Tuesday, 3 June 2014

In praise of shutting up. And a departing King

I always had ambivalent feelings about the late Ugo Chavez, de facto President for life of Venezuela. He sometimes said and did things I felt were right, above all to help the poor, but then he did so much that was wrong, and even did the right things in such a wrong way – hectoring, bullying, authoritarian – that I simply couldn’t warm to him. He seemed thoroughly obnoxious.

So it was with delight that I learned that the King of Spain had told him, in a conference of Spanish-speaking nations, to put a sock in it.
“¿Por qué no te callas?” he asked, “Why don’t you shut up?”

¿Por qué no te callas?
So well received were the King’s words that for a while they became the most popular ring tone on Spanish phones.

More recent anecdotes have been less flattering for poor Juan Carlos. It was a shame, for instance, that he chose to go elephant hunting in Africa. That he did so at a time when most of his subjects were struggling with the effects of the worst crisis to the hit the nation in a century, added a measure of insensitivity to the offence, and left his reputation in tatters.

A bare 41% of the population now approve his rule.

In passing, I should point out that technically this is irrelevant: a system in which you can change your head of state when you’ve had enough of him is called a republic. The whole point about a monarchy – or a state presided over by Ugo Chavez – is that you can’t.

Even so, Juan-Carlos has decided to abdicate, and Spanish parliamentarians are rushing through legislation to make it possible. Which must seem ironic to quite a few
 of their compatriots: many have lost their jobs over the last five years, without the benefit of special legislation.

So the King has decided it’s time to shut up himself, even if in his case what he’s shutting up is his shop. One has to congratulate him. I suppose we’ve all had situations in which we’d have done better to shut up, and wished afterwards that we had. His, I feel, is an example to follow. I can think of quite a few people who I’d be happy to see follow it, but I won’t name any of them here, since I’m sure you have your own list.

He’s going to be replaced by his son, Felipe. Curiously, he too knows a little about being told to shut up. He married a former TV anchor, Letizia Ortiz. The Guardian explained that at a press conference where the couple announced their engagement, “as Ortiz was explaining her plans to leave her job in the media, Felipe interrupted her. She snapped at him, ‘Let me finish!’”

I hope Felipe took it better than Chavez. Because in both cases, as in so many others, being told to shut up was excellent advice.


Anonymous said...

I would have preferred it if Juan Carlos had said, Let me propose that parliament abolishes the monarchy, rather than abdicate. If QE II abdicated, would Charles be an improvement?


David Beeson said...

Here, and there, what we need is a groundswell of opinion finally ready to abandon the anachronism...

David Beeson said...

Here, and there, what we need is a groundswell of opinion finally ready to abandon the anachronism...