|King Juan Carlos I of Spain, 1975 - 2014|
Americans might have missed that Spain recently coronated a new monarch, King Felipe VI, son of the outgoing Juan Carlos I, who--in a move that surprised the world--abdicated his throne a few months ago. Citing the need for a younger generation to take on Spain's current economic challenges, King Juan Carlos, voluntarily relinquished his power to his son.
It would be truly surprising if he hadn't voluntarily relinquished power before.
Before we get to that, you should realize that the Spanish monarchy isn't as much a figurehead as the British monarchy we Americans are seemingly much more familiar with. While the Spanish constitutional monarchy, like that of the British, entitles the ruling family with the embodiment and representation of the state, the current Spanish monarch is also tasked to act as commander-in-chief of the Spanish armed forces and to take a more proactive role in Spain's international affairs of state. The same can be said of the British monarch, though with greater oversight by the parliament.
So when has Juan Carlos relinquished power previously? Juan Carlos, grandson of the previous monarch, was hand-picked by dictator Francisco Franco to succeed him. Juan Carlos was coronated two days after Franco died. Franco ran Spain as a dictator from 1939 until his death in 1975, coming to power with an iron fist (see our blog on Guernica) and with support from the likes of Hitler and Mussolini. His decades-long regime survived that of his more notorious allies, but was as replete with concentration and forced labor camps and all the nasty human rights abuses typically attributable to dictators. Unlike his contemporaries, Franco got to keep his atrocities going for more than 35 years.
I imagine it was expected that Juan Carlos, having been picked by Franco, might continue ruling Spain with the same iron-fisted oppression as Franco, but soon after becoming King, Juan Carlos began to dismantle Franco's government and set Spain on the path to democracy.
We Americans have a nearly two-plus century legacy of our leaders voluntarily relinquishing power. Many were actually surprised that George Washington stepped aside quietly to allow John Adams to become President. So we might forget how big a deal it is that someone actually lets go of power. Spain's Juan Carlos actually did it twice.
|King Juan Carlos, I of Spain|
In tomorrow's blog we introduce you to Spain's new King Felipe VI.