Above all, a monarchy is a spectacle. Its role —as with any other role within the public sphere— relies on appearances. That is why all monarchies always surround themselves with the sort of pomp that aims to elevate the monarch above the general public. Unless the monarch is seen by their subjects as different and superior, people begin to wonder what purpose he serves. And when people begin to ask themselves why they need a king, a monarchy is doomed. Nowadays there are only seventeen monarchies in the world, eighteen if you include the Catholic Pope, the only elected king in the world. At present the extinction of the monarchical institution only seems a matter of time. More so when the king is a controversial figure.
Yesterday King Felipe got the response he deserved from the Catalan public and the nation’s institutions. He had to enter Barcelona’s Palau de la Música [the chosen venue for the MWC gala dinner] without any pomp and almost incognito, with riot police occupying Via Laieta and struggling to contain the city’s noisy protest. In nearby roads, thousands of citizens endured blows and violence from the Catalan police, as well as provocations from royalists, all to ensure that the Spanish king would fully grasp the animosity that he elicits in Catalonia. Local authorities were absent from the gala dinner and most skipped the official reception, which humiliated him in front of the Mobil World Congress’ businesspeople and entrepreneurs. The Speaker of the House, the Mayor of Barcelona and the representatives of the Catalan government all declined the invitation to attend the event. The king had much to explain, particularly when the noisy protests and republican anthems were clearly audible from inside the Palau de la Música, a musical institution whose choir had voiced their discontent over the king’s presence and had publicly asked that he be denied access to the venue. At 9 pm hundreds of thousands of MWC participants across Barcelona heard the deafening banging of pots and pans. Earlier that day, they had been greeted at Barcelona airport by activists wearing yellow ribbons and holding banners [to raise awareness of the political situation in Catalonia].
All in all, the Bourbon king received the response that he deserved from Catalonia, a worthy nation that has proven to him that it will neither surrender nor bend the knee, a nation that remembers the king’s sickening call to violence on TV on October 3. That speech might actually cost him the crown which he inherited from his father, the successor chosen by General Franco.
Above all, a monarchy is a spectacle. But yesterday King Felipe was unable to show that off at all. Quite the opposite. In the street outside, it became apparent that now he can only visit Catalonia when protected by a massive display of violence. Once inside the Palau de la Música, he busied himself trying to conceal his irritation and displeasure by the noise coming from outside rather than trying to present himself to the world as the modern, democratic monarch that he pretends to be. Sitting opposite him, Speaker Roger Torrent wore a yellow ribbon on his lapel and didn’t even bother to applaud the king’s speech out of courtesy. Politically speaking, the king of Spain and the Spanish government were defeated and humiliated in a context that must be understood. When the Spanish authorities staged a coup against Catalonia on September 20 and imposed direct rule on October 28, few people thought that Catalans would hold their ground and counterattack to this extent.
Yesterday it became apparent that the republican movement is on the rise and has overcome the bewilderment that overwhelmed it after the Catalan government surrendered the administration when direct rule was imposed. Furthermore, it is equally obvious that Spain has a colossal problem. The last time that King Felipe had the courage to visit Catalonia was to take part in the march following the jihadist attacks in August. During the demonstration, he had to hear some comments that he was not used to hearing. Once again, yesterday he received a welcome that no monarch, including him, would ever wish to have. Not even the provocation staged by a tiny group of royalist saved the day. The scared, regional Catalonia which they were hoping to bring back through the use of force, violence, prison and exile has failed to replace the republican Catalonia and is nowhere to be seen. The coming weeks will see a new government in Catalonia, the institutional integration between the regional government and the republic’s, plus a demonstration on March 11. Things will likely take a further turn for the better and there will be new opportunities to finish off the job, one that only got halfway done in October. For now, though, you can smile again: King Felipe will not forget Sunday in Barcelona any time soon.