Promessa vuota: il nuovo gruppo politico parla per la Spagna rurale spopolata

Judith Iturbe fa una smorfia mentre pensa ad agosto e cosa significa per i residenti e i ritmi di Milmarcos.

In piena estate, la popolazione di questo piccolo e bellissimo villaggio spagnolo, which sits close to Castilla-La Mancha’s border with Aragón, rises from just 44 to about 1,000.

"Per me, August is the worst time of the year because all these people come from the city with their urgent requirements,” says Iturbe, who runs a tiny brewery in Milmarcos. Twenty-one years ago, she and her partner decided to leave their hectic jobs and lives in Madrid and start over.

If it was quiet they craved, they have not been disappointed. The only people on the streets of the village this afternoon are two older residents who sit on garden chairs by the church tower to chat and soak up the rays of the low winter sun.

The peace and quiet, tuttavia, comes at a price. The doctor comes through just once a week, the village’s three children have an hour-long bus ride to school, and Milmarcos has precisely one shop and one bar. As Iturbe points out, only half-jokingly, this corner of Guadalajara province is one of the most hollowed-out parts of the demographic realm known as La España vaciada – the hollowed-out Spain.

Decades of depopulation have left huge stretches of rural Spain starved of people, attention and investment, and prompted the country’s Socialist-led coalition government to establish a ministry for the demographic challenge.

But for many in such areas, change has not come fast enough. At the end of September, an association of more than 160 local and regional groups decided to run as a joint platform in regional and national elections.

Il España Vaciada platform took its inspiration from the fact that Teruel Existe, a movement that campaigns to improve conditions in the overlooked Teruel region of eastern Spain, managed to win one seat in congress and two in the senate in the November 2019 elezioni generali. Despite having just one MP, Teruel Existe has become a powerful force in a political landscape that is increasingly fragmented and dependent on horse-trading to get things done.

Antonio Saz, a co-ordinator for the España Vaciada association, says that while the electoral platform may be new, the “struggle against depopulation and for territorial rebalancing” dates back at least 20 anni.

“We always say we’re not some kind of planned action; we’re the consequences of ignoring and abandoning the rural world and depopulated areas," lui dice. “These problems are now on politicians’ agendas, even if we’re not yet seeing them in their programmes and actions.”

Among the platform’s 101 initiatives is a national plan with guaranteed funding that would enable overlooked parts of the country to catch up with more developed ones, the creation of a non-political, expert agency to tackle depopulation, and improved rail links and services.

“We also have a simple plan to drive recovery and balance things up that we call 100/30/30,” says Saz. “Thats 100mbps of symmetrical internet, 30 minutes to basic services such as education, health or security, and 30km [18 miglia] to a high-capacity road. If we could get all that, we’d have a far more well-balanced country.”

The platform – which will face its first ballot-box test when it runs in February’s regional election in Castilla y León – is not fond of ideological labels. So would it be happy to strike deals with either the far-left Unidas Podemos or the far-right Vox?

“Our ideology is driven by the vital necessity to tackle depopulation before it’s too late and we disappear – that’s what binds us more than left and right blocs,” says Saz.

While he says it is far too early to speculate on electoral performances, Saz acknowledges the platform is keen to acquire the kind of clout Teruel Existe can exercise: “The more weight we have when it comes to seats, the more they’ll listen to us and the more we can do.”

José Pablo Ferrándiz, a social sciences lecturer at Madrid’s Carlos III University, says the platform is likely to pose the biggest threat to Spain’s old political duopoly – the ruling Spanish Socialist Workers’ party (PSOE) and the conservative People’s party (PP).

“In the face of these new demands – which actually aren’t new at all – the two big parties can’t say they’re the ones who are going to solve these problems because they’ve been voted in before and haven’t solved them," lui dice.

Ferrándiz thinks the arrival of España Vaciada – which follows the eruption in recent years of Podemos, Vox and the fading, centre-right Citizens party – could herald even greater fragmentation.

“In a national political scenario where even the vote of Teruel Existe is fundamental in forming majorities – and potentially even in forming governments – the PP and the PSOE know that if these platforms grow and win even three or four seats, they will be important when it comes to forming national governments.”

Back at the brewery, Iturbe is labelling beer bottles, keeping an eye on the electoral developments – and refusing to get her hopes up.

“At least the platform is made up of people who know the rural world, so perhaps it’ll do something," lei dice. “But on a national level, nothing’s changed politically and even after Podemos and Citizens, it’s all back in the hands of the PP and the PSOE.”

Time, tuttavia, is running out for Milmarcos and for tens of thousands of other Spanish villages. As Iturbe notes, only a third of Milmarcos’s permanent residents are around 50 or younger. Nel 10 years’ time, many of its older people will be dead and its children will probably be thinking about moving elsewhere.

“The politicians need to listen to us, because they haven’t so far," lei dice. “They need to differentiate between the urban and the rural but at the moment, all the laws are drawn up in offices in the city, which means there’s no way they suit our needs. No matter how many times they come out here in their chauffeured cars, they never get it.”

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