Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Big royal family news: Princess Elena, King Juan Carlos's and Queen Sofia's oldest daughter, has separated from her husband, Jaime de Marichalar. (Marichalar and Elena are known as the Duke and Duchess of Lugo.) It's not a legal separation, but it is an officially announced "end to living together."

This is by far the biggest story today in the Spanish media.

The two married in 1995 and have two children, Felipe, aged 9, and Victoria, aged 7. Marichalar suffered a stroke in December 2001, "from which he has only partially recovered."

In case anyone is interested, here's La Vanguardia's photo gallery.

There has been gossip about both of them for a long time. It is said that both of them are borderline retarded; Elena is, at best, shy and not very bright, while Marichalar has a bad reputation as a playboy and cocaine user.

La Vanguardia is reporting that: 1) the decision to separate was made more than a year ago 2) "Marichalar's character changed" after he had his stroke 3) When their first child was born, Marichalar told the media, "Poor kid, he looks like her" 4) Rumors of a separation began in 2004; "Don Jaime, a great follower of fashion, has attended the principal fashion salons alone on many occasions" 5) "He sought refuge among ill-considered friends, and did not follow his designated course of recovery."

El Periodico says, "Recently, the monarch has not been a big fan of Jaime de Marichalar. Among other reasons, because of his lifestyle and his disproportionate passion for luxury. The duke is especially attracted to fashion and cars. After the stroke he suffered in 2001, the princess and her husband distanced themselves from one another. The duke, in very serious condition, showed an incredible will to recover. Thanks to his efforts, he is able to walk and talk with some normality. Once physically recovered, Marichalar decided to live it up. He even gained a malicious nickname from the media: "The Duke of Lujo." It is common to see the King's son-in-law browsing in the most exclusive shops in Madrid."

Looks like the guilty party in media eyes is going to be Marichalar.

It's been a rough year for the King. The El Jueves magazine cover, the attacks from the far right, the Cataloonies burning photos, the controversy over the Ceuta-Melilla visit, and the Hugo Chavez scene. Now this.

Now, I'm a republican with a big R and a small one, too. I prefer a system in which no one has special privileges because of their birth. However, a parliamentary monarchy like Spain or the Netherlands or the UK is a perfectly reasonable form of government, and if it's solving more problems than it's causing, it would be stupid to change it. The question, of course, is when that line is crossed.

I don't think the Spanish monarchy is anywhere near crossing that line. The Spanish royals are generally discreet and well-behaved, they don't cost the State a whole lot of money, and they do their public-relations jobs, opening health clinics and meeting with charity organizers and shaking hands with foreign dignitaries, very well.

I do think Juan Carlos provides a great deal of stability in this country. The only thing we can get the two main parties to agree on is that they both say they support the Constitution, of which Juan Carlos is the living symbol. The old wounds of the Civil War have still not healed, and significant numbers of left voters think the PP are a bunch of Francoists, while significant numbers of right voters think the PSOE are a bunch of Bolsheviks. Lots of them still hate each other.

Juan Carlos is trusted by both sides, though, since if he'd wanted to rule as a military dictator after Franco's death, he could have. Instead, with the cooperation of the responsible elements in Spanish society, Juan Carlos led Spain toward a parliamentary democracy just three years after the dictator's death. People have actually seen him deliver the goods, while staying above partisan politics.

It's commonly said around here that many Spaniards are not monarchists, but they're "Juan Carlosists."

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