Four months ago, Laura Masvidal started a different kind of life. Since 2nd November last year, she has been sharing her life "with a whole country", as she puts it, referring to the masses of people showing solidarity in one way or another towards the situation that she now has to face. Now, once every fortnight, she makes a five-hour outward journey and another five-hour return trip to spend 40 minutes with her husband, jailed Catalan interior minister Joaquim Forn.
The flat where Laura lives with the younger of her two daughters exudes an air of calm. In the hall, beside a trunk full of letters, there is a bouquet of yellow mimosa flowers. A caricature of Joaquim Forn, drawn as part of the campaign for his release, sits in the hallway, while outside, presiding over the landing from the front door, hangs a yellow ribbon.
The calls to arrange the prison visits, the scrupulous labour of responding to letters, replying to the press and attending the different protests, are part of the daily tasks of the Forn family, and have to be combined with work, study and the need to keep the home fires burning. During the two hours that we accompany the family to carry out this interview, we talk to Laura's sister Emma, and her brother-in-law, Xavier, who help make time pass more pleasantly. Four months is a long time.
How are you feeling and how is the minister Forn?
With us, it depends on the day. You try to keep your head clear to face what the day throws at you. I do not want to ever feel beaten and, in fact, I don't feel beaten. But the stress of everything means that my body reaches a point where it says to me: “Laura, stop”. But in terms of emotional balance I am quite well. My daughters are amazingly well. Their evolution has been spectacular. And Joaquim feels very satisfied and says so in his letters. It may be difficult to believe that, in times of adversity, you can either go under, or you make yourself stronger. The girls are very eager to do battle. The younger one is thoroughly busy, she's taken charge of a lot, taken on responsibilities. The older one is in London. It's very difficult to handle the distance.
And just two minutes after we have started the interview, Laura's sister Emma comes in with her mobile phone. Almost frantic she says: “It's Joaquim!" Joaquim Forn is making his daily call to his wife [link in Catalan]. Four minutes of fast talking used to organize some formalities and ask about the nearest and dearest. Once the call is over, we return to the conversation.
How is he?
I never know how to answer that. Physically he is well. I see him as different. This has been a major commotion in his life. A point of inflection. He has carried out a very reflective exercise and has tried to understand his imprisonment. Now he has half done so, and he knows that he cannot rebel, he cannot programme the future... There is a whole series of things that he can't do, but there are others than he can. He is very rigorous with his hourly discipline, scrupulous with exercise, he knows that he has to look after himself. He is a close observer of the different psychologies, he observes the penitentiary system, makes a lot of reflections, he spends a lot of time reading letters to understand the essence of the collective, not so much at personal level, but to come to understand the motivations of the movement; and he writes a lot.
What does he write?
He writes reflections, sensations, so as to remember them afterwards, and he writes many anecdotes because he thinks that anecdotes can bring things out. He is going through an evolution. I see him as very strong. He came to a halt after a long period of frantic activity. He had been complaining that he didn't have time to reflect and what he is doing now is reflecting. He has created an interior world for himself and he has proposed that the humiliation will not go any further and it keeps him very strong. He is trying to see the world from a point where he is isolated. He's a person who is used to having information appearing every minute or every second, and all of a sudden he does not have that. Information reaches him through media that requires him to read between the lines, because it is very deceptive, and through intermediaries, and from press that arrives a week or five days late, and with all of that he forms an opinion. It's a very different way to what he was used to.
The conjugal visits are one of the harshest experiences I've had in my life
How often do you see each other?
At first we saw each other every week. But it is such an absurd and exhausting way of seeing someone that he decided not to do it every week. He is aware that the calm he has there inside has nothing in common with my crazy rhythm outside, when I was becoming very tired, it's a very long way to go for 40 minutes together with glass between us, you spend all the time just doing housekeeping, it's a very cold way of relating to someone and there are many people who want to see him and that he also wants to see. We decided after Christmas to do the family visits and the conjugal visits. They are twice a month and the occasional weekend. More or less, I see him every two weeks, and we speak almost every day.
There are the family meetings and the conjugal visits. Have the conjugal visits made an impact on you?
The conjugal visit is one of the harshest experiences I have had in my life. Especially the first and the second one. They were very hard. A couple relationship that has gone on for many years has baggage of a lot of complicity of many things you have been through... In keeping a marriage healthy and stable for many years there is a lot of effort and you suppose that there is a lot of complicity and understanding. Suddenly, you enter a room. You don't know what he expects from the encounter, you don't know what state of mind he is in... It is two weeks since you last saw each other, you have only spoken by phone about formalities... and now you enter a room where it's just you and him. And it should be a warm encounter and at once there is something cold between you, and neither he nor you know how to break the ice. You have a lot of communication you want to transmit but as you don't know how to prioritize it, you get blocked. And this is mutual. The encounter is very hard and the aesthetics of the room... there's a folding bed, they tell you “have a good time”, they suppose that you go there to have an intimate time and there is this enormous cold that is anything but intimate... and you leave feeling destroyed.
Did you get to the point of proposing to not go again?
I said: “I won't do it again”, but the lawyer tells you: “Laura, what are you saying? For you it's horrible, but for him it is half a life. You mustn't disparage the conjugal visits”. The second time was very hard and then I asked for help from an expert and that helped me a lot. And the third time you turn it all around, you talk about the previous times: “How terrible it was, let's see if we can take advantage of the time, let's relax”. And that was good for me because deep down it was just expressing in words my sensations that more or less coincided with his. The third time went very well, there was a lot of complicity, a lot of togetherness, all of a sudden, I didn't know if the room was attractive or ugly any more because I didn't even see it... But it took me three months. Overall it's very artificial.
Now that you experience it close at hand, what do you think of the penitentiary system?
We shut people in prison, isolating them, when what we want is to re-insert them into society. Closing them up in a parallel world where the contact with the exterior is very complicated. We have resources, we know how to make an appeal, we know how to send a contract, we know how to prove things, but the reality of the prison is very uneven. There are people who are educated, but then there are people who even have problems speaking our language, and they don't know what an appeal is. Isolating them, afterwards it is impossible to re-insert them. I see it as a huge aberration. The visits behind the glass, remind of going to visit Floquet de Neu [a famous gorilla at Barcelona zoo]. What's the sense of the glass? Why?
The press learns about things before the lawyer does
You follow very closely everything that appears in the media, beyond the rulings that reach you from the lawyers...
This is a thing that I knew happened, but when you experience it yourself it shocks you greatly: the press learns about things before the lawyer. It's something we all need to ensure gets looked at, but that's how it is. At first it is all very distressing. At first I was constantly hung up on the issue of the independence process. It generated huge stress in me, I couldn't rest, and managing so much information meant my head was not where it had to be. I have made a little communicative blocking-out. Many things happen in the world. It is very serious what is happening here, but we cannot be flagellating ourselves all day long. We cannot forget the situation and we have to fight for it, but we can't be doing it all day long because it is insane.
Is Joaquim paying the price of the good management of the terrorist attack?
The attack in August was a bombshell. I thought that it was the worst crisis that an interior minister could face. For many years our police force [the Mossos d'Esquadra] have been capable and well-trained. Joaquim understood where the political and police responsibilities lay and he was intelligent and delegated all the technical parts to the police commands. Doing that revealed a well organized structure, that it was an efficient police force, and allowed it to shine. At the meeting of the crisis cabinet for the attack with [Spanish PM] Mariano Rajoy and [deputy PM] Soraya Saénz de Santamaria, Rajoy was presiding over the meeting but those who had to speak were the ones who spoke - the commanders of the Mossos. And Joaquim saw clearly how the Spanish leaders were dislocated because they saw that the Spanish state in Catalonia was relegated to presiding over a meeting. That day he said to me: “We will pay dearly for this”. But I rather think that he is paying for have shown the failure of the secret services to stop the referendum of 1st October. He is paying and they are making us all pay for it. If we had challenged them but had not shown them up, we would not be where we are.
Do you have the sensation that, since he is in jail, some good has to come from all this?
We think that from outside. He does not feel that he himself is an issue, deep down. And I believe that he has already served and he also believes it. The thing is, we now need to choose our steps well.
Do the two of you feel annoyed or concerned about the apparent inability to form a Catalan government and about the line it will follow?
He has had moments when he has been very annoyed because has seen that things had to be done in a certain way. Really, it's very complicated, because the paths are now very difficult politically, because if we want to take small steps forward, we'll have to let it be seen that we renounce some things. And people do not want to renounce things. I don't think it's good either, but if we don't do it, we won't move forward. This contradiction can be seen in the politicians. Seeing it from here is not the same as perceiving the temperature of the country from in prison or from exile. Those that are in prison do not perceive the temperature of the country because they are isolated and those that are abroad perceive it through their intermediaries, the best approach is difficult to know, but I don't want to believe that they have defeated us. We have to keep on getting it right by being very intelligent. There are many people who have complained that things were not well explained to them. Perhaps if they had been well explained, we wouldn't have come so far. Not everything can be explained. Do I like this? I don't know. You probably have to be very intelligent with strategies which afterwards somebody will reproach you for... You have to be conscious of that. And we the people have to be collectively conscious that politics will not reach where we hope it will reach and, therefore, it now depends on each one of us. Implication and commitment will help this country to go forward or back.
Do you worry that things that are said by the pro-independence political groups ERC, JxCat or the CUP could have a negative effect on the prisoners?
At first I worried greatly and one of my daughters gave me a lot of help. She told me that she refused to self-censor her opinions because that might influence the opinion of the judge or the juridical situation of her father, as if that could happen, the country is sicker than we fear, or is worsening every day. The judge can argue what he wants, but if we all have to be hanging on what he will say... then we have already accepted that he is a hostage. If they want to make the prison for all four prisoners dependent on what we do, then they will do so. And they are doing so. Collectively we will have to decide what we do and they with their forces will have to decide if they continue repressing the movement.
Are you hopeful for Tuesday, in the hearing to review the preventive prison?
Yes. (Laughs) Today, suddenly... I do not know why, yes. I am a natural optimist and I am very hopeful about everything. The objective on Tuesday is basic. Joaquim's prison is becoming an eternity because I consider it to be horrible. It is like collective prison. I am hopeful about Tuesday, about Joaquim coming back, about the prisoners leaving jail and that things starts moving. But the case continues, the trial is pending, the Catalan government is flimsy, the majority are under accusations, they have decapitated those that they wanted to, Catalan culture is threatened... Yes, I am hopeful about Tuesday and for a better future, but I am very conscious that we are in a very dark tunnel.
Joaquim has had to renounce politics...
They have truncated his political future and they have truncated his life. But we attempt to pull something positive from adversity. It is true that they have definitively truncated his political future. It was his passion and his vocation, but I believe that the country has demonstrated that beyond politics you can also do many good things.
Media sensations like the reports that he had caught tuberculosis, do they help? Do they increase the stress?
Media episodes like this one make me ask myself once again why information that should not be released comes out of a court and why it comes out in a certain way. It is true that in the appeal there was the positive result he had for exposure to tuberculosis, in addition to a whole series of arguments that asked for the review of his preventive detention, such as the declarations of the Mossos. Joaquim, probably because he has been in prison, has had contact with the tuberculosis bacteria. Now he will have to have preventive treatment. In the news story why does this appear and not the rest? I don't know. Why do they say that this has been invented? Nothing has been invented. He has to have preventive treatment. And to include it in the appeal is saying to the judge: “Why do you keep people in prison preventively with the risk that they acquire certain illnesses?"
Has he made friends in prison?
He is a person with a sociable nature and needs sociability. He always looks for empathy with people independently of what they have done. He has established relationships. He says that they are friends, I believe that they are simply relationships. I believe that he is healthy. Isolating oneself completely from relationships in prison would not do anything for him. There are murderers, kidnappers... he says that they are friends.
Do they know that he was an interior minister?
Yes, and they have a great respect for him. They are a little amazed that he is there and don't understand it. And there is a certain solidarity and empathy towards them and he feels well treated, not so much from the prison staff, but from the prisoners. Joaquim is a big Barça football supporter and he has shared this passion with the others and they often bang on the doors when there's a match on. Now he wants to start a supporters' group.