JUAN CARLOS by Paul Preston


Steering Spain from Dictatorship to Democracy
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An impressively thorough but tepid life of Spain’s reigning Bourbon monarch, who helped foster democracy after the dark decades of the Franco junta.

The hard-nosed dictator—who is, yes, still dead—had little use for the monarchy: he harbored reasonable suspicions that the Bourbons were inclined to liberal views, and he was quite happy to see them in exile in Switzerland. His attitude softened when, in 1946, the UN denounced Franco’s government as an Axis regime, in fact if not in name, and “invited him to surrender the powers of government.” Franco, determined to have his regime accepted as legitimate, promulgated a law of succession that declared that Spain was a Catholic kingdom with a monarch in residence—but, of course, with Franco sitting at the head of government. To emphasize this succession, Franco called for nine-year-old Juan Carlos, the heir to the Bourbon throne, to return to Spain and study under his tutelage. Juan Carlos did so, demonstrating a regal equanimity in the face of “the fact that his father, Don Juan, to all intents and purposes sold him into slavery.” As Preston (History/London School of Economics; Franco, 1994) shows at altogether too much length, Juan Carlos absorbed the teachings of Don Francisco while keeping the liberal flame alive; on a state visit to the US, Juan Carlos told officials of the Nixon administration that he intended to steer his country toward democracy, plans that Franco was surely aware of and perhaps, Preston suggests, even approved of. Franco’s death in November 1975 brought considerable resistance on the part of fascist loyalists, and a short-lived military coup in 1981; yet Juan Carlos managed to steer a middle course, restore democratic institutions, keep the army from seizing power, weather Basque terrorism and regional separatism, and elevate Spain from historical afterthought to its present prosperity and prominence.

A useful biography, though overwritten and overlength; of particular interest to students of contemporary European politics.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-393-05804-2
Page count: 608pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2004


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