THE OBSERVER

Parallel realities

Parallel realities / MARI FOUZ

A PRISON VISIT. Mas d'Enric is similar to Lledoners prison: it’s new and cold. Carme Forcadell looks immaculate on the other side of the glass partition. It’s bitterly cold and she’s wearing a coat and scarf, which she removes and carefully hangs on a chair. She’s dressed in a blue blazer and a white blouse, with her characteristic shoulder-length hair and subtle makeup. The former Speaker of the Catalan Parliament has decided to retain her institutional and personal dignity; she feels that outward appearance is important for "boosting one’s self-esteem". A principle which she lives by herself, and which she recommends to other inmates. Describing her appearance is not frivolous detail, but rather a reading of the first message she transmits to her visitors, a way of communicating that there is no surrender, that resisting with dignity is her victory. She stoically explains that she doesn’t take tranquillisers or sleeping pills, that she engages in sport, yoga and meditation and that she has got to know the inhabitants of a world which was previously unknown to her, made up of "criminals who —in most cases— are also victims". They are women who for the most part did not form part of her reality, who in some instances were born in a prison and who freely admit that if they hadn’t been locked up they would be dead by now.

Forcadell tries her best to help the other prisoners, in particular through improving the women’s conditions, by ensuring they are represented on the prison committees or by making sure they can have a hair dryer. Her objective is that “my stint here isn’t a waste of time".

Forcadell has "survived'' being imprisoned since 23 March 2018. On 14 October she was sentenced to 11 years and 6 months. On the day of my visit, she was informed that she was being classified as a level-two prisoner; she'll have to wait until Monday to speak to her lawyer to "find the fastest way to get out" and watch her second grandchild take their first steps and visit her mother and colleagues in Parliament.

Nowadays Forcadell admits to having more empathy and says she’s given the events of the autumn 2017 a lot of thought. She freely admits she “did not know how to interpret what was going on”, she failed to appreciate the strength and determination of the State, and she didn’t have sufficient information about some of the decisions which were made and their possible consequences. She doesn’t have pleasant memories of the tough parliamentary debates held on 6 and 7 October, since "there was a lot of tension", but she insists that a parliament ought to be able to debate anything which its members see fit. The former Speaker of Parliament declares that she respected the opposition’s rights during the parliamentary debate and that political parties don’t have the automatic right to ask for a report from the Council for Statutory Guarantees of Catalonia [A body whose main function is to issue legal opinions. This includes the analysis of the bills submitted for parliamentary approval]. Forcadell is convinced that she is in prison for having led the ANC [Assemblea Nacional Catalana] rather than for her actions in Parliament. She urges the Catalan National Assembly to "once more be the meeting place for all the opinions within the independence movement". She openly admits the pro-independence parties lack a common strategy and shares ERC’s new position, adapting itself to the outcome of the October 2017 independence bid, and recognising that if they failed to achieve their goals, they will need to change the way they go about things.

Forcadell is writing a memoir, but with no intention of publishing the outcome, since she feels that in order to really understand those turbulent times, one must tell the truth and "be objective", which is hard to achieve for someone who wishes to distance themselves from the emotional aspect which arises from being locked up in prison. When she first went to jail she wrote with a purple pen, and the other inmates asked her why. She told them it was because they all had the right to "write the future in purple ink". She also gave them streamers that they threw out the window on New Year's Eve. On Christmas Day, every inmate will receive a purple pen as a present. When I left the wing, the prison guard gave me one, while Carme Forcadell smiled and waved from behind glass.

Those who speak of KY Jelly

Next week Pedro Sánchez is set to broaden his approach as part of his attempt to form a government by inviting Bildu to join talks with the other political parties and by including President Torra in a round of phone calls with the presidents of Spain’s autonomous regions. Sánchez now has the responsibility of setting out his vision for Spain for the near future. Iceta's PSC [the PSOE’s Catalan branch] is working towards an agreement with kingmaker ERC to abstain during the investiture vote [thus allowing Pedro Sánchez to be re-elected]. However, Sánchez still has to prove himself politically, surrounded by regional presidents who are like something out of the Jurassic era, whether it be [President of the Government of Aragon] Lambán accusing the PSC of being "supremacist" or [President of Castile-La Mancha] García-Page’s reference to “KY Jelly" [when speaking of PSOE’s negotiations with ERC]. The PSC now has the responsibility to prove whether the socialists have a federal project or if they will also end up being defeated. If all they have to offer is to continue going round in circles, disloyalty and a reform of the statute, it will buy them some time, but it will not, however, provide a stable solution to the current conflict.