Yesterday, in Madrid’s centre square, the Puerta de Sol, thousands of Spaniards of all types came together in an act of defiance against the Spanish Constitutional Monarchy upon the news that King Juan Carlos I of Spain, a Bourbon king, had abdicated the throne in favour of his son, Felipe. Spaniards wanted a “#referendumya”—a constitucional referendum.
Having participated and observed 15-M, the Spanish Indignado movement born nearly three years earlier in the same central plaza, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The movement, also known as Democracy Real Ya, was a precursor to the American Occupy movement, to which I was also an observer. Both the Indignados and Occupy had mass appeal and quickly spread to hundreds of cities, creating encampments. Moreover, both those movements were accused of lacking a specific cause. What was this “real democracy”? Who were these bankers, politicians, and corporate goons that were responsible for wealth inequality?
The Indignado and Occupy movements changed the game. While some might accuse them of not making any change, it’s hard to argue that they did not change the international conversation to one about wealth distribution, and the ways that corporations and special interests have infiltrated governments—neoliberalism.
Enter: Madrid 2014. Juan Carlos has been credited as bringing “democracy” to the people. Heir to the Spanish crown and the dictator Francisco Franco’s power, Juan Carlos called for a constitutional monarchy and democratic constitution after Franco’s death in 1975. Juan Carlos also is known for making a stand against a group of military rebels that attempted a coup de e’tat in 1981. More recently, his daughter and her spouse have been accused of corruption. Juan Carlos also has come under criticism in recent years because of his extravagant lifestyle during times of economic crisis. More recently, a younger generation has started to ask the same question their parents asked of Franco, who was it that put this man in power? The answer simply is that Juan Carlos is king because of Franco.
Historically, this is important because before the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) that installed Franco as dictator, Spain was a young Republic. King Alfonso XIII, Juan Carlos’s grandfather, had left Spain. Anarchist in nature, both anti-monarchy and in organisational structure, the Second Spanish Republic lasted only about eight years. The Spanish Civil War, which involved anarchist, fascists, communists, and socialists is often considered a precursor to the Second World War by historians, as the microcosm functioned to demonstrate the destructive nature of nationalism. When Franco’s fascist dictatorship fell, some four decades later, Juan Carlos brilliantly created a state that, like the U.K., was a constitutional monarchy—which is better than a dictatorship, of course.
The question today: Why have Spaniards never voted on whether or not to keep the monarchy? Unlike the British monarchy, Spain never organically developed a system that values and trusts a monarchy. In fact, while many Spaniards might have considered themselves “Juancarlistas”, because of the important role he played in transitioning to a democratic system, they are not monarchists—dubious of the right for any child to inherit her or his power because of blood. This skepticism is one that runs deep, and has its roots in the Spanish Civil War.
Yesterday, when going to the plaza, I expected a 15-M type situation. I expected diverse reasons for bringing people there. This time was different. This time there was only a simple call for a referendum to ask the Spanish people whether or not they want to continue with the monarchy, and to transition into a what would be the Third Spanish Republic. Yesterday, Spaniards came together, calling an assembly to decide first steps, and calling another assembly tomorrow (in true anarchist fashion). Using the 92 Article of the Constitution, with enough signatures, a referendum can be forced, calling for such a change.
The question that previously was held about 15-M, “What is real democracy now?”, has been answered: it’s a call for a structural change to the Spanish State—a Third Spanish Republic. In fact, such a change might even help stave off calls for separation for regions such as Catalunya and Basque Country. Further, this might be a start of a new sort of governmental structure in the 21st century—something that the European Union can learn from. People want autonomy, but also the benefits of a strong social structure that protects citizens. They don’t want inherited wealth and power to crush the average person—a topic even more important now than ever thanks to French economist Thomas Piketty’s treatise, Capital in the Twenty-first Century, that describes how the rate of capital return in developed countries is persistently greater than the rate of economic growth. Those with money and power will only continue to have more of both without checks and balances—and this might be a first test case for how to disrupt that.
Photos from 2 June 2014 in the Puerta de Sol