The Other King’s Speech

The Spanish call it “23F” – February 23rd – the day King faced down fascism. This year is the thirtieth anniversary.

The story really starts with the Civil War. There were no good guys, just Stalin’s bad guys versusHitler’s bad guys. Eventually, Hitler’s bad guys won. The dictatorship of Francisco Franco lasted from 1939 to 1976. Though monarchists, along with centrists and Catholics, had generally backed Franco against the Popular Front of communists and socialists, Franco deeply distrusted the exiled heir to the throne. He suspected him of liberal and democratic sympathies. Instead the general decided to skip a generation and give control of the Spanish state to Juan Carlos, grandson of the last King. On Franco’s death, Juan Carlos officially became ‘head of state’ but had himself crowned as King of Spain.

Few people trusted the new King. Franco’s Falangists suspected that his loyalty to their party may have been merely for appearances. Moderates found him too close to Franco, and the left was traditionally hostile to the monarchy. Few people knew that he had been in regular phone contact with his exiled father and had held secret meetings with the leaders of the banned socialist party.

Almost from his first day as King, Juan Carlos began systematically to demolish the structures of Franco’s fascist state. This is a unique achievement. Other totalitarian states have fallen, but none has been deliberately dismantled from within. First, conservative, centrist and socialist parties were legalized, then, under clear pressure from the King, the communist party followed. Though socialist leader, Felipe Gonzalez, was reconciled to constitutional monarchy, communist leader Santiago Carrillo nicknamed the King “Juan Carlos the brief” and was convinced that the monarchy would soon be swept away.

The King ensured a new constitution was adopted, and Spain proceeded to its first democratic elections since the 1930s. By 1981, the government of centrist, Adolfo Suarez was failing, and parliament convened to elect a new Prime Minister. It was at that moment that disillusioned fascists in the Spanish military acted. Colonel Tejero stormed the packed parliament with a contingent of the national guard and tanks took to the streets in Valencia. It is said that all but three members of parliament dived for the floor when Tejero’s men shot into the air. The Defense minister stood and ordered Tejero to surrender. Acting PM Suarez remained seated. Communist leader Carrillo calmly lit a cigarette.

Throughout the day, the King worked the phones, calling senior army officers to ensure their loyalty. While the whole cabinet was at the parliament, he summoned junior ministers to palace. In the evening he made a televised address. As the symbol of national unity, he assured the people that their government continued. As commander in chief, he reminded soldiers that they had no authority to wage war on the Spanish government and people. He ordered them to surrender.

The next morning, devoid of support, Tejero surrendered. Carrillo, the communist leader, yelled “God save the King”, and emotionally told the media “today we are all monarchists”. For the thirtieth anniversary, Juan Carlos should receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Spanish monarchy is the most popular and secure in the world. Are the Sheikhs and Emirs of the Gulf watching this anniversary? Are the Kings of Morocco and Jordan? The internet is here guys. Do you really think you are ready?


Article provided by Quentin Langley
Lecturer in PR and Political Communications,
School of Journalism, Cardiff University

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