Global Politics

Tweet from the Spanish throne — I'm outta here

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Credit: Susana Vera/ Reuters

Spain's King Juan Carlos smiles in one of his latest audiences at the Zarzuela Palace outside Madrid, May 27, 2014. Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on June 2, 2014 that King Juan Carlos will abdicate and Prince Felipe will take over the throne.

You know the nature of royalty is changing when a king announces he is stepping down via Twitter.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

“He’s had a remarkable career, if you can call it that, as the king,” said reporter Gerry Hadden from Barcelona.

King Juan Carlos’ career began during the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco’s regime. The king was a protégé of the dictator. “He was expected to carve out power for himself when Franco died in 1975,” said Hadden. 

“He didn’t do that. He actually became the father of Spanish democracy, helping to usher in a parliamentary democracy.”

And a couple of years later, he saved the democracy he helped create. In 1981, Juan Carlos is credited with stopping a coup when he went on Spanish television and encouraged the military to stay in the barracks and not participate in it.

“Early on in his stewardship of the throne, he was a hero and a father of Spain’s modern democracy,” said Hadden.

Among the more memorable incidents of his reign was one that occurred during the annual Summit of the Americas, when Spain and Latin American nations get together to discuss regional cooperation. 

During those summits, the former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was infamous for going on and on when he spoke. On one occasion, King Juan Carlos was fed up with Chavez and his verbosity, so he called out of turn, “Why don’t you shut up?”

That outburst became a meme in Spain and around the world.

“And the king, at that very moment, probably said what was on the mind of 90 percent of the people watching that summit and present there. And probably his popularity in Spain and other places spiked in that very moment,” said Hadden.

Lately, though, the King’s image was tarnished when he took a secret trip to go elephant hunting in Botswana, while his nation was reeling from high unemployment.

“It was particularly scandalous because, just weeks before he’d gone, he a told reporter in Spain that he was literally unable to sleep at night he was so upset and worried about all the poor Spaniards that couldn’t find work,” said Hadden.

The image of the Spanish royal family has also been tainted by a recent scandal involving his daughter, Princess Cristina, and her husband, Iñaki Urdangarin the Duke of Palma, who are under investigation for corruption and fraud.

However, King Juan Carlos seems to be following a general European trend among royalty. In May of last year, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands stepped aside to make her son, Willem-Alexander of the House of Orange-Nassau, the first king in the Netherlands in 123 years. Then, Belgian King Albert II abdicated his throne in July to make way for his son, Philippe. 

Now, King Juan Carlos is passing this throne to his son, Felipe, who is 46. “There’s no particular scandal going on. They all keep saying it’s time to pass the torch on. I think if Shakespeare were alive today, he’d be yawning," said Hadden. "There is no Richard III, there are no Hamlets in the European royal houses these days.” 

“That’s principally because thrones, in Europe at least, no longer represent power — they are figurehead positions.”

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