Vicente’s parents are no longer alive, but in the small stone town of Calaceite on a secluded Aragonese hill, he still remembers their stories very well. Vicente is 83 years old.
He remembers how they spoke of the Spanish Civil War, of the fascists in green uniforms, of the militia, of how their mother tongue – a mixture of Catalan and Spanish known locally as chapureáo – a been banned by Franco. How to handicap the republican resistance, the dictator prohibited communities from living in the countryside.
For modern Spain this was the first real movement of population towards urban spaces, a movement which continues today and has led to vast swathes of rural Spain being stripped of what were once prosperous communities and sustainable.
This is now called España Vacía, or Empty Spain.
Vicente remembers how his parents and their friends continued to talk chapureáo at home, to teach their children their personal stories, to read Federico García Lorca in secret, to keep their lives, their memories and their values alive underground.
What Vicente remembers, of course, is the cultural heritage of resistance of his people.
Calaceite is in the Matarranya region of Teruel, a state that ten years ago was forced to remind the rest of Spain that it was still there by running a marketing campaign called Teruel SI Existe (Teruel DOES Exist).
Teruel forms a larger part of the Aragon region and is comfortably the least populated state in Spain, known mainly for its black olives (Aragonesas), its production of olive oil and almonds – as well as for the fact that no one is going.
This region is certainly an extreme example of modern depopulation, but by no means the only one, with around 90 percent of Spain having suffered a mass exodus of population in the mid-20th century. Accompanying this vast internal movement, for reasons of profitability, governments subsequently reduced the services and resources of these rural areas, an act which in turn pushed more people to the cities, and continues to do so.
To the industrial and holistic eye of government machinery, these rural areas are now void of society – a kind of terra nullius, and must be made to contribute to the national economy in other ways. Perhaps the greatest window of opportunity seen by successive governments across the political spectrum has been to open up these territories for the development of large wind farm complexes.
The truth is, however, that empty Spain is not at all empty and continues to be home to historic communities throughout its territory, many of which have now developed into models of local and sustainable economies – communities that, in the national debate, are struggling to get their voices heard.
Spain’s appetite for the wind
Spain’s national energy needs are currently met by a variety of sources, but none are more important than wind.
In 2021, according to the Spanish national grid (Red Eléctrica de España), wind represented a quarter of all electricity production and is increasing by one percentage point per year.
This year, for the first time in the country, wind power has overtaken nuclear power.
In a European context, Spain’s wind generation is second behind Germany, and currently operates at over 21,000 wind turbines, a statistic that is increasing every week as the industry has been designated by the government as the one of the main drivers of the economic recovery from COVID.
Wind proponents generally say that it is a form of clean energy crucial to meeting the nation’s climate goals, that Spain has a lot of space and wind, and that the needs of its cities must be satisfied somewhere.
Critics, on the other hand, are frustrated that in times of climate change, the focus continues to be on satisfying insatiable urban appetites for energy instead of supporting more sustainable models of community living. .
And, more than anything, they argue that for these parks to be built they require local consent, rather than the imposition of the central government of Madrid, something anathema to the standard operating procedure of the mega-industry. , worldwide.
A voice in the wilderness
Marcos Mateu is an ecological farmer and now accidental activist in Calaceite whose work is based on quality local produce grown by local families, in what is commonly referred to as a concept of slow food.
“We are not against renewables, we are very supportive,” he explains, “but not in the way that our natural heritage has been sold under our orders without any public consultation or environmental assessment.”
Mateu and other members of the community discovered in 2019 that the area was designated to be the base of a massive wind farm project.
“Wind farms were nothing new to us, for twenty years now our neighboring state of Terra Alta has succumbed to the endless expansion of wind power. We know what happened there – we see it every day; we feel how already marginalized rural communities have been further fractured by these developments. “
So Mateu and others did what every threatened people throughout history did – they organized themselves. Forming a group called Gent del Matarranya (People of Mattarnya), they tirelessly appealed to people across the region, lobbied local politicians and businessmen about the risks and dangers that such a massive industrial imposition would mean for the state.
They are not alone. Sister organizations like ALIENTE (Energy & Territory Alliance) have realized the courage and dynamism of the inhabitants and joined the cause, seeing the region of Matarranya as a test for the behavior of renewable energies on a national scale.
Luis Bolonio, spokesperson for the organization, says public institutions need to rethink existing energy paradigms and “inform and invest in sovereign energy to tackle what is a national ecosocial crisis” destroying local communities. “It is only by rethinking our relationship between energy and territory, he perceives, that we will be able to fight effectively against the climate crisis and achieve a fair and ecological energy transition.
In some ways, Bolonio’s words go back to the Republican call of the Spanish Civil War: ‘Land and freedom’. Mateu confirms: “The real question is to know in what kind of country do we want to live, a country in which everyone has the right to real local self-determination, or where only cities count and everything is put at the service of economic development. exponential. ? “
And so, once again, this tiny, forgotten region of northeastern Spain finds itself at the heart of a much bigger struggle than itself: What does rural and less populated mean in a modern capitalist economy?
Local activists are not giving up
Although similar wind farms are underway elsewhere, for now local resistance has meant that the project in Matarranya has been blocked and the semi-autonomous Aragonese government is now deciding what to do next.
Local activists, however, argue that a break is not enough and that a full stop is needed as full environmental inquiries and full and meaningful public consultations take place.
When politicians and businessmen highlighted the Matarranya for development, they undoubtedly identified the low dispersion of populations and the vast space ripe for industrialization, but no one, it seems, n ‘saw fit to look at the history of the region.
Eighty years ago these people never gave up fighting; it would seem strange to expect them to do it now.