EDITORIALOpinion
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Real unity in Spain

King Felipe VI’s statement to the nation has reinforced the collective desire to contain the coronavirus

A family from Seville watching Felipe VI's speech on Wednesday.
A family from Seville watching Felipe VI's speech on Wednesday.Ana López / Europa Press

King Felipe VI of Spain addressed the nation on Wednesday, after the state of alarm declared by the government to curb the spread of the coronavirus had gone into effect.

The remarks by the Spanish head of state came only after Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez had informed Congress about the reasons that led to the confinement of citizens, as well as about the other measures that have been adopted on the health and economic fronts. Besides this institutional reason for scheduling his own speech when he did, Felipe VI addressed citizens only after presiding a task force, the Coronavirus Technical Management Committee, which had met just a few hours earlier.

The exceptional situation that the country is going through made it advisable for the head of state to weigh in – just as advisable as the series of gestures that came before it – in order to send citizens a decisive implicit message along with the explicit one of encouragement and solidarity with the victims of the disease and with those who are fighting it.

The mere fact of the king’s televised appearance was a reminder that the powers of the state are not just united in the battle to contain the pandemic, but also in defining a space of mutual cooperation and trust from which to deal, on all fronts, with the absolute priority of the present moment. For the first time since Spanish politics became stuck in unbearable levels of partisan strife, a royal speech asking everyone to leave their differences aside sounded more like a call to preserve the unity than a call to cease the endless division.

The civil servants whom the king thanked for their commitment and effort these past weeks, which are just a prelude of even more difficult weeks to come, already knew that they could count on him, as on all the citizens who express their support every night from their windows and balconies.

But to hear it from the head of state also corroborated the collective willingness to respect their work by not making it even more difficult than it already is, expressed through citizens’ commitment to closely follow the guidelines for confinement and prevention. The nature of this pandemic is such that protecting oneself against it is not just an act of personal safety; it is, above all, a civic duty toward the people who, according to the medical evidence, are more vulnerable to tragic consequences if transmission is not prevented.

While the head of state was delivering his address, a few citizens decided to stage a protest over recent revelations concerning the personal wealth of the monarch’s father, the emeritus king Juan Carlos. Freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Constitution and by Spanish legislation despite the state of alarm, and in this sense, the individuals who joined the protest were exercising an inalienable right.

But by exercising their right it does not follow that they were doing a better job of upholding the civic duty that is expected of everyone these days, particularly when one has political responsibilities. Failure to recognize the obvious priorities, while putting unrelated problems in the same bag, can only be proof of opportunistic behavior. And opportunism is not what the times require, not what is good for the country, and not what the king’s irreproachable actions deserve.

English version by Susana Urra.