All news bulletins last night and all Spanish newspapers this morning acknowledge the role of the King and Queen of Spain in the mass held in Madrid yesterday for the victims of the Madrid bombing and indeed throughout the last two weeks. The Spanish royal family is quite unique in the way they are respected and loved by their population, and when you see them act as they did yesterday, and in fact as they have done throughout the past two weeks, it is easy to see why.
King Juan Carlos played a fundamental role in Spain’s transition from dictatorship to democracy in reconciling the Spanish military and different political parties, and providing Spain with a figure of authority who firmly supported the creation of a democratic Spanish State. When Spain suffered its coup d’etat in 1981 and the military held government leaders hostage in the parliament, King Juan Carlos addressed the nation on television and radio, assuring Spanish people that the coup would fail and democracy would prevail, and ordering the Spanish military supporting the coup to surrender their arms and respect the constitution.
He also played a key role in setting up an emergency substitute constitutional government until the political leaders were released by the military.
More recently, on the same day of the terrorist attacks, the King Juan Carlos, Queen Sofia, Prince Felipe and his fiance Letizia all visited victims in the hospitals. They, and the princesses (who both work) have returned to the hospitals various times since, often without the press being told beforehand, according to witnesses, as well as chatting to patients, hospital staff and families, the King has even encouraged and helped victims to stand up and start walking again. In his speech to the nation on the day of the terrorist attack, the King was the only political leader who declined to name ETA as the perpetrator of the attacks.
The Prince and his fiance have cancelled all parties and firework displays scheduled to precede and follow their wedding in May, and have said that all the money that was going to be spent on these festivities will go to the victims families fund. Yesterday after the mass, the King ignored protocol and instead of walking out of the cathedral after the blessing, he and the Queen, followed by the other members of their family, greeted the victims family members one by one for over half an hour, offering their best wishes and commiserations and sharing in their grief. All members of the Royal family wept with the families. Even if you have your reservations about monarchies in general, especially given the behaviour and distant attitudes of some royal families across Europe, you cannot deny the ability of the Spanish Royal Family to get involved in national events and to succeed in getting close to the people and being respected by the vast majority of Spaniards.