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Rural Spain Disrupts Spanish Politics and Left-Right Divide by Bridget Ryder

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Rural Spain Disrupts Spanish Politics and Left-Right Divide

If elections were held today, a new political party could win fifteen seats in Spain’s Congress of Deputies, according to a poll taken earlier in November by the Spanish firm SocioMétrica and published in the Spanish newspaper El Español

La España Vaciada, a grassroots citizen’s movement, officially registered as a political party last September in the face of severe population loss in rural Spain. They are clamoring for better public services and infrastructure in rural Spain, concerns that are currently ignored by both left and right political parties.  

According to El Español, much about the political party remains unclear, but the poll predicted La España Vaciada would snag six deputies from the center-right Partido Popular (PP), five from center-left Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) and three from the far-right party, Vox. However, in an analysis by the online newsource VozPopuli, it’s the center-left PSOE that stands to lose the most votes to La España Vaciada. 

La España Vaciada is part of a trend of regionally-based political parties grounded in local interests, distinct from the nationalist or independent parties typically found in the Basque Country and Catalonia. The most well-known example of these new local parties is Teruel Existe in the province of Aragón. It has been the only non-nationalist local party to edge its way into the national government when it won a seat in the Congress of Deputies and two senate seats in 2019. La España Vaciada, though, is the first attempt by rural parties to cross geographic lines and to combine distinct areas of the country. 

Apart from its densely populated coasts, interior Spain has historically been one of most sparsely populated areas in Europe. Now, after the decades-long  movement of both industry and population toward bigger cities, many small towns and villages find themselves surrounded by abandoned, crumbling buildings and stripped of young families, children, and basic community services like schools, medical facilities, grocery stores, and hairdressers. 

La España Vaciada started in January 2019 as a citizens’ platform to consolidate the efforts of the many local initiatives already trying to address rural decline. According to its website, La España Vaciada has brought 140 citizens’ platforms from almost all parts of interior Spain under its umbrella. El Español has reported that these groups represent diverse and even opposing interests, from retirees to farmers, hunters, and animal rights activists. It sees itself as an organization not of political ideologies but rather of practical goals. 

Representatives from the organization told El Español, “Here there are no ideologies, neither left or right nor anything else.”

The organization’s website states, “The Uprising of Emptied Spain is an active response and consequence on the part of a society that resists and refuses to abandon its territory, understanding depopulation as a problem of the State that threatens two-thirds of Spain, in other words, all the area made up of provinces and comarcas, small cities, and villages that have been marginalized in their economic and social development.”

Even before forming an official political party, La España Vaciada had bent the ear of the Spanish government. Last January, its coordinator sat down with the state secretary of the Ministry of Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge for the first trimestral meeting to discuss proposals regarding  the use of European funds for rural development, the national budget, tax policy, and other issues, , as reported by La Vanguardia

The concept of “empty Spain” was introduced in 2016 by journalist and writer Sergio de Molino in his book-length essay La España Vacia (“Empty Spain”)), a reflection on the historical and present situation of Spain’s inland regions. Three years later, under the moniker La Espana Vaciada (“Emptied Spain”), the concept became a social-political movement. 

In March 2019, 100,000 people from Spain’s rural provinces gathered in the heart of the capital to demand that the government make a pact to halt depopulation and ensure quality public services in rural areas. Organizers called it “the uprising of emptied Spain.” In elections later that year, Teruel Existe in Aragón officially disrupted Spanish national politics. 

But the next elections won’t be today or tomorrow. The movement will likely have two more years to prove itself as a political force on ballots. 

Bridget Ryder is Spain-based writer. She has written on politics, environment, and culture for American and international publications. She holds degrees in Spanish and Catholic Studies.


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