Sunday, October 2, 2022

On Spain's rural depopulation, and the movement it has inspired

Omar G. Encarnacion reported in the New York Review of Books in August under the headline, "The Revolt of Empty Spain."  Here's the lede: 
On March 31, 2019, residents of Madrid woke up to a mass demonstration of some 100,000 people in the streets decrying the problem of sangría demográfica, or demographic hemorrhaging. This arresting metaphor alludes to a depopulation crisis that has left large swaths of Spain barely inhabited. Under the banner “The Revolt of Emptied Spain,” protesters from twenty-four rural provinces complained of neglect from government agencies, poor Internet service, lack of access to transportation and healthcare, and indifference from Spanish multinationals and those who live in Spain’s thriving urban centers. Inspired by other successful demonstrations in the capital, such as those that led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2005, their signs invoked the rhetoric of social justice and human rights: “Equality for all,” “My choice of lifestyle does not deprive me of my rights,” and “I am a rural citizen, and I am in danger of extinction.”
Data from Spain’s National Statistics Institute (INE) paint a startling picture of the country’s shifting demographics. Some 90 percent of the population, about 42 million people, is currently clustered in 1,500 towns and cities that occupy less than a third of the land. The remaining country is inhabited by 4.6 million people, roughly the number that live in Barcelona. The INE also reports that some 80 percent of villages of less than a thousand residents are at risk of disappearing altogether as their populations age and young people leave, which explains the abundance of ghost towns familiar to travelers to the interior of Spain.

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The average rural citizen must now travel 8 miles to access basic services such as ATMs, hospitals, nursery schools, supermarkets, and libraries—compared to 3 miles in Germany, 5 in France, and 3 in Italy. The report further noted the striking disparities found within Spain itself: people living in the countryside travel an average of 12 miles more than those living in cities. Such dire conditions have propelled a political movement that calls itself “España Vaciada,” or Emptied Spain; the Spanish media generally refers to it as “España Vacía,” or Empty Spain.
Don't miss the rest of this fascinating report, which makes one wonder if a similar movement could rise up--and be effective--in the United States.  

A related post, focusing on Catalonia, is here.  Stories on the rural-urban divide in Europe are here and here.  

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