Monarchies in perspective

19 04 2012

We are sure that many readers will have noted the recent reports regarding then honorary president of the Spanish branch of the World Wildlife Fund, King Juan Carlos of Spain fell over and injured himself while on an elephant shoot in Botswana.

At Digital Journal it is stated that WWF is supposedly an international environmental organization that advocates, amongst other things, the protection of the African elephant. That their honorary president was blasting away at elephants on safari, got some attention, and the king quickly resigned his position.

The same report says that this hunting mishap is no surprise as the king “has been hunting all of his life, it is hardly a secret. In fact in 2006, it emerged the Royal had allegedly shot a domestic bear fed honey-laced vodka, to slow its reactions during a hunting trip in Russia.”

But there is much more to this story, with some remarkable links to Thailand, both in terms of similarities and differences. We thanks the regular reader who sent us in search of this material.

On the basic story, while there are now hundreds of articles available, the one at the Christian Science Monitor is a reasonable place to begin.

The story tells us that in “the first public apology by a Spanish monarch in history,” King Juan Carlos apologized for “taking a lavish hunting vacation amid sharp austerity cuts” at home. His apology amounted to 11 words.

Obviously, royals in many places live in the lap of luxury and ideas about austerity seem far removed from their lives, even if they do occasionally speak of the need for others to be more careful (as in Spain) or to make do (as in Thailand). They still enjoy their wealth, supplemented by public funds.

In the case of the safari for Juan Carlos, apparently he was being feted by a wealthy Saudi Arabian businessman. The pictures of the king posing with a dead elephant are everywhere (see below).

In Spain, there have been a series of recent scandals that are said to “have tested popular faith in the monarchy, seen as a unifier in post-Franco Spain.” That too sounds a bit like the “eye-opening” events seen in Thailand in recent years, from political meddling and coup plotting to lavish spending and locking people up for “insulting” the monarchy.

The royal apology only came after “several days of intense public pressure,” something unimaginable in Thailand because of the draconian lese majeste law.

At least Spain doesn’t regularly use such a draconian law to suppress commentary, even though it continues to exist there:

The uproar triggered extremely rare criticism that mushroomed quickly, from discreet comments by political leaders to popular chatter on Twitter and condemnation on talk shows. Several politicians openly called for his the king’s abdication – a demand not made in nearly a century, and one that is rocking the pillars of an already shaky establishment.

Not in Thailand…. Lese majeste does have a function in suppressing this kind of criticism.

Like the king in Thailand, “King Juan Carlos is much more than a figurehead monarch. He is credited with being a unifying presence in Spain and is, to most, a guarantor of Spanish national identity.” Very familiar royalist nonsense seen in most places where this political anachronism persists against the tide of history.

Royalists in Spain argue that the criticism has allowed the king to realize that he has made a “big mistake.” Such criticism is unimaginable in Thailand.

Juan Carlos is Spain’s first king since the monarchy was restored in 1978 after the death of Fascist dictator Franco, who had personally selected Juan Carlos for the job.  Spaniards abolished the monarchy in 1931, after voting in a republican government.

Juan Carlos is “credited with saving the country’s fledgling democracy in 1981, when he went on television and condemned an attempted military coup and privately demanded that those involved give up.” While the king in Thailand is often credited with being some kind of democrat, he has never criticized a coup, except when it seemed to be against his selected prime ministers, as in 1977 and 1981.

Even if Spaniards have usually been rather coy in criticizing the monarchy, ” the image of the monarchy has been consistently diminished for years. Spaniards gave the monarchy an unsatisfactory grade in the most recent poll, taken in October 2011…”. Again, that would be unthinkable in Thailand. And, that poll came prior to recent poor publicity.

Those scandals include:

the king’s grandson was injured lightly in his foot in a shooting accident, and his parents could be legally liable for allowing a child to use a firearm. There is also an ongoing trial against the king’s son-in-law, who is accused of embezzling millions of euros in public funds, a particularly egregious thing amid the country’s extreme economic hardship.

On the shooting of the prince earlier in April, the Daily Mail Online reported:

The 13-year-old grandson of Spain’s King Juan Carlos is recovering after accidentally shooting himself in the foot with a shotgun….Felipe Juan Froilan was doing target practice outside the family home north of Madrid, when he misfired into his foot as he walked…. Under Spanish law, it is illegal for children under 14 to possess or discharge firearms…. A palace official declined to comment on the infraction.

Most injuries to Thai royals are carefully kept secrets and even speculating on royal health has led to lese majeste investigations.

But then the report goes on to mention an earlier gun accident when the royal family was in exile in Portugal and that has haunted the Spanish royal family:

In March 1956, Juan Carlos was handling a gun that accidentally went off and killed his 14-year-old younger brother Alfonso…. The king, then 18, was reported to have been completely shocked and devastated and was said to have told family and friends that he ‘felt responsible.’

That event will rings bells for those with an interest in Thailand’s royal history. But first, some background from Wikipedia.

It tells us that on Maundy Thursday in March 1956 the brothers Alfonso and Juan Carlos were at their parents’ home when the former “died in a gun accident.” As Wikipedia explains, the Spanish Embassy in Portugal issued a communiqué, which sounds remarkably similar to the same kind of event at Bangkok’s Grand Palace a decade earlier:

Whilst His Highness the Infante Alfonso was cleaning a revolver last evening with his brother, a shot was fired hitting his forehead and killing him in a few minutes. The accident took place at 20.30 hours, after the Infante’s return from the Maundy Thursday religious service, during which he had received Holy Communion.

The Wikipedia account continues:

Very quickly, however, rumours appeared in newspapers that the gun had actually been held by Alfonso’s brother Juan Carlos at the moment the shot was fired. Josefina Carolo, dressmaker to Alfonso’s mother, said that Juan Carlos playfully pointed the pistol at Alfonso and pulled the trigger, unaware that the pistol was loaded. Bernardo Arnoso, a Portuguese friend of Juan Carlos, also said that Juan Carlos fired the pistol not knowing that it was loaded, and adding that the bullet ricocheted off a wall hitting Alfonso in the face. Helena Matheopoulos, a Greek author who spoke with Alfonso’s sister Pilar, said that Alfonso had been out of the room and when he returned and pushed the door open, the door knocked Juan Carlos in the arm causing him to fire the pistol.

Unlike, Thailand where royal secrecy and decades of cover up has led to speculation and rumor, Wikipedia states:

Most historians agree nowadays that the pistol was fired by Juan Carlos by accident. After the accident, the father, Don Juan de Borbón, sent Juan Carlos back to Spain immediately after the funeral and, because of pain and anger against Juan Carlos, did not talk to him for a while.

There have been various stories about the origins of the pistol. The most frequently repeated is that it was a gift to Alfonso from General Franco.

Such statements are, like so much else associated with a monarchy that thrives on a lack of transparency and scrutiny, unthinkable for Thailand. For Thailand, the most recent account of the shooting in 1946, which includes some interesting new documents, can be found at Zenjournalist (and our pics are mostly from that site).

The story of the tribulations of the Spanish monarchy, re-created by military Fascists and claimed to be democratic and enjoying the fruits of monarchy, seems to fit Thailand’s circumstances  in ways that are  uncanny.



3 responses

23 04 2012
The King’s a killer!-Guardian « FACT – Freedom Against Censorship Thailand

[…] analysis by Political Prisoners in Thailand: and comments by WWF at Global Voices: […]

27 08 2012
Monarchies in comparison « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] may recall that back in April this year, PPT posted regarding the scandal facing the Spanish king at that time and some of the historical coincidences […]

27 08 2012
Monarchies in comparison « Political Prisoners of Thailand

[…] may recall that back in April this year, PPT posted regarding the scandal facing the Spanish king at that time and some of the historical coincidences […]

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