A few years ago, it would have been unthinkable to reach an April 14 with a king accused of fraud, money laundering and using the intelligence services to harass a woman. And yet, the House of Bourbon has done it again. As at other times in history, he has shown a proverbial ability to compensate for the weaknesses of the Republican forces with his excesses.
The case of the so-called juancarlismo will have its place in the history books. After the transition, thousands of convinced Republicans resigned from the Republic for various reasons: because of the blackmail of the old Franco regime and because what they were offered in return was an austere and restrained monarchy. That is to say, a monarchy in which the king would behave righteously, submitting his private interest to the general interest and obeying the law like the rest of mortals. For decades, Juan Carlos de Borbón pretended to seamlessly play the role of citizen-king. It is true that the dynastic parties, the big media and the main factual powers of the country contributed to this with their silence and their complicity. But no one, absolutely no one, could imagine then that the former King of Campeche would become a hateful symbol of waste, corruption and abuse against women. And that, by paradoxical contrast, he would become one of the most notable promoters of the democratic, feminist republicanism that we have to build.
If one looks at the history of the Bourbon dynasty, this drift should not be surprising. Juan Carlos’s grandfather, Alfonso XIII; his great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth II; her mother, María Cristina de Borbón; they all ended up in exile, banished for corruption and doing dark business. All expelled for having behaved not as self-limited constitutional monarchs, but as capricious kings, determined to confuse the public heritage with their own heritage and always reluctant to any constitutional limit.
Juan Carlos de Borbón tried by many means not to repeat the history of his ancestors. But in the end he ended up corroborating it. Dynastic progressivism or, if you will, the so-called Juancarlista republicanism, did everything to protect it. Felipe González did it, granting him a wide margin to develop his private business. It was done by renowned socialist, conservative and nationalist leaders, who understood that the Crown was not a simple decorative piece, but the mortar of powerful financial, real estate, rentier interests from which they could also benefit.
That pact of silence helped Juan Carlos de Borbón to simulate what he never was: a parliamentary monarch, self-contained and respectful of legality. When the smell of rot became unbearable, that of his own son, Felipe VI, recognized that his father could have laundered money and defrauded the treasury. He did it taking advantage of the state of alarm and the real shock in which the pandemic had plunged the citizenry. Even so, the earthquake was such that the emeritus was starring in a new exile, this time to Abu Dhabi.
The attempts to shelve the corruption of which Juan Carlos is accused have been persistent. The PP, Vox and the PSOE have blocked more than a dozen investigative commissions in Congress. The Prosecutor’s Office has taken years to open an investigation and the former monarch has been provided with opportunities for fiscal regularization that would not have been recognized for any normal citizen.
The crater opened around the private performances of Juan Carlos de Borbón is too deep and the materials it continues to emit are highly toxic. The latest episode has been the harassment and illegal surveillance of his former partner Corinna Larsen, in a foreign state – the United Kingdom – and using the Spanish intelligence services for this.
The accusation is very serious. And British judge Matthew Nicklin has made it clear that he cannot be dismissed on the grounds of royal inviolability. In doing so, he has suggested several things: that Spain has never had a parliamentary monarchy worthy of the name; that if he had it, inviolability could not have been used as a synonym for impunity or as a carte blanche to commit crimes. And above all, that the latest performances of Juan Carlos de Borbón are not due to a late personality mismatch, that this way of relating to money, women and intelligence services are not new. That a man who acts like this cannot be very different from the one who handed over the Saharawi people to Hassan II in 1975. Neither the one who, among his first international trips as head of state, chose Pinochet’s Chile or Videla’s Argentina, nor the one who acted as an intermediary in arms deals, not even the one offered by Repsol to the Russian oligarchs linked to Putin and Lukoil. None of that is improvised in the twilight of life. And none of this can be explained without the direct link between the current Bourbon monarchy and a corrupt, patrimonial and arbitrary regime such as Franco’s.
Those of us who identify with republican ideals know well that a democratic Republic is much more than the absence of a monarchy. That implies citizen participation in public affairs; defense of decent work and common goods; honesty in the exercise of the public function; separation of Church and State; defense of peace as an instrument of foreign policy; social, environmental, gender justice. But we also know, from historical experience, that none of this can be conquered in depth if the privileges linked to this anachronistic form of domination are not rooted out.
If the excesses of Juan Carlos de Borbón keep republican hopes alive, it is precisely for this reason. Because whatever the weaknesses of the republican movements, they remind us of something basic: that the monarchy, as the republicans of the 19th century said, is the last vestige of the caste regime, with its court, its privileges, its abuses. And that, precisely for that reason, you cannot compromise with it. Because the democratic principle forbids it, because reason forbids it and because the feeling of our own dignity and that of others prevents us from doing so. We would do well to keep it in mind this April 14. To continue building the Republic in the institutions and outside of them. And to make republicanism not only a matter of conviction, but also of character, of temperament, of being in the world.