MADRID — Princess Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano has been preparing for this moment for 10 years. Soon the 41-year-old will be climbing the steps to the Spanish throne — a first for a Spanish commoner — to take her place beside her husband Felipe VI.
That everything would happen so quickly after the unexpected abdication of King Juan Carlos is probably not something the former journalist and mother of two daughters had anticipated.
Her clumsy beginning in the royal family began 10 years ago, when the couple tied the knot on a rainy May 22, 2004, in Madrid.
"At the time, Letizia was still a completely spontaneous and simple woman, a successful journalist, who appeared before the camera in jeans and boots and used her hands a lot when she spoke," recalls Carmen Enrïquez, a former colleague of the princess’s, a columnist and the author of three books about the Spanish royal family.
She worked with Letizia, who reported on the Iraq war, the oil spill off the coast of Galicia, and the 9/11 attacks — first for CNN and later for the Spanish state channel TVE.
"If something makes Letizia stand out, it's the devotion and absolute discipline she brings to everything she does," Enrïquez says.
Out of love for Felipe, the young woman gave up her free, independent life and submitted to strict court protocol. From then on, she had daily lessons in English, etiquette and the history of Europe's noble families. "She had no idea of all these things and had to learn her new job from scratch," says Enrïquez, who is still in contact with her former colleague.
The princess bride
The life of a princess also had its shadow sides. Letizia learned that her naturalness and spontaneity were not desirable qualities for a future queen. She was also "constantly criticized because she had a habit of touching her hair," Enrïquez remembers. She was looked upon with particular suspicion by Spain's Royalists, not only because she came from relatively humble circumstances — her grandfather was a cab driver, her father a journalist and her mother a nurse — but because her parents had been divorced for years.
To a number of Spaniards, she was mainly suspect because she had been briefly married before, to a former teacher of hers named Alonso Guerrero, and had also had a relationship with fellow journalist David Tejera. Could someone with a "past" be an appropriate wife for the Crown Prince?
But she threw herself into the relationship with Felipe, and even changed her clothing style, wearing stilettos in an attempt to seem less petite next to her six-foot-three-inch-tall husband. Heels and extremely form-fitting dresses became her trademark. She was criticized for lack of patriotism for wearing an Armani suit on the occasion of her engagement, so she subsequently chose Spanish designer Felipe Varela to be her personal couturier. Since then she has been considered one of the most elegant women in Spain, and her picture on the cover of glossy magazines increases sales by 30%.
Your Highness ... — Photo: Congreso de la Republica del Peru
Letizia even had her lightly hooked nose surgically corrected. All of these changes marked her. In fact, her new reality began making her appear stiff, distant and cool. Many Spaniards believed the princess suffered from depression and anorexia. She was also under pressure because children did not arrive as quickly as many had hoped. And because her younger, 31-year-old sister Erika was found dead, pumped full of barbiturates, in her Madrid apartment in February 2007 in what is believed to have been suicide.
Another big shock came last year when her cousin David Rocasolano wrote in his book Adios Princesa that Letizia had an abortion in 1996 and that Prince Felipe knew about it.
"There’s no proof of that, I don’t believe it," Enrïquez says. "I think her cousin was trying to boost sales of his book."
Is it mere coincidence that the princely pair had a marriage crisis last year? Letizia showed up late for the traditional family holiday on the royal yacht in Mallorca, went to concerts on her own, and took short trips with her girlfriends. "Letizia doesn't see anything wrong with the whole Mallorca thing, and she's also prone to sea sickness," Enrïquez says.
Yet it wasn't until last year that Letizia started to seem more at home in her role. She turned up in slacks for some official occasions when protocol would have dictated wearing a skirt. She and her husband also patched up their difficulties, and there were times when it seemed as if they were steering the royal family through its biggest crisis.
Among other things, the corruption scandal surrounding Iñaki Urdangarín — the king’s son-in-law who allegedly diverted millions in public funds — was increasingly undermining the royal family's image. Letizia and her husband fought hard to save the monarchy's reputation. When her 8-year-old daughter Leonor asked her who she worked for, she reportedly replied, "I work for Spain, child, for Spain."
But Letizia has never been as popular as Princess Diana was in her day. Diana may have made mistakes, but she was forgiven, which is not the case with Letizia, perhaps because of her perfectionism. In a new survey on the website Vanitatis that asked whether Letizia would make a good queen, only 32% of respondents said yes.
Queen Sofia and her motherly bearing have apparently set the bar very high. Letizia still has to find her way into Spanish hearts.
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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