In a photo taken on May 17, 2023, a traffic sign asks for caution given the proximity of the school in Alepuz, in the Spanish province of Teruel.
Ignacio Martinez never had ambitions to become mayor, but when he became aware of the problems in his small mountain town in the northeast of Spain, he launched his candidacy in 2015, supported by a group of friends.
“Before I ran for the election, the town was a bit sad and paralyzed,” Martinez, a 32-year-old grain farmer, recalled to AFP. in spain.
Like others living in sparsely populated rural areas of Spain, Martínez felt he could not sit back and watch his town of 114 residents die as the elderly died and others looked for work. gone.
“There are many cities that are on the verge of demographic collapse,” says Martinez, who says she felt running for mayor was her “touch”.
Better internet services, public transport, subsidies for families moving to towns… Promises to woo rural voters have been the order of the day during the campaign for municipal and regional elections this Sunday.
But voters in Teruel, the least populous province of Aragon with fewer than 10 inhabitants per square kilometre, one of the lowest rates in Europe, are not very enthusiastic.
“On the eve of elections, everyone offers a lot, and then they forget,” says a 74-year-old man, who gives only his last name, Calvo, as he waits for the bread seller to arrive in this town does. In the absence of a market, it depends on the vendors who walk the streets with their products.
“The city council is promoting some houses, which is necessary in case families have already arrived, but again, if there’s no work, we can’t do anything,” he says.
– “Open School = Live People” –
In smaller towns, candidates are not tied to parties, as is the case with Martinez, and locals say they vote for people they trust, rather than political structures.
“I know people who show up, I don’t care (…) the party,” says Carmen Iguel, a 56-year-old potter from Villaroya de los Pinares.
“You vote for that person, (…) a person that people know and who knows how they are going to work,” agrees Francisco Esteban, 69, at a roadside bar where locals Eat bacon and eggs.
“When you live in such a small town,” says Gloria Blank, 56, “you run for office not because you want to get into politics,” but because you “run to work for your city.” Want to invest some time” the one-year mayor of Monroe. , a town on top of a mountain of 312 inhabitants.
Martinez, who would leave the city council after eight years, affirms that the biggest accomplishment of his tenure was the reopening of the school.
“Open schools = living people,” reads a wall on the city’s main street.
“In this town, we’re at least neighbors”, but “as long as there’s a school” there’s a “future”, says Calvo, smiling.
– Empty Spain, exists –
The phrase Empty Spain emerged in 2016 to refer to five regions that represent half of Spanish territory, but are home to only 15% of its population.
One is Aragon, which has 1.3 million inhabitants but a population density of 27.8 inhabitants per square kilometer as of 2022.
In 1999, the locals chanted ¡Teruel Existe! to fight against the populace in the province and two decades later he won a seat in the national parliament, putting Spain off the map.
That success inspired a new party called España Vaciada, which will compete in the May 28 elections and in the legislative elections later in the year, as “the voice of all the forgotten”.
“The inhabitants of the rural world do not believe that there can be a change (…) However, there are new possibilities,” says Lidia Diaz, president of the Spanish Association Against Depopulation (AECD).
He believes that “there should be a national agreement” of all parties to make laws keeping in mind the “reality of the rural world”.
Madrid they “must ask what those of us who live there want, because in some cities they will need some kind of industry, but in others they need super-powerful fiber optics for the Internet,” he said. They say.