10 November, 2008

As the scandal over the book published to coincide with Queen Sofia’s 70th birthday died a media death last week, Royal Spanish Academy member Luis Maria Anson noted in his column in El Mundo last Friday that the author belongs to the controversial Catholic association, Opus Dei. Generally regarded as a very right wing organisation, Sr Anson suggested that in “The Queen from very close up”, journalist Pilar Urbano was in fact putting typical Opus Dei sentiments into the Queen’s mouth and contrasted it with another recent publication, “Doña Sofia, La Reina habla de su vida (The Queen talks about her life)”. According to Sr Anson, its authors, Carmen Enriquez and Emilio Oliva, have produced a much more objective book, based on conversations with the Queen that lasted about 20 hours. In response to critics of the monarchy, Sr Anson pointed out that in a recent United Nations rating of the quality of life and development of the countries belonging to it, seven constitutional monarchies were among the top ten. This number grew to 11 in the top 15. Spain was rated at number 19.


3 November, 2008

The Queen’s 70th birthday last Sunday was marred by controversy because of a book published last week to mark the event. The national press began to publish excerpts from La Reina Muy de Cerca (The Queen very close up) by writer Pilar Urbano last Friday and her comments on gay marriage caused a furore in the gay community. Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero made a point of stressing the Queen’s “impeccable services to Spain” at a press conference in the capital of El Salvador where he, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, were attending the 18th Ibero-American Summit. Meanwhile the Royal Household issued a statement saying that “alleged affirmations” by the Queen, as recorded in the book by Sra Urbano, were “inexact”. The statement said the comments were made in private and did not exactly correspond with the Queen’s opinions. The statement continued: “The words (in the book) do not reflect the deep attitude of respect which Her Majesty the Queen has for all people, and her closeness to those who suffer, are persecuted or discriminated against.” Despite the statement, Pilar Urbano is standing by her book. She told reporters: “What the Queen said is what my book says.” She added that the interview process was “perfectly documented” and that revision of the test copies allowed the Queen and the La Zarzuela palace verify and give the green light to her declarations. According to El Pais newspaper, the book was given the go-ahead by the Queen’s secretarial staff, implying that she may not have read the book herself. Queen Sofia has lived in Spain for the past 46 years and has never committed any indiscretion in public. In a biography published in 1993, King Juan Carlos said his wife was his most trusted adviser throughout the years that they lived in the shadow of Francisco Franco and during the often tricky Transition period. Queen Sofia’s brother Constantine was the last King of Greece and she herself spent most of her childhood in Egypt and South Africa during her family’s exile from Greece during World War Two.


3 November, 2008

An 18-year-old Moroccan schoolboy was jailed last week for insulting King Mohamed IV, after replacing the monarch’s name with that of his favourite football club. He altered the phrase “God, The Nation, The King” on the school blackboard to read “God, The Nation, Barcelona”. FC Barcelona says it has appointed a lawyer to look into whether they can help the boy, within the framework of Moroccan law. The family of the boy, Yassine Belassal, is appealing against the ruling, and his father intends to write a letter to the King asking for a royal pardon. An internet campaign is also under way to have Mr Belassel freed. Earlier this year one man received a three-year sentence for creating a mock Facebook profile of the King’s brother, before receiving a royal pardon. Last month, another man was jailed after suggesting that some royal practices did not help the development of the country. He was cleared on appeal following a media outcry.


3 November, 2008

A National Court judge has absolved 16 Catalan youths charged with insulting the Crown after burning photos of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia at a protest in Barcelona earlier this year. Prosecutor Javier Zaragoza had asked for them to be fined €3,600 each but judge Jose Maria Vazquez Honrubia threw out the case, saying the youths were guilty of disorderly conduct but not of slander.


27 October, 2008

The capital of Asturias, Oviedo, pulled out all the stops last Friday to celebrate another Prince of Asturias Awards ceremony. Last week’s rain had abated and the sun shone brilliantly on the thousands of people who turned out to watch Queen Sofia, Crown Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia and the winners arrive at the Campoamor Theatre, with tennis’s Number One, Rafael Nadal, a clear favourite with the crowd. The second most popular was Ingrid Betancourt, who was running for president in Colombia when she was kidnapped by the Farc guerrilla group more than six years ago. She was rescued by soldiers posing as guerrillas earlier this year and now lives in Paris for security reasons. During her acceptance speech, she told how she had listened to radio commentaries about an up-and-coming tennis player called Rafael Nadal and never dreamed that she would one day sit next to him at the Prince of Asturias Awards ceremony. Nadal was visibly moved and said afterwards that it gave him goose pimples to think of a lonely, brave woman following his career in a jungle hideaway where she was being kept ahainst her will in deplorable conditions. The other award winners were Margaret Atwood, who collected the Literature Award for defending the dignity of women and denouncing social injustice in her work. Co-founder of Google, Larry Page, was there to collect the Communication and Humanities Award and representatives of health centres in Tanzania, Ghana, Mali and Angola received the International Cooperation Award for their work in the fight against malaria. Maestro Jose Antonio Abreu collected the Arts Award on behalf of Venezuela’s Foundation for Juvenile and Infantile Orchestras which has been rescuing poor children from the country’s slums and giving them careers in music since Sr Abreu founded the first youth orchestra there 20 years ago. Japanese scientists Sumio Iijama and Shuji Nakamura, and the Americans Robert Langer, George M Whitesides and Tobin Marks shared the Scientific and Technical Award, and French-Bulgarian philosopher Tzvetan Todorov collected the Social Sciences Award for his work on freedom and equality, the development of democracy and the impact of violence on the collective memory.


13 October, 2008

For a while it looked as if the rain would play havoc with Spain’s National Day parade in Madrid last Sunday but in the end, it only stopped a few planes from participating in the fly past, as well as the parachutists who traditionally land right in front of the Royal stand. Not so many people turned out either, put off by the glowering clouds. Opposition leader Mariano Rajoy was there, despite the uproar he caused last Saturday when he told the PP leader in Andalucia, Javier Arenas, that he was going to have a really boring time Sunday, watching the march past. He didn’t put it quite as mildly as that, however, but used a “c” word that no well-educated Spaniard uses in decent company, least of all when referring to the nation’s Armed Forces. In an interview in one of the national papers to mark her first National Day as Defence Minister, Carmé Chacon, pointed out that the armed forces had gone from being very feared to very admired in just one generation. She also defended Rajoy, saying she didn’t think what he had said reflected his true feelings about the military.


29 September, 2008

During her visit to the Fundación Casa del Burro (Donkey’s Home Foundation) in Rute, Cordoba province, last week, Queen Sofia gave the name of Lluvia (Rain) to a young Andalucian donkey and baptised him with drops of the local anis instead of holy water. Lluvia is the son of Camila, who was named after her “adopted” father, the writer Camilo José Cela. Lluvia now joins the other donkeys which have been “adopted” by the Royal family in recent years. During a tour of the Foundation, director Pascual Rovira described the work being done to save the Andalucian breed of donkey from extinction and introduced the Queen to several of the donkeys, one of whom – called Mandela – insisted on kissing the royal visitor. Despite having spent the first ten years of his life working underground in a cave in the Alpujarras, Mandela is very playful and affectionate.