If one thing could be highlighted from King Juan Carlos’s Christmas message to Spaniards, it would be his clear and powerful defense of politics as an instrument with which to join forces and face up to the economic crisis and various other challenges that lie ahead of this nation. At a time when politics is widely held in disrepute, for reasons which cannot be explained solely by cases of corruption, it is significant that the head of state should come out and defend it as the only democratic tool with which to resolve the country’s problems. Politics is the best way to deal with the difficulties we face both individually and as a society, compared to the temptation to look for shortcuts under the pretext of expediency and effectiveness.
The king’s message clearly took on board the fact that there is a growing pessimism and disengagement within society toward the role of traditional politics and, by the by, the very institutions of state. It is also true that the monarchy itself is not immune from this generalized sense of disaffection and that the institution has been through a particularly hard year, not only as a result of the Urdangarin corruption scandal, but also due to the king’s ill-fated elephant-hunting trip to Botswana, which caused a deep impact among many sectors of the population which finds itself immersed in an economic crisis with no end in sight. In any case, the brief but heartfelt apology made by Don Juan Carlos after his Botswana jaunt had come to light — “I am sorry. I made a mistake. It won’t happen again” — still stands out as the example to be followed by public servants.
In his defense of dialogue as the method to be followed in the search for solutions to Spain’s ills, the king defined this approach as “politics with a capital ‘P’” — the kind that takes an unwavering aim at serving the public interest and seeks to find common ground, in the process knowing that to find an understanding it is always necessary to give a little ground. This is the politics which is firmly based on personal and collective ethical principles, and is capable of sacrificing short-term gain in order to reach broader objectives.
The king offered as an example of this “politics with a capital ‘P’” the process of transition from dictatorship to democracy, difficult years in which, staying true to the values of mutual respect and reciprocal loyalty, the politicians of the day proved capable of “setting up a new framework of coexistence, the recognition of [Spain’s] plurality and the safeguarding of the different languages, cultures and institutions of Spain.”
It is almost redundant to state here that the government and opposition parties should apply these ideas to their politics — today more than ever when, as the king underlined, “we are going through one of the most difficult periods in Spain’s recent history.” But experience does not give much cause for optimism.