(By: Nicholas García)
Political scandal, embezzlement, extravagant safari trips, and the legacy of the Franco dictatorship. The current Spanish royal family, restored by Francisco Franco in the hopes of continuing his dictatorship, has seen its lowest public approval rating since Juan Carlos was installed in the 1970s. His abdication on June 2nd amidst this scandal and his old age was the cue for organizers all around Spain and Europe to call for an end of the monarchy, a more democratic society, and a rekindling of a Third Spanish Republic.
This wave of anti-monarchist sentiment isn’t a new idea in Spain, and the Spanish monarchy as a current (figure) head of state is far from a stable position. Spain’s long history of booting out and challenging royalty making the crown far less stable then similar royal families, like in England or Sweden. Even though these royal families may purely be symbolic heads of state with minimal political power, these anti-monarchy protests have put the question of the royal family in the center of mass mobilizations. Amidst the current crises in Spain, it can be difficult to see why organizers are choosing to attack the monarchy along with as opposed to the austerity measures and the economy.
These anti-monarchy protests have connected this idea of non-elected heads of state to the core of the austerity crisis, tying their grievances against the royal family to the existing framework against the austerity measures and the economic policies of the Spanish state. The anti-austerity movement analyzes austerity a political project of state and economic elite through forced economic crisis as a pretense to gut state programs and fuel for-profit venture. Therefore Spanish organizers have developed a framework that challenges this political project with democratic-decision making as a solution to the economic crisis, with the anti-austerity movement’s transformative project in direct odds with the concept of a monarchy in the 21st century.
The logic of austerity measures (Neoliberalism, privatization of social services and state industry) that political elites are imposing on huge parts of society seems to follow the same rules over time. Journalist Naomi Klein outlines a history of these austerity projects in her book the Shock Doctrine. She describes as a constant pattern in the reaction of political and economic elites to different kinds of crises. They take advantage of these moments, whether they are caused by economic, political, or natural extremes, to cut social programs and introduce economic and political reforms. These reforms are rationalized as being the only solution to that particular crisis, while leading to negative consequences for everyday people and increasing economic and political power of elite figures.
With the Indignados, 15-M, and the Podemos party, Spanish organizers have launched a successful fight against this pattern. They insisted on their arguments that more democracy and different reforms that would help everyday people are needed to solve these crisis, not an economic project that has never produced beneficial results for the majority of working people.
Going back to the Spanish monarchy: a symbolic head of state that is unelected is antithetical to the goals of a greater democratic state. A head of state surrounded by allegations of corruption that cannot be impeached or voted out in elections symbolizes the institutional problems that Spain and other southern European countries are fighting on the streets. This movement is growing as one aspect of a multi-faceted campaign towards a greater democratic participation with more political, social, and economic power from below.
What makes the anti-monarchy protests effective and significant are the connections to the general frameworks of the anti-austerity movements and the powerful use of symbols in their tactics. The flag of the Second Spanish Republic, has been carried by the thousands in the streets commemorating the anniversary of the end of the dictatorship in April and again during Juan Carlos’s abdication .It symbolizes a historic legitimization of the protests and stands for future possibilities at the same time. Symbolizing the Second Spanish Republic, a transformative political project during the economic depression of the 1930’s that was centered around every issue from greater economic equality, social rights, a robust democratic framework, and regional/ community autonomy, illustrates an alternative response to the economic crisis and alternative political structure. Demanding the creation of a Third Spanish Republic therefore packages all these grievances, ideas, and solutions into one central goal.
Despite the monarchy still being in place and there being no current plan to change the current Spanish constitution, the rapid organizing of this campaign, the widespread media coverage and turnout of supporters is itself a major success for this movement. The reason for this wide popularization and spread of its message is linked to the movement’s connection to the broader social movements in Spain, the powerful idea of a Third Spanish Republic, and also the active creation of international solidarity networks. Articulating a clear connection to the already well-organized anti-austerity movement has made this anti-monarchy movement become a major mobilizing force by using an already well-organized base and well understood framework. Furthermore using this idea of a Third Spanish Republic advances the dialogue around issues that are already in the center of Spanish politics such as social rights, regional autonomy, and greater democratic decision-making. Organizers have also made sure this project has been visible internationally to gain a wider base of support, organizing protests throughout Europe ,the largest in London, Brussels, Paris, and Berlin.
The next issue for this movement in the next coming months is how it will strategize with the potential start of Crown-Prince Felipe’s reign. While this campaign is still budding, it illustrates an important start towards imagining a transformative political, social, and economic project and achieving an alternative institutional framework. That’s not to say there are limits to this framework centered on the monarchy and the idea of a Third Spanish Republic. Romantic Nostalgia plays a large role on both sides of this issue: Royalists support a purely symbolic monarchy as the head of state out of a nostalgia for the old Spanish golden age, and protesters base their ideas off of a nostalgia of a romantic view of the Second Spanish Republic as if it was a democratic utopia before the fascists stormed Madrid in 1939. Hence, even if they got rid of the symbolic monarchy but failed to achieve the necessary changes to deepen democracy and deal with the economic crisis in a progressive way, then the movement will not have achieved much other than a symbolic victory. Therefore, any movement like this that is charged on symbolism and values, must connect the campaign with more tangible platforms and goals that are important to tying the symbolic victories with the material ones.