Monarchy Like A Boss

There are a lot of things about Spain which I wasn’t expecting to love but did (and as I leave it, I feel confident calling it one of my favourite countries in the world), from the musical sounds of listening to locals speak the language to horchata. About the last thing I was expecting to come away with an appreciation and admiration for was a monarch.

As anyone who spoke to me around two months ago, when the British royal wedding was on, would know, I am a republican and have been since the sadly failed Australian referendum of 1999 raised my awareness of the issue. In Australia it is utterly nonsensical that our head of state is not an Australian, and typical of the ironies and inherent contradictions of the modern conservative mindset that the most aggressive and xenophobic jingoists are also those who most strongly support the Australian head of state being someone the other side of the world. And while I understand why for many nations it is a less clear-cut issue, the idea of someone having a frankly preposterous amount of privilege, prestige, wealth and political power simply due to the birth lottery is still something I find inherently offensive (arguably as a socialist, but I prefer to think that I find it offensive as a human being with a sense of fairness and justice). Monarchs should have their possessions nationalised and their homes and public appearances – the tourist attractions which are inevitably, along with ‘tradition’, one of the first two arguments any monarchist will use when arguing with a republican – made free for all citizens who have been supporting the monarchy with their labour for centuries, and fees charged to foreign visitors used to directly support the state and the people rather than the monarchs themselves. But for the king of Spain, Juan Carlos I, I think I’d be willing to make an exception.

To understand why Juan Carlos I is such an exceptional figure, you need to have a comprehension of 20th-century Spanish history (so if you’re already pretty well set on this front, you can probably skip to the next paragraph). After a string of mediocre-to-rubbish monarchs, in 1931 Spain again declared itself a republic. When I say “Spain”, of course, the country was far from united on the issue, let alone what form the republic should take. By 1935, Spain was in a full-blown civil war. On one side were the fascists and conservatives, uniting behind General Francisco Franco, supported by foreign mercenaries and the military and economic might of fellow fascist regimes in Germany and Italy. On the other was a coalition of anarchists, socialists and communists, supported by volunteer soldiers from all over Europe and North America who wanted to stop yet another European country from falling to fascism, and (intermittently) the Soviet Union. Unfortunately for pretty much everyone, the fascist forces won in 1939 and Franco ruled the country until his death in 1975.

Franco’s death was not unexpected; he’d been in poor health for a while. Like all fascists, Franco knew and emphasised the significance of tradition, and as such, found a grandson of the last king of Spain living in France: Juan Carlos Bourbon. Franco groomed Juan Carlos as a successor, ensuring that paleoconservative social values, a powerful military and fascist control of the country would remain after he died. Then, when Franco died, Juan Carlos I immediately said “bugger that”, declared the reopening of parliament and the repealing of many of Franco’s worst laws. Juan Carlos I was not a fascist and had no intention of continuing Franco’s fascist regime, but by allowing Franco to think he would he encouraged Franco to put him in a position of power where he could undo the fascist regime from.

Of course, the military was not going to take this lying down, and barely a few years later a Lieutenant General who was close to Franco attempted a coup, invading and occupying the house of Spanish parliament in Madrid (bullet holes can still be seen in the ceiling). Juan Carlos I’s response to this was immediate: dressed in the ceremonial military uniform of the Spanish king, he went on public television, requested that the Spanish people stand firm against the coup, and as commander of the Spanish armed forces, ordered the army to stand down. The next morning, somebody reputedly threw a copy of El Pais, a Spanish newspaper, through the window of the parliament building and the leader of the coup attempt read that the king and the people were indeed standing firm against this power grab, and surrendered. That, ladies and gentleman, is what every monarch in the world should look to for inspiration.

So with bold and admirable actions like these in his CV, it’s little wonder that Juan Carlos I was recently voted the greatest Spaniard in history (Cervantes, author of among others Don Quixote, came in a respectable second – Franco was twenty-third, because like every country, Spain still has a sizeable deadshit population) and is hugely loved and respected by the people of Spain. So here’s to King Juan Carlos I: the man who saved Spain from fascism not once but twice, and a monarch even a republican can love.


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