I returned from Granada, Spain on Tuesday the 3rd of June a triumphant warrior. This is is the story I will tell future generations. With a little specious reasoning I am claiming my part in the abdication of King Juan Carlos of Spain. After all, I was only in Spain a fortnight and their monarch abdicated, little beyond coincidence don’t you think?
Of course in truth I was just fortunate enough to be in Spain on this momentous occasion; there was a palpable excitement that grumbled in the city until it could express itself in the dusk sun. The timing of my visit to Spain could not have been much better if I had been able to peer into a crystal ball and plan it. In the two weeks I was there, there were the European Elections, my birthday, the Champions League Final, an abortions rights demo, and finally the abdication of the King (I may have planned the birthday one).
Although I didn’t particularly want Real Madrid to win La Decima it was an intriguing event to witness in a southern Spanish city, being that both teams were from the capital. Many just viewed it as Fascist FC vs. FC Fascist Light. A makeshift seat on a box by the door of an Irish bar operated as a reasonable observation post for the match and the support base alike. I didn’t see an Atletico shirt until over a week after the final, whereas much like Manchester Utd shirts in England, Real Madrid shirts were everywhere in the build-up to the match. This didn’t mean there wasn’t anybody rooting for Atletico, far from it, just that they were more united in opposition to Real than any real love for Atletico. A Spanish couple with dreadlocks to their knees took to watching the game through the glass doors of the pub whilst smoking what I can only imagine was a small farm’s worth of weed. When Real Madrid scored their second or third goal and the inevitable looked ineluctable the Spanish couple stepped into the doorway and launched a mocking fascist salute in unison and then walked away. It was a confusing gesture and if it weren’t for the dreads I would probably have missed the sardonic irony. Spanish football is so mired in history, in fascism and resistance, that even those to which football is not much more than a distraction find themselves passionately supporting whichever option is the least reprehensible.
Before I witnessed the sorrow and the joy of Real Madrid getting themselves a second big-ears to keep, I witnessed my first Spanish political rally. With my limited Spanish abilities and a little help from my friend I managed to deduce that it was a celebratory rally for an electoral coalition of greens and leftist parties who had run in the European elections. There was a jovial and confident atmosphere and a turn out that would be considered a revolution in Portsmouth. It was exciting to see people unite on the left in a positive mobilisation, they were not out to oppose anything other than austerity and the capitalism that caused it. There was a conspicuous absence of radicals at this rally though. I don’t think this is surprising, the podium, P. A. system, and 25 and up demographic pointed towards this being the electoral left…those and the actual standing in an election. Despite this it was pleasant enough to witness a confident left in good voice, and that’s exactly what they were. I didn’t stay too long, it was my birthday and I had chocolate cake to eat, but luckily I managed to catch the end. The whole crowd joined together in a rendition of what I could only guess was a staple song of the Spanish left. The singing finished, the crowd began to dissipate and then through the P. A. system came the unmistakable grumblings of Eric Idle. “Always look on the bright side of life.” It was a surreal end to a refreshing experience. That night I watched Life of Brian.
A few days after my first encounter with a section of the Spanish left I was making my way to get some assorted tapas when I heard the unmistakable rhythmic drumming that soundtracks most large demos. My interest was piqued and my stomach could wait so I sought out the sound and found a large congregation making its way down the centre of the main street in Granada. This time the radicals were out. It was obvious from the flags, the parachute pants, and hair-cuts that these were the revolutionaries. I read what I could of the leaflets and signs and asked around for any English speakers to try understand what they were marching for. It was an abortion rights demo, one of many happening across Spain, opposing a law that will ban women’s access to abortions on demand. It was another impressive mobilisation, and although it was hard to judge it must have been over 200 people. I couldn’t make out much of the speeches, but the anger was clearly evident and it had pulled together women from across the left spectrum. It was another impressive experience of Spanish politics, although it would probably be met with a similar reaction if such a bill were to be introduced in this country.
It was my last full day in Spain and I started it as I do most days at home, with a cursory glance at the Guardian. There at the top was a piece of news that I absorbed without actually processing meaningfully. I had my breakfast and prepared my things to leave. It was only once I began talking to my friend’s Spanish housemates that the magnitude of the news sunk in. King Juan Carlos of Spain had abdicated the thrown after 39 years. Not only this, people were happy about it. Young people were joyous. We learnt of the plans for a celebration at 8pm and went about our day. There were scattered republican flags around the city and people were talking about it incessantly, even this much was clear to my foreign ear. There were early signs that there would be a significant gathering when the main roundabout in the centre of town had police guiding people through detours. The police presence by 7:30 was distinct. Even if you didn’t know the city you could have easily found your way to the celebration. It was similar in atmosphere to a cup final, wave after wave of jubilant and expectant people pouring towards a point on the map. The flags were becoming more frequent and so too the people. Once we reached the Plaza in which the meeting had coalesced it was near full. Everyone had formed around a point, presumably a speaker or musician or burning flag? Even with my height advantage I could make out very little through the forest of flags; Republican Flags, Andalusian flags, Anarchist Flags, Communist Flags, Black Flags, Andalusian flags with a red star, Republican flags with a red star. All except the Red, Yellow, Red. That was nowhere to be seen, and neither was the focal point of the circle, because there wasn’t one. It was just an elated crowd, triumphant even, but many of them knew that this was not the Republic, and calls for a referendum were sounded as well as placards and leaflets all calling for the same.
Looking at the abdication from a more detached perspective now a few days have passed it is questionable as to whether it will help the republican cause in Spain. It was inspiring to see, once again, the rapid mobilisation of a multitude of leftist groups into a united action. The weather might help, also the region’s history of resistance, but I still took from it a sense of frustration that nothing of similar scale and spontaneity can be achieved in Portsmouth, a city with a similar population size. But sticking with Spain for a moment longer, it remains to be seen whether the excitement, agitation, and anger that led to the Spanish flag being torn down and replaced with a Republican one in Granada can ferment and maintain impetus and take the country a step-closer to the Republic.
The abdication could prove to be a shrewd move by the monarchy. By passing the crown to his son, the King takes with him his support numbers, which had dropped to below 40% not too long ago. His son on the other hand remains popular, polling at around 65%. The coronation will be an epochal moment. If it is handled poorly by the administration and the Royal Family, if its opulence is too stark against the suffering of the people in a country still being crushed under the weight of austerity, it could hand the advantage to the Republican movement. What of the alternative? Well, that seems more likely. The coronation of a young King with relatively high public support would stoke the flames of nationalism and in doing so strengthen the position of the monarchy in the process. It remains to be seen when the coronation will be and what effect it will have on the political landscape in Spain, and right now the best we can do is offer our solidarity to those fighting in Spain; whether to the end the monarchy, against austerity and capitalism, or for women’s right to choose.
Naturally parallels were drawn with the English monarchy and what the abdication would mean here. The parallels are not as clear as has been made out with the political and social history of each country being markedly different in the 20th Century. If the queen abdicated tomorrow, no doubt I would crack out the whisky and start a little sing song but I really don’t think it would boost the anti-monarchy movement. On the contrary, I think it would lead to a period of extended jingoism only matched by the nauseating Jubilee/Olympics double bill. It might be a sour note to end on, and any abdication of a Monarch is worth celebrating but the energy must not be allowed to dissipate into an inaudible grumble, it must stay shouting, chanting, and singing that there is no place for Royalty in a fair society. Until then, just look on the bright side of life, and fight against the rest.