November 4, 2008


But racism in Spain isn’t just confined to motor racing. England's footballers were subjected to racist chants during a friendly against Spain at Real Madrid's Bernabeu Stadium in 2004. Sections of the Spanish crowd made monkey chants when Ashley Cole, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Jermaine Jenas touched the ball. The same year former Spanish coach Luis Aragones was fined more than £2,000 for making racist remarks about Arsenal player Thierry Henry. Indeed, more than one commentator has asked himself if Spain’s geographical position isn’t perhaps a major contributor to its insularity - and an explanation for its racism and, admittedly, less pronounced homophobia.

And now the usually discreet Queen Sofia of Spain has added to the dispute in La reina muy de cerca, The Queen Up Close, a biography to mark her 70th birthday that appeared in El Pais last week. In it, she reveals her thoughts not only on the Clintons, Obama, former Prime Minister Aznar and being fed meat by former King Hassan of Morocco (even though he knew she was a vegetarian) but, most controversially of all, gay rights.

"I can understand, accept and respect that there are people of other sexual tendencies, but should they be proud to be gay? Should they ride on parade floats and show up at demonstrations? If all of us who aren't gay came out to protest we would cause gridlock," she said in the book, written by Spanish journalist Pilar Urbano.

She then proceeded to an even more sensitive area, referring to Spain's recent law to legalize gay marriage, which provoked the fury of the Catholic Church. "If those people want to live together, dress up like bride and groom and marry, they could have a right to do so, or not, depending on the law of their country, but they should not call this marriage, because it isn't," she is quoted. "There are many possible names: social contract, social union".

The State Federation of Lesbians, Gays and Transsexuals immediately asked the Queen to withdraw her comments. "Many mothers of gays and lesbians are going to ask why the Queen understands that the Prince (Felipe) would marry a divorced woman (Letizia Ortiz), but she can't understand why other mothers wouldn't want that same happiness of marriage for their children," said the federation president, Antonio Poveda, who called her comments "a tremendous surprise". Sofia is known for her discretion, having seldom expressed herself publicly - let alone controversially - since arriving in Spain 46 years ago.

Returned to the throne by Franco, the Spanish monarchy generally enjoys strong support from the Spanish for its role in the transition to democracy. The favourable opinion stems in some measure from the pact of neutrality by which the monarchs do not take sides in national politics – allowing all parties to believe royalty on their side. This, however, didn’t prevent her from commenting on former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who was said to have a difficult relationship with the monarchs. "He wasn't unpleasant with us," she said. "Perhaps something about his demeanour, his serious expression, didn't help him?"

By contrast, both she and her husband, King Juan Carlos, "connected very well" with the Clintons. "There was good chemistry very quickly," she noted.

However, lately some regional nationalists, especially in Catalonia, have been increasingly vocal in their anti-monarchist sentiment, with some youth activists burning photos of the king and queen, once unthinkable.

Jesus will probably use this as a topic for conversation in today’s Spanish class. Less certain though is if it will deflect his rage at Lewis Hamilton’s World Championship win at the weekend…

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