Page 12, 16th February 1990

16th February 1990
Page 12
Page 12, 16th February 1990 — Plane to Spain and reflections on a reign

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Locations: Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon, Oxford


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Plane to Spain and reflections on a reign

THIS edition of Charterhouse was drafted on a flight back from Spain with one eye on Hugh Thomas's Spanish Civil War and the other on the previous week's Catholic Herald article by Patrick Kelly. The latter points out that elements of Europe's most horrendous-ever (but ultimately unnecessary) internecine struggle have not entirely disappeared.

A move, for example, to drop the "religious tax" (imposed by Franco in gratitude for Church support) has provoked dismay among some ecclesiastics. Most, however, accept that the Church will be stronger when finally free from all formal entanglements with the State.

As the former Archbishop of Madrid, Cardinal Enrique y Tarancon, once said to me, "look what happened in 'corporative' Europe''. ("Corporative", as may be remembered — Franco being then still alive — was a polite word for Fascist. The Spanish Primate was thinking of the fate of the Church in such countries as Dollfuss's Austria, Sxalasi's Hungary and, above all, pre-war Italy and Germany).

As part of the 1929 Lateran Treaty and accompanying Church-State Concordat, for example, Mussolini paid the Vatican 2.4 billion dollars (a tidy sum 60 years ago). The Duce reckoned, and events justified him, that he got good value for his money.

Hollow victory

THEN, in 1933, in Germany, the Catholic (Centre) party voluntarily dissolved itself, enabling Hitler to become dictator. The German Catholics' agreed "reward" was a Concordat with the Holy See which most churchmen at the time hailed as a victory. In the event, the Nazi-Vatican pact which smoothered the Ftibrer's path to further power, gave the Church no practical (as opposed to theoretical) protection while undermining such resistance as there still was to the new totalitarian state.

Churchmen who applauded the Concordat could not then know of the Nazi plan for German Christianity, as confided by the Fuhrer to his henchman Hermann Rausching — to "leave it to rot like a gangrenous limb". Hitler added, "but we can hasten matters. The priests will be made to dig their own graves. They will betray their God to us. They will betray anything for the sake of their miserable little jobs and incomes."

Harsh words from the man who, as may be remembered, was never formally expelled from the Catholic Church. Very different had been the fate of King Victor Emanuel II of Italy, who was excommunicated for presuming to liberate the disfranchised and unhappy citizens of the Papal States and unite Italy under a constitutional monarchy.

Golden age

HOW refreshing, by contrast, is the Spain of today, headed and symbolised by another charming and popular constitutional monarch, and encompassing (according to Cavour's successful formula for preFascist Italy) a free Church in a free State. King Juan Carlos has presided over one of the most spectacular modern transitions from dictatorship to democracy. The main parallel in Spanish history is the bloodless revolution of 1931 when Juan Carlos's grandfather Alfonso XIII, on hearing the result of the municipal elections, confessed,

"I have lost the love of my country".

Hence my remark, above, that the Spanish Civil war was

"altjrnateb, unnecessary". For

so it was. Alfonso hurriedly left Spain after the Republican (moral) victory in the 1931 elections, necessarily leaving behind him his English wife, Ena. The most dramatic night of her life was spent in Madrid's Royal Palace — still symbolic of Spain's true greatness — with happy crowds chanting outside.

Fearing danger from the latter, the Palace authorities appealed to the Home Secretary of the provisional government, Miguel Maura. He, like the new Prime Minister, Alcala Zamora, was a Catholic and a conservative. He immediately sent round to the Palace a squad of Republican "guards" whose only "uniform" was an armband.

Thus on the last night of her life, as Queen, in Spain, Ena was protected by fledgling soldiers of the Second Spanish Republic. And Republican officials escorted the Queen to the French frontier the next day.

The scenes outside the royal palace on that dramatic night, however, and repeated all over Spain, were like those of the rejoicing crowds today in eastern Europe. But the great adventure was not to last. From the very beginning the new Republic was systematically and unscrupulously undermined from within by its enemies whose vested interests, they felt, would be lost in a just and democratic world. Simultaneously Franco began, in Morocco, his plans to invade and "recapture" his own country.

Panicked and provoked, the Republicans, as time went by, retreated further and further to the left, ultimately but fatally accepting Soviet aid, and, in the very end, virtual takeover. Franco, by a similar token, could not have won his long, bitter and bloody struggle without the help of Mussolini and Hitler.

Such, in a few words, is the true account, as opposed to the old-fashioned "Catholic" scenario, of what happened in those volcanic years. And so died modern Spain's dream of a new "Golden Age".


BUT what of Spain's original Golden Age, when, in the sixteenth century, the Spanish Habsburgs ruled half the known world? Few if any of the great artists evoked its spirit or portrayed its main figures more sensitively than Diego de Silva Velasquez, a special and breathtaking exhibition of whose principal works is currently to be seen at Madrid's Prado museum.

It is "to be seen", however, only after much patience unless, like us, one is allowed in by a side door. For the public queue into the exhibition section of the great museum stretched all around the block and was taking nearly three hours to negotiate. Fortunately one of my fellow travellers was Professor Sir Raymond Carr whom I knew as a dashing young don in Oxford days.

New posting

A FINAL note a propos Spain is a sad one for those in Britain who know and admire — and there are so many — the present Spanish Ambassador to the Court of St James, His Excellency, Senor Jose J Puig de la Bellacasa. But it is very rod news for Spain. For this Ambassador will shortly take over from the Marquis of Mondejar as Head of the Spanish Royal Household.

I got to know the latter slightly when writing a book about Queen Ena — through the kind invitation of the Spanish King's father, the Count of Barcelona (passed over for the Spanish throne by Franco). He received me in his house near Lisbon with the courtesy of a prince and the congeniality accompanied by an appropriately generous whisky-and-soda — of an ex-British Naval officer (which he is).

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