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New Spanish leftwingers in major cities remove royal symbols from their town halls
A Barcelona's city hall employee removes a bust of Spain's former King Juan Carlos at Barcelona's city hall on July 23, 2015. AFP PHOTO/ JOSEP LAGO.

By: Daniel Silva / Daniel Bosque

BARCELONA (AFP).- Spanish leftwingers who swept to power in several major cities last month have removed royal symbols from their town halls, renewing a debate over the nation's scandal-hit monarchy.

The moves come despite new King Felipe VI managing to restore some of the institution's popularity, which plunged following scandals during the final years of his father's reign while Spain was engulfed in an economic crisis.

The most controversial example happened in Barcelona, Spain's second-largest city, where new mayor Ada Colau on Thursday had a bronze bust of former King Juan Carlos removed from the town hall's main chamber.

Colau, a former anti-eviction activist, said the bust was an "anomaly" since Juan Carlos was no longer head of state, having handed over the throne to his son Felipe last year.

The mayor headed a left-wing coalition that won municipal elections in May, backed by new far-left party Podemos, which favours the abolition of the monarchy.

In the northeastern city of Zaragoza, the Podemos-led municipal government unilaterally decided to change the name of its main sports hall from Principe Felipe to that of a local basketball coach who died recently.

But on Monday the town hall approved a "urgent" motion to keep the name as it is, tabled by the conservative Popular Party, which rules at the national level, with the backing of two other parties.

In the southwestern city of Cadiz, which is now also governed by Podemos, the new mayor replaced a portrait of Juan Carlos in his office with one of a famous local anarchist.

The leftist town hall of Montcada i Reixac, near Barcelona, went even further. 

It removed a portrait of King Felipe VI from the town hall's main chamber -- where by law a portrait of the monarch, who is head of state, must be visible.

Historical revenge 
Abel Hernandez, a writer specialising in the Spanish royals, said it was "a sort of historical revenge" by Spain's far-left, factions of which did not take part in the country's transition to democracy following the death of longtime dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

"This is a left which wants to break with the system put in place by the 1978 constitution, to revise Spain's transition," Hernandez told AFP.

Franco designated Juan Carlos as his successor, who instead of continuing the dictatorship headed the transition to democracy, putting an end to decades of division that began with a 1936-39 civil war leading to Franco's rise to power.

Former Franco supporters joined hands with Socialists, Communists and Catalan nationalists to draw up Spain's 1978 constitution, establishing the country as a democratic constitutional monarchy.

Cesar de la Lama, biographer of Juan Carlos, said the town halls' actions showed "a derision against the monarchy, a lack of historical sensibility regarding the king, who contributed to bringing 40 years of stability and democracy to Spain".

The monarchy began to lose its lustre during the twilight years of Juan Carlos's reign.

He outraged Spaniards in 2012 by going elephant hunting in Botswana at the height of Spain's recession. Separately, his youngest daughter Cristina was accused in a corruption probe targeting her husband.

Only Juan Carlos's abdication in favour of his son Felipe in June 2014 managed to stop the slide in the monarchy's popularity.

But the taboo that previously existed in Spanish society against criticising the monarchy had started to erode. 

Satirical magazines published anti-monarchy cartoons on their front pages, while books with details about the royals' private lives became best-sellers.

In March, Barcelona's Museum of Contemporary Art featured a controversial sculpture depicting Juan Carlos being sodomised and vomiting flowers.

With far-left coalitions now in power in some major cities, the taboo is also starting to break in public institutions.

"At the moment these are only gestures but behind them is the desire to substitute the political form of the state, a parliamentary monarchy, with a republic," said Antonio Torres del Moral, a constitutional law lecturer at Spain's UNED university.

Podemos has promised to draw up a new constitution if it wins a year-end general election, which would raise the thorny issue of who acts as head of state.

"In Spain there is a very extensive republican ideology, however it is probably not dominant, and this is an issue that will have to be addressed at some point," Torres del Moral added.

© 1994-2015 Agence France-Presse

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