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Abdication or the Crisis of the Second Bourbon Restoration

The Future of the Kingdom of Spain

by DANIEL RAVENTOS and JULIE WARK

Barcelona.

With the abdication of King Juan Carlos I and proclamation of his son as the new King of Spain, Felipe VI (followed by two solid hours of hand-kissing by a fashionable line-up of 2,000 guests), Spanish newspapers have recently been awash with articles, cringeful in their servility and unctuously detailing the infinite array of personal, political – even sportsmen’s – virtues that readers are supposed to believe have come to roost in the House of Bourbon genes of this father-son duo. A few pages, very few by comparison, have linked the abdication with the crisis of the regime which was installed in 1978 and known to some as the Second Bourbon Restoration.

There are at least five notable symptoms of the crisis, which we shall detail below in an order that does not imply either greater or lesser significance. Indeed, they are all interrelated. First, is the deterioration of the royalist two-party system led by the rightwing PP (Partido Popular – People’s Party) and the “socialist” PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero Español – Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party), which was spectacularly confirmed and aggravated in the recent European Parliamentary elections in which the PP narrowly beat the PSOE while new, smaller political movements won two out of five votes. In particular the group Podemos (We Can), which emerged just a few months ago from the indignados and other mass-based movements won five seats (7.9% of votes). Podemos leader, Pablo Iglesias, expressed this first symptom very clearly when he told journalists, “We can’t talk about the end, but we can talk about the beginning of the end of bipartisanship. We have to throw them out because they’re the ones who have ruined the country”.

Second, is the irruption on to the scene of the so-called “territorial conflict” which, for some time, has been causing more than a few conniptions and attacks of apoplexy, not to mention serious allergy, in the Kingdom of Spain. Notable here is the widely supported Catalan democratic campaign for the right to decide, which has shaken up Catalonia, Spain and the regional and national parties. Some analysts relate this increasingly vocal movement with the economic crisis but for anyone who wants to understand the economic crisis, the Catalan campaign for the right to decide, or both, such simplistic lumping together of two very different signs of the times only muddies the waters. Naturally, there are points of intersection and overlap but there is one fact that is very clear to everyone: the crisis and the government’s kneejerk economic policies in response have hit – bashed, more like it – lower-income groups in Catalonia, La Rioja, Asturias, Cantabria, Extremadura, Madrid and Murcia, for example, yet the burgeoning claim for the right to decide has come from Catalonia but not from La Rioja Asturias, Cantabria, Extremadura, Madrid or Murcia. It’s easy to understand why this is so but part of the left doesn’t get it. One still hears people of impeccable leftwing credentials saying things like, “Yes, we want independence for Catalonia but independence from the markets too”. The logical response can be formulated fairly succinctly with a few questions like, if Catalonia achieved independence from Spain, would it be more dependent on the markets than it is now? Wouldn’t the right to decide help to bring down the regime that has emerged from the Second Bourbon Restoration at a time when demonstrations against it are getting bigger not smaller? Wouldn’t the Catalan democratic process support Spanish self-determination in defence of a republic and in opposition to the Bourbon monarchy which was imposed by the dictator Franco?

One of the more impressive examples of party disintegration brought about by the Catalan process is the PSC (Partido de los Socialistas de Cataluña – Socialists’ Party of Catalonia) whose tinny, hypocritical “federalism” partly explains its demise. The PSC has failed to understand that any federalism worthy of the name must recognise the right to self-determination and, by opposing this right, it has become just another royalist unionist party. After its dismal performance in last month’s European elections when its share of the votes dropped to 14% from 36% of the Catalan vote in 2009, the former governing party is today’s also-ran, suffering from an ailment taking the form of excruciating fissures which some have diagnosed as PASOKitis. Only a few months ago intellectuals, opinion makers and journalists of all stripes and talents were asserting that the right-to-decide movement was a soufflé that was going to flop very soon, a fly-by-night phenomenon without many supporters, that it was going to be manipulated by the right … and some of them are still saying the same things but shouting louder, as if that could negate the fact that the movement is growing, that it has a solid mass base and that it is increasingly vocal, lucid and well organised. To add to the regime’s woes, on 29 May the Basque parliament proclaimed that Euskal Herria (Basque Country) “has the right to self-determination and this right resides in the power of its citizens to decide its political status freely and democratically”. More fuel to the flames that are cooking something rather more substantial than a soufflé in this regime crisis.

Third, is the tremendously obvious decline in political representation, mainly due to pervasive corruption – throughout the system, from the national executive and judiciary to many organs of local government – the vassalage of public institutions to big business, part of which is a busy revolving door ushering politicians through to highly paid sinecures. In the energy sector alone, the “Benidorm of the politicians”, former (PSOE) president Felipe González, present (PP) austerity manager, Cristóbal Montoro, former minister (PSOE) Elena Salgado, former (PP) Minister for the Interior Ángel Acebes and plenty of others are all over-feeding from the same trough.

Fourth, is the Bourbons’ fall from whatever grace they might have had. On 25 June, a court upheld corruption charges against the new king’s outcast sister, Princess Cristina (conspicuously absent from the coronation and erased from the royal family website), thus paving the way for an unprecedented criminal trial, which will bring revelations that a delete button and exile in Geneva can’t whitewash. The Spanish public already knows that Princess Cristina’s husband, royal brother-in-law and swindler Iñaki Urdangarin says that women aren’t intelligent, that he made obscene jokes about the new Queen Letizia and that King Juan Carlos had to try to find him a job. As for his wife, she is accused of using her husband’s dodgy business to launder embezzled public money for home decoration, salsa classes, clothes, trips and other such royal needs in a country brought to its knees by the economic crisis and the government’s ham-fisted “austerity” measures that have caused the unemployment figure for the under-25s to rise to a shocking 57%. The fallen princess showed symptoms of serious amnesia regarding her profligacy with public money when questioned in court some months ago. Her father, desperately trying to shore up the royal image when the scandal broke, was obliged to claim that, “Justice is equal for all”. It isn’t of course. The PP is now desperately trying to push through a law considered by many jurists as anti-constitutional, to give his former majesty retroactive impunity. With at least two paternity claims against him from offspring preceding his official brood, the hurry is understandable. Then again, and even more pressing, questions are being raised as to how a once-impoverished king got to acquire a fortune of around two billion dollars. What was the exact nature of his friendship with the criminal tax-evading commodity trader, Marc Rich, who was mysteriously pardoned by President Clinton in his last hours in office after he was pressured by the King of Spain and several high-up Israeli officials? Or were his friendships with some of the less savoury Arab potentates, including Libya’s Gaddafi, really in the interests of the Spanish people? This is a very opaque fortune.

Fifth, and the logical corollary of the other four points, is increasing repression, a common symptom in moribund regimes. A series of laws and legal “reforms”, approved or in the process of being so (abortion law, gagging laws, et cetera), all constitute attacks on citizens’ freedoms. On the day of his coronation, Felipe VI swore he would uphold democratic freedoms even while displays of the red, yellow and purple flag of the Second Republic were banned, and several demonstrators showing the colours were arrested. The repression is selective of course, as recent examples show. Two well-known high-class serial mega-swindlers Díaz Ferrán and Fèlix Millet got two- and one-year sentences respectively, while striking Andalusian workers who forced a bar to close in the last general strike got four years. In April this year Amnesty International published a report titled Spain: The Right to Protest Under Threat, warning that the right to peaceful protest is under threat, and that the police are using batons and rubber bullets against demonstrators, injuring and maiming both protestors and bystanders with complete impunity. Under Spanish law, individuals deemed to be leaders of unauthorised demonstrations can be fined up to 30,050 euros. Yet, undeterred by all this, more and more people are coming out into the streets and squares to protest, in addition to organising democratic, grassroots, and ethical forms of representation at both national and local levels.

There are other symptoms of the crisis of the regime of the Second Bourbon Restoration but empires have been toppled for less than these five.

Daniel Raventós is a lecturer in Economics at the University of Barcelona and author inter alia of Basic Income: The Material Conditions of Freedom. He is on the editorial board of the international political review Sin Permiso www.sinpermiso.info). 

Julie Wark is an advisory board member of the international political review Sin Permiso. Her last book is The Human Rights Manifesto (Zero Books, 2013).