Those of us just old enough to remember Dick Van Dyke doing his excruciating imitation of an English accent in ’Mary Poppins’ (1964) might also just remember the coup d’état which took place in Greece three years after that cheery little film. Amazingly, this ’revolution to save the nation’ – as the coup plotters decided to call it – took most European intelligence services completely by surprise, convinced as they were that after the end of the Greek civil war (between royalists and Communists) in 1949, Greece had settled down and become a permanent, common-or-garden parliamentary democracy. All these spies had turned a blind eye (or were simply blind) to the existence of a far-right Greek ’secret state’ which had been functioning since 1949 and involved elements of the military together with like-minded folk in the judiciary and the media, and which finally strode into the political limelight after an 18 year wait in the wings.
There are parallels with the Kingdom of Spain. Ever since the failure of that country’s 1981 coup d’état, Europe succumbed to the comforting belief that a democratic constitutional monarchy had been consolidated for good. And yet since 1981, Spain, too, has had a ’secret state’ lingering offstage. According to Javier Pérez Royo, professor of law at the University of Seville, the coronavirus plague has been seized upon by ultraconservative elements in the judiciary (such as the judge Carmen Rodríguez-Medel) and the Civil Guard (such as Colonel Pérez de los Cobos) to destabilise the current government: De los Cobos prepared a doctored report for Rodríguez-Medel claiming that the real culprit behind the coronavirus outbreak was a government-sanctioned feminist demonstration in Madrid on March 8 (a report that was kept secret from the Minister of the Interior). The judge used this specious assessment to launch proceedings against various members of the current administration. At the same time, the wealthiest areas of Madrid and several other Spanish cities saw a surreal series of protests, in which people waving golf clubs and loudhailing slogans from their chauffeur driven cars lambasted Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s handling of Covid-19. According to Pérez-Royo: ’there’s a coalition of many sectors as well as the Popular party and Vox, involving judges, Civil Guards, sectors of the church, possibly some business people’ who want to see the Spanish Socialist Party, its left-wing coalition partner Podemos, and its occasional allies (which include some Basque and Catalan pro-indy parties) out of power, if possible before the EU starts distributing its much-coveted post-Covid largesse. Other tokens of this ’velvet coup’ are the attempt by Vox to bar 29 MPs from the Spanish parliament (all from pro-indy parties or Podemos) because they swore an oath to the Constitution using (legal) caveats; the recent ruling of the Spanish Supreme Court that no unofficial banners (LGBTI signs, Catalan pro-indy flags, etc.) can be hung from official buildings; an even more recent Supreme Court ruling that the three Catalan-speaking autonomous governments in Spain (Catalonia, Balearics and Valencia) must address each other officially in Spanish only; the attempt on the part of the National Court’s prosecutors to convict the former head of the Catalan police of rebellion or at least sedition for his supposed mishandling of the 2017 referendum on independence; and the inexplicably endless delays of the Constitutional Court when it comes to reviewing the appeals for the release of the Catalan political prisoners despite repeated calls from the UN’s special rapporteur on Human Rights that Spain do so (together with similar requests from Amnesty and HRW). All of this noxious string-pulling – and more – has been taking place slap bang in the middle of the worst worldwide pandemic since the 1918 Spanish ’flu, and I would bet my bottom euro that not one foreign power (or journalist) has noticed a thing. Viruses may be invisible to the naked eye, but that doesn’t stop them from making perfect smokescreens. Especially for those dedicated to concocting a discreeter, behind-the-scenes version of what the Greek colonels – in their day, as mentioned earlier – dubbed a ’revolution to save the nation’.