner Diego Torres and his partner’s wife. But Iñaki’s wife, Princess Cristina de Borbón, is not charged, nor even cited as a witness, despite leaked documents showing that she received payments from the allegedly fraudulent network.

Princess Cristina is very simply not to face justice. Her status as a member of the royal family makes her immune from being even named in such a criminal case, never mind charged.

3) The law is not the defender of the weak, it is their scourge. It’s very hard to find consensus on any issue in Spain, but there’s one thing that almost everybody agrees on: the law on mortgages and repossessions is cruel and unjust.

Unlike in other countries, where the repossession of the property liquidates the mortgage debt, in Spain the unfortunate mortgage defaulter loses his home AND is thereafter fully liable for the full amount of the loan plus accumulated interest. With no law on personal insolvency, this debt can never be cancelled, though of course companies in Spain can become insolvent and thereby liquidate their liabilities. Nearly all homeless people are also massive debtors, liable to, but unable to pay, the mortgage on the house they no longer live in.

The injustice of this situation is evident. On Sunday the Bishop of San Sebastián José Ignacio Murilla described it as “immoral” and “absurd”: “The banks go on evicting people from their homes, at the same time as these financial institutions are piling up tens of thousands of empty apartments which they cannot sell or rent.”

Fernando Ónega in the same edition of La Vanguardia as the article cited at the beginning makes the same point: “A country which allows 400,000 families to be thrown out of their homes for a mortgage is an unjust country. But a country which does not rebel against the legality which allows the same homes to be passed on for half the price to the bad bank, is a country of cowards”. Neither the bishop nor the journalist are left-wing radicals, yet they feel deeply that the country, and its legal system, is corrupt and absolutely unjust.

The “democratic law” vaunted by López Burniol has no response to this injustice. No reform of the existing law on personal debt or mortgage liability has ever been proposed, and the existing PP government has no plans to introduce one. Meanwhile 400,000 families – perhaps a million people – are rendered homeless and saddled with a lifetime’s worth of undischargeable debt. Some prefer to throw themselves off the balcony when the bailiffs come to evict them.

4) The law is the protector of the strong, the moneyed and the connected. Félix Millet, who was arrested for fraud amounting to more than €30 million in 2009 and has yet to come to trial, could probably tell you how much it costs to buy a judge. His strategy, approved by the Barcelona judge Juli Solaz, is to stall the case indefinitely and ensure that he does not face jail in the meantime. Apart from the services of the judge, his connections within the CiU party ensure that his trial date will never come up.

This case could be repeated by many hundreds of similar ones, where rich, powerful and connected defendants delay trial indefinitely, with the active connivance of judges who have either been bought or influenced.

Felipe González, Prime Minister of Spain for 14 years (1982-96), agrees. He believes the transition brought democracy in most cases, but not in the justice system, which has "never breathed the oxygen of democracy.. the greatest deficiency in the Spanish democracy is justice".

So returning to the article cited at the beginning, I’d like to “correct” it and close with a version that more closely approaches the truth of Spain. What López Burniol should have said, referring to the reality as experienced rather than the noble tradition of liberal democracy in the abstract, is something like this:

The state is not, despite all appearances, a juridical system made up of laws. The state is, in essence, a hierarchically-organised structure that goes from the King at the top down to the lowest functionary. All of these, except those who are immune from prosecution, are instruments of the law. The law – the not-very-democratic law – is a binding plan for living together in injustice, which makes us all abject and unequal. From this it follows that the law is the best defence of the strong against the weak.

Maybe not such a robust defence of the Constitutional order when viewed in the cold light of day, after all.


López Burniol article
King's Bastards case
Urdangarin/Noós case and payments to Cristina
Bishop of San Sebastián on "immoral" laws
Fernando Ónega on same
Felipè González on undemocratic justice
Félix Millet case

Thursday, 4 October 2012

The Ancien Regime 4

Life in 21st Century Spain (though you wouldn’t know it)

 4) A Festival of Ambiguity – the Constitution and the Spanish state

So we’ve seen how King Juan Carlos became king by betraying his father, pretender to the throne “King Juan III”, and by betraying his adoptive “father”, Francisco Franco. Not that there’s anything wrong with betraying these men. If Juan Carlos, convinced that his father’s liberal ideas were unrealistic and destabilising for Spain, and that the continuation of Franco’s dictatorship was repugnant for a society in the late 20th century, carved out his own way, and by building a coalition around himself made the transition to democracy possible, all well and good. We can certainly say here that the ends – a democratic and lawful society – justified the means – betraying the trust of Don Juan and Caudillo Franco.

Almost nobody would disagree with that. The question then remains, what kind of democratic society came out of the Spanish transition/revolution of 1975-78? Is it adaptable as well as stable? Does it guarantee transparency? Does it create a clear model for the state it wishes to frame? Is it a living thing or is it written in the cold dead stone of monumental sculpture?

Is it in fact, as Artur Mas contends, merely a brick wall set up to limit the legitimate claims to self-determination of the Catalan people?

Or is it a containing wall, holding back the tremendous pressure of chaos and civil conflict latent in Spanish history?

The Spanish Constitution of 1978 and the cultivation of ambiguity

Among the more comical clauses of the 1978 “almost untouchable” Constitution, running to a couple of hundred pages, are the following gems:

Everyone has the right to enjoy an environment suitable for the development of the person. Article 45.1

All Spaniards have the right to enjoy decent and adequate housing. Article 47

All Spaniards have the duty to work and the right to work. Article 35.1

Citizens have the right and the duty to defend Spain. Article 30.1

No religion shall have a state character. Article 16.3

Everyone has the right to education. Freedom of teaching is recognized. Article 27

The public authorities shall guarantee, through adequate and periodically updated pensions, a sufficient income for citizens in old age. Article 50

This implies that if my streets are dirty and noisy, if my house is nasty, or if I’m homeless or unemployed, my constitutional rights are being impinged. And if I don’t act immediately to defend Spain, by bashing Artur Mas over the head with a brick, for example, I’m violating the Constitution myself. It furthermore implies that the coronation of the King in a Catholic cathedral by a Catholic bishop is unconstitutional. And what it implies about Rajoy’s decision to decrease pensions in real terms I leave to the jurists to debate. Meanwhile, what exactly is “freedom of teaching”?

The US Constitution of 1787, with the Bill of Rights of 1791, can be printed out on two sheets of paper, and is much more modest in its intent. Instead of promising lovely gardens, nice houses and good jobs for all, it states that it is set up in order to “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty.”

It was created with the clear idea of federalism in mind – every power that was not attributable to the Federal Union was therefore a power of the constituent states. Simple in theory, much more complex in practice. But what it creates is a very clear overall framework for the nation as a whole. Argumentation about what exactly are “States Rights” in the US aside, nobody in the US today maintains that it’s not a federation of states, with the federation sovereign in a number of areas and the individual states sovereign in their own areas of competence. The German Constitution of 1949, though much more prolix, essentially does the same. But the Spanish Constitution of 1978 does no such thing. By mixing and matching centralist and federalist concepts, it leaves the actual nature of the state ridiculously muddled.

Round the mulberry bush – nation, nationality, people.

Right from the kickoff, the Spanish Constitution leaves us in no doubt what it’s about:

National sovereignty belongs to the Spanish people, from whom all state powers emanate.

The Constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards…
Articles 1.2 and 2

OK, that’s clear, one indissoluble and indivisible nation. But right away the text muddies the waters:

The Constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards; it recognizes and guarantees the right to self government of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed and the solidarity among them all. Article 2.

Waffle alert!
Now we have: One indivisible nation recognises the right to self-government of different nationalities. The addition of the undefinable word “solidarity” condemns Article 2 to irredeemable obscurity.

What’s a nation? The Spanish nation, one and indivisible. What’s a nationality? Normally, it’s an attribute of belonging to a particular nation, but here it means something else. Nationalities – also known as “historic nationalities” – means those people in Spain who have a different language in addition to Castilian Spanish: Galicians (gallegos), Basques (vascos) and Catalans (catalanes). So, one could be of the Spanish nation, with Spanish nationality, while at the same time of the Catalan nationality which is not a nation. OK so far?

Article 3 gets into this a little bit more with a consideration of language:

1. Castilian is the official Spanish language of the State. All Spaniards have the duty to know it and the right to use it.

2. The other Spanish languages shall also be official in the respective Self-governing Communities in accordance with their Statutes.
3. The richness of the different linguistic modalities of Spain is a cultural heritage which shall be specially respected and protected.

So, Castilian (known wordwide as “Spanish” and “español”) is the official Spanish language. But there are other “Spanish languages” which are not Spanish. These are in fact “different linguistic modalities of Spain”. So all this time when I was speaking Catalan and thinking it was a language, I was wrong. I was actually speaking a “linguistic modality of Spain”.

Now we have to find out what is a “people”. Article 1.2 speaks of the sovereignty of the state emanating from the “Spanish people”. This you understand to mean all the people of Spain, the indivisible nation as a whole. But wait! There’s also a plurality of this indivisible thing: the Preamble states that the purpose of the Constitution is to:

Protect all Spaniards and peoples of Spain in the exercise of human rights, of their culture and traditions, languages and institutions.

So, in conclusion. The Spanish Constitution provides for a single indivisible nation which emanates from the single and indivisible people of Spain, speaking a single Spanish language, while at the same time creating a number of self-governing nationalities, which are not nations, and which emanate from different peoples of Spain who speak different “Spanish languages”. Good solid fudge, nobody could possibly make any sense of it.

All things to all men, a promise of a good solid coat of plaster to cover up the cracks in the Spanish state structure, it is no wonder that this marvel of ambiguity passed the referendum test in 1978. Ordinary Spaniards, including Catalans, Galicians and Basques, yearned for stability, democracy, prosperity and peace.

The fudging of the nation-nationality/people-peoples distinction seemed to be the magic formula to win over support among the minorities in Spain without alienating those who were only “Spaniards”, just as the mix of authoritarian royal powers and progressive liberal doctrine smoothed the way for acceptance from both right and left.

For nearly 30 years the plaster held, and the structure remained on its feet. But then the Catalan Statute of 2006 and the Ibarretxe Plan for Basque referendums came along to challenge the waffle. That’s when things started getting hairy…


Wednesday, 3 October 2012


Life in 21st Century Spain (though you wouldn't know it)

3) Autobiography of King Juan Carlos

Hi everyone, JC here... Juan Carlos de Borbón, that is, King of Spain, Jerusalem, the Ocean Sea and so on. 
Though I don’t speak English, (and to be quite honest I have a little bit of trouble expressing myself in Spanish), my good friend Mr Murphy has promised to listen to my reminiscences and translate them into colloquial English. We’re going to look at some episodes in my life, starting with:

Rome, Italy, 5 January 1938. I am born. My grandfather Alfonso XIII had to run away from Spain after being booted off the throne in an unfortunate misunderstanding seven years earlier, so we live in exile in Italy and Portugal. Later that same year my eldest uncle Alfonso is killed in a car crash in Miami, the second of my grandfather’s four sons to die in a road accident. The second eldest of my uncles, Jaime, is deaf as a post, poor chap, so he renounces his claim to the throne. Which leaves my father, Juan, who therefore becomes next in line to the throne. Meanwhile in Spain the Reds are being spanked and Franco looks set to become Spain’s ruler soon. Will he ask us back? I’m just a few months old and already I’m third in line to the throne of Spain!

Rome, Italy, 28 February 1941. Grandfather Alonso dies and my father becomes King Juan III of Spain. But that Franco doesn’t want to let him become king. So we carry on in exile. Rome, Switzerland, and Portugal are all OK but nothing like being at home in Spain and being an honest-to-God prince. I play at soldiers. I’m tops in the Afrika Corps vs Tommies game I play with my new younger brother Alfonso. I’m Rommel.

Estoril, Portugal, 29 March 1956. I shot my brother little Alfonso in the face and he died. That was very careless and very bad. Father says I must be more careful when handling guns in future. He made me apologise to Mother.

Athens, Greece, 14 May 1962. I get married to a nice Greek girl called Sofía who’s also my third cousin. Her daddy is the King of Greece, mine is King of Spain but only not in Spain. Both of us have Queen Victoria as our great-great-great-grandmother, isn’t that neat? She is some kind of religion called Greek Orthodox, but she changed herself to Catholic just to be really Spanish. She says “Madrid is worth a Mass” and then laughs, but I don’t know what she’s talking about. Is it a joke?

Madrid, Spain, 30 January 1968. We had a son! We already had a couple of daughters, but they don’t really count. Now with Felipe we are a real dynasty.

Madrid, Spain, 22 July 1969. Finally, I get to be heir to the throne! Franco declared Spain a Kingdom in 1947, but my father wrote him a note saying he couldn’t, so Franco got all angry with Father and said he was a Red. Meanwhile the throne stayed vacant. When Sofia and I got married, old Franco suddenly took a shine to us. He invited us to come and stay in Spain. Father was angry with me, saying I was undermining him and manoeuvring to become next King. But I didn’t. I just agreed with Franco to continue his dictatorship in my name when he dies, and pledged eternal loyalty to him. Clever!

Madrid, Spain, 27 November 1975. I get a coronation ceremony with a bishop and everything. Now I’m really king. When old Franco passed away a week ago, I swore to uphold the “Principles of the National Movement” and keep the Franco system alive. But that lot didn’t know that I had one hand behind my back with my fingers crossed! So it doesn’t count. Everybody knows that.

Now I’m going to start something called a Transition – it’s like a change to democracy, but nothing that happened in the Franco time will be held against us. Everyone’s on board, even an old Red called Santiago Carrillo who I pretended to make friends with. This politics stuff is easy – just promise one thing, do another, and try to make friends everywhere you go.

Estoril, Portugal, 14 May 1977. Daddy gives up, finally admitting that he can’t be king. I make him Don Juan, Count of Barcelona as a joke. He doesn’t laugh.

Madrid, Spain, 6 December 1978. The new Constitution is approved by a referendum, and a new Spain is born! I’m the King of a “constitutional monarchy”, legitimate head of state and nobody can take that away, never ever. They tell me that being constitutional monarch means I just shake hands and don’t talk in Congress. Suits me. I was tired of politics anyway.

Madrid, Spain, 23 February 1981. The bloody, bloody, Franco lot just will not give up and go away. Now they’re occupying Congress and have sent tanks out on the street. I’m going to go on TV and tell them all what’s what. Nobody is going to mess with my new Kingdom. I mean, I sympathise with them and everything, but guns in Congress is just too much.

Mallorca, Spain, 17 July 1992. The bloody press keeps mentioning my friends Marta Gayá and Barbara Rey. Why can’t a guy have a bit of discreet female company? I’ve asked Prime Minister Felipe González to kill all this gossip. I’m the King of Spain, not a bloody fashion model.

Madrid, Spain, 22 May 2004. My son Felipe got hitched. Bloody nice girl, Letizia, I used to watch her reading the news on TV and I always thought, nice bit o’ crumpet there. She’s a commoner and previously divorced, but never married in the Church, so it doesn’t count, and she can wear virgin white and be a Catholic queen. Funny, my uncle Alfonso renounced the throne to marry a common lady, but that was a long time ago. Died in a car crash anyway, silly bugger.

Madrid, Spain, 12 December 2011. The bloody, bloody, bloody fool son-in-law of mine, Iñaki, has gone and got himself mixed up in a fraud case. Little yuppy bastard is going out in the cold – I’ve already cancelled his Christmas party invite. I asked Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to kill all the gossip about my daughter Cristina. He says she’ll stay out of the courts, no matter what. 

Madrid, Spain, 9 April 2012. My grandson Froilán was shot in the foot when out hunting with his father, the bloody worthless toff Jaime de Marichalar. My turn to administer the telling-off. I used the exact words my Father used to me back in Estoril so long ago: you’ve got to be more careful with guns in future. Jaime just shrugged and went off to the bathroom. Little Froilán made a face at me like a sad sheepdog, so I said, “Look boy, when I was your age I shot my brother in the face. But since then, I’ve taken care and I never shot anyone.” I think he understood that. I called that nice Mr Rajoy again, he said there’ll be no court for Jaime. Bloody cokehead won’t be grateful.

Botswana, Africa, 14 April 2012. Bloody hell! I fell over while taking aim at a bull elephant and I broke my bloody hip! Now everyone is going to find out I was hunting elephants in Africa just after I appealed to the people in Spain to bear up and face the austerity cuts with good cheer. I’ve already worked out my damage-control strategy. When I get out of hospital, I’m going to limp up to the cameras and say “Sorry, won’t happen again” really quick, then I’m outta there.

London, England, 20 May 2012. My wife Sofía calls me from London. She’s very unhappy that the government told her that she couldn’t attend the Queen of England’s jubilee bash. We’ve got to snub the UK over Gibraltar, apparently. She says Queen Elizabeth said she’s having a great party, except that “Cousin Sofía won’t be coming”, and can she go anyway? I told her, that a) Queen Elizabeth is my cousin too, but I couldn’t go anyway because of my dodgy hip; and b) If that nice Mr Rajoy tells her to be rude to the Queen of England, then it’s her duty to do it. We owe him more than a couple already. And fishing rights in Gibraltar is much more important than cordial diplomatic relations with the UK, everyone agrees on that.

Barcelona, Spain, 27 September 2012. That bloody little bloody bastard Artur Mas snubbed me. Snubbed me! His rightful sovereign! I was visiting Barcelona to do some inaugurating, and I shared a car on the way over with Mas and his sneaky little eyes. He said “You know, it was overstepping your role as constitutional monarch and taking sides in politics when you publicly called my self-determination plan a chimera”. I said “What’s a chimera?” Boom! You could tell he was stuck for an answer. So then he arrives late at the official photo and refuses to stand with me. That little bugger ought to watch it. It’s far more important to appear united than to bother with stupid stuff like rights to self-determination. Everyone agrees on that.

When I got back to Madrid I had a nice chat with that Soraya Saénz de Santamaría, Rajoy's right-hand-girl. She told me not to worry, the Spanish government had all the weapons at their disposal to deal with snotty upstarts like Mas. Nice girl, Soraya. You know it kind of gets me thinking that everything's come full circle. My moment of glory, the consolidation of democracy, was when I faced up to the 23-F coup plotters in 1981. Funnily enough, Soraya's father the General was there, running the police. Now we have his daughter, nice lady, who knows exactly what is needed for democracy. Reassuring, that. Safe pair of hands.

I slept soundly for the first time in months. The hip twinge let up, my mind was at rest. Mas and his smarmy little face receded into the mists. Even bloody Iñaki couldn't disturb me.

King Juan Carlos general background

Paul Preston, Juan Carlos: Steering Spain from Dictatorship to Democracy (New York: W.W. Norton, 2004)

Father, uncles,_Prince_of_Asturias,_Count_of_Barcelona

Death of Alfonso 1956

23-F 1981 attempted coup
23-F – Did JC sympathise with coup plotters?
Soraya's father in 23-F

Queen Sofia forced to snub Queen

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Ancien Regime 2

Life in 21st Century Spain (though you wouldn't know it)

2) The House of Bourbon - last, best hope of Counter-reformation Europe

It helps to remember that
King Juan Carlos de Borbón is not an ordinary monarch of an ordinary country. Firstly, by conservative Catholic standards, he is a supermonarch. All the residual hereditary glories of the old Catholic Bourbon house (booted off the throne of France in 1848) are mingled with the ancient claims of the Habsburgs (booted off the throne of Austria in 1919), to produce a walking claim to historical absolutist pretensions.

So it is that King Juan Carlos presently goes by the following resounding titles –

King of Spain, of Castile, of León, of Aragon, of the Two Sicilies (Naples and Sicily), of Jerusalem, of Navarre, of Granada, of Toledo, of Valencia, of Galicia, of Majorca, of Seville, of Sardinia, of Córdoba, of Corsica, of Murcia, of Menorca, of Jaén, of Algeciras, of the Canary Islands, of the East and West Indies and of the Islands and Mainland of the Ocean Sea; Archduke of Austria; Duke of Burgundy, of Brabant, of Milan, and of Neopatra (New Patras); Count of Habsburg, of Flanders, of Tyrol, of Roussillon and of Barcelona; Lord of Biscay and of Lord of Molina.”

Thus the king’s official titular claims extend way beyond what can be legitimately claimed as sovereign of Spain, to include bits of France, Italy, Greece, Austria, Belgium, Israel/Palestine, the Philippines, the Caribbean and whatever “the Ocean Sea” can be interpreted to mean.

A few sarcastic comments about this mishmash of titles occur immediately:

King of the Islands and Mainland of the Ocean Sea… Like a song out of South Pacific.

I am… King of the Ocean Seas
From the West to the Eastern Indies
And all on the Ocean will please
the King of there,

King of the West Indies? I believe Bob Marley had a different monarch in mind for those islands – Hailie Salassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia. But Bob’s dead, and so is the Emperor.

King of Jerusalem? Get in there, your majesty, press that claim. I’m sure neither Israel nor the Palestinians will have any problem if you take over sovereign authority of Jerusalem. Enjoy.

Archduke of Austria. Archduke… How can I explain, sire? There was this guy called Gavrilo Princip and he shot an Archduke of Austria in Sarajevo, and then…

Count of Flanders? So if Flanders ever becomes independent from Belgium, you will be head of a secessionist state? Wow, that would really be something…

Count of Rousillon? Gosh, sire, it’s almost like you never heard of the Treaty of the Pyrenees, in which Spain relinquished all claim to territory over the mountains in France.

Duke of Milan? I’m sure we should be able to get fully-comped invites to Fashion Week based on that. Time to get on the blower to Lagerfeld.

And so on. It’s easy to scoff at this unhistorical heraldic guff that somehow got mixed up with the issue of the legitimacy of the throne of Spain. But it points out the uneasy status of Juan Carlos as head of the Spanish state.

Don't look at the pedigree, check out the track record

For the last recognised government of Spain before the Franco-led revolt of 1936 was the Second Republic, the present king’s grandfather Alfonso XIII having been booted off the throne in 1931. The legitimacy of the present king rests on two pillars: first, in the pre-Transition, the late years of the dictatorship, his status as heir to Franco’s “Regency”; and then at the Transition’s culminating point, the referendum of 1978 that gave popular approval to the new constitution of Spain, with the king as constitutional monarch reigning over a parliamentary democracy.

And of course his fund of popular goodwill rests on what happened soon after that: when a militaristic right-wing putsch broke out on 23 February 1981, the king ordered all rebellious forces to stand down and thus thwarted the coup attempt. Parliamentary democracy was consolidated, the Transition went ahead.

So beyond the clownish titles claimed as chief Bourbon by Juan Carlos, and beyond his dodgy credentials as to historical legitimacy as head of state, his record has two great plus signs for the great majority of the Spanish public: he was voted in as head of state in 1978 as part of the new Spanish state constitution, and he defended that nascent democracy with a brave personal gesture just over two years later. 

I’d like to go on in the next section with a portrait of head of state King Juan Carlos, leader of the Spanish old guard, by examining some key moments in his life.

This will naturally include the creation of the Constitution of 1978 around him as head of state. What was created in 1978 became known much later as the “Almost Untouchable” constitution (“la casi intocable”), and for a time the King too became “almost untouchable” as the state’s personification. During the last decades of the twentieth century, he was the agreeable glue holding the Spanish state together.

However, the King then went on to lose that aura of ceremonial untouchability in the 21st century. Cracks began to appear in the perfect gleaming Euro-democracy edifice of the Transition, which now started resembling a crumbling facade in an old middle-European town featuring the ancient, weathered statue of a forgotten Archduke of Austria. 

Titles claimed by King
Treaty of the Pyrenees
23-F 1981 attempted coup