Today marks 45 years of the restoration of the Monarchy in Spain after the hiatus of 44 years, seven months and eight days that the Second Republic, the Civil War and the dictatorship had meant. It will soon become the longest stage of democracy in Spain and it will be remembered as the best in history, but the anniversary comes in exceptional circumstances. The Crown is not only receiving direct attacks from government ministers, who have made it a priority to end the Monarchy, but also for the first time there are visible discrepancies between Zarzuela and Moncloa.
The King does not have ideology, but he does have principles –almost all of them included in the Constitution–, and the Executive has begun to question some of them as relevant as the separation of powers, judicial independence or freedom of information and expression. The Head of State is using his public speeches to defend these democratic principles, in accordance with the role of arbitrator and moderator attributed by the Constitution. Although he was a child in the Transition, he knew its protagonists closely and they told him about the enormous difficulties that had to be overcome for Spain to be a full democracy.
Don Felipe was seven years old when Spain became a Kingdom with a King. Franco had died two days earlier and, although the nation was in official mourning, it was suspended to celebrate the proclamation of Don Juan Carlos. That day Don Felipe went to the Congress of Deputies for the first time and became the Heir to the Crown. He was studying 3rd year of EGB and followed his father’s proclamation as King somewhat uneasily. Despite his young age, he knew that he was living a historic moment and that, if things went well, one day he would star in a similar ceremony.
A very different Spain
Although that Spain was no longer an underdeveloped country, it had little to do with that of now. That year 1975 the last steam locomotive stopped running and the women were allowed to open a bank account without their husbands’ permission, but divorce and contraception were not yet allowed. There was less than one television per household and most were in black and white. Spaniards measured 1.67 meters on average, four inches less than now, and life expectancy was 73 years, compared to 83 today. Was still death penalty in force and some two million Spaniards emigrated abroad that year, fleeing poverty.
The majority of Spaniards wanted their country to stop being an exception in a Europe of democracies, but they looked at their future with a mixture of fear, uncertainty and hope. From that moment, the Crown became the engine of change, and Don Felipe, despite his young age, was a privileged witness of events that happened at a frantic pace.
To the amazement of the world, Spain went from dictatorship to democracy through a peaceful, almost unprecedented procedure, which was called the Transition. Forty years after the Civil War, the Spanish buried their old grudges and bet on reconciliation.
Don Juan Carlos wanted his son to accompany him in the most relevant moments and to meet the protagonists of the change, so he frequently called him to his office to introduce him to visitors. At the age of eight Don Felipe met Adolfo Suárez, who would become the first president of democracy; with nine he attended the resignation of the dynastic rights of his grandfather, Don Juan de Borbón, which provided historical legitimacy to the reign. In the spring of 1977 he witnessed the first democratic elections and in the autumn he traveled to Covadonga to symbolically receive the title of Prince of Asturias.
In 1978 he attended the ceremony in which his father sanctioned the Constitution, the first in history that had been submitted to a referendum and which soon became his bedside book. In 1981 he got “a good scare” when he saw the events of Guernica on television, and his father’s reaction “filled him with pride.” The night of 23-F was spent in the office of Don Juan Carlos, fighting sleep while his father quelled the coup attempt. “Jo, papa, what a month,” exclaimed Don Felipe already at dawn in reference to everything that happened that February: the incidents of Guernica, the death of his grandmother, Queen Federica, the pressure of the exams and the attempted coup. And despite how little he slept, the next morning he had to go to school.
While reconciling his academic and military training with institutional activity, the Prince contemplated how, in just a decade, Spain joined NATO (1982) and entered the EEC (1985), after centuries of international isolation. He and his father developed an intense travel plan and brought an image of Spain of success and modernity which culminated in the Barcelona 92 Olympic Games.
Democracy had run its course and political alternation took place normally. The Socialists ruled for the first time in Spain with the Monarchy and, over time, they gave the baton twice to the Popular Party. And, although it cost a very high price in human lives, ETA’s terrorism was finally defeated by democracy after a painful 40-year struggle in which the Spanish, and the Prince with them, shouted “enough is enough!”
Prosperity spread through Spain, which became the eighth largest economy in the world, until the crisis of 2008 broke out, which brought the life projects of many Spaniards to a halt and, over time, caused parliamentary fragmentation.
In those years, Don Juan Carlos began to commit inexplicable personal mistakes that overshadowed his reign of success, like the incognito trip he made to Botswana. The then Monarch was subjected to numerous surgical interventions, while the confidence of the Spanish in the Monarchy began to decline.
After a too long and painful wait for the Heir, Don Juan Carlos made the decision to abdicate his son, who started his reign with a commitment to renewal, exemplary and honesty. Since then, six years have passed that have not been easy. There have been political blockades, repetitions of elections, the first change of government after a vote of no confidence, jihadist attacks, a Catalan separatist coup, which the King faced on October 3, 2017 with a message on television, and a pandemic that it has caused more than 50,000 deaths and has sunk the country’s economy. Further, Don Felipe has had to break up with his father and ask him to leave his house in La Zarzuela to avoid that the supposed hidden businesses of Don Juan Carlos dragged the Crown.
Since January, the Monarchy coexists, for the first time, with a popular social government that threatens to break some of the basic principles of consensus and democracy. Don Felipe’s coexistence with a hostile government it is not being easy.
In these ten months there have been slights and also moments of tension, such as when the President of the Executive, Pedro Sánchez, prohibited the King from going to Barcelona to deliver the diplomas to the judges, or when he allowed Pablo Iglesias to use his status as Vice President of the Government to sneak into the institutional trip to Bolivia and, once in La Paz, act as an activist of the Bolivarian left. Or this week, when Iglesias boycotted the relationship with Morocco in the middle of a wave of boats. Given the confidentiality of dispatches between the King and the Prime Minister, there is not even evidence that these meetings are held in person and on a weekly basis. For now, the King has come out in defense of the rule of law and coexistence, and has asked journalists to also defend democracy and freedom.
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