Felipe VI praises "a united and diverse Spain" in an entirely-Spanish speech referring only to a single nation
The new King of Spain, Felipe VI, highlighted the unity of the country but also its diversity in his first speech as monarch. In a ceremony before the Spanish Parliament and Senate on Thursday morning, Felipe VI gave a speech portraying the guidelines of his reign, just after swearing loyalty to the Constitution, including the Autonomous Communities, as he stressed. He defined himself as "a Constitutional King", who is "the symbol" of "the unity and permanence of Spain". However, he also highlighted that "unity does not mean uniformity" and he pointed out that the Constitution asks "to respect and protect" the different languages in Spain, which are "a shared heritage" and "bridges for dialogue". Despite praising "diversity", Felipe VI delivered his speech entirely in Spanish, despite a small final greeting in Catalan, Basque and Galician. In addition, he defined Spain as "a great nation" to be "proud of", without mentioning Spain's pluri-national status.
Barcelona (ACN).- The new King of Spain, Felipe VI, highlighted the unity of the country but also its diversity in his first speech as monarch. However, he only talked about Spain as a single nation and only used Spanish in his speech, not reading a full sentence in any of the three other official languages. In a ceremony before the Spanish Parliament and Senate on Thursday morning, Felipe VI addressed the audience with a speech portraying the guidelines of his reign, just after swearing loyalty to the Constitution. At this point he swore to respect as well the Autonomous Communities. He defined himself as "a Constitutional King", who is "the symbol" of "the unity and permanence of Spain". Felipe VI asked to go beyond "what has separated and divided us" and focus on "what unites us". However, he also highlighted that "unity does not mean uniformity" and he pointed out that the Constitution asks "to particularly respect and protect" the different languages in Spain, which are "a shared heritage" and "bridges of dialogue". Moreover, despite praising "diversity", Felipe VI delivered his speech entirely in Spanish, despite a two-word final greeting in Catalan, Basque and Galician. In addition, he defined Spain as "a great nation" to be "proud of", without mentioning Spain's pluri-national status. Despite ignoring that Article 2 of the Constitution states that Spain "is formed of nationalities and regions", and therefore ignoring Catalonia's nationhood status, the new King emphasised that "in this Spain, we all fit in" and "all the ways of feeling Spanish".
As from this Thursday at 00.00am, Felipe VI is Spain's new Head of State, replacing his father King Juan Carlos I, who signed the Abdication Law on Wednesday afternoon. At 10.30am, Felipe VI swore to respect the Constitution and gave his first speech as King, before a joint session of the Spanish Parliament and Senate.
His ancestor Felipe V abolished Catalonia's self-rule and persecuted Catalan language
Felipe de Borbón y Grecia will reign as Felipe VI, while his predecessor and relative Felipe V was the first king of the current Bourbon dynasty. After the War of Succession, back in 1714, Felipe V created a Unitarian Spain and built the Spanish nation state, since earlier the Spanish crown was formed of several kingdoms. Between 1700 and 1714, Catalonia fought a war against the Bourbons and lost, and the new King Felipe V imposed draconian rules against Catalans "as the conqueror's right". He abolished Catalonia's self-government institutions and laws, including one of the oldest parliaments in Europe, the Catalan Courts, formally dating from the 13th century. Felipe V also started to persecute Catalan language and culture; a political, social and cultural persecution that was replicated throughout several periods in the 18th, 19th and 20th century. Now, 300 years later, his descendant Felipe VI reaches the Throne with Catalonia's self-determination claims on the table as probably the most pressing issue to deal with.
Felipe VI only talks in Spanish and ignores the existence of several nations within Spain
In the past few days, many people have been speculating about Felipe VI's first speech and whether he would use Catalan, Galician and Basque, as well as Spanish, in his first address. These languages are all official languages in certain areas of Spain, and are the mother tongue of millions of Spanish citizens. For these reasons, as the future monarch, the new King studied them when he was Crown Prince and, for instance, it is said that Felipe VI is quite fluent in Catalan. In the current political environment, considering the opportunity that a change of King represents, many were expecting him to make a symbolic gesture and use languages other than Spanish. He did not. Felipe VI only talked in Catalan, Basque and Galician at the very end of this 26-minute speech to merely say "thank you", a two-word greeting that is far from meeting expectations for increased plurality and diversity.
However, the new King particularly emphasised that "Spain's languages" are "a common heritage that deserves special respect and protection", as the Constitution reads. When the Spanish Government is trying to push for an Education Reform that will reduce the presence of Catalan and its knowledge among non-Catalan speaking children, or when the People's Party (PP) is passing measures that sideline the Catalan language in the Balearic Islands, Aragón and Valencia, Felipe VI's words were particularly relevant. The new Head of State emphasised that languages are "bridges for dialogue", mentioning the names of 4 poets from the 20th century, one for each of the 4 official languages.
No recognition for Catalonia's nationhood status
Felipe VI mentioned Machado (Spanish), Espriu (Catalan), Aresti (Basque) and Castelao (Galician). Two of them died in exile as they opposed the dictatorship of Franco (Machado and Castelao), the person who named Juan Carlos I his successor. In addition, Espriu, Aresti and Castelao were defending the existence of the Catalan, Basque and Galician nations and were referring to Spain as a pluri-national state. However, Felipe VI ignored this last fact, and insisted on several occasions to talk about "the Spanish nation", stating "we are a great nation" and ignoring the existence of the Catalan, Basque or Galician nations.
Article 2 of the Constitution literally reads that Spain is formed of "nationalities and regions", a formulation resulting from a compromise to recognise Catalonia's and the Basque Country's nationhood statuses without derailing a democratisation process that was negotiated with the military and Franco's Spanish nationalist and dictatorial regime. Many Catalans voted for the Constitution as the only path towards democracy and the only way to bury the dictatorship, with the indirect promise that once democracy was consolidated, Catalonia's nationhood would be recognised.
Felipe VI wished for "a renewed Spain" in his speech, but lost a unique opportunity to make an important symbolical step. If the Spanish establishment insists in not recognising the existence of other nations within Spain and increasingly embraces Spanish nationalism – as it has done on many occasions in the past with fatal consequences – the possibilities to solve the Catalan issue in a way that keeps the current borders will fade away.