With the secret visit by king Felipe VI and queen Letizia to Barcelona to present the Cervantes Prize to the poet Joan Margarit, the Spanish monarchy gives tangible form to the great metaphor that describes its relationship with Catalonia: a trip to any of the 41 Catalan counties can only be made by clandestine means. The Spanish crown has accepted reality and in one of its most emblematic annual events, the presentation of the Cervantes Prize, only a very small group of people gathered around Felipe VI, Letizia and the award winner, in a private and obscure meeting that was only made public once the monarchs had already left the Palauet Albéniz venue and departed from the city of Barcelona. It was an event with no media, no guests, no cameras, in short, no ceremony, despite being an emblematic award - created in 1976, 44 years ago - which aims to distinguish the creative work of Hispanic and Latin American writers whose work has made a noteworthy contribution to the Spanish language's literary patrimony.
There can't be any precedent for a situation like this, which only reflects the fragility of the institution. Traditionally, the award ceremony takes place on April 23rd at the Universidad de Alcalá de Henares, in Madrid. Covid-19 forced it to be reorganized, certainly, but did not mean it had to become a clandestine act without any announcement, which is only explainable because of the protests by the Catalan public which take place every time Felipe travels to Catalonia. In addition, the Catalan government and Parliament have in recent years taken initiatives to express their rejection of the Spanish monarchy as a form of state and the desire to become an independent republic. In addition, Felipe VI faces an important test this week as the eyes of the political class and the media will be glued to his Christmas speech on the 24th and whether - and if so, how - he will address the exceptional situation which has come about since his father's flight from Spain last August.
The corruption at the epicentre of the royal family leaves the Spanish monarchy in its greatest discredit since the restoration of the institution following the death of the dictator. It supercedes the previous worst situation, the incident during the Botswana elephant hunt in April 2012, a moment which, peering into the rearview mirror, was only a little more than eight years ago. Enough time for the ethical and political behaviour of the now-king emeritus and subsequently of his entire clan to be opened to scrutiny. Not a week goes by without new details about corruption cases in which Juan Carlos I appears badly implicated and which, due to his own idiosyncrasies, end up having repercussions on the whole royal family. The latest episode of the financially-opaque credit cards and his back-tax regularization with the Treasury - in which some of his grandchildren were involved - is an example of how the ramifications extend to several members of the Bourbon dynasty.
The obscure and opaque Cervantes event also points to the difficulties which the head of state has in moving around part of Spanish territory. To a large extent, he lost Catalonia on October 3rd, 2017 with that speech that took him away from Catalan society and classified him as a monarch who was immovable in the face of police violence and the desire of a huge majority of Catalans to vote on that October 1st. The repression and the convictions imposed by the Supreme Court have only widened an abyss that could only be overcome by an amnesty law which the government of Pedro Sánchez and Pablo Iglesias does not want to hear about, either due to their fear of the deep state or because they still have not understood anything about Catalonia.