I don’t know who’s in charge of the appalling PR & communications for Rajoy’s government, but it looks like Spain’s Royal Household could also do with some help.
On Wednesday, I was watching events unfold at the opening session of the Catalan Parliament, zapping between TVE and TV3 – the day that the Republican Catalan Left politician, Roger Torrent, was elected as the new Speaker of the Catalan Parliament.
At one point, TVE (24h) interrupted its coverage of Barcelona, to instead go live to the International Tourism Fair (FITUR) in Madrid, where Spain’s King Felipe VI and Letizia had just arrived to inaugurate the 38th edition of the event. Nothing wrong with that. Good for them, I thought. Very soon, they – together with their entourage – strolled towards what must have been the media area, and directly towards the TVE camera, where they answered some brief questions. My first reaction was – oh, I didn’t realise you could ask the king of Spain direct questions – I mean, you can ask Prince Charles and William, I think, but not The Queen – and then I was shouting at the TV screen (it happens), telling the TVE journalist to therefore ask Felipe about his views of the Catalan Parliament session taking place right now on the other channel! – ask him about the yellow ribbons on the empty seats! – go on, ask him … but she didn’t, of course (not only because she couldn’t hear me). Instead, Felipe replied to a few banal questions, and said something about FITUR being ‘estupendo’, and that each year it ‘surpassed itself’, and then he and Letizia were off, free to roam around the stands, or at least be guided carefully by their entourage.
It was a wasted moment, I thought. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. There you had the opening session of the Catalan Parliament being broadcast with powerful images of yellow ribbons occupying the empty seats of jailed or exiled Catalan politicians, unable to attend – but no-one had dared ask Felipe VI about it. Only his opinion of FITUR. Well, FITUR was fine. It was estupendo. Marvellous.
Wait … I’ve been to FITUR, more than once. Years ago, when I was doing a study to launch a one-off Condé Nast Traveller magazine in Spain; and then years later, too, actually launching Lonely Planet Magazine. So I know a bit about FITUR. It’s one of the world’s most important tourism trade fairs, ‘a global meeting point for tourism professionals’ – and held in Spain, itself one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. 165 countries and regions take part, many with extravagant and inviting trade stands – including, of course, all the ‘regions’ of Spain. So, after Felipe and Letizia continued to stroll around, I promise you that this is what I was thinking (with my editorial hat on): they need to get photos of them visiting and enjoying the Catalonia stand. That would not only be a good news image, but great PR, too. Surely?
I forgot about FITUR and went back to TV3 and the Catalan Parliament. Later that day, however, I saw something on social media – something about the king avoiding the Catalonia stand at FITUR – and I thought, no way, that’s impossible – that would be crazy, that would be almost childish – it must be fake news. But it was true.
Not only did Felipe VI and Letizia avoid the Catalonia stand at FITUR, but they made a point of visiting various stands of other regions of Spain – and their visit is detailed on the Royal Household’s website, complete with photos of them doing so. In ‘pavilion 9’ of the trade fair, they visited the stands of Turespaña (Spanish Tourist Board), Madrid, Galicia and Navarra, and them in ‘pavilion 7’ they visited the stand of Aragón, Castilla y León and Valencia … but Catalonia, nada. They did find time to visit the stands of Argelia and India (‘Incredible India’ being the honorary country and slogan of the trade fair this year), and they were also photographed with a robot. Everyone wrote about what Letizia was wearing, too, of course – a ‘beige and black colour block jacket, a crisp white shirt and smart black trousers’, plus ‘a pair of killer skyscraper heels embellished with gold spikes’, whilst Felipe, meanwhile, opted for ‘a grey pinstripe suit, injecting a splash of colour with a red polka dot tie’ … who cares?
I’ve written here before about my view of Felipe’s speech given on 3rd October last year, just a few days after the Spanish police brutality during the Catalan referendum – and I gave my opinion that the monarch failed miserably to defuse the situation, there and then. In fact, he did the opposite. He made it worse. It would have almost been better if he hadn’t spoken at all.
In the king’s Christmas message of 24th December – shortly after the 21st December election results – he issued another warning about the Catalan independence movement, in the face of the possibility of the unilateral path being taken up again. ‘The route cannot lead again to confrontation or exclusion which only generate discord, uncertainty, despondency and moral, civil and economic decline of a whole society,’ he said. Just two weeks ago, however, during the Pascua Militar on 6th January, the only reference he made to what might have been interpreted as a territorial and Catalan issue, was: ‘Security and national defense are a task for everyone.’
It is perhaps a small thing, but I believe Felipe should have made a point of visiting the Catalonia stand at FITUR – and he should have spent a lot of time there. If he was advised not to, I believe that was an error. I might be wrong, but I still believe he has the chance to intervene and defuse this whole situation. Someone has to …