Even as we await the decisions made by the judges in Switzerland and Spain, there is no doubt about the immorality of the behavior of the king, who for decades was the most admired man in Spain for his role in helping to lead the country from dictatorship to democracy. But the accumulation of evidence and the progression of the investigations hardly matter: The same political class, business community and courtly press that draped a mantle of impunity over the king has come to his rescue. What should be a question of decency and accountability is instead a polarized debate for and against the monarchy.
The emeritus king’s defenders proclaim that despite his faults, his legacy as the father of Spanish democracy is indelible. They consider it paramount to protect the institution at a time of great political fracture and territorial tensions, including Catalonia’s government bid for independence. The argument is legitimate, but loses its meaning when cloaked in conspiracy theories about a coordinated attack by the country’s enemies to overthrow the monarchy. No one has done more to sabotage the monarchy than the former king himself.
European monarchies are relics of the past whose role has been reduced to tasks of diplomatic representation, patriotic symbolism and, let’s face it, entertainment for the masses. The dissolute lives of the monarchs themselves (and their families) have traditionally been accepted, within certain limits. But when scandals involve a network of child abuse, such as the recently revealed connection of Prince Andrew of England to Jeffrey Epstein, or suspicions of corruption, as with Juan Carlos I, that tacit pact is broken and the question resurfaces: Do we need the monarchy?
An institution like the Spanish one cannot be saved by seeking a placid retirement for the former king. Shielding him from the consequences of his actions and maintaining the usual opacity sends the message to the current monarch, Felipe VI, that he would receive the same treatment regardless of his actions.
What we need is an open debate on the model of our state and deep reforms that adapt the monarchy to the times, starting with putting an end to judicial impunity and establishing a culture of transparency. The idea that in the 21st century, kings can appear unclothed, as in Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale, and expect their subjects to simply look the other way can result only in an unhappy ending.
David Jiménez (@DavidJimenezTW) is a writer and journalist. His most recent book is “El director.” This article was translated by Erin Goodman from the Spanish.
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