A king in the wings Crown Prince Felipe turns 40 on January 30th and the Royal Household has seized the opportunity of this landmark birthday to turn the spotlight on him. Spain’s Royal family is notorious for keeping its private life out of the public eye, except for traditional photo opportunities, and the press on the whole has respected that privacy. However, in the last three months, the Spanish news agency EFE has been allowed into the Prince’s home at the La Zarzuela Palace to take photos him, his wife, Princess Letizia and their two children, the Infantas Leonor and Sofia, in ordinary, everyday situations. Just an ordinary family pretty much like everyone else’s – except that he was born to be King and his oldest daughter – if all goes well – will one day be Queen. The government-owned TVE1 also showed an hour long-documentary last Friday, with highlights from the Prince’s life, and the impressions of public and private figures who have met him. Here, he turned out to be not so ordinary. People who went to school with him, or have accompanied him in an official context on his many trips abroad, all emphasized his enormous interest in everything around him. The officials particularly were impressed by his grasp of facts and figures about the places he was visiting or the events he was to attend. One old friend from his schooldays, who is also a crew member of the yacht the Prince races every year in the King’s Cup, said he thought that becoming a father had made the Prince more responsible, more mature, more “human”. Most of the other people interviewed – especially the women – were impressed by the way he unashamedly dotes on his children. “It’s obvious he would die for them,” one actress said. Obviously, the people who appeared in the programme came from the 80% or so of the population who accept the monarchy and believe it is here to stay, not from the minority who either believe it will die a natural death along with King Juan Carlos or who want to abolish it. Many members of the older generation who rebelled against the Franco dictatorship by hanging on to the Second Republic as if it were the lost Garden of Eden fell under the spell of the King who almost single-handedly turned the country from a dictatorship into a democracy. Because of their republican leanings, they call themselves “Juancarlistas”, that is, admirers of the King who doubt that his son has the strength of character to carry on the monarchy. This implies that the enemies of the monarchy will be strong enough to topple it and that the Spanish people will stand by passively while they do so. History has shown us that the Spaniards aren’t passive in any situation. They tend to take sides in accordance with their views and will defend their convictions to the death. Hence the Civil War (1936-39) – the “big one” which put an end to more than a century of civil strife between those who wanted a more liberal, secular society and those who were determined that the old ways would prevail. The Second Republic was the child of the former and Franco represented the latter. Ironically, the man he chose as his successor – King Juan Carlos – belonged to the former group. Instead of becoming an absolute monarch as Franco intended, the King led the country into democracy, despite the misgivings – and sometimes active opposition – of many people still believed in the old dictator. And not a drop of blood was shed in the process. Prince Felipe was only seven when Franco died but comments he has made indicate he was very aware of the political miracle his father was performing. So if the Prince is as intelligent and as perceptive as he is said to be, he stands a good chance of converting the “Juancarlistas” into “Felipistas”. That leaves the very small minority who want to abolish the monarchy. Apart from the Basque and Catalan nationalists, who are only interested in independence from Spain, this boils down to the Izquierda Unida (IU, United Left), a conglomeration of small parties and groups who could be described as the hangover from the Civil War. They yearn for the Second Republic and as allies of the Zapatero government, they were instrumental in pushing through the so-called Historical Memory Law which many feared would open up old wounds. IU leader Gaspar Llamazares believes that in March he will get more than the 1,359,190 votes he got in 2004 – but the pundits reckon he will get less. In fact, they believe IU’s shelf life is nearly over. Hopefully, by the time Felipe becomes king, this small, blinkered, fanatically ideological group will have faded away, vanquished by the unprecedented political stability, freedom and affluence that the Spanish have enjoyed since the old dictator died.
POLITICAL ROUND UP BY MURIEL PILKINGTON – 28th January 2008