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Sovereign Debts (Prospect Magazine)

In April, King Juan Carlos I of Spain went hunting. Even at 74 years old, the sprightly king likes to keep up one of his favourite hobbies. This time he was off to Botswana. It was a private affair, and meant to stay under wraps. But after four days in Africa, Juan Carlos got up at dawn in search of a bathroom, tripped on a stair, and fell. His hip was broken in three places.

He flew back to Madrid for emergency surgery. As he lay in hospital, rumours spread in the press about the precise details of the trip. Queen Sofía, who was on holiday in her native Greece, did not return immediately to be with her hus- band. Word also got out that the hunting trip, though not on the public dime, had cost more than the average Spaniard’s annual salary.

In an unprecedented move, Juan Carlos issued an apology on national television. Scraping out on crutches to meet journalists at the hospital, Juan Carlos pronounced eleven words in Spanish: “I’m really sorry. I made a mistake. It won’t happen again.” The statement reverberated as much for its symbolism as for its ambiguity. Was the king crestfallen, or down-to-earth? And what, exactly, wouldn’t happen again?

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