How a top yachtsman donned crown, won Spain's affections
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``Juan Carlos has managed to discard the stigmas of the Bourbons,'' says Andreu Claret, spokesman for the Communist Party. Spaniards have long viewed the Bourbons as Frenchified, haughty kings removed from the people.Skip to next paragraph
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In dismantling the Franco regime with great tact, Juan Carlos succeeded where his grandfather, Alfonso XIII, the last king of Spain before the civil war, had failed. Alfonso XIII, who had upheld the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera from 1923 to 1930, proved ineffectual in trying to hand down liberties and went into exile on the coming of the Republic.
Along with an astounding memory for names and faces, Juan Carlos has shown good intuition. His naming Adolfo Su'arez as prime minister in 1976 to carry out reforms was greeted by everyone with dismay. Su'arez was a product of the ``movimiento'' -- the only political party authorized during the Franco era. But Su'arez proved to be the very man who knew all the legal intricacies of the old regime and could take it apart from within.
The king's simple life style has made some of Spain's elite feel let down by the return of the monarchy -- no sumptuous palace, no court, no sartorial splendor. Known as ``Juanito'' to his family, Juan Carlos prefers on occasion to be addressed as ``Seor'' rather than ``majestad.'' Juan Carlos heads the lowest-budget royal household after the Duchy of Luxembourg.
Yet, conscious of his role, he compels respect and maintains a certain distance even with his children. His family includes Queen Sofia, of Greek royal lineage, two daughters, and one son.
Juan Carlos shares with his friend, King Hussein of Jordan, a passion for piloting planes and sitting up at night to operate a radio set. Juan Carlos is also an active sportsman. At the end of a visit to the Mercedes Benz factory in West Germany, a bright-eyed King leapt into a model car and, to everyone's dismay, drove around the test track at 130 miles per hour.
Stories of the King picking up stranded motorists on his motorcycle rival those of huffed switchboard operators who have hung up more than once on ``some man pretending to be the King.''
Others joke that Juan Carlos owes his legitimacy to his popularity -- and his height. For Spaniards, the six-foot-four athletic frame of the King is no small part of his prestige. ``What would have happened in Spain had Juan Carlos been short, dark, roly-poly, and scruffy?'' asks a Western diplomat, tongue-in-cheek.
As moderator of Spain's political life, the King cannot step down into the political arena and take sides on issues. But he can influence policy and make statements on foreign relations.
If anything, Juan Carlos will be remembered for using his authority to send the Army back to its barracks on the night of Feb. 23, 1981, when Army generals attempted a coup. His credibility stems from that night in which Spain reaffirmed its democracy.
Ten years after taking the throne, analysts agree that the King heads a society free from the threat of military coups.
Today, past habits and old faces from the Franco era mix ambiguously with new mores and young, coming personalities. Moreover, the peaceful transition from dictatorship to democracy did not do away with a centralized administration. Nor did it do away with the attitude that goes with such a system -- the bartering of influence, the ``state-must-take-care-of-me'' mentality. Political apathy that had taken root in the Franco years has not been entirely shaken off.
Yet Spain's unique experience has been of great value to other nations, especially in Latin America. Countries like Argentina and Uruguay have looked to the Spanish example to inspire their own transitions to democracy.
In 1978, King Juan Carlos, as chief ambassador of a democratic Spain, successfully carried off a controversial visit to the Argentina of the generals. A plain civilian suit and a curt handshake took the place of the customary embrace. Argentines remember Juan Carlos dearly.